In a season filled with improbability, perhaps Kris Jenkins' national championship-winner at the buzzer was a fitting way to wrap up 2015-16. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)
"Whenever I'm weary, from the battles that rage in my head..."
"You make sense of madness, when my sanity hangs by a thread."
Let me proclaim this once and for all before I go any further: This will be the ONLY time you see anyone, in any universe, equate the game of college basketball to Richard Marx, whose 1994 song "Now And Forever" opens with the two lines listed above.
But let's be honest: Marx's prose is a pretty apropos way of describing what college basketball is to people like us, especially the media member that writes this, one who is at a game six out of seven days a week on average.
I'll try not to get too autobiographical, given I'll be doing a lot more of that in my annual offering of thanks to all who read the content on this site, which comes on April 17th of every year and will again twelve days from now as I wrap up my seventh year of operating this little engine that could.
Normally, and in recent years, I have used this space for a March Madness postmortem column in which I ranted about certain things, namely how the coverage of the NCAA Tournament has changed drastically since CBS aligned with Turner. For those of who expecting that on this night that has now become early morning, I apologize for disappointing you. That won't be coming in this column, because after watching a national championship game which will go down in the annals as either the greatest or second-greatest of your lifetime, largely depending on whether or not you were born before 1983, you cannot begin without first speaking merely one word.
Come to think of it, one "wow" doesn't do it enough justice. How about one more?
Thanks to Kris Jenkins, not to be confused with the Pro Bowl defensive tackle in the National Football League, we have the all-time ending we have sought to a season since Dereck Whittenburg to Lorenzo Charles thirty-three years ago in Albuquerque. The ending that practically all of America, save for the small but vocal group of Duke fans hoped Gordon Hayward would provide in Indianapolis for Butler.
Villanova 77, North Carolina 74.
And for those of you who know me well, who spend enough time following my inane and sometimes nonsensical, sometimes manic ramblings on Twitter, you know that I have been a North Carolina fan since the Tar Heels baptized me into the sport. The first game I watched from start to finish was the 1993 national championship, when Dean Smith defeated the Fab Five. I was hooked, and my heart is colored Carolina blue more often than not. Way too many times for my own good, I breach media impartiality when UNC enters the room, and you've all seen it. I'm no angel, and I'll never say that I am.
Enough about me, though. Let's talk about what took place in Houston, and how we'll all be able to tell our kids, and their kids, and their kids' kids about the forty-minute epic played out to a crowd of 74,000-plus live and in living color, and the billions watching across the world.
Let's talk about Jay Wright, one of the true class acts of the industry, a man who has such reverence from everyone he comes across that no bad words have ever been spoken about him. Let us speak of Ryan Arcidiacono, selfless to the absolute end, defining a four-year career marked by a humility and veteran poise that continues to defy his young age; of how the senior point guard, who everyone in Chapel Hill will swear from now until eternity was taking the shot in the final seconds, decided to share the joy, let Jenkins have the moment. Of Josh Hart, a model of efficiency through an unforgettable NCAA Tournament run, of Phil Booth, one of Villanova's cadre of reserve guards that just so happened to step up with perhaps his two biggest games in a Wildcat uniform on no bigger stage.
Then there's Roy Williams, who was denied what would have been sweet redemption after enduring perhaps his most agonizing campaign as a head coach, having to respond to question after question regarding North Carolina's alleged academic fraud that the NCAA investigated.
Marcus Paige, whose miraculous game-tying three-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining in regulation erased a ten-point deficit only to have his and his team's hearts ripped out at point-blank range on Jenkins' dagger, handled the moment as he has handled everything else: With class, grace, and aplomb far beyond the reach of any other 21-year-old.
Marcus Paige, for four and seven-tenths seconds, had the shot for the ages, only to be done in by Kris Jenkins' heroics on the ensuing, and final, possession. (Photo courtesy of USA Today)
"There's 75 possessions in the game," he said, visibly shaken but cool as a cucumber nonetheless, not collapsing amid the heartbreak, but facing the moment head-on. "They just happened to get the last one and make the shot."
That, unfortunately, is how this game is sometimes. For as much sheer joy a dramatic ending like this can evoke, fate can just as quickly, and simultaneously, be a fickle temptress. As the late Glenn Frey so eloquently put it:
"Somebody's gonna hurt someone, before the night is through..."
"Somebody's gonna come undone...there's nothing we can do."
"Somebody's gonna come undone...there's nothing we can do."
There may be a heartache in Chapel Hill tonight, but college basketball and its fans, regardless of to whom their allegiances lie, should be celebrating. After all, in a season where the biggest storyline from the opening tips in November all the way through the cutting of the net and playing of "One Shining Moment" late Monday evening was parity and how there was no one dominant team in the nation, isn't it somewhat appropriate that Villanova; one of those "very good, but maybe not everyone's championship pick" teams, was the one to capture the ultimate payoff?
And so it goes into next season, one of new promise and hope for all 351 teams in Division I, whether or not you're Villanova, or early 2016-17 favorite Duke, or even a local team like NJIT trying to author another gripping chapter in its Cinderella story.
On that, we bid adieu to college basketball for the next seven months. Congratulations to Villanova, Jay Wright, his players, his staff, and everyone in a truly respectable program, for winning a championship they rightfully deserve. While we're at it, we'll extend congratulations to sports information director Mike Sheridan, a true pro's pro who has managed to help people like me and my colleagues do our jobs a lot easier. Covering Villanova a grand total of four times this season, I feel privileged to have seen a run like this, and many others can concur.
Monday night and Tuesday morning ran the gamut of emotions through everyone watching, fan and nonfan alike, and that is what should be celebrated. Forget about the Big East versus the ACC for a second. Forget about good versus evil, or any other conflict that we in the media paint through our words and images. Let's just celebrate the sheer beauty of what unfolded, and appreciate that a spectacle so grand was able to yield one of those "forever" visuals that you only see in Hallmark cards, romance novels, and Hollywood dramas.
That, and that alone, is what we all live for, and it came on a three-point shot. Let's all savor every last drop until these games get played all over again.