Roy Williams called it “an ugly game,” causing ugly games throughout history to immediately denounce any association with what transpired Monday night in Glendale, Ariz.
It wasn’t ugly. It was brutal … beyond brutal, really.
As in: 46 baskets, 44 fouls, 20 missed free throws and neither team shooting even 36 percent from the field.
But there was something worse than the participants’ execution: The officiating.
It was atrocious — bad calls, missed calls, complete whiffs, inconsistent application of the rules …
At least the outcome was in doubt with a minute remaining. Imagine sitting through that muck for 37-38 minutes and then not getting rewarded with a little drama.
To the ledger …
Winner: Gonzaga. The Bulldogs didn’t have quite enough at the end but did themselves and their season justice. Assuredly, there are legions of fans of other teams grumbling that the Zags aren’t that good and/or didn’t deserve to play for the title. And those legions of fans are wrong. Congrats to Gonzaga on a helluva season.
Loser: NCAA officials. The title game was a brutal bookend to a bad three weeks that began with the missed goal-tending call in Gonzaga-Northwestern. I’m not sure how they missed Kennedy Meeks’ hand on the baseline or Jordan Mathews’ errant, untouched 3-pointer. (And so many more.)
Winner: North Carolina. Had a better team and played a better game one year ago but lost at the buzzer to Villanova. Redemption is a dish best served at 33.9 percent from the field, apparently.
Loser: Kentucky supporters. The ugly side of their fanaticism showed itself with death threats to referee John Higgins. Sadly, it comes as no surprise.
Winner: Big men. Frontcourt space-eaters, the forgotten men of March, played a central role in North Carolina and Gonzaga advancing to the finale.
Loser: Over 153.5’ers. Anyone who had over-153.5 points in the UNC-Oregon duel surely felt darn good when the teams reached 153 with six seconds left and the Tar Heels headed to the line for what became four free throws. Alas …
Winner: Little guys. Gonzaga’s run could help improve NCAA tournament access for teams outside the Power Five/Big East. At least, let’s hope it does.
Loser: Lottery Picks: The top-nine picks in latest DraftExpress mock draft are freshmen (Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum, Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith, Lauri Markkanen and Jonathan Isaac). None of them reached the Final Four.
Winner: Upperclassmen. The vast majority of key players in Glendale were juniors and seniors. There was only one potential one-and-done, in fact: Gonzaga reserve Zach Collins.
Loser: Lonzo Ball. Whether he was simply ready to move on or weighed down by his father’s nonsense, Ball was outplayed by Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox like he wasn’t outplayed all season. As he shrank from the moment, so did the Bruins.
Winner: ACC. The conference collected NCAA units valued at $31.7 million over the next six years, adding to a three-year haul worth more than $100 million.
Loser: ACC. Failed to live up to the regular-season hype with only one team, North Carolina, advancing beyond the second round.
Winner: ACC (last one, promise). Produced the national champs in football and men’s basketball, a feat not accomplished since Alabama and Kentucky did it for the SEC way, way back in 2011-12.
Loser: Franklin Street cleanup crews. The main drag in Chapel Hill was what you would expect.
Winner: SEC. Three teams in the Elite Eight and one in the Final Four. #basketballleague #frankmartin #nickwho
Loser: Big Ten: No teams in the Elite Eight, supporting the in-season view that the conference was deep but not strong at top.
Winner: Pac-12. Placed a team in the Final Four for the first time since UCLA in 2008. Will it be another nine years until someone replicates Oregon’s success? Nope. We’ll see it happen again by 2020.
Loser: Arizona. The late, stunning meltdown against Xavier will stick with the Wildcats and their fans for years. It wasn’t like the ’93 collapse against Santa Clara, but it was darn close.
Winner: Jordan Bell. Box-out, schmox-out. Bell wasn’t the reason Oregon lost in the semifinal, but he was the reason the Ducks were there in the first place.
Losers: Baylor and Florida State. Few things are more predictable in March than teams coached by Scott Drew and Leonard Hamilton flaming out, whether by early-round upset or middle-weekend blowout.
Winners: CBS and Turner. Ratings for the tournament were up 11 percent over 2016 entering the title game, which had a 21 percent year/year bump, according to the Sports Business Journal. Take that, NFL.
Losers: Jay Wright and Bill Self. Wright was bounced on the first weekend for the third time in four years. Self tumbled again as a favorite in the Elite Eight. If not for the national title that each owns, the heat would be searing.
Winner: Roy Williams. With three titles, he leaves behind the likes of Rick Pitino and Dean Smith and joins the two-man group of triple winners: Jim Calhoun and Bob Knight. Next on the list, with four, is Adolph Rupp.
Loser: Sharps. The late money in Las Vegas was on Gonzaga, to such an extent that the line dropped a full point, to UNC -1.
Winner: Me. Pretty much nailed the title game with the score, margin and late-game determinant … and went 10-5-2 against the spread in the tournament.
Loser: Me. Picked the Tar Heels to lose in the championship game one year after picking them to win the title.
Also had the Zags out in the Sweet 16.
And Arizona as the last Pac-12 team standing,
And Kansas in the Final Four.
And Duke winning it all.
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