My interest in this year's Final Four dropped precipitously after Carolina lost in the Elite Eight. It typically doesn't; I like good basketball, and almost always watch the tournament through to its conclusion. But this Saturday's games didn't hold much interest for me. There really wasn't a way to pick favorites in the Butler-VCU game. Both teams were scrappy underdogs from upstart programs with ridiculously young coaches. It was like watching puppies tussle; who can pick sides?
The second game was equally problematic. Usually I can just count on rooting for the team that eliminated UNC, since if your team has to lose it might as well be to the eventual champion. That's not going to fly with Kentucky, of course. And Connecticut isn't much better – one weekend in Hartford for a tournament weekend in 1998 turned me against the entire state, and even if that wasn't the case, I'm not particularly hot on the Big East and a team that's been jammed down our throats since Kemba Walker exploded in the fall tournaments. I didn't even watch that game, preferring instead to hit the hay early in preparation for the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler Sunday morning.
So now we have Butler and UConn for the national championship, and while I'll be joining everyone oustide the Nutmeg state in rooting for the Bulldogs, I can't help but look at the missed opportunity. If Kendall Marshall gets to the basket on that late game drive and UNC wins the regional, they could very well be getting ready in Houston right now. And while that would definitely be better for Carolina fans, I think it'd be better for the sporting world overall.
Butler would still be the plucky underdog, and they'd have the extra resonance of facing Carolina a year after losing to their opposite Duke the year before – shades of the Fab Five and Michigan. But even better, few teams are as good at playing the favorite as UNC.
Reports after the Connecticut-Kentucky game were that the Huskies were chanting "We're going to shock the world!" a ludicrous attitude for the highest seed in the Final Four and team ranked in the Top 5 during the season to take. No, give the me stoic Carolina team of 2009, simply focused on a national championship. If you need to supplement the trophy with imaginary grievances to get yourself motivated, you're kind of screwed. And nobody handles being the team no one wants to win better than Roy Williams, who when faced with playing an underdog Michigan State in Detroit, simply said:
We want to win a national championship, period, the end. And if you would tell me that if Michigan State wins, it's gonna satisfy the nation's economy, then I'd say, "Hell, let's stay poor for a little while longer."
UNC blew the Spartans out by thirty-five, and commentators have spent the last two seasons bemoaning the fact there hasn't been a dominant tournament team since. If there's a blow out tonight, it'll come out in Butler's favorite. They're the team acting like they've been there before, because they have.