There was no way of knowing that this year’s NCAA Men’s Division I National Championship Game would be literally one of the worst in the history of the sport. Butler shot 12 of 64 from the field for an all-time low of 18%, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. They were equally bad from deep, somehow attempting 33 three-pointers, hitting only nine. But if you do the math, you see that Butler only hit three two-point shots all night. That’s only three, total, for the entire game. I’ve never seen anything like it. And I don’t want to pick on Butler big man Matt Howard, but he was 1-13 shooting. No wonder they lost to UConn by the high-school game score of 53-41. How bad was it? The last time a team didn’t score 50 points in the title game was 1949, and UConn won this year’s game with 53. Yuck. But throughout the weekend in Houston, there were more than enough memorable sights and sounds, both inside and outside of Reliant Stadium. Here’s a brief rundown of the nine things worth mentioning:
Sightings Recent Hall of Fame Inductee Chris Mullin showed up at my gate in the airport yesterday, wearing sweatpants and flip flops: Hall of Famers, they’re just like us. If he wasn’t glued to his cell phone, and I wasn’t boarding my flight, I would have grabbed a few minutes with him. Also spotted University of Minnesota Men’s Basketball Coach Tubby Smith talking to a very, very tall man. George H.W. Bush was in the house for all three games. When they showed him on the JumboTron during the finals, I swear, Barbara leaned over and said, “they know who you are.” He laughed. Kentucky superfan Ashley Judd squeezed into the front row of the student section just before tip. Thought that was real cool. Oh, and apparently Drake loves Big Blue, too. But when he made it up on the big screen, with a newly-grown in beard, honestly no one seemed to recognize him. I had to explain to a few people that he was a rapper. Still couldn’t figure out why he loves the Wildcats, though. My New Favorite Women’s Basketball Player Skylar Diggins. So hot right now.
Sad Butler Fans No one expected them to play as poorly as they did, and after losing last year’s title game on a half-court prayer that bounced out of the rim, the majority of the crowd was pulling for the Bulldogs. But by about six or seven minutes in they had already launched seven threes, only hitting two, and they never seemed to figure out a way to overcome UConn’s size inside. Fans were understandably upset. Sat next to a guy on the flight home wearing a Butler windbreaker who didn’t move for four hours. Didn’t sleep. Didn’t talk. Didn’t look left or right. He appeared to be in shock. Yes, they shot horribly. But some of the credit should go to UConn, who played great defense and schemed Butler well. UConn G Jeremy Lamb made life tough for Butler G Shelvin Mack, and by the time Mack got going with a few threes late in the second half, it was already too late. Butler big man Matt Howard was the only body inside making a difference for the Bulldogs. UConn rotated in three guys. And that was pretty much it. One UConn fan leaving the arena summed it up on his cell phone: “Let them say whatever they want, we’ve got the trophy.” The Passion of Cats Fans The Wildcats hadn’t been to a Final Four since 1998, and you could hear it in the sound of their fans’ voices. They were louder than any other school, and I mean this in the best way, they seemed the most desperate. As their second-half comeback unfolded, they made sounds I’ve never heard a crowd make. Kentucky should be a fixture in the Final Four every year, and their fans seem to regard anything less with failure. There were more students wearing tee-shirts commemorating road trips than any other school (although that’s probably because Kentucky is the school closest to Houston). That ’98 team featured Wayne Turner, Scott Padgett, and Nazr Mohammed. Not exactly a murderer’s row. This Cats team, with Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight, seems to have much more talent. Too bad most of it will entering the NBA Draft. As long as Coach Cal stays on, they’re guaranteed some of the best one-and-done high school players in the country. Guys Named Lamb Clearly, Kemba Walker is a sensation, and now he’s going to be remembered as an all-time great college player, but I was more fascinated with Jeremy Lamb, honestly. At 6’5″ and 185 lbs, he’s got the prototype body for a two-guard, and he’s got so much room to grow until he reaches his full potential. His game is so smooth—he reminds me a little of former Temple and LA Lakers guard Eddie Jones in that way—but certainly could get a little stronger. Some deadlifts would probably work wonders for him.
Ran into someone close with Jeremy. I would not at all be surprised to see him enter the draft. Seems like the NBA’s new CBA will involve a long negotiation, and lots of college players will want to get drafted to get that guaranteed money. And few players have as much momentum as Lamb. Kentucky also has a freshman named Lamb, who scored 13 points in the Semis, going 3-5 from three. He was one of the biggest reasons Kentucky was able to crawl back into that game, and if not this year, he’ll soon be an NBA prospect. Pregame Festivities I wasn’t sure how it was going to work, but having the Tip Off Tailgate Presented by Infiniti gave fans a place to hang out before doors opened up at Reliant Stadium. Even though they stopped serving beer at 4 p.m. (seriously), there were some cool vendors (nothing wrong with a slider sampler plate, is there?) and lots of shooting exhibitions and courts set up all over the parking lot. It was definitely a kid-friendly environment—lots of little guys running around with their Dads. But basically, it felt like a big celebration that culminated with the games, like a big sporting event should feel.
Those Championship Shirts Hate the “NO 1” being bigger than the UConn logo. Not a fan, at all. Training on the Road I was able to pound out 45 minutes of cardio on back to back days over the weekend to keep my training above water. So clutch. I’ve learned that when you’re on the road, no matter how bad you want to, you can’t totally abandon your workouts. That’ll set you back 3-4 days, which you’ll have to make up before you can move forward. It’s best to just get in there before breakfast and do something, anything, just so you stay on track. As far as cardio goes, at least for me, consistency is much more important than intensity. Even if you have to do it in ten-minute increments on a 15-year old elliptical. Just get it done. This Bracket Town Thing Think of the Olympic village, with more $9 BBQ sandwiches and less Olympic athletes. It was basically a three-day fan fest, with places to buy gear and food. The crack security was kind of funny. I walked in during the afternoon on Sunday, and there was no line. A guy literally jumped out in front of me, like I was trying to sneak in or something. There were four staff members behind him. Better safe than sorry, I guess? There were a few big screens airing montages, and during my walk-through I caught the always-amazing One Shining Moment blaring over this makeshift quad. Not embarrassed to say I get goosebumps every time—but maybe I should be.