It’s the night we’ve all been waiting for, the NCAA National Championship — the pot of gold at the end of the bloody March Madness rainbow. We thought we were in store for a killer game and that’s exactly what we were given as both the Louisville Cardinals and Michigan Wolverines turned in a classic NCAA Championship game, both teams holding their own blow-for-blow until the very final minutes of the contest.
The game was ripe with storylines, as both teams came into the game via their own paths to glory. For Michigan, the story was about how the Wolverines were finally back to their winning ways after years of ups and downs within the program. Not since the Fab Five had a Michigan basketball team made this deep of a run into the madness and it was this 2013 unit lead by consensus player of the year Trey Burke that almost managed to finish off their story differently than the aforementioned Fab Five.
But the Wolverines of 2013 fell into an identical finish to their 1992 and 1993 counterparts and fell just short of raising a banner and taking home the hardware.
As for the Louisville Cardinals, they entered the tournament the best team in the field and that’s the way things ended. Of all the teams and storylines in the tournament, perhaps the most powerful belonged to Louisville as the team was playing not only for pride, but to honor Kevin Ware. It’s not that the Cardinals wouldn’t have been in the position they are now had Ware not suffered his horrendous injury, but it lit a fire under the team and whether you want to believe in that sort of thing or not, the team truly did “Rise for Five” in the games since losing him.
Before you crown the Cardinals, a ton of credit needs to be given to the Wolverines and specifically to point guard Trey Burke, who sacrificed his body on the court to drag Michigan as close as he could to basketball immortality. Burke was controversially rested for 12 minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls but came out in the second half to lead the Wolverines down the stretch, hitting the floor numerous times including one instance where he was upended driving to the basket and landed flat on his face.
But while Michigan may have had the better story, with the Fab Five angle and Trey Burke’s presence, Louisville had the better team on the court in Atlanta. Not only did Louisville comeback from 12-points down to beat Wichita State in the Final Four, they came back from a deficit in the first half against Michigan to regain control of the game and secure their first NCAA National Championship since 1986.
Sports fans live for March Madness and they live for moments like the one we witnessed on Monday night inside the Georgia Dome. Dreams were realized and crushed at the same time and we saw yet another college basketball titan rise to the top of the sport. Rick Pitino is on his way to the Basketball Hall of Fame, but right now nothing tastes sweeter than the victory the Cardinals just secured and no one can take it away from them.