Final 4 by Bernie Lincicome
When the final history of basketball is written, it will not start with “In the beginning…” but instead “With the score tied and three minutes to play…”
Nothing important ever happens in basketball until the end. That is the essence of the game. Absolutely dependable.
You can come in late and not miss a thing.
The tidiness of it all is unparalleled in athletics. No one wants to miss the opening kickoff or the first pitch, but anyone who can remember the first shot of a basketball game has a garage full of string and will wash his laundry one sock at a time.
Even more marvelous is the exact symmetry between the game and an entire season, each being a scale model of the other. The 50th point of a 100-point game is as forgettable as the 15th game of a 30-game season. Or the 25th.
Wake me when it is almost over.
At last, college basketball is down to its final three minutes. Time to pay attention. Time for the Final Four.
The Final Four. Sounds like the survivors of a nuclear war, though they are only the residue of a long season that is already dimming into memory.
Connecticut. North Carolina. Villanova. Michigan State.
See, there was no need to be bothered with the 61 other teams that began the contrived madness with them, the Stephen F. Austins and Robert Morrises, or even to wonder what happened to No. 1 seed Louisville, because Michigan State is there to tell it, should curiosity overcome apathy.
Not an ampersand nor compass direction among them, no Southern this nor A&T that, all solid, familiar and erasers of the lie that Cinderella, even with points, gets to the last dance.
No need to have tried to figure out what Xavier was doing in the second weekend, or just exactly which Saint Siena admires (a St. Bernard, apparently), or to argue that Memphis was no more a second seed than a weed-eater is dental floss.
This is a Final Four of acceptable pedigree, two No. 1 seeds, a No. 2 and a No. 3, which leaves fingers left over even if all of them waved their rankings around. No maidens here. All have won the national title at least once, all have been here, a total of 30 times among them, North Carolina perpetually and Michigan State every time you look up.
The common distinction among them all is that none of them play football, not seriously, even Michigan State lately filling autumn space until Tom Izzo gathers his basketball team in East Lansing.
This is a Big Final Four. Big East. Big 10. ACC, of course. Big Deal. If it were any bigger, it would need two Ford Fields.
Villanova, with its seven losses and its “others receiving votes” will have to pass for the sentimental favorite, but that would be like rooting for a freezer to stay cold. This is a real team with a real chance, having dismissed UCLA, Duke and Pittsburgh, not to forget that Villanova owns, over Georgetown, the greatest NCAA final upset ever.
This Connecticut team may not have the talent of Jim Calhoun’s other two champions, but it has 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, who makes up in length what he may lack in skill. A scandal of sorts follows Calhoun into his third Final Four, there being charges of improper recruiting, as if there were any other kind in college basketball.
Michigan State’s annual visit to the Final Four comes with a bonus, a nearby arena, not that football stadium Ford Field will be renamed Ford Fieldhouse for the weekend, or that it will be packed with hometown rooters. Izzo has done this now for the fifth time, making dull and deliberate successful and, well, dull and deliberate.
North Carolina is, as usual, the class of the bunch, up tempo and talented, and the only one of President Barak Obama’s Final Four picks left. The Tarheels have won their games whistling, (by 22 points or so), have the most notable player, 6-foot-9 Tyler Hansbrough and the best player 5-foot-11 Ty Lawson.
I’ll take the Tarheels.
See how easy it is to catch up.