The worst NCAA tournament ended with the best championship game

Kevin C. Cox

From Spike Albrecht to Chane Behanan to Trey Burke to Luke Hancock, let's look at the heroes that made Louisville-Michigan one of the best NCAA title games we've gotten in years.

Title games are not supposed to be that awesome.

In most championship games, everyone's usually too wired for the first 10 minutes, the refs and coaches are on edge, the games get sloppy, and it becomes about who can screw up less. This is true in NBA Game 7s, too, but especially college basketball, where everyone's 19 or 20 years old and extra susceptible to getting overwhelmed by the moment.

But not Monday!

Monday we got the best NCAA Final we've seen since at least 2005, full of players coming up huge on both sides, and generally giving us three hours of college basketball that were a thousand times more fun than anything else in the NCAA Tournament this year. We'll get to that second part, but in the meantime, let's talk about some heroes who made Monday great.

Spike Albrecht. Holy shit! Spike Albrecht. I wanted Michigan to win for a lot of reasons, but once Spike got going in the first half, I wanted them to win so we could spend the next 30 years celebrating Spike, and laughing about the time a 5'10 kid who looked like a team manager somehow became the MVP of a national title game. Here's to hoping we remember Spike anyway, because America needs a cult hero named "Spike." (And look at him, he's already making the most of all this, complete with flirty emoticon. Spike is great.)

PEYTON SIVA'S DAD. Peyton Siva's dad is what the American Dream looks like.

Chane Behanan. He delivered none of the kill shots, but Behanan helped get Mitch McGary into foul trouble, and then proceeded to murder Michigan on the boards all night. He was probably the difference Monday night, right? Let's say he was.

On a related note, Charles Barkley's still got it:

Trey Burke. If you have to lose a national title game in the final game of your college career, there's no better, more impressive way to go out than Burke did Monday.

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Tim Hardaway, Sr. Probably my favorite moment of the night. Come for the vicious dunk, stay for the NBA legend in the stands going nuts.

Clark Kellogg. Clark Kellogg! We don't praise Clark Kellogg enough. The Clark Kellogg Randomly Yelling Things Power Rankings for Monday night's NCAA Final:

  1. "We got a tight one, and they're playing it on roller blades here in Atlanta!"
  2. "McGary fortunate he didn't get Dairy Queen'd there, because he was all over Behanan."
  3. "Folks, you better keep your head up and stay out the kitchen, this one is FULL THROTTLE."
  4. "STRAP IT ON!"
  5. "When a team is pressuring you, you can't drive the car with the parking break on."
  6. "This is what we call 'in-the-gym range'. Get me in the building, and I can SPRAY YOU FROM DEEP."

We need Clark Kellogg to write a book full of this wisdom, complete with randomly capitalized words and exclamation points. Hit the laptop and STRAP IT ON, Clark!

Russ Smith. T-minus three months until Russ is best friends with Barack Obama.

Also see: His awesome shirt postgame.

Luke Hancock. Somehow he found a way to top what he did for Louisville against Wichita State, and what he did in Atlanta this weekend will baffle us forever.

Nothing Luke Hancock does makes sense, but that's what makes it awesome.

Both teams combined to shoot just under 50 percent from three, when they weren't shooting threes they were throwing alley-oops, and if you didn't enjoy the game you are allergic basketball and/or fun.

We needed that, didn't we? All of it.

Maybe it's because Twitter and the internet has made us more cynical than ever, but it seems like college basketball isn't as fun as it used to be. Likewise, while college basketball wheezes along, the internet's made it harder to endure the NCAA and everyone else waterboarding us with March Madness nostalgia, because we know now more than ever that the NCAA is violently full of shit.

Hype is at an all-time high, quality's at an all-time low, and this NCAA Tournament felt like a tipping point for me. I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it was the NCAA, maybe it was the (mostly) crappy games, but the whole experience just felt like a bummer.

Then Monday night happened, and one of the worst NCAA Tournaments in recent memory ended with two teams playing perfect basketball, and reminding everyone what college basketball can be. Where all you can do is say "holy shit" and hope it keeps going.

We had players coming out of nowhere (Albrecht, Hancock), superstars dominating (Burke, Siva), awesome parents in the stands, unhinged announcers, and everything else we've always loved about college hoops. And for a night, none of the other problems mattered. We needed that after the last three weeks, where we got used to sitting through sloppy games and trying to pretend it was fun.

When Spike Albrecht was hitting his threes, Steve Kerr said, "It's like an out of body experience."

That's how the whole game felt compared to the rest of college hoops this year. Sure, it's Tuesday now, and it still seems like college hoops is headed in a strange, mediocre direction until some permanent revolution changes it forever. But Michigan and Louisville helped remind us that it doesn't always have to be like that. Instead of another choppy title game, this one was perfect. Michigan played their ass off, Louisville played just a little bit better and got a much deserved title out of it, and we needed it all to help remind us why we care this much about college hoops.

Everyone was an A+ in Atlanta Monday, and for the first time in three weeks of wall-to-wall March Madness, we finally got a game worth losing your mind over.

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