ATLANTA -- You never know with these things, after an endless amount of hype and advance analysis, whether the 40 minutes designed to determine college basketball's national championship will actually live up to the billing or even be any good.
All you can do is hope.
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You spend all day Monday -- hour after hour after hour -- thinking and talking about the game, but the game promises nothing. It could be ugly. It could be a blowout. It could provide a disappointing ending to what is typically a terrific three weeks, and it often does. We get bad World Series. We get bad Super Bowls. We get bad title games, too.
But this was not that.
"A lot of times when you get to the national championship, the games are not always pretty," said Louisville coach Rick Pitino. "But this was a great basketball game."
Was it ever.
Louisville beat Michigan 82-76 late Monday here inside the Georgia Dome before a record crowd of 74,326 to make Pitino the first Division I coach to ever win national championships at different schools. Ultimately, that's how this will be remembered -- as the night Louisville got its third title and first since 1986, as the night Pitino got his second title and first since 1996 (just hours after officially being elected to the Hall of Fame).
But how it happened is the story right now.
It was a 40-minute roller coaster that took this crowd -- this crowd that included everybody from Chris Webber to Kate Upton to Steve Carell, Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis -- on a wild ride and had veteran writers, men and women who have covered decades of these events, asking each other after all the nets had been cut whether this was the most entertaining title game they'd ever witnessed. The consensus answer: Yeah, maybe.
It was up and down and back and forth and, mostly, just a helluva lotta fun.
It started with the National Player of the Year, sophomore point guard Trey Burke, picking up two early fouls, which required Michigan coach John Beilein to turn to Spike Albrecht, a former zero-star recruit who had never scored more than seven points in any game this season. Naturally, he dropped 17 points on Louisville in 16 first-half minutes and was one of five freshmen the Wolverines used on the court together during a sequence that featured 26 consecutive Michigan points from first-year players.
Suddenly, we had a new Fab Five.
And Michigan was up 33-21 with 3:56 left in the first half.
"We were rolling in the first half," Albrecht said. "But Louisville kinda went on a good run."
By Louisville, he meant Luke.
As in Luke Hancock.
The George Mason transfer countered Albrecht's incredible effort with his own incredible effort by scoring 14 consecutive points for Louisville -- those points came courtesy of two free throws and four 3-pointers, if you want specifics -- to cut Michigan's lead to 36-35. The Wolverines led 38-37 at the break, and if there's ever been a better first half on a Monday in April, honestly, I don't remember watching or reading about it.
"I just hit a few shots," said Hancock, ever the downplayer.
By the time the game was over, Hancock had hit five shots. The 6-foot-6 wing was 5 of 6 from the field, 5 of 5 from 3-point range and 7 of 10 from the free throw line. He finished with 22 points, three assists, two steals and one Most Outstanding Player trophy.
"It doesn't get any better than this," Hancock said. "It's unbelievable."
Hancock and Albrecht were both mostly quiet in the second half that featured a ridiculous dunk from Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. that was followed by a Louisville alley-oop thrown to Peyton Siva that was (immediately) followed by a Michigan alley-oop thrown to Glenn Robinson III that was followed by a 9-2 run from the Cards that provided Louisville with a 76-66 advantage with 3:27 remaining. Michigan never got closer than four points the rest of the way and ruined any chance of a comeback by letting too much time run off the clock before fouling in the final minutes. That was unfortunate, especially for Michigan. But by then the legacy of this game had been decided. Those who played in it called it "tremendous" and "awesome." Those who watched it used similar words.
So, yeah, we'll do this all again next year.
And it'll also be fun.
And it'll have intriguing storylines, too.
But will a zero-star recruit trend on Twitter? And will a CAA transfer spark a comeback? And will a reigning National Player of the Year hit big shot after big shot to keep his team within striking distance? And will that game actually exceed the hype?
I hope so.
Because all you can do is hope.
Hope that the final game provides a fitting ending.
Hope that the last game makes a lasting impression like this game did on this night.