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NCAA 2015

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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

UConn shows balance of power still imbalanced toward powers


HOUSTON -- Give me Goliath with a hangover, rather than a sloppy-drunk David anytime.

Give me a moratorium on the words "Cinderella", "mid-major" and "Brad."

Give me a break. Give me an aspirin. Better yet, give this game a cigarette, a priest and last rites. What you saw Monday night was firing-squad bad. The NCAA expanded the bracket, added three teams and lengthened the tournament, proving a couple of things: It's a law-of-averages possibility that something like VCU could happen. And it's remarkable that Butler could get to this point twice -- in a row.

That's about it. The point that hit home Monday night when all our keyboards are worn out and all the analysis is in, it's always a good idea to pick the power conference team with the best players.

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The Big East came full circle in the first week of April. The conference that ruled the regular season and got 11 teams into the tournament needed only one to have its One Shining Moment. Turns out the only games UConn lost this season were in the nation's toughest conference. It prepared Connecticut for this hold-your-nose bad 53-41 win. It was a flawed, inelegant moment but someone had to own it. UConn won a national championship Monday after going 15-9 against Big East competition and 17-0 against everybody else.

The only games it lost were against its brethren. That ought to tell you something. In other words, a three-way tie for ninth perfectly prepared the Huskies for their third national championship under Jim Calhoun.

"We made a plea to them," Calhoun said after holding Butler to 22 percent shooting, yet trailing by three at halftime. "You're too good for this."

"I wasn't worried," said Andrea Walker, mother of Kemba, on the confetti-strewn court at Reliant Stadium. "I knew that when Calhoun got under their skin at halftime, they were going to do what they had to do. He wasn't going to let them come here tonight and lose this game. They are his babies."

Those babies allowed Butler three 2-point field goals (out of 31 attempts) in 40 minutes of major-college basketball. They made Bulldogs star forward Matt Howard (1 of 13) look like Moe Howard. In the end, they made Butler look like, well, a Horizon team playing against a Big East power. They made the cuddly Bulldogs eat leather with 10 blocks. It was just another Big East Big Monday -- with UConn beating up little brother.

"One of the reasons we were able to do some of the things within the tournament was because of Jim Boeheim, John Thompson, some of the great coaches that exist in our league," Calhoun said. "They help us prepare for the moments when we couldn't make a basket ... I'm a Big East parochial guy and I have a reason to be."

Two years worth of fawning over the cute bulldog and the team Blue II represents have proved that the beauty, power and strength of this game are what's to be celebrated. The long, lean guys like UConn's Alex Oriakhi -- who had an ornery, quiet double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds). The promising freshmen like Jeremy Lamb, scoreless in the first half, answering with all 12 of his points while playing all 20 minutes in the second half. So, celebrate UConn. Celebrate Calhoun, the oldest coach (68) to win a national championship. His magic number is three. That's the number of his national championships and also the number of games he'll sit out next season due to NCAA sanctions.

But he's also a man who lost his sister-in-law this season. He's a man who has battled and beaten cancer multiple times. While basking in the glow of another championship, he didn't exactly reject the idea of retirement. There are worse ways to go out than Monday. His Huskies won 11 games in 27 days, starting with the Big East tournament, after losing four of their last five in the regular season. And still had enough left to stiff-arm America's (mid-major) Team.

"It's a brutal team to play against when you're behind," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.

Don't forget to celebrate Kemba. That's what he is now, one of those one-name stars no matter what he does going forward. They'll remember for a long time for his March and early April during which he averaged 24.6 points in those 11 games. The consummate New York point guard -- headed toward his degree, by the way -- was the Final Four's most outstanding player.

"It felt like," The Great Kemba said, "we were destined."

He will go down as the spiritual center of a team that finished 18-16 a year ago, won a surprising Maui Invitational to start the season, pulled off a near-miraculous Big East tournament win and then capped it off with a national championship. That should be at least as shocking as Butler being in position to lose consecutive championship games. Veteran UConn assistant George Blaney had a name for it after the West Regional win in Anaheim, "From Maui, to Manhattan to miracle, to what?"

So ... what now? "From Hawaii to Houston," he said.

"Yeah, there was a lot of doubters," Lamb said. "We really didn't let that get to us. People said we were young, that we were a one-man team, that Kemba didn't have any help, no post players. We ended up being a good overall team. Kemba just led us, really."

So what happened to our beautiful game? Is this what parity and the one-and-done rule has wrought? Three games in the Final Four and only once did a team score more than 62 points (Butler in the semis). The winning total (53) was the lowest in 63 years.

What Monday night in Houston maybe proved is that the whole Bulldog craze might be something close to a fluke. Go ahead and light up my feedback. That's what it looked like from courtside and from every bar stool in the country. Stevens has had two chances to win something every coach would give their left you-know-what to get. And failed. When will the Bulldogs be back? Does this swing the parity pendulum back toward the power conferences?

Let's hope so. When times get tough, down to the wire, Monday ultimately proved that in the championship game always bet on the Goliaths, even if they do play at times like they're a little bit hung over.

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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