HOUSTON -- The first 68-school NCAA tournament concluded late Monday with Connecticut's 53-41 win over Butler here at Reliant Stadium. It was a dud of a game with a memorable trophy presentation, a bad way to end an otherwise spectacular three weeks of basketball.
So let's not only focus on Monday.
That's too painful.
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Let's do an entire NCAA Tournament Look Back, if you don't mind.
The champion is … Connecticut. The Huskies finished ninth in the Big East with a 9-9 record before closing with an 11-game winning streak that featured wins over Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, San Diego State, Arizona, Kentucky and Butler. The improbable run allowed Kemba Walker to cement his legacy as a college basketball superstar while making Jim Calhoun only the fifth coach in history to win three national championships.
The tournament's best game was … Butler-Pittsburgh. People who have been watching basketball way longer than I have claimed they'd never seen anything like it, mostly because there'd never been anything like this crazy finish. Pitt seemed to have the game won when it was ahead 69-68 with three seconds remaining, then seemed to have it lost when Andrew Smith scored with 2.2 seconds left to give Butler a 70-69 lead, then seemed to have it won again when Shelvin Mack inexplicably fouled Gilbert Brown near halfcourt with 1.4 seconds on the clock. But Brown only made 1-of-2 free throws to tie the score at 70, and when he missed the second, Pitt's Nasir Robinson inexplicably fouled Matt Howard, who made the first free throw and launched the Bulldogs into the Sweet 16 with a 71-70 win. Like I said, crazy.
The tournament's biggest surprise was … VCU making the Final Four. The selection committee was ridiculed for giving the Rams an at-large bid, and the team that finished fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association then used that criticism as motivation to beat (in order) Southern California, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas and make its first Final Four under a 33-year-old second-year coach.
Four things I'll never forget from this tournament
1. VCU coach Shaka Smart taking charges and diving for loose balls during the Rams' open practice at Reliant Stadium.
2. Arizona's Derrick Williams blocking a huge shot against Memphis in the final second, making a huge shot against Texas in the final second and generally destroying Duke for every second of that 40-minute game to help the Wildcats make the Elite Eight.
3. The end of the Butler-Pittsburgh game.
4. Kemba Walker's smiles, winks and explosive drives to the basket while leading Connecticut to the national title.
Four coaches who made lots of money
1. Matt Painter: His flirtation with Missouri secured a bigger-than-expected deal to remain at Purdue for more than $2 million annually.
2. Lon Kruger: His rock-solid reputation as a coach and gentleman got him an offer from Oklahoma worth more than $2 million annually.
3. Josh Pastner: His ability to recruit combined with the way his Memphis Tigers played down the stretch, combined with overtures from N.C. State, got him a deal at Memphis worth $1.7 million annually.
4. Shaka Smart: His Final Four run and overtures from N.C. State -- roughly 120 coaches used overtures from N.C. State to secure a raise, it's worth noting -- helped get him a deal worth $1.2 million annually to stay at VCU.
G: Brandon Knight (Kentucky) G: Kemba Walker (Connecticut) G: Shelvin Mack (Butler) F: Jamie Skeen (VCU) F: Derrick Williams (Arizona) Coach: Jim Calhoun (Connecticut)
Final thought: The final game was torture for anybody who cheers for the little guys and/or likes to watch shots go through the rim, but, again, it shouldn't completely overshadow what was another terrific three weeks of basketball that created storylines just like always. Shaka is now a one-name star, Butler now has two Final Four appearances, Jim Calhoun is now in truly elite coaching company, and congrats if you predicted any of those things on Selection Sunday.
We had upsets (Florida State over Notre Dame) and buzzer-beaters (Kentucky over Princeton) and crazy finishes (Butler-Pittsburgh), just like always. And that's why this tournament is the best postseason event in our country. It's not ideal for making sure the best team wins the title, obviously. But in the grand scheme of things it never lets us down … even in those years, like this year, when the final game is a total letdown.