Editor's Note: Welcome to Morning Madness, SI’s daily newsletter during the NCAA tournament. We'll provide you with insight, analysis, picks and more from our college hoops experts around the country.
Here’s a riddle. When does two weeks feel like a lifetime? When you’re talking about this year’s NCAA tournament.
Two weeks ago, everyone was lamenting the lack of upsets, buzzer-beaters and, frankly, drama in the first two rounds of the Big Dance. The 12 top seeds all advanced to the Sweet 16, plus two No. 4 seeds, one No. 5 seed, and a No. 12 seed from a Power 5 conference. The plus—and much more important—side of chalk dominating the first two rounds is that the final 16 teams alive this college basketball season were the very best in the sport. And that created two wonderfully compelling weeks of basketball, culminating in a national championship game worthy of punctuating one of the best NCAA tournaments ever.
Just think of what we’ve seen the last two weeks. Duke 75, Virginia Tech 73. Carsen Edwards doing his best Steph Curry impression. Auburn taking down every blue blood in sight. Cassius Winston going 20–10 to knock out tournament favorite Duke. Zion Williamson putting up 24 and 14 in a losing effort. PJ Washington’s 28 points and 13 rebounds in the Elite Eight not being good enough to get Kentucky to the Final Four. Texas Tech and Auburn making the Final Four for the first time in their respective program histories. Four games decided by five points or fewer. Four overtime games, including two in the Elite Eight and the national championship.
What a difference two weeks makes.
And then, of course, it all ended with one of the best possible stories, one year in the making. Last season, Virginia made the most ignominious history possible in the NCAA tournament, becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed. The Cavaliers returned nearly all of that team, keeping in place an infrastructure that, while ultimately disappointing, won 31 games and swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles. They picked up on that trajectory immediately this season, winning 29 games in the regular season and the ACC regular season title for the second straight year. They navigated a tournament path that included five of the top-32 teams on kenpom.com, including Purdue, Auburn and Texas Tech over the last week. They trailed all of those games with less than 15 seconds left. Somehow, they found a way to win all of them. A year ago at this time, Virginia was a punchline. This year, the Cavaliers are national champions.
What a difference a year makes.
Finally, let’s hope all the hand-wringing of the 48 hours between the end of the national semifinals and beginning of the championship game puts an end to the painting with a broad brush based on matchups. The lament that pervaded the pundit class, overlooking the historically great collection of 16 teams that would make up the final two weeks of the dance, reared its ugly head once again this weekend. Two slow-paced teams like Virginia and Texas Tech couldn’t possibly give us an entertaining championship game, they said. Get ready for the sport to be set back a decade or two, they said. What’s more, they insisted that this was just the beginning of a dystopian future where plodding, painstaking basketball would dominate the college basketball landscape.
If this is the style of basketball that will come to dominate the college game for the foreseeable future, the sport is in good hands. Until next year…
• We're already looking ahead to next season with our Way-Too-Early Top 25 (by Jeremy Woo)
• Betting odds for the 2020 national title winner are already out (by Michael Shapiro)
Michigan State ends the Big Ten’s two-decade drought and wins the 2020 national championship.
At the Buzzer
The King stays the King