Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another College Basketball Season Ends, But the Memories Remain

After watching Butler lose to UConn in the National Championship Game last night,  the men's college basketball  season was over (the women's season ends tonight).  There was lament, not as much for me as when Hofstra to ODU in the semis of the CAA Tournament, due in large part to being there for the game in Richmond, but there was lament.  There was the definite hope, especially at the half with the Bulldogs up three, that this was finally a mid major team's time to win the National Championship.  But it came crashing down with a loud clank, sadly like most of Butler's second half shots.

Did I want Butler to win?  Yes, very badly.  It would have been the final sledgehammer blow to break down the crumbling Great Wall of  Power Six conference domination of college basketball.  Was there sadness and remorse in seeing the Bulldogs lose?   Yes, just like last season when they lost in the final seconds to Duke.  Last season's championship loss hurt much more because the game came down to the final few seconds.  Last night was decided much earlier in the second half.

Kyle Whelliston 's belief, which he again so eloquently noted today, is the season ends with loss.  And yes with loss, comes lament.   Some losses like Hofstra's in the CAA Tournament Semis hurt more than others.  And yes for those dedicated Butler fans as well as their players, today hurts a lot.   But this kind of loss is temporary.  The loss of a loved one hurts so much more and stays with you much, much longer.

But for me, the season doesn't end in loss.  It just ends.  Again, the feeling of loss to me in the college basketball world is short lived, with some exceptions (see Hofstra NCAA snub 2006).  But if any thing, I am more sad with the end of the basketball season as a whole more than the loss of one game, no matter how important at the time the loss may seem.

Now with the advent of tournaments such as the CIT, the CBI, and the ever present NIT, besides UConn, three other teams' seasons didn't end in a loss (Santa Clara, Oregon and Wichita State).  Say what you want about the other three lesser tournaments, but for those teams they were happy with the end result.  So loss in college basketball in some ways has been lessened now.

Since I have started writing this blog in the season of 2005-2006, I have learned to deal with the college basketball season ending.  One of the Webster Dictionary definitions of the word season is "a time characterized by a particular circumstance or feature."  And that's college basketball in a nutshell.  From November to the beginning of April of the next year, college basketball is played.   And it's good that it is a set period of time.   There has to be a beginning (non conference play), a middle (conference play) and an end (conference tournament and post season play).  And there is always an end to the college basketball season.

But though there is loss at the end, again to me it's temporary.  The feeling of loss for the past two years has been quickly replaced by the memories of these seasons as a whole.   Last season, despite the tough loss to Duke, for me there was so much to rejoice about.  There was the heart warming story of William and Mary trying their darnedest to break their NCAA drought, only to fall short in the CAA championship game.  In 2009-10, mid majors made their mark as five of them - St Mary's, Cornell, Northern Iowa, Xavier (if you count them as such) and Butler all made the Sweet Sixteen.  Two of those teams, the Gaels and the Bulldogs were teams I had rooted for/supported all year.   And then, Butler did their best to play the part of Milan High School in front of a mostly partisan crowd in their home city of Indianapolis for the Final Four, then eventually the National Championship game.

Then there was this season.   I went to forty one men's basketball games and four women's basketball games (three Iona Women's games and one Hofstra women's game).  Forty five live basketball games in total.  Of all the live games that I have gone to over the years, this is the first time I actually counted how many I went to in a season.  And there might have been more games, but due to deadlines and commitments, forty five was really all I could muster.

For the Hofstra fan in me, I took great pride (yes, a pun) in seeing a team that had lost basically three starters to transfer and injury overcome all that to finish third in the CAA (the conference that had three other teams in the NCAA Tournament) due in large part to good team play, a superstar guard (Charles Jenkins) and an energetic first year coach (Mo Cassara).   It also resulted in my five year old son, Matthew becoming hooked on basketball late in the season, much to the sheer joy of his dad.   Everything became Hofstra basketball to Matthew.  When he dribbled around the living room, he was Hofstra vs. Delaware.

But just when I thought Hofstra's loss in the CAA Tournament was the climatic moment of the season, there were three teams that made the postseason even more special.  First, a Richmond team that I watched dismantle Fordham in the Bronx made a run to the Sweet 16.   At the same, a VCU team that I saw at the beginning of the season beat UCLA at MSG, then later upset George Mason in Richmond, made a historic run from the First Four to the Final Four. After Hofstra's season ended, Matthew adopted VCU as his team.  And to top what VCU did, Butler again made a run to the Final Four, setting up a first, an all mid major Final Four game with the Rams, then appearing in the National Championship game again.

For the Butler players and fans, as I noted, today probably hurts a lot, as it hurt VCU players and fans on Satuday night.  But soon, perhaps even today, the Butler Blue faithful will look back on the accomplishment of this season, of the last two seasons.  They will realize their team did something incredibly special.  Back to Back Final Four Appearances.  Back to Back National Championship Game appearances.   That is an incredible accomplishment that a Bulldog fan, hell a basketball fan, can look back for years to come.

VCU can look back that they were the first team to win five games to make it to the Final Four, a unique achievement for a team many thought shouldn't have made the tournament.   It's a memory that the Rams' players and fans will have forever.

The end of the basketball season does not necessarily mean the end of this blog for this season.  I have a few more articles to write.  But once those set of articles are done, the blog will take a hiatus.  There will be Matthew's T-Ball, spring day trips and vacations, lots of baseball to watch and the hazy days of summer.  But come October, that old familiar feeling will come back.  And so will this blog for its seventh basketball season.

And the end of the college basketball season doesn't mean the end of basketball altogether.  For those of you who like the NBA, that's still going strong.   You can also play basketball on your own for the entire year, as Matthew seems warranted to do now . When I get home in the evening, Matthew and I play a few games of H-O-R-S-E on his four foot high hoop.  And he has practiced so hard, that yes, he has beat me a couple of times, but only a couple of times. Matthew has to earn his victories since dad loves playing basketball too.

But yes, for those of us who love to go to live college basketball games, the season has ended.  However, the memories never fade and the love of college basketball never ends.  It only grows.

Just ask Matthew Moore.

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