Davidson’s amazing NCAA tournament run came to an end today, as Kansas just squeaked past them, 59-57, when a shot at the buzzer went wide. The low score probably offends NBA fans, but to my mind, this game showed everything that’s right about the NCAA tournament.
If you watched the game, it was clear that Kansas was bigger, stronger, and faster than Davidson at pretty much every position. And yet the Wildcats were able to hang with them, and even had a four-point lead in the second half– not because they were chucking wild shots and getting lucky, but because they played excellent basketball. Their team defense was terrific, and they worked the ball well to get open shots for players who couldn’t begin to physically challenge the Jayhawks. (Not for lack of trying– but every time they tried to take the ball all the way to the rim, they got stuffed.)
As somebody who played the game for an old-school coach, back in the day, that’s what I’m looking for. Basketball isn’t just about amazing physical feats– it’s about knowledge and planning and execution, and a team that plays the game well can hang with (and sometimes beat) vastly superior individual athletes. That’s more impressive to me than any acrobatic highlight-reel dunk.
Of course, Davidson didn’t win, mostly because they didn’t execute quite as well as they needed to. To my mind, the key moment in the game came with about nine minutes left, when Davidson took a four-point lead, 49-45. They had momentum, most of the crowd on their side, and they had the ball with a chance to build their lead. And there was some mis-communication between the guards, one of whom ended up pulling a Fred Brown and throwing the ball directly to a Kansas player who went down the court for the easiest lay-up of his career. That killed the momentum, and Kansas rallied from there.
And that’s the thing– that’s how narrow Davidson’s margin was. If they don’t blow that play, the game is completely different. That momentary lapse, among others, broke their run, and let Kansas use their physical superiority to grind out a win down the stretch.
Anyway, it was a really good game. Not quite the same quality as the famous Princeton-Georgetown game in ’89, which was one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, but it was a fine performance. Congratulations to Davidson on a great season, and a great story.
The Kansas win puts all four #1 seeds in the Final Four for the first time ever. This is probably the ideal scenario for the NCAA– lots of upsets and a great run by a small team in the first two weekends, culminating in four big-name schools facing off for the title. They even get a Kansas-UNC match-up in the first week, pitting Roy Williams against his former school, which you can be sure CBS will milk for every last drop of pathos.
As a fan of the game, though, I was pulling for Davidson. Kansas-UNC will be more physically impressive, but I’d rather see the Wildcats on the big stage.