ESPN recently replayed the Michigan Fab Five documentary and, on Monday night, as the newest national champions were crowned, it seemed perfectly appropriate. If Michigan and their fabulous freshmen broke barriers insofar as starting lineups, it's been pointed out that Coach John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats have now broken barriers insofar as winning it all.
The Wildcats won the biggest prize of them all for men's college basketball on Monday night, vanquishing the Kansas Jayhawks and setting a whole lot of people to doubt the whole college basketball scene. Regardless of that doubt, however, there can be none that Kentucky was the better team. They were a better team all season, and they were a better team on Monday night. Wooden Award-winning freshman Anthony Davis seems to be the best collegiate player in the country and, with this win, seems virtually assured of going first in the upcoming 2012 NBA draft. He scored a mere 6 points in the game, but grabbed 16 rebounds, smashed 6 blocks, and secured the Most Outstanding Player trophy. Although he will have spent merely a year in college, he emerges more of a finished product than some of his soon-to-be-peers in the NBA.
Kentucky's ascension to the top of college basketball seemed like a foregone conclusion for much of the season. They lost only two times all year, to Indiana and Vanderbilt, but they looked dominant at almost every other opportunity. Near the middle of the NCAA tournament, Charles Barkley even had the gall to make the inevitable, approximately twice-yearly, idiotic statement that the top college program could beat the lowest professional team - this time that Kentucky could and would beat the Charlotte Bobcats, the Washington Wizards, or the Toronto Raptors. (Things like this always get tossed around. In football, we occasionally have to endure the pundits engaging the same lines of fallacy. Luckily, not everyone agrees.)
Aside from all the hyperbole, though, Monday night's game proved that Kentucky was the better team. While the first half of the first period was a back and forth affair, with Kansas refusing to fold, the simple truth was that Kentucky continued to pull away. The defense of the Wildcats proved to be the bigger determining factor. With Kansas wanting to push the tempo in the beginning minutes, Anthony Davis picked up his first nasty block, and the Wildcats clamped down. On the other end, the Wildcat offense proved capable of overwhelming the Jayhawks' defense, including 2 of Jeff Withey's blocks. However, as the first half wound down, Kentucky put firm distance between themselves and the challengers, concluding the bracket up 41-27.
The second half looked like it was going to be more of the same, but Kansas decided, with about 4 minutes left in the game, that the fight had not gone out of them. For the first time since early in the first, they trimmed their deficit to single digits. Suddenly, with just over a minute left, the Wildcats led by a mere five points, and Kentucky looked shell-shocked. The upset was still possible! Alas, it was not to be. Five made free throws for Kentucky versus a lone made field goal for Kansas provided the final margin at 67-59.
Kentucky's coronation may bring some doubt for those who claim to love the NCAA game for its purity, but there are ample examples, including the conclusion of that Fab Five story, that shed more than a bit of a shadow on that purity. Regardless of its implications, the simple fact remains that the NCAA men's basketball tournament is the most exciting postseason of any sport and the title game between Kansas and Kentucky was a great basketball game.