NEW ORLEANS – Author John Updike once famously wrote, "Gods do not answer letters." But I'm hoping they at least read their mail.
Specifically, I'm hoping they read this open letter to the Tourney Gods:
You owe us one.
You owe us a great national championship game Monday night. Specifically, you owe us a great ending. You owe us a Mario Chalmers shot – whether it's Kentucky or Kansas swishing it doesn't matter, just give us one. (Clearly, it will matter to the respective fan bases, but non-invested thrill-seekers will take a game-winner from either side.)
Without it, your tourney is lacking one of its key ingredients.
The NCAA tournament is like pizza – it's never bad. It may be merely OK at times, but it's never bad.
Tourney Gods, your 2012 work is not bad, but it has been merely OK. There has been a paucity of last-second drama. We have had precious few memorable shots and not enough edge-of-your-seat finishes. After 66 games, the ledger shows zero buzzer-beaters and one overtime game.
If forced to sum up this tourney in one sentence, it might be this: The Year of the Lane Violation.
On three occasions, we came away from close games talking about an arcane and laxly enforced rule that was called and helped decide the outcome. There was No. 16 seed UNC Asheville losing to Syracuse in part on a lane violation. Same with Notre Dame against Xavier. And then it happened again at the end of the Ohio State-Kansas Final Four game, when Aaron Craft was caught chasing his own intentionally missed free throw.
As recurring themes go, it's not the greatest.
I've covered 23 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and I've always maintained that you Tourney Gods provide. You find a way, pick a spot, spring something big on us. Something memorable happens every year, something shocking, something that brings Joe and Josephine Fan screaming off the couch in amazement.
Quite frankly, you've spoiled us.
We've come to expect the Lorenzo Charles dunk (1983), the Keith Smart jumper ('87), the Tyus Edney drive ('95). We're conditioned to anticipate the UConn home-run play (1990), the Princeton backdoor play ('96), the Valparaiso 3-point play ('98). We're accustomed to embracing the sudden hero, such as Drew Nicholas (2003), Ty Rogers (2008) and Danero Thomas (2010). We'll even take clutch free throws from Rumeal Robinson (1989), a cataclysmic timeout from Chris Webber ('93) or a narrow half-court miss from Gordon Hayward (2010) if necessary.
And if I must state the obvious, I will: Christian Laettner ('92). Until this tourney provides, we'll have to keep watching replays of his shot – and you know how cranky that makes the Cat People.
Sure, you've given us some good storylines this spring. For the first time, two No. 15 seeds won in the same tournament – and on the same day. Ohio crashed the Sweet 16 and came within a missed free throw and narrowly missed buzzer-beater from 40 feet of shocking North Carolina. A Louisville-Kentucky Final Four matchup provided a week of fascinating fodder and fever-pitch theater.
(Speaking of which: Rick Pitino didn't just take the high road Saturday night in defeat. He took the Khyber Pass. Announcing that Louisville would be rooting for Kentucky to "bring it home" qualifies him for the Nobel Peace Prize. I daresay a solid percentage of his constituency disagrees. There will be some Rock-Chalking in Cardinal enclaves Monday night.)
[ Dan Wetzel: Kentucky coach John Calipari really needs to win the title ]
After a couple of freaky First Four occurrences – Western Kentucky and BYU coming back from the dead – this tourney has been one long tease. There have been plenty of close games: 26 have been decided by six or fewer points. But time after time, as a close game gets down to the final minute, the unforgettable ending fails to materialize.
There were late shots that will be fondly remembered on a few campuses: Darius Theus' floater that helped VCU past Wichita State; Will Sheehey's short jumper for Indiana to beat VCU two days later; Tu Holloway's tough banker that propelled Xavier past Notre Dame.
Those were late shots. They were not last shots. There has been no last-shot magic in March Madness.
Maybe now that it's April, that will change and you Tourney Gods will provide. Then again, maybe you won't. Because Kentucky has been completely uninterested in allowing any drama on its watch.
The Wildcats haven't trailed once in the second half in this NCAA tournament. On two occasions, UK was tied after intermission – by Iowa State in the round of 32 and by Louisville for a mind-bending minute in the Final Four. Indiana cut the lead to a point in the second half in the Sweet 16.
On all three occasions, the 'Cats responded with championship poise and determination. They put those teams away.
Still, Kansas will not be put away easily Monday night. The Jayhawks have been Team Comeback this tournament, rallying in the second half against Ohio State, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Purdue. So there is some hope for at least a competitive game and – dare to dream – some drama.
Really, Tourney Gods, all you need to do is rediscover your New Orleans juju. Every time you've held a Final Four here, the title game has gotten crazy in the clutch.
[ Related: Jay Hart: As the Superdome goes, so does New Orleans ]
In 1982, Michael Jordan provided the memorable shot and Fred Brown added to the lore with an end-game pass to the wrong team. In 1987, Smart hit his jumper to win Indiana's most recent title. In 1993, Webber brought his hands together in the fateful, fatal timeout signal when Michigan had none in the final seconds. In 2003, Hakim Warrick flew out of nowhere to block Michael Lee's shot and secure Syracuse's first and only title.
We'll take any of the above Monday: a huge shot, a bad pass, brainlock or an immortal block. Or maybe you'll surprise us with some new twist on old Madness.
Just give us something to remember 2012 by, Tourney Gods. You owe us one.
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