INDIANAPOLIS – Duke defeated Butler 61-59 on Monday night to claim the NCAA title, and it only seemed fitting that the game ended in such dramatic fashion.
Gordon Hayward's half-court heave – which would've won the game for Butler – was just a bit too strong off the glass, giving Duke the championship in one of the more exciting, parity-filled NCAA tournaments in recent memory.
Here's a look back at some of the highlights – and lowlights.
Best Player: Duke's Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith were always mentioned in the same breath during this year's tournament, so I'll do the same thing here and make this a three-way tie. The nation's top-scoring trio combined for 110 of the 139 points Duke scored during the Final Four.
Worst Loss: Even though it featured three freshman starters, Kentucky's players were recruited to win a national championship this season – mainly because everyone knew all along that John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe were one-and-dones. That the Wildcats lost to West Virginia in the Elite Eight makes the 2009-10 season somewhat of a disappointment.
Best Shot(s): Two nights after his 3-pointer in the final seconds lifted his team to a first-round victory over UNLV, Northern Iowa's Ali Farokhmanesh struck again with a shot from beyond the arc that catapulted the Panthers to a second-round victory over Kansas, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed.
Best Mascot: Butler Blue II – the Bulldog that paced the baseline for the NCAA national runner-up – couldn't have been a bigger hit. He barks during the announcement of Butler's lineup and gets his head rubbed for good luck by each and every starter. He was also gracious enough to take time from his busy schedule to pose for pictures before Monday's title game.
Biggest Upset: Northern Iowa beating Kansas in the second round goes down as the worst loss in recent Jayhawks memory – even worse than the first-round setbacks against Bucknell and Bradley in 2005 and 2006, when Kansas didn't have nearly as good of a team as it did this season.
Best Moment: Even the world's biggest cynic had to have been moved when West Virginia coach Bob Huggins got down on his knees and cradled the head of injured senior Da'Sean Butler, who writhed in pain after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the second half of his team's national semifinal loss to Duke. Huggins' face was inches away from Butler's as he consoled his leading scorer.
Worst Officiating: Butler's national semifinal victory over Michigan State may have been a beautiful sight for Bulldogs supporters, but to the casual fan it was difficult to watch because the officials weren't consistent with their whistles. It was tough for players to determine what they could and couldn't get away with. Michigan State's Draymond Green fouled out, and Raymar Morgan and Delvon Roe were held to a combined eight points because of foul trouble.
Best Game: Jacob Pullen hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second overtime to help Kansas State defeat Xavier 101-96 in the Sweet 16. The game featured big-time shots in the clutch from both teams. "As good of a game as I've ever been a part of," Xavier coach Chris Mack said. Jordan Crawford had 32 points for the Musketeers, included a guarded 3-pointer from 35 feet.
Worst Game: Wisconsin didn't put up much of a fight in 87-69 second-round loss to Cornell. Sure, Cornell was underrated and much better than anyone was giving it credit for. But Bo Ryan's teams never lose in that kind of a fashion.
Best 7-footer: Duke's Brian Zoubek got most of the attention because the Blue Devils made the Final Four – and deservedly so. Duke never would've won the national championship without Zoubek. Still, how can you not love Northern Iowa's Jordan Eglseder, who swished a pair of 3-pointers against Kansas after making just one all season. If Eglseder's basketball career doesn't pan out he'd be a perfect fit for the WWE.
Best Celebrity Fan: Comedian and former "Saturday Night Live" news anchor Dennis Miller attended Monday's NCAA title game. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was also in the stands.
Best Surprise Performance: Joe Mazzulla scored a career-high 17 points to lead West Virginia to a 73-66 victory over No. 1 seed Kentucky in the Elite Eight. Mazzulla, who made his first start of the season in place of the injured Darryl "Truck" Bryant, entered the game averaging 2.2 points.
Worst Choke Job: The stage seemed set for Clemson's Oliver Purnell to finally win a first-round game in the NCAA tournament. Instead, his Tigers floundered once again against a beat-up Missouri squad that was without one of its top players (Justin Safford). Even more puzzling is that, two weeks after his team's 86-78 loss, Purnell was hired at DePaul. Way to set your sights high, Blue Demons.
Best Finish: Korie Lucious hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Michigan State to an 85-83 victory over Maryland in a wild second-round game. The Spartans had blown a 16-point lead after losing Kalin Lucas to an Achilles injury earlier in the game, and it looked as if they were going to lose after Maryland's Greivis Vasquez put his team ahead with a basket with 6 seconds remaining. Lucious, though, responded with his heroic shot.
Worst Sport: National Player of the Year Evan Turner didn't make himself look very good in the moments following the Buckeyes' Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee. Turner – who developed an annoying habit toward the end of the season of trash-talking and popping his jersey – only shook a few of the Volunteers' hands before storming off to the locker room.
Best Win(s): You've got to give Purdue credit for reaching the Sweet 16 without second-leading scorer Robbie Hummel (ACL). Most "experts" picked the Boilermakers to lose in the first round against No. 13 seed Siena. Instead, they won 72-64. They followed that up by beating Texas A&M – a team that finished second in the Big 12 – in Round 2 before losing to Duke in the Sweet 16.
Best Quote: Media members fell in love with St. Mary's center Omar Samhan, who used the NCAA tournament to profess his love for Taylor Swift while announcing his plans to run for United States president.
Best Coaching Job: The most impressive thing about Butler's appearance in the NCAA title game was the list of teams it beat to get there. Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State were all ranked among the country's top five teams at some point this season, and UTEP also appeared in the Top 25 poll. That's a credit to 33-year-old Brad Stevens, whose team had won 25 straight games before losing Monday.
Worst Coaching Decision: Even Hall of Famers make dumb decisions, which is exactly what Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski did when he had Brian Zoubek miss the second of two free throws with Duke leading Butler 61-59 with 3.6 seconds remaining. Butler's Gordon Hayward got the rebound, raced down the court and fired up a 3-pointer that would've won the game. Krzyzewski would've never lived that down.
Best non-Duke Trio: Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn, Ekpe Udoh and Tweety Carter nearly led the Bears to their first Final Four appearance since 1950. Instead, Baylor lost to Duke 78-71 in the Elite Eight. Still, Baylor never would've gotten as far as it did without Dunn, Udoh and Carter.
Best Announcer: Gus Johnson became so popular with fans during the first two weekends of the tournament that some of them even started a petition that called for him to work the Final Four.
Worst Overstatement: As good as Monday's NCAA title game may have been, some announcers and sportswriters are taking things too far by labeling it the "greatest championship game ever." What about Kansas' overtime win against Memphis two years ago? Monday's game isn't even in the same category.
Best Host: It's too bad the Final Four isn't in Indianapolis every year. From the fans to the nightlife to the arena itself, this is the perfect place to have the event.
Breakthrough Player: About the only problem with Gordon Hayward's performance is that it caused his NBA stock to soar through the roof. Don't be surprised if Hayward – who some people believe was the top all-around performer in the tournament – isn't back next season.
Best Conference: Although it was never mentioned in the same breath as the Big East and Big 12 during the season, the Big Ten outdid both of them during the NCAA tournament. Three teams (Ohio State, Michigan State and Purdue) reached the Sweet 16, and the Spartans made the Final Four.
Worst Conference: Of the eight Big East teams that made the field, only two of them (West Virginia and Syracuse) reached the Sweet 16. Marquette, Georgetown, Notre Dame and Louisville all lost in the first round. Eesshh.
- Gordon Hayward
- Michigan State
- West Virginia