What a terrific season for college basketball.
The championship game between Illinois and North Carolina – the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country – was a fitting end to a competitive and very exciting season. And despite picking Illinois to win it all, I feel like the best team won.
The Tar Heels' driving force was Sean May. Over the last third of the season, he was the nation's best player. He also had plenty of help from his talented teammates. Congratulations to Roy Williams, his team and the entire North Carolina basketball program. The Tar Heels are deserving, worthy and classy champions.
Congratulations to the Fighting Illini, too. They were a few points short of a national championship, but it still was a most memorable season.
I'd also like to say congratulations to both Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim. Both coaches reached the 700 career victory milestone this season, and both will be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in September.
When this season got started back in November, the number of top teams that had juniors and seniors as their most prominent players was noticeably different than in recent seasons. Over half of the teams in any of the polls had very good college talent to go along with the experience and leadership of upperclassmen. Because of that, there were 12 to 15 teams that appeared to be capable of winning a national championship and perhaps another six to 10 that looked capable of a Final Four run.
Competitive balance looked alive and well. From conference play to postseason conference tournaments to the climax of March Madness, college basketball enjoyed a resurgence, and the high level of play helped boost the game's popularity. College basketball has its problems, but overall, it is in good shape. The energy of the action, the passion of the fans and the emotion and effort of the players and coaches make college basketball special and appealing to the masses.
In my role as a game and studio analyst for CBS Sports, I had the privilege of being courtside for 14 games and I was in the studio for another 70. I don't know how many other games I watched live or on tape, so it's hard to highlight all of the special moments I enjoyed with college hoops this season. But there are a few that stand out:
- Pacific coming back from eight points down in 40 seconds to win at Utah State.
- The Ohio State University giving Illinois its only regular-season loss.
- Ohio University's stirring comeback against Buffalo in the MAC championship game.
- The entire day on March 6 (Ohio State vs. Illinois, Florida vs. Kentucky, Kansas vs. Missouri, Duke vs. UNC).
- Wake Forest vs. West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
- The thrilling regional final weekend.
- Niagara making it to the tournament after a 35-year absence and Joe Mihalich's ill mom being able to enjoy it with him.
- Illinois' Bruce Weber grieving publicly after losing his mom during the Big Ten tournament but remaining classy and gracious.
- Tom Brennan and his Vermont Catamounts making some noise in the tourney.
There were so many terrific games and nice stories this season that I can't help but feel good about the game's direction. I'm looking forward to the offseason, but when October rolls around, I'll be anxious to start the exciting and unpredictable ride that is college basketball again.