March Madness Matched Its Hype

College basketball has given us an ending that will be remembered far more than the regular season

The beauty of it was that we really didn't have that many clues.

Oh, college basketball gave us some intriguing story lines, beginning with Duke freshman Zion Williamson and the Blue Devils "Super Team'' tag.

It gave us drama in the Atlantic Coast Conference between Duke, North Carolina and Virginia, carrying the stigma of becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16.

It gave us a cluster of teams in the Big 12, with Kansas' reign as the regular season royalty finally coming to an end.

It gave us a front-loaded Big Ten, led by Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State.

It gave us Kentucky, LSU, Tennessee and, at the end, Auburn, wheeling and dealing in the Southeastern Conference, with investigations again looming.

It gave us a mid-major class led by Wofford of the Southern Conference, who wanted a better seat.

It gave us a drought in the Pac-12, which eased at the end of the year by the blossoming of an Oregon team which looked like it was on a mission.

But once March arrived, college basketball returned to the familiar pattern of top seeds, with the only quirk being no clear-cut No.1 consensus as Duke showed phenom freshmen can only take you so far.

For two weekends, we had upsets and drama and magic moments. Last weekend, we kicked it up a notch, producing four sensational regional finals that were basically last-possession decisions. The aftermath created chalk-light (Virginia was the only No. 1 seed to reach Minneapolis) Final Four, along with Michigan State, Auburn and Texas Tech.

Saturday started with another game for the ages, in which Virginia, which had squandered a 10 point lead with five minutes remaining, somehow managed to put together eight points in five seconds and squeeze its way into its first Final Four since 1984 with a 63-62 win over Auburn.

The nightcap gave us Texas Tech, a modern version of the 1966 Texas Western, now known as UTEP, which featured the first all-black starting lineup team to win a championship.

Texas Tech, as Michigan State coach Tom Izzo grudgingly conceded, "out-toughed'' the Spartans in a 61-51 decision.

Texas Tech now joins UTEP as only the second school from Texas to make the championship game.

What are left with a classic championship game of contrasts. Texas Tech, coming out of the Big 12 as a No. 3 seed, doesn't have much shine.

It is a lunch-bucket type team, built in one year on defense, determination.

Coach Chris Beard has evolved from journey-man to a national coach of the year contender, whose name should be on the short lists of schools still with openings such as UCLA and Arkansas.

Then there is Virginia and coach Tony Bennett, left carrying the ACC banner as a team determined to overcome last year's historic loss to UMBC as it seeks make a different history.

The Cavaliers were the best team in the ACC during the regular season, but Tobacco Road power brokers Duke and North Carolina made them only the third No. 1 seed.

Virginia overcame an opening-round scare against No. 16 Gardner-Webb and reached the Final Four. But the ride appeared over against Auburn before the Cavs benefited from two calls, one missed by the officials and one ruled correctly.

The Cavs had to also make the plays that counted at the right time.

College basketball fans should savor the last few weeks and Monday night's title game.

It will be the final high point of a season that will likely give way to more scandal news as an ongoing FBI investigation continues to uncover sleaze that will likely envelop schools that made deep runs in this NCAA Tournament.

March Madness has been a joy so make sure to enjoy Monday's showcase.

It may be the last shining moment for some time.

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