10:28 PM EDT, March 30, 2014
Three referees and a technician huddled at the scorer’s table late Sunday afternoon and determined, after a lengthy review, that next week’s Final Four in North Texas was set.
Utilizing information culled from hundreds of cameras set up at games around the country over two weeks, the NCAA confirmed the schools moving on as Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Kentucky.
The NCAA also announced the MVEI (most valuable electronic instrument) of the Elite Eight was the replay monitor.
Somehow, though, it all worked out . . . sensationally.
The officials got out of the way long enough to allow enough scintillating action to permeate down to the stars who did not wear stripes.
No botched “block-charge” call or 18-minute final minutes (Tennessee vs. Michigan) could keep the college kids from doing what they do best every March.
And that is to provide unscripted and unparalleled drama.
Kentucky earned the last Final Four prize Sunday when freshman Aaron Harrison hit a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left in Indianapolis to lift the Wildcats to a 75-72 win over Michigan.
That followed Connecticut’s knockout win over Michigan State (Sorry, Mr. President) in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
A day earlier, in Memphis, Florida outlasted die-hard Dayton and Wisconsin edged Arizona in Anaheim overtime.
From sunup Tuesday on the first day of the tournament, to sundown Sunday 12 days later, there were seven overtime games played and 10 other games decided by three points or fewer.
Warren Buffett played us all for suckers, knowing there was no chance he would have to pay anyone a billion bucks for a perfect bracket.
Whatever you thought of the NCAA committee’s seeding two weeks ago, these Final Four pairings will go well with almost any wine.
In one national semifinal, top-seeded Florida plays Connecticut, a No. 7, while in the other, No. 2 Wisconsin meets No. 8 Kentucky.
There are enough angles to convene a geometry convention.
Four Florida seniors, who fell one game short of the Final Four the three previous seasons, finally came to a place of peace after the Dayton accords.
The Gators are back in the last weekend or the first time since 2007, when they won their second straight national title under Coach Billy Donovan.
Florida was happy to cut down the nets in Memphis, but that isn’t the endgame.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year wasn’t to be the South Regional champions,” senior forward Patric Young said. “Our goal was to be national champions.”
As Young climbed the ladder Saturday to take net snippets, he said, he was “thinking about how I wanted to be able to do this again.”
There is both symmetry and absurdity in Florida’s meeting Connecticut in the national semifinals.
Florida has won 30 straight games since its last loss, to . . . Connecticut. The Huskies won Dec. 2 on a last-seconds shot by star senior Shabazz Napier.
Connecticut, though, has lost eight times since the Florida win and didn’t look like a deep-run NCAA team March 8 when it lost by 33 points at Louisville.
Connecticut needed overtime against St. Joseph’s just to get out of its opening game in the tournament.
There is a deja-vu vibe running through these Huskies, who made a similarly unexpected 2011 run to the Final Four riding star guard Kemba Walker.
Walker pushed Connecticut to the title, a game that was played in Houston.
The Huskies won their 2004 title in San Antonio, making them 4-0 in Final Four games played in Texas.
Napier was a reserve guard on the 2011 team; he had four points, four rebounds, two assists and two steals in that hideously ugly championship win over Butler.
Connecticut was supposed to go on dynasty hiatus after Jim Calhoun retired in 2012 and the team was banned from last year’s postseason for poor academic results.
Gee, it took the program months to recover.
Kevin Ollie, a former Connecticut player and assistant, took the job only at the urging of longtime coach/guru Larry Brown.
“I wanted to get an unbiased opinion, and I went to Larry,” Ollie said of Brown, now coaching at Southern Methodist. “And Larry said, ‘I’m going to hang up the phone on you if you don’t go back to UConn. I thought you were smarter than that.’ That’s his exact words.”
Kentucky vs. Wisconsin is No. 8 from the Midwest vs. No. 2 in the West.
If you saw the teams warm up, you might easily think Kentucky was the two and Wisconsin the eight.
This is a battle between programs that desperately want to win another NCAA championship. Kentucky hasn’t won a title since 2012 and Wisconsin hasn’t won since . . . 1941.
Badgers Coach Bo Ryan, who is 67 and has white hair, made his first Final Four in his 13th season in Madison.
Ryan was on the 19th floor of the team hotel Friday night when a 5.1 earthquake struck Southern California. It reminded Ryan that you get only so many chances in life.
“You never know when it’s your last game or what’s going to happen,” he said.
This is a sentimental journey for Ryan, raised in blue-collar Chester, Pa. Wisconsin won Saturday on the 90th birthday of his father, Butch, who died last August.
It was one reason Ryan was so riled up at Honda Center that he was called for a technical.
“I can be a little Type A at times,” he said.
Kentucky basketball shuns sentiment and operates under the constant aura of entitlement.
John Calipari’s job at Kentucky is to win the national title every year with a new set of high school All-Americans. He did it two years ago but, in Lexington, that’s a long time.
This might have been Calipari’s best coaching job given how long it took this season’s class of otherworldly freshmen to start playing like NBA lottery picks.
The best news for Calipari is they’re playing like that now.
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