What A Game

The 2016 Men's Basketball Championship was one of the best sporting events I've ever seen. A great sporting event factors in a multitude of things. It simply can't be a great game. A great game can happen in my Thursday night pick-up game on a too-small court at an elementary school played mostly by men who can't jump over a phone book.

A great sporting event requires the stakes to be high, and they don't get higher in college basketball than they were Monday night in Houston. It requires greater context, in this case two groups of seniors who had largely felt heartbreak in March, trying to finish off their careers with two victories in April.

It requires high level play, which knocks out my Thursday night pickup game. This game had that. While the officiating wasn't great (it rarely is in college basketball), the game was undoubtedly decided by the players. The high-level shot making started early and didn't end, quite literally, until the buzzer sounded.

Which brings us to the final criterion for a great sporting event: the end. The end of this game started before the end. UNC guard Marcus Paige, one of those seniors, somehow turned this into a made three point basket to tie the game.

My favorite part of this brilliant image by Lance King of Getty is Villanova's Mikal Bridges (#25) looking like "psh, okay" as Brice Johnson (#11, UNC) behind him has the look of "oh dear, okay Marcus?" as Paige uncoils and fires the ball towards the rim. He made this shot!!

Paige, who had a miserable year shooting the ball, seemed to make up for it all at once in the tournament. He hit multiple threes in every game of the tournament, including four Monday night. However instead of being able to look back and celebrate one of the most remarkable shots in NCAA Tournament history, Paige is haunted by the 4.7 seconds that followed.

It's a moment that will live forever. We are lucky as college basketball fans to have moments in this neighborhood with an astounding level of regularity. Gordon Hayward's shot that missed in 2011, Mario Chalmers shot that didn't in 2008 and Hakim Warrick's block in 2003 are just some of the amazing moments in close games that helped decide a championship. However the true buzzer beater is rare. Hayward's would've been, but it went begging by fractions of an inch.

The last time it happened was 1983, when Lorenzo Charles put back Dereck Whittenburg's 30-foot miss at the buzzer to cap NC State's underdog run to Jim Valvano's only title. Forgetting the added context of the improbability NC State was even in that game and what we know about Valvano's life after, I'll put this shot above that one. Whittenburg missed and Charles was in the right place. This play also involved two people, but in a totally different way.

As kids, we all dream of hitting the game-winning shot to win a championship. Ryan Arcidiacono's dream undoubtedly had him in a Villanova jersey. The Wildcats senior is the son of two Nova grads and grew up living and dying with the squad he would eventually play for. The ball was in his hands as the clock wound down. While he wouldn't have had a great look, he could've taken the shot and lived with the result. If he made it, he's a hero. If he doesn't, the game goes to overtime.

He did neither. He passed. Kris Jenkins deserves credit too for more than hitting the shot. It would've been easy to trot down the floor and watch Arcidiacono take a shot at greatness. Instead, he trailed the play, ready to shoot and when he saw his teammate doubled, made sure to call for the ball. That still doesn't mean Arcidiacono had to pass it. If he had forced a shot, no one today would have said "he should've passed to Jenkins," but he did. Jenkins was able to step into the shot and he nailed it. He's a legend. Forever, he'll be the guy who hit the shot to win the title. Arcidiacono made that so, and he deserves immense credit for it.

That said, let's not pretend Arcidiacono isn't a legend in his own right. It seems like he's been at Villanova since their last title in 1985. Of course he wasn't born then, but he's now cemented his place along side Ed Pinckney in Villanova lore. He was the best player on a championship team, the unquestioned leader and his play last night was exemplary. He had a confidence about him usually reserved for Steph Curry. It seemed he knew what was going to happen and played with no doubt. That was a lot of fun to watch, unless you were wearing Carolina blue.

This game had everything. It had legendary performances. It had legendary moments. It had a legendary ending. What more could you ask for? Unless you had a rooting interesting in an alternate ending, the answer is simply nothing.