Michigan vs. Louisville somehow exceeded unattainable expectations on Monday night.
When the final whistle blew between the Wolverines and the Syracuse Orange just before midnight Eastern on Saturday, and it settled in that John Beilein's team would take on the top-seeded Cardinals, the hype train nearly hurtled off the tracks.
So often, media can go overboard in sensationalizing a big game. It can use hyperbole to the point where you just want to bang your head against the wall.
But this time, the hype felt deserved.
Michigan vs. Louisville. Most efficient offense in America vs. the most dangerous, ball-hawking defense in America. The steady, cold-blooded superstardom of Trey Burke vs. the unpredictably awesome Russ Smith. The motor of Mitch McGary vs. the size of Gorgui Dieng.
Fast-paced tempo, fast-paced tempo, fast-paced tempo.
If there was any national championship game that was going to quiet the critics of college basketball, that was going to make them forget that this sport can sometimes be defined by slow pace, physical defense and bruised rims, that was going to enthrall an entire country on the biggest stage, it was this one.
The more you thought about it, the more excited you got, and the more it felt like it would disappoint on a relative level.
Well, disappoint it did not.
With the exception of bringing out trampolines and creating a massive game of SlamBall, there really wasn't any way the title game could have been better.
In the first glorious 20 minutes, it was about the unsung heroes coming off the bench.
When Burke went to the pine with two fouls, Spike Albrecht—yes, that Spike Albrecht came alive. The 5'11" true freshman Spike Albrecht. The Spike Albrecht who entered the game averaging 1.9 points per game. The Spike Albrecht who was offered a scholarship by Michigan and ... Appalachian State—turned into the second coming of Michael Jordan.
He poured in all four of his three-point attempts and six of his seven shots overall en route to a ridiculous, Twitter-exploding 17 points in the game's first 17 minutes.
Luke Hancock, the Cardinals' sixth man, responded with his own NBA-Jamlike run, pouring in four three-pointers in a matter of three minutes to finish the half with 16 points.
Combine two almost-mythical shooting runs by two relatively unknown players with constant up-and-down action and efficient offense from everyone on the court, and you had one of the most entertaining 20 minutes of basketball you'll ever see.
Then the stars showed up in the second half.
Burke and Peyton Siva traded punches. Tim Hardaway Jr. threw down a monstrous, rim-rattling slam. Chane Behanan and Dieng vacuumed up seemingly every ball off the offensive glass.
As the Cardinals held on down the stretch, the game never slowed and it felt as if every play was destined for SportsCenter.
It was the perfect storm. It was the best-played, most electrifying game of the year during the most important game of the year with the inspirational story of Kevin Ware to top it all off.
Something like Monday's championship might never happen again.
In the end, the masterpiece was complete: 158 total points, 53 made baskets on 48.6 percent shooting and 30 assists, 16 made three-pointers on 47.1 percent shooting and one history-making Most Outstanding Player (via Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel):
Pete Thamel @SIPeteThamel
Luke Hancock is the first non-starter to be named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four. (Reserached back to 1939).4/9/2013, 4:55:16 AM
Championship games are supposed to be the culmination of greatness. They are supposed to represent the two best teams in the sport, and as such, they are supposed to create memorable moments and undeniable instant classic.
Louisville vs. Michigan was everything a title game should be, and it will remembered for a long time.
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