Generally speaking, I casually turn on the NCAA championship game and watch it. I say casually because, for the most part, outside of 2017, I have zero legitimate interests in rooting for either team.
This year, I turned on the NCAA game with a twinge of disappointment, because instead of watching Gonzaga/Virginia, I was watching Texas Tech/Virginia. Steven hit upon all the notes in a much better fashion than I ever will, but last night, I was wondering how to move on and enjoy the basketball that is being played at the same time.
Slightly tongue-in-cheek, but also slightly seriously, I posted this poll to Twitter, and the results were a bit what I was expecting:
Who are you rooting for tonight?— Slipper Still Fits (@slipperstillfit) April 8, 2019
Over 50 percent of the respondents picked jokey option No. 3, but I think there is a bit of truth in that. The Gonzaga Bulldogs fanbase hasn’t been in this situation before. In 2017, we lost the national championship—but one would argue that was completely overshadowed by the Final Four and natty appearance in itself.
In other years, we’ve gotten bounced from the NCAA Tournament early, but there hasn’t been the sense of “this is our time” quite yet. The 2006 loss to UCLA was heartbreaking. The 2013 loss to Wichita State was confounding. In each instance, the Zags were operating in more of a flash in the pan mode, not one that has been building for the past five years.
If anything, the NCAA Tournament taught us this year what it teaches us every year, winning requires skill, ridiculous shots falling, a few generous calls going your way, and a whole other host of random events to occur to cut the nets down in April. Virginia fought and scrapped to get to last night, and they defeated arguably the team which played the best basketball in the entire tournament in Texas Tech. The final score doesn’t do justice to how tight the game was in the waning minutes, and how much the narrative can be completely turned upside down by a big shot, a big call, or a big misplay.
We entered this season as Final Four favorites, many national writers extending that win streak into the championship game. Gonzaga bowed out of the tournament earlier than expected this year. We fell to a very good Texas Tech Red Raiders squad. While there is nothing to be ashamed of there, there is plenty to be disappointed about. The key fact is those two sentiments: being proud of the Zags accomplishments, and being upset they didn’t go further, are not mutually exclusive.
As a Gonzaga fan, this is the balance. Figuring out how to process those expectations (and the pitfalls that come with it) while not letting it ruin the rest of the NCAA Tournament. As the Bulldogs get better and better, this will occur more and more often.
For the the people who didn’t watch the NCAA championship game, you missed out on an absolute beauty. It was this whole nonsense tournament tightly packaged into 45 minutes of why we are all so captivated by a bunch of late-teens, early-20s basketball players balling their hearts out for our personal enjoyment and a shot at glory.