How’s your March Madness bracket looking? Poor I hope … because I need the company. Haven’t been able to get a toss-up game right yet.
Did you need to find a defibrillator after Duke, the choice of roughly a quarter of brackets to win it all, when they were almost a second-round casualty?
To UCF. Our UCF.
Okay, my UCF.
It’s been days since the game ended in oh-so-heartbreaking fashion for the Knights, and I’m just getting over that feeling … like you found out one of your best friends at work got laid off.
How did that final tip in roll around on the rim and not go in?!?
There’s a Facebook group of rabid UCF fans. On Monday it was less social media and more a funeral.
Yes, it’s “just” sports and it’s “just one game.”
To all of you, maybe. To Knights fans, it was THE game — facing the game’s ultimate measuring stick with a core of seniors who hadn’t experienced this kind of stage, against a lineup of stars destined to be NBA lottery picks in a few months.
Duke vs. UCF, on CBS, on a Sunday right before the East Coast ate dinner and in the mid-afternoon in the rest of the country.
And it came two days after UCF beat VCU for its first-ever Big Dance win. The Knights made the tournament after a season good enough to be selected as an at-large selection, another first.
That all should be good enough, right?
Well, it was, until the Knights went man-to-man, Tacko-to-Zion, basket for basket with the game’s ultimate blueblood program, and led the old-guard Blue Devils by four points with 2:09 left , then came thiiiiis close to pulling off an upset we’d talk about for the rest of our lives — a proverbial David knocking off college hoops’ Goliath. Student coach Johnny Dawkins besting Coach K, his powerful mentor.
They were doing things nobody, not you or I, gave them a chance to do, and not because Duke played badly (they shot 44 percent from the field). The hope was they’d be the best version of UCF Knights basketball possible. Put up the good fight, show up, show out. Give yourself a chance to win rather than being impressed with paper credentials.
Um, that’s a handful of “checks” right there.
Right there. They were right there.
(This is the moment where the rest of UCF fans question the officiating on the game’s final two play sequences. I do not, because it was called the way every other big-game finish has been called recently, and if they were to reply those same exact plays again they might even be called differently.)
This was every big football game UCF lost in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. I saw Daunte Culpepper trip over a lineman in OT against Ole Miss … a pass interference call with our guy falling backward at Georgia … giving up two TDs in the last three minutes to lose to Georgia Tech 17-14 … giving up a 58-yard TD pass on a late fourth down to lose at Auburn 10-6 … Matt &$%#ing Prater, who holds the NFL record with a 64-yard field goal, fail to execute a 60-foot PAT in OT of the Hawaii Bowl.
None of those felt like Sunday did.
“You’ll win that game next time,” many have said. Next time might take a while. Three key pieces of the UCF lineup (swing guard B.J. Taylor, 7-6 center Tacko Fall, backup center and starting heart Chad Brown), who all played high school ball within 40 miles of Orlando, graduate. Aubrey Dawkins scored 32 (Why couldn’t it have been 34?!?) Sunday and is a junior, but his status is in the air as pro ball beckons. Coach Johnny Dawkins’ name has been attached to a couple big-conference coaching vacancies.
UCF Athletic Director Danny White called the game a “program-building loss”. Hope he’s right. Hope the program can find incoming versions of guys like Taylor and Brown, whose motors ran a constant 9,000 RPMs during games to make up for not being blessed to be 6-7 and 280 pounds like Zion Williamson.
Take emotion out of the question, and on a scale of 1-10 that game was still about a 17. A dozen lead changes. The largest lead in the game was eight. Over 11 million people tuned into the final ten minutes of the game, the most-watched college basketball game thus far this season.
The Tournament never fails to deliver.
My bracket, on the other hand, has delivered me to evil. Or to the 17th percentile on Yahoo! And ESPN. Same difference.
Meh, I still have Duke though. And Michigan, and Purdue, and North Carolina, if you care.