Yesterday’s game telecast began with a thriller and ended with a yawner.
For Floridians, sadly, this past weekend turned into two failures.
Late in Game #1, Florida Atlantic University’s significant lead kept thinning as the game progressed. Down one, with seconds to go, San Diego State’s Lamont Butler raced ahead. He was fighting the clock, hysteria, and a ravenous FAU defense. He was instructed by Coach Brian Dutcher, a career-long assistant, mostly under the tutelage of Steve Fisher, not to take a time out. He did not and lofted the last shot of the game, a short jumper in the last second. It cleared the nut stunningly and won the game for the Aztecs.
Miami, in Game #2, battled UConn, a school that has won four NCAA championships in relatively recent history. The Huskies are currently coached by Dan Hurley, a member of a basketball committed family. The first three titles were steered by Jim Calhoun and the last one by Kevin Ollie. They have been to six Final Fours and are four-time National Champions (1999, 2004, 2011, 2014). Oddsmakers like UConn to win.
He lofted the last shot of the game, a short jumper in the final-second that won the game stunningly for SDSU, from one behind to up one. From lugubrious and mournful to cheerful.
In game two, UConn’s head coach, Dan Hurley, 50, knocked off Jim Larranaga’s Canes. A couple of difficult losses for the Miami area Dteams. Yet if this past weekend doesn’t stimulate and engross the area with college hoops, what will? Even when the NBA has moderate success with the Heat, the South Florida arena does not fill up unless the Heatsters win.
And let’s not forget the DII champs, Nova Southeastern who ran the table this season, 36-0 and then swept the NCAA championship.
As for the broadcasters, this was the penultimate for Jim Nantz. Monday night will be his basketball sendoff. He wears his emotions on his microphone without taking sides. His hope for his last NCAA tourney was that his alma mater, the University of Houston, would win it all. His tie with the Cougars was routed through an association with the school’s golf team and Guy Lewis’ basketball team.
If you see Nantz’ eyes welling with tears tomorrow, don’t be shocked. He is an emotional man, who likely is cutting down his assignments because he has a younger second and growing family. Jim will still be the lead voice on golf and CBS’ NFL.
But like other favored powerhouses, the Cougars went down far too early. Virginia, Purdue, Alabama, Kansas, Gonzaga and others were all knocked out before they envisioned.
One other area is how Nantz excels almost to the magnitude of the inimitable Vin Scully. He’ll immediately raise a pertinent and historical anecdote. When the game ended with the Butler bucket last night, Jim talked about how seven years ago, 2016, in the same Houston venue, Kris Jenkins threw up a three pointer at the same bucket to give Villanova the national championship in the final second of the tourney. The difference was that Scully would have paused, allowing viewers to absorb the thrill on TVs at home. Still, no one today is a walking encyclopedia, not to the depth of a Nantz.
It’s something I can assure you, we’ll miss him next season. The Jenkins bucket sent North Carolina home and gave the Cats their second of three titles. The others were in ’85 and ’18. Many called the game one of the best in tournament history, adding that the ’16 game was the most competitive finals ever.