Bock’s Score: The NCAA Was Something Special

Here’s to Villanova and Notre Dame, champions of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament and here’s to those who rose to prominence in the three-week marathon of games.

Let’s start with UMBC, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, which made history as the first 16th seed to beat a No. 1 when defeated No. 1 Virginia in the first round. The Retrievers – not Golden Retrievers, just Retrievers – won the game by 20 points and sent people who had picked the Cavaliers to go deep in the tournament into a deep depression.

One angry fan’s busted bracket caused considerable venom that spilled on to Twitter where so much of that sort of thing is found. “Who’s UMBC?’’ he demanded, displaying a healthy dose of academic ignorance. The school responded that it is a major research center specializing in cyber security computer engineering studies and six-time national chess champions. And by the way, the Retrievers’ tweet added, “Who are you?’’

Then there was Loyola of Chicago and Sister Jean Delores Schmidt, its 98-year-old chaplain and No. 1 fan. The Ramblers provided the feel good story of the men’s tournament, unexpectedly reaching the Final Four before going down against Michigan.

And how about Syracuse, the last team added to the 68-team field, considered nothing more than an afterthought in the field, making it all the way to the Sweet Sixteen?

All good stories but none better than the individual stars of the Final Four.

On the women’s side there was Arike Ogunbowale of Notre Dame. In the national semifinal against high and mighty Connecticut, she hit a 3-point shot with one second left on the clock to seal a 91-89 victory for the Irish. Then, two nights later, Ogunbowale  nailed another 3-pointer with less than a second left on the clock, clinch a 61-58 victory over Mississippi State.

The NCAA likes to use “One Shining Moment’’ as its celebration anthem at the end of the men’s tournament. For Ogunbowale, those were two shining moments.

Then there was Villanova, dominating the men’s tournament, winning all of its games by double digits to clinch a second national championship in three years. The Wildcats were armed with top notch talent like Mikai Bridges, almost certainly an NBA draft lottery pick and Jalen Brunson, the National Player of the Year.

But when it came down to the championship game against Michigan, the difference was sixth man Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench to drill the Wolverines with 31 points on just 15 shots. Two years ago, when Villanova cut down the nets, DiVincenzo missed the fun, sidelined by a broken foot. He didn’t miss it this time, though.

It was a wonderful tournament, packed with wonderful stories, climaxed with the winners celebrating as confetti and streamers fell all around them. But through it all, there was a black cloud over the proceedings. The one-and-done culture claimed three players, Deandre Ayton of Arizona, Marvin Bagley III of Duke and Mike Porter Jr. of Missouri, declaring for the NBA draft, before Villanova cut down the nets.

There is a recruiting scandal percolating in college basketball. A fistful of assistant coaches have been arrested and the FBI is investigating. There won’t be any confetti falling when the feds get through with the sport.


About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

Get connected with us on Social Media