The Final Four has come and gone from Minneapolis for the third time since 1992 and the stakeholders are left to make their verdict.
For the organizers, it was about the NCAA’s view of the functionality of our massive dome and when they might want to come back.
For the civic boosters, it was about numbers of visitors, dollars spent and whether our hospitality industry had what it took to quench the various appetites of thousands of Texans and Alabamians.
For CBS and those who still look at TV ratings as the truest sign of a sporting event’s significance, it was about the number of viewers — and a 12.8 share on Monday night was solid.
And there was that other group:
Those of us who were delighted to see the Final Four in our midst for the best of reasons — the basketball.
We went 2-for-3 in that vital category. No one complains about 66.7 percent in basketball (unless it’s at the free throw line).
The big miss came from Michigan State. The Spartans came here as conquerors of Duke and as slight favorites. They were beaten into a pathetic shell of themselves by Texas Tech in a 61-51 loss in Saturday’s second semifinal.
The Spartans went 15-for-47 (31.9 percent) from the field, including 4-for-16 from Cassius Winston, a first-team All-America. Tom Izzo’s club was eaten alive by a Texas Tech defense that was without its 6-foot-11 shot blocker, Tariq Owens, for most of the second half.
There was a legitimate fear that the hoops would be nonstop ugly in this Final Four, with Virginia’s rise to power built on defense, Texas Tech’s on being tough-as-nails, Auburn’s on being extra-athletic and in-your face, and with Izzo having created a Big Ten power on rebounding and defense.
For we longtime Final Four followers, there were visions of the semifinals in the Seattle Kingdome in 1984, when Houston defeated Virginia 49-47 and Georgetown humiliated Kentucky 53-40. Wildcats stars Sam Bowie and Melvin Turpin wanted to be anywhere but near the shaved head of Michael Graham in that second game.
Then came Saturday’s first semifinal and Virginia and Auburn gave us a tremendous game: Virginia 63-62, on three free throws by Kyle Guy with 0.6 seconds left.
Monday night’s final was better: Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77 in overtime, after being tied 68-all in regulation.
I heard this more than a few times in the media workroom a couple of hours before Monday’s tipoff: “First team to 50 wins.”
It was intended as a one-liner. Through seven minutes on the game clock, it looked like premier soothsaying.
TexasTech came out and went after Virginia’s pack-line defense as if it was a quiz in molecular biology. The Raiders missed their first eight shots and had two turnovers before coach Chris Beard called a timeout at 12:56.
The concepts of the Virginia defense are intended to put three jerseys in front of every ballhandler. Beard said the Raiders had attempted to simulate the “pack-line help” in a Sunday practice.
“With one day’s prep, it’s difficult,” he said. “The first [part] of the game, we just couldn’t get anywhere.”
Virginia led 9-3 when Beard called the timeout. There were thoughts of Butler in the 2011, when it shot 12-for-64 (18.8 percent) in losing 53-41 to UConn in the title game.
Or maybe, the first college game ever played — Hamline 9, Minnesota School of Agriculture 3 — on Feb. 9, 1895.
Fortunately for all involved, including the 40,000 or so in the crowd announced at 72,062 who could see only 10 ants in the distance below, Beard went small, Brandone Francis and Kyler Edwards came off the bench to join Davide Moretti in bombing some threes, and it turned into a hellacious ballgame.
Unfortunately for Tech, Jarrett Culver, Tech’s second-team All-America, threw up another lousy game. He was named to the all-tournament team, clearly a default selection to find a second Raider to go with Matt Mooney.
Culver went 5-for-22 from the field, tried to be a hero a few times and failed, and, worse yet, he left De’Andre Hunter open for a three in the right corner that allowed Virginia to get to overtime.
The Cavaliers get much credit for their resiliency, escaping both Purdue in a region final and Auburn in the semis in miraculous fashion, and then hitting the clutch shots again Monday to force overtime.
That said, I left the dome each night surprised the Cavaliers had allowed 10-point leads in the middle of the second half to get away and put them in serious jeopardy against both Auburn and Texas Tech.
Obvious as is Tony Bennett’s excellence in preparation and on the sideline, the Virginia coach also had the advantage of the three best players who actually showed up (thus excluding Winston and Culver) in this Final Four:
Hunter, Ty Jerome and Guy, in that order.