I am of the opinion that men's college basketball has suffered the most of any major sport during the COVID pandemic because it is the sport most dependent on the atmosphere created by packed arenas and rabid fans — elements that have been largely absent, obviously for good reasons, in the last year.
It doesn't help that some of the best teams this season endured lengthy pauses, nor does it help that the general trajectory of the quality of play in NCAA men's hoops has been decreasing for quite some time — owing largely to a wave of one-and-done players, which again I am not here to complain about because players making the jump to the pros and making decisions that are best for their long-term futures is a good thing.
The sum total was a dud of a season and, to be honest, a dud of a NCAA tournament-to-date heading into the Final Four. There hadn't been a buzzer-beating game-winning shot. There were some upsets, but even those games — like Abilene Christian over Texas in the first round — were punctuated more by sloppy play than tension.
But as Patrick Reusse and I talked about on Monday's Daily Delivery podcast, that narrative took an abrupt turn on Saturday night.
If you don't see the podcast player, click here to listen.
Gonzaga vs. UCLA had everything you could want in a men's college basketball game: a favored team vs. double-digit seed. Impeccable play from both teams. Incredible drama throughout. And then an ending for the ages. It's not hyperbole to suggest it was one of the best games in men's college basketball history.
It just might have turned this entire college season around, since the things that happen last are the ones we tend to remember most. And it set up a Gonzaga vs. Baylor matchup in Monday's title game that has piqued my interest — and I'm sure the interest of others — in a way that just did not exist before tipoff Saturday.
It does not achieve that lofty status without several factors, but the primary one is Minnesota's own Jalen Suggs. I already mentioned the dramatic finish, with Suggs — just a couple steps inside midcourt — banking in a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime to give Gonzaga the win. You have probably seen that highlight a half-dozen times.
If you want to watch a few more, here are some of the best broadcast calls from around the country and around the world of the final play.
But his sequence in regulation — tie game before Suggs blocked a dunk and then threw a seemingly impossible bounce pass — demands even more looks.
I would say that pass took audacity, but I don't think that quite does the confidence level of Suggs justice. Needless to say, there are some passes that can be a little off — a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10 — and still work. That one needed to be at least a 9.5. If it's a little too slow, it's picked off. If it skips wrong, it's going to be a turnover that skids out of bounds.
It was a 10.
And we found out a little while later that Suggs was just getting warmed up. That he had such clutch moments in him was no surprise to anyone who has watched him all season, or before that at Minnehaha Academy. I saw him a few times in high school, but I regret not making the short walk to the Minnehaha gym from my house to see Suggs more.
We'll probably just have one more chance to see him in the college game, then it's off to the NBA and maybe — just maybe — a chance for the Wolves to draft him with a top three pick if the stars align.
For now, let's savor Gonzaga vs. Baylor — what figures to be a great end to a forgettable men's college basketball season and a star freshman from Minnesota who just might have saved this year almost single-handedly.