Why Villanova’s win was good for college basketball


Words can’t really do justice to the end of Monday’s NCAA title game so let’s begin with non-words “whoa,” “whew” and that old Ralph Kramden favorite: ‘homina, homina, homina.”

Villanova over North Carolina was as good as it gets at a time when college hoops needed a champagne supernova.  The first title game on cable television provided a dynamite ending on a family of channels  that includes TNT.

bigeastIt was a huge, heroic, in-your-face win for the Big East, which was decimated by cut-throat expansion instigated by the predatory ACC, which big-footed six teams into the Sweet 16 but couldn’t cut down the final net.

One theory postulated is that a very powerful ACC coach, who recently irritated Oregon and had knee replacement surgery, didn’t like how big the Big East had grown in basketball. So, he covertly led the charge to lure Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville to the fold.

The Big East was wiped out in football and reduced to small potatoes in basketball.

Well, ACC, how do you like them potatoes?

Monday night proved again why major sports on television remain bullet-proof. You can’t even risk taping the game to skip the commercials for fear of missing something in real Twitter time. There is simply no reality-show replacement for this kind of unscripted drama.

No other television event can make a grown man scream at the boob tube the way I did as Villanova was trying to protect a three-point lead in the final seconds.

Rankman was court side for the 2008 title game at San Antonio, when Memphis couldn’t protect a three-point lead against Kansas. While others may respectfully disagree, the rule in my rule house is you NEVER allow the opponent a chance to tie the game with a three pointer. You ALWAYS foul, within reason, to put the other team on the free-throw line. This almost assures you will get possession back with the lead.

Memphis didn’t foul against Kansas and watched Mario Chalmers hit the game-tying three at the buzzer. Kansas won in overtime.

“Foul them, foul them, foul them!” I screamed at Villanova in Monday’s waning seconds.

It wasn’t that I necessarily cared who won-there were principles and axioms on the line!

Villanova, however, gave guard Marcus Paige the chance to make his preposterous, gravity-defying three with 4.7 seconds left. Villanova was only lucky it had enough time left for Kris Jenkins to put a Philly cheese stake into the Tar Heels’ heart.

College basketball needed this game after the debacle of the lopsided semifinals, which were decided by 61 total points.

College hoops needed Villanova because it was the most well-scrubbed and “hug-worthy” of the entrants.  The other schools came to Houston with an entourage of NCAA baggage. North Carolina over Syracuse in one semi featured a team facing major infractions against another team already serving them out.

Oklahoma hasn’t done anything unscrupulous lately, yet it wasn’t that long ago that Kelvin Sampson coached there. This is also a program that ranks tied for fourth on the all-time NCAA probation list.

Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim, the North Carolina and Syracuse coaches, had become insufferable and sanctimonious in defense of their programs.

Boeheim lectured the press about the difference between cheating and breaking the rules, while Williams whined in the face of legitimate questions regarding pending sanctions related to, potentially, one of the worst academic scandals in the history of higher education.

It’s true players on these teams deserved the lion’s share of the spotlight, yet it’s also fair to query coaches who were both around in the time frame of the alleged infractions.

Even NCAA President Mark Emmert acknowledged things didn’t look good.

“Yeah, sure, I understand why optically people have a lot of questions around all that,” he said last week at his annual Final Four press conference. “It makes perfect sense that they might.”

In that sense, the “right” team won Monday.  Emmert had to be thrilled with the outcome because it relieves his office of potentially handing down major sanctions against a reigning national champion.

Thank you, Villanova, for taking some of the stench out of the air.

Now we wait for the hammer to drop, or not, on North Carolina.

“Obviously a very complex circumstance,” Emmert said last week.  “It’s been moving along very well.”

Not well enough, of course, that it would ever be resolved before the NCAA’s Final Four spring fling in Houston.

Thank you, Villanova, for providing some joy before the ugliness.

Emmert said his staff is nearing a point where it can “issue allegations, or notice of allegations, in the very near future.”

Rest assured, that won’t be “one shining moment.”