With about 8 minutes or so to go I decided to sit back and just enjoy a truly great basketball game as it unfolded. I'm no masochist. I hate to lose as much as any fan, though I try to keep my hissy fits to a minimum. Those kids from Norfolk rose up and beat us--and we played a quintessential Mizzou game. We win most nights in our league with the way we shot the ball.
NSU is everything that makes us both love and hate March. So I'm trying to appreciate the moment for being great on its own terms, even if it broke my heart. If I signed up for the greatness of 2009's amazing run--and I'd do it again a thousand times, even Kemba Walker--then the heartache of 2012 is also part of the deal. Now I'm not saying I'm there. I'm saying that's where I'm trying to go.
"They did to us what we do to other teams..." I have always really liked Coach Calipari, and I am reminded of his post-game comments after we stunned his favored Memphis Tigers in 2009. "They did to us what we do to other teams. They walked up and punched us right in the mouth. That's what we do to other teams. And we didn't handle it very well." What I always loved about that quote is Cal's understanding that basketball isn't football. I love football, but not its tiresome incessant macho posturing, where no team ever loses to its opponent--only to itself. Basketball has a little less of that. Sometimes your opponent just hit more shots. It's not all about what you failed to do. Norfolk State had a shooting night that was, for all practical purposes, preposterous for them.
"Sometimes fate just up and f___s you for no good reason." That line from the almost criminally underrated Smokin' Aces comes to mind. Nothing in NSU's profile says they could shoot that way. Yet they made it look like they do it every week. Missouri obviously could have been better defensively, but in truth NSU could always shoot over the top even when closely guarded. Then, after all that, NSU still needed a banked in three, an airball putback and-1, and a deflected inbounds pass to come right back to one of their players a millisecond after he touched one foot in to establish himself. (And Phlip still got a shot up to the rim that would have won.) I know that perimeter defense has been an issue all season, but as Greg Anthony said in studio, Haith can't coach guys to be taller. I'm honestly more upset about a few loose balls that NSU outhustled us for and a couple sloppy turnovers and bad shots than I am about the defense. The guards from NSU should have been taking uncontested perimeter shots. They hadn't proven that they could hit them consistently all season.
Bonus Thought: Really, we mostly played the way we wanted to play. So did they. We just lost. Be disappointed. To end like this is disappointing. I am disappointed--in the ending. Tournament play inevitably splits one season into two, and focuses our attention on the latter. But, we do a disservice to these kids if so-called Mizzou fans go all Comic Book Guy* on this team under the guise of being "sick and tired" or "not settling for mediocrity" and other such flim flam. If you can't (eventually) bring yourself to appreciate and cherish winning 30 games out of 35, only to focus on the final game, then shame on you. No one is entitled to an outcome in sports, and no one is justified in complaining about a 30 win season. No one.
*Comic Book Guy: Last night's Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured that I was on internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world.
Bart Simpson: Hey, I know it wasn't great, but what right do you have to complain?
Comic Book Guy: As a loyal viewer, I feel they owe me.
Bart Simpson: What? They've given you thousands of hours of entertainment for free. What could they possibly owe you? I mean, if anything, you owe them.
Comic Book Guy: Worst episode ever.