Villanova All The Way, Baby!

  

Villanova looks invincible, and virtually, if not totally unstoppable. The Wildcats dismantled Kansas on Saturday night in the second half of the Final Four, and it was so bad it wasn’t worth staying up to watch till the bitter sweet end to hear the final buzzer sound.  So that’s that.  Villanova will defeat Michigan tonight, and it might not even be close.

As for the Cinderella team that everyone wanted to see win it all, the ballerina’s debutant ball ended all too early for Loyola-Chicago. Sister Jean’s prayers took them farther than she thought, but not as far as they wanted to go.

And that sounds just like life. Sometimes our prayers are answered immediately, and other times we must do exactly as the hymn writer says: “watching and waiting, looking above, filled with his goodness, lost in his love.” Sometimes the best place to be is found in Jesus and lost in God.

Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. Sometimes the lessons we must learn are more important than getting an “A” on the test. And sometimes the final grade is not as important as the scores of notes we’ve taken along the way. If March Madness doesn’t teach us anything, then the madness has been for nothing. The life lessons we learn along this sometimes rocky road called life can’t be for naught. They just can’t be.

In everything there is a lesson. One of them is everything is subject to change. Because the only constant is change. We must be ready to roll with the punches and rock with the boat. And that’s what winners that did not expect to win many games, such as Loyola-Chicago and UMBC and Kansas State did.  And the losers that did not expect to lose, or to lose so early, such as UVA and North Carolina and Kansas, had to handle unexpected headache and heartbreak too.

Sports helps us with the fact that in life, you win some and you lose some. And that’s just the way it is. Because it’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game.

Villanova vs. UNC – The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat

Villanova Defeats UNC InTitle-Game

Villanova beat Kansas. They beat up and beat down Oklahoma. And in the end, on the last play of the game, with a three pointer at the buzzer, they beat North Carolina too. “This was the stuff of legends, after a malaise of mediocrity and blowouts had settled over the NCAA Tournament. This was a championship game for the ages after meager and mediocre Final Four.”

Nova earned this. They completely earned the National Championship Trophy. The Wildcats dominated Oklahoma in the first game of the Final Four. They found their groove from beyond the arc just as March turned wild, with their team at the helm. And then they outlasted arguably the best team not to win a national title. On any other night, North Carolina would have been good enough to win, but not last night.

Last night, the Villanova win and the North Carolina loss was one for the ages. And while the win was earned and very real, it was also almost imaginary and make believe. It was real and unreal, surreal and serene, fabulous and fantastic, unbelievable and improbable, absurd and bizarre all at the same time. The game, unlike any other game, was dreamlike in the wildest sense and nightmarish in the worst.

Magic is not a word you hear in church or find in a good sense in the Bible. But it’s a good word nonetheless. Yes there is “Black” magic, but that has no place here. I’m talking about virgin magic as pure as freshly falling, driven snow. And Villanova, while not a Cinderella team last night like they were oh, so many years ago in 1985 when Rally Massimino’s team beat Georgetown, found the glass slipper and slipped it on just seconds before midnight.

The Villanova / North Carolina game was truly made of magic, as it had all of the same ingredients that magic has. No, magic is not a “Christian” word, per se, but the essence of magic is certainly spiritual. And anything spiritual is wonderful and delightful and charming and captivating and thrilling and chilling all at once.

Villanova’s winsome win was misty and mystic, miraculous and yes, magical.

This game, above just about any other and every other NCAA game we’ve ever seen, was fairy-tale fanciful, story book beautiful and yes, enchanting; it was simply full of pixy dust dazzle. “This game was magic and mania, containing the soul-crushing sorrow and unbridled joy of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, all at once.”

Magical moments included one with Marcus Paige, who channeled so much will and hope and toughness in a surging North Carolina 10-point comeback over the final five minutes, stepped up to the plate and did the impossible: he heaved a 3-point shot, after a double-clutch, and tied the game. Paige pulled this rabbit out of his hat with everything on the line that he and his teammates and his coach craved.

Then there was Kris Jenkins, who took a perfect pass and hit a perfect shot; Jenkins broke the tie and hit the game winner with a buzzer-beater that swished through the net with no time left on the clock. It was a shot heard round the basketball world, never to be forgotten.

This game was so riveting, so exhilarating and so electrifying that “it amplifies the joy and the sorrow for the winners and losers alike. No wonder then that the greatest ending perhaps of all time also gave us the worst heartache ever. Right along with the kind of joy that is reserved for the very few, and the very fortunate, and of course the very deserving.

“But there is, as always in life, another side. It’s our complications that reach us, the disparities and razor-thin margins between joy and depression that makes sports so pure. That ebullient moment in time on the floor was as real and powerful as what was unfolding” so near and yet so far away on the North Carolina bench as heads were hung low and tears began to flow.

In one of the greatest basketball games ever played, we saw the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. And such is life. In life there are times when we win big and there are times when we lose large. We both come close and fail and almost lose it and win. And that’s the mystery of this life. Our failures seem like the end and our victories seem like we’ve only just begun. And the mystery of this life is learning how to both enjoy the thrill of victory and endure the agony of defeat, both all at once at the same time.

March Madness: ALWAYS Have a Plan “B” (Oklahoma!)

hield-buddyBuddy Hield averages 29 points a game. He single handedly carried his team on his back through their bracket en route to the Final Four in Houston. And Oklahoma was supposed to give Villanova a run, or at least a game, IF Buddy and his buddies could hit their three pointers. Not! It didn’t happen. In fact, the unthinkable happened; Oklahoma got blown out of the gym, losing 95-51. Unbelievable.

The Sooners didn’t just lose, they were creamed and crushed, slaughtered and massacred, trounced and pounced right out of the Final Four. It was their worst loss of the season and the worst margin of defeat in Final Four history. Hield, who won several national player of the year awards, finished with nine points. Nine points. He came into the game shooting 46.5 percent from 3-point range, but finished 4 for 12 from the field, including 1 of 8 from beyond the arc.

Hield, who became the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer in the game, said Villanova was ”one of the best teams I’ve ever played in college.” Hield had more to say: ”Just credit them for what they were doing. They made it tough on me throwing multiple bodies at me,” said Hield, who had six points against West Virginia, the only other time this season he was held below 10 points. ”They just played terrific tonight.”

So, for Villanova, they had a game plan. Several Wildcats get credit for their great defense against Hield, as Nova used multiple players to chase Hield all over the court. They limited his shots by not allowing much separation when he didn’t have the ball and smothered him even more when he did. ”We were just loading into him,” Mikal Bridges said. ”We just tried our best to limit his touches and load to him when he had the ball.”

So, since the Oklahoma Plan “A” did not work, what was the backup plan? What was their Plan “B?” There wasn’t one. That’s right; they had NO contingency plan. No options for unlikely exigencies or unforeseen eventualities. What if Buddy had a bad game? What if the team had a cold shooting night? What if Oklahoma couldn’t make a shot or buy a basket and Villanova couldn’t miss? You guessed it? That’s exactly what happened.

My dad taught me to “plan for the worst and hope for the best.” He taught me that everything won’t go your way. And anything can happen. Nothing is for certain. At least not in sports. And in life, life happens. So you need to plan for what might happen. And that’s why you need more margins in your life. You need margins on your term paper and margin in your bank account and margin in your commute to work and margin in your marriage. You just do.

So here’s to Villanova and North Carolina; they play in the National Championship game tonight. So each team certainly has a game, plan. Let’s just hope that if each team’s Plan “A” doesn’t work, that they have a Plan “B” in their hip pocket.

A Few of My Favorite Things

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things!

Underdogs that win and teams that turn it around and competitors that comeback from the dead. These are a few of my favorite things.

Yes these are a few of my favorite things. The classic song from the classic, 1966 Academy Award winning film “The Sound of Music” cannot be improved upon, but someone should tell Julie Andrews that she can add the NCAA Tournament to the list!

The NC State Wolfpack just defeated the No. 1 Seed Villanova Wildcats to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Talk about sweet surprises. It’s not like the Wolfpack hasn’t been to the Big Dance almost uninvited before. In 1983, Jimmy Valvano and his mass of miracle makers defeated TWO, count ‘em, TWO No. 1 Seeds, Virginia and then Houston, en route to winning the National Championship in the upset win of the ages.

Upsets, comebacks and turnarounds. These are few of my favorite things. Upsets, because everyone loves an underdog. Comebacks, because we’ve all fallen behind and fallen off and fallen down with no hope of getting back up again. And turnarounds are only illegal if they’re committed in defeat. But U-turns and reversal of fortunes are welcome by all those whose feet are going downhill fast and are facing a dead-end.

But some way, somehow, a miracle emerges. Right before our very eyes, the impossible and the improbable incredibly occurs. Our wildest dreams come true and the world is watching in wonder as the Maker of marvels and the Winnower of wonders surprises us with yet another superlative that only He is capable of conjuring up.

NC State Believes

It’s so spiritual. Paul told the church at Ephesus that “you lived in this world without God and without hope.” And that goes for me and you too. We have all had hopeless situations and deflated expectations. But God stepped in just in the nick of time to save the day, and save us too.

A caring coach and passionate players are just a few of my favorite things. NC State’s Mark Gottfried is a good coach. And a good coach is one of my very favorite things. Coach Gottfried hugged and held and embraced and encouraged his players to the point that I would play for him right here and right now. A coach that truly cares and even loves his players and players that respond in kind by winning a tight ball game and triumphing over a tough team is food for the soul. Yes, these are a few of my favorite things.

NC State v Villanova

So add to the list, because “when the dog bites and when the bee stings, and when I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things,” . . .  including an NC State upset win over a No. 1 Villanova, and then I don’t feel so bad!

And the rest of the song goes:

Cream colored ponies and crisp apple strudels
Doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles
Wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings
These are a few of my favorite things!

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eye lashes
Silver white winters that melt into spring
These are a few of my favorite things!

When the dog bites, when the bee stings
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember
my favorite things
and then I don’t feel so bad!