Friday, March 19, 2010
Earning Their Wings
It may not have been the miracle finish we all secretly hoped for yet ostensibly refused to believe, but the Mountain Hawks really did themselves proud last night against the best team in the nation. For a minute there they had us all believing in miracles, but unfortunately could not sustain their momentum. Most importantly though, Lehigh has put itself on the map in the Patriot League and has earned the respect of the college basketball community.
Going into last night's game the pundits, including myself for a while, predicted a blowout. The Mountain Hawks simply could not compete with the finely tuned athletes of Kansas, despite the fact that a Patriot League team had beaten Kansas in the tourney only 5 years ago. Writers were saying that the best case scenario for Lehigh would be to enjoy their hotel stay, or that Lehigh would only hang with Kansas for about 15 minutes. Well, I guess they all learned a thing or two.
Lehigh probably played the best game they could have last night. They tried to keep it a half court game and shot the ball very well. This was evidenced by the fact that Kansas couldn't really pull away until the very end of the game, and that Lehigh held a lead for a good portion of the first half. I think we can all say we got a great thrill when Zahir Carrington dunked over a Kansas player and just let his nuts dangle over the dude's head while he hung from the rim: a blatant sign of disrespect to the supposed class of the tournament. Kansas obviously didn't respect Lehigh's game and the Mountain Hawks were throwing it right back in their faces.
The most lasting memory from this game though, the moment in time that will be argued about by historians for years to come, is the moment that Lehigh went up by 8 and KU had to call a time out. It was fit for a novel, but nobody would have believed it. The scrappy band of misfits throwing everything they had at the stronger opponent, and for a moment, breaking through and taking the lead. Honestly, the first thing I thought of was Pickett's Charge. The 8 point lead was certainly the high water mark of Lehigh athletic achievement, and probably will be for a while, before being overtaken by the mighty Jayhawks. Can't you just picture it?
Though Lehigh ended up losing, this game will have lasting implications in the Patriot League, and in college basketball in general. The mere fact that sports writers even have to write an article about "pesky" and "stubborn" Lehigh hanging around and only losing by 16 indicates how big this game actually was. Because of this performance, I can see Lehigh gaining a big edge in the recruiting game in the Patriot League and staying atop it for years to come. Secondly, I don't think a Patriot League regular season and tournament champion will ever be given a #16 seed again. Lehigh clearly deserved better than a #16, especially when in the past 5 years the Patriot League has earned a #14, #15, #13, #9 and #14 seed. Why no love for the Mountain Hawks? Let's just say I don't think that a team like Lehigh, who wins both the regular season and tournament championship will be disrespected with a #16 seed ever again. Who knows? Had they been a #15 they might very well have won their game.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I think we can start to see that the talent gap in NCAA basketball is narrowing. Only a few highly ranked teams have really run away with games so far this year in the tournament, and many have been too close for comfort. Sooner rather than later, I believe we will see a #16 upset a #1. There are just too many good athletes out there for it not to happen.
Though Lehigh did not win last night, we as Lehigh alums can be very proud of just what played out in Oklahoma City. C.J. McCollum tore it up, Sunshine ripped some quality boards, Carrington yoked on the rim, Buchberger rained down 3's, and for one brief moment we all thought that the impossible was possible. Something tells me Lehigh will be around for years to come, and that someday a #16 seed, no doubt inspired by those pesky and stubborn Mountain Hawks, will take down a #1 and shake up the world.