Will success ever spoil college basketball? There are times when it seems to be doing its damnedest. But just when you think the game is about to be swallowed up in some newly opened sinkhole -- a recruiting scandal, a point-shaving arrest, a drug case or the bottomless depths of TV hype -- it emerges more vigorous and exciting than ever. In Monday night's NCAA championship game, in which Louisville beat Duke, 72-69, it did so once again.
A freshman named Pervis Ellison pulled in a stray shot by a teammate at an opportune time (to be precise, at a time when there were 38 seconds left in the game) and plunked it into the basket, giving Louisville a decisive three-point lead. Pervis Ellison, who is 18 years old and wears braces on his teeth, scored 25 points Monday night.
Performanes such as his are the reason the NCAA tournament continues to attract new fans -- people who have no interest in the feats of the amazingly skilled men in professional basketball (where they wear the braces on their weary knees) and who might not have watched even another college game all season. They are drawn to the freshness and enthusiasm and remarkable poise of these large kids in pursuit of national honors.
Of course, all this attention breeds excess, especially in the way of pregame publicity. During the winnowing that yielded the Final Four (that's the apocalyptic term for the last four teams in the tournament), there was so much talk about the scholastic abilities of Duke's players that you'd have thought they had Immanuel Kant diagramming their plays. The NCAA seems to be intent, too, on staging this increasingly grand event in domed stadiums, depriving it of the intimacy that gives basketball much of its flavor. Maybe success will someday turn this one into just another tired mega-gme. It's more likely, though, that the self-renewing crop of 18-year-olds will keep that from happening. We hope so anyway.