My confederates and I filed out of Hinkle Fieldhouse heartbroken, lusting for a scape goat amid all the inevitable rambling thoughts that come with such a nail-biting loss. What if they'd had a timeout to setup the last play? What if Howard had hit any one of the three free throws he missed in the first half? What if the referees would have called Zoubek for a foul when he put Matt Howard in a headlock and threw him on the ground, before punching him in the face and dropping an elbow a la Macho Man Randy Savage?
Zoubek would have been fouled out, and not on the floor to contest Hayward's jump shot when they were down by 1. Any one of the other 14 men on Duke's roster filling that space would not have been able to make Hayward miss, and it would have been a totally different outcome based on that one whistle.
I was about thirty seconds removed from the stadium when I painfully realized that none of it matters. It was another ten seconds before I realized that this helpless feeling was all too familiar; for some reason, it felt so fresh and redundant. Oh yeah...Colts. Indianapolis lost its second championship in the last three months.
But I'm not going to be that guy. Like one of those idiots that complains about the Colts winning "only" one Superbowl. It was an awesome season and an even better game for the Bulldogs. It was— dare I say with admitted bias— the best national championship game of my lifetime.
More than college football or any professional sport, it's almost impossible to say "there's always next year" in college basketball; because of the nature of March Madness it's even less likely that Butler will get to another Final Four in 2011 than it is the Pacers make the playoffs in the next 20 years.
But, I can't help but feel that there's always next year.
Butler has four starters coming back, assuming that Hayward does not go pro. Until then, it's baseball season.
.......But what if they'd just got one more rebound, or if Howard got 10 more minutes of sleep, or if the air conditioning in Lucas Oil Stadium had been blowing just one millionth of an MPH slower.....or if..... sigh. Great season, Bulldogs.