But for the purposes of this look back at one of the most memorable final gatherings ever, they will be confined to that nice, round number. A nice, familiar, easy-to-digest number, which is particularly appropriate since this is the last time the size of the full tournament bracket will be familiar and easy-to-digest. A field with 96 teams, 32 first-round byes and seven rounds of games shoehorned into the same three weekends that now host the field of 65 ... that will be uncharted territory that runs the serious risk of, among other things, turning the clean progression to that first Monday in April a jumbled, confounding mess.
And that having been said ...
10. One of the entertaining, edgy and subversively comic moments of the Final Four took place two days before the semifinals, inside Lucas Oil Stadium but with none of the players or coaches around: the jousting at a press conference between sportswriter John Feinstein and NCAA official Greg Shaheen over the tournament expansion and whether it will cost the "student-athletes'' class time. It ended this way, according to the official transcript: Shaheen, exasperated, said, "I'm clearly missing the nuance of your point,'' and Feinstein, just as exasperated, responded, "You and I miss nuances a lot.''
9. There was no nuance to what Da'Sean Butler and Bob Huggins experienced under the basket in the second semifinal Saturday -- Butler, West Virginia's signature player, was weeping and contorting his face and limbs as he rolled around on the floor clutching his left knee, and Huggins was dropping to his knees, cradling Butler's head and looked, for all the world, like he was trying to rock his star to sleep with a lullaby. You'll rarely, if ever, see a more intimate moment between a player and coach, and whether or not it changed your mind about, or perception of, Huggins, it did prove that at least once in a while, the idea that a coach is a player's father figure isn't just a recruiting pitch.
8. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski did not go one weekend this year without lecturing a reporter in a press conference over the phrasing of his or her question, and he did not let the last weekend go without it, either. When someone after the championship game asked senior center Brian Zoubek about his "up-and-down career,'' Krzyzewski interrupted and started defending Zoubek ("He hasn't had an up-and-down career, he's had a great career ... he's had an injury-marred career,'' and so on). This, on the very first question after saying "You can ask them as many questions as you want, because they'll answer them a lot better than I will.'' True enough, Zoubek did -- in mid-finger-wag, Krzyzewski pointed out that he couldn't have had an up-and-down career because "he can't go up-and-down -- he can't jump.''
"Thanks, coach,'' Zoubek said with a smirk. When Krzyzewski added that he figured he could say that since he'd never play for him again, Zoubek shot back, "That means I can say something?'' It cracked the room up.
7. When Draymond Green wrapped his arms around his coach, Tom Izzo, in the final seconds of Michigan State's loss to Butler in the first semifinal Saturday, it wasn't from the joy of having completed a stirring run to the Final Four despite the loss of Kalin Lucas in the second round. Nor was it from the emotion of reaching the final weekend for the second straight year only to again come away without a championship. Green was giving Izzo a bear-hug to keep the apoplectic coach away from the officials, who had not given Izzo the timeout he apparently had been leaping up and down trying to call as the Spartans inbounded the ball with 6.1 seconds left, trailing by three points. The players did not realize Izzo was trying to call it, and rolled the ball inbounds to save a few ticks of the clock, and to make matter worse, the officials had to review replay to see how much time had gone off before the Spartans touched the ball and the timeout was granted. To take nothing away from the job Izzo has always done, and did this year, when the player is the calming influence on the coach, it tends to be a bad omen for the team.
6. Indianapolis's streak of hosting tornado conditions simultaneously with hosting the Final Four is now two. Major thunderstorms hit the area early Monday morning, and by the time the teams and fans began arriving at Lucas Oil Stadium, a tornado watch had been issued for central Indiana, and reports had surfaced of a funnel-cloud sighting near the airport. Early arrivals strained for the now-familiar sound of warning sirens and anxiously glanced at the glass panes at each end of the stadium. In 2006, of course, actual tornadoes hit the city the night before the game, shattering windows, knocking down signs and blowing letters and logos off theater marquees downtown; sunrise of the day of the championship game between Florida and UCLA unveiled debris all over the streets. Thankfully, nothing was reported this year -- except the idea that if there was one drawback to Indianapolis being a rotating Final Four host, it is the constant threat of a major natural disaster.
5. The stadium was only about one-third full for the Friday public practices. But you couldn't tell that either by the lines of people showing up early to get in, by the jam-packed concourses, or even by being at courtside, because the full lower level took attention away from the upper levels that were distant and empty -- and because the noise from those fans made it sound full. And it was never noisier than while Butler was on the floor. This was close to what it sounded like in Detroit the year before when Michigan State worked out there before its Final Four appearance, and likely close to what it would have sounded like had one of the major state schools had been playing, such as Indiana or Purdue. But this time, it was the actual hometown team, and the reaction to Butler went straight to the gut. Adding to the sensation was the realization that it wasn't just Butler fans cheering, but fans from the other three schools, and fans wearing colors of other schools that weren't even present.
4. A lot of humor was wrung from the fact that the Butler players still had to attend classes, yet it was still a remarkable thing. They attended classes all week after returning from Salt Lake City, they did the same on Friday when the practices and mass interviews took place, and they did again on Monday, hours before the biggest athletic event in the history of the university. And they all just shrugged it off, over and over again. In some cases -- as sophomore Gordon Hayward said frequently -- classes were mere formalities, since they turned into mini-pep rallies fairly quickly. On the other hands, their academic responsibilities were real. Sophomore Shelvin Mack was asked after practice Friday if he had classes scheduled for that day. "No,'' he said, "but I was up until 1 writing a paper.''
3. No one really wanted to say it out loud out of respect for Butler and what it had accomplished to get to the Final Four, but the Duke-West Virginia semifinal was considered by many to be at least the marquee game of the weekend, if not the de facto national championship game. So Duke's wire-to-wire domination was stunning. And in light of the spotty play against a bracket considered the weakest of the four, and of the subsequent defensive crackdown in the title game that produced 38 percent second-half shooting and a 5-for-17 night on threes, Duke's accuracy from the outside against the Mountaineers was awe-inspiring. For virtually the entire game, every jumper they launched went down, spun in, bounced in, rattled in, barely rippled the net -- the Blue Devils couldn't miss. Their so-called Big Three -- senior Jon Scheyer and juniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith -- had not all three played big in the same game previously in the tournament, or dating back to the ACC tournament or last few weeks of the regular season, for that matter. But this time, they combined for 63 of Duke's 78 points, and sank an unconscionable 12 of its 13 threes (on a team-wide 25 attempts -- that's 52 percent).
It all rendered moot the pre-game comparisons of the teams' size, length, rebounding, defensive tenacity, athleticism and versatility. Duke's shooting tipped the scales, to the point that Huggins blamed himself for not figuring out how to get the right defense installed mid-game, even mid-possession, to stop it. He was being hard on himself. Duke would have shot any team in America out of the gym that night, possibly including the Lakers.
2. Duke's championships under Krzyzewski are spread out over 20 years, but to find a comparison to the unbridled explosion of joy unleashed after the final buzzer Monday night, you might only have the Christian Laettner shot against Kentucky in the 1992 regional final -- certainly not any of the three previous championship games. If anyone wondered why Krzyzewski seemed giddier than usual afterward, grinning more and gushing over how amazed he was to have won it, look at the huge pileup at midcourt, the jumping up and down, the we're-No.-1 index-finger-jabbing and the long, tight, tearful embraces. Duke had never been pushed like that in a championship game victory. They knew they had dodged dozens of bullets from Butler all game long, including the last two Hayward shots, the one from the baseline with six seconds left and the one from halfcourt at the buzzer. They knew that the separation from their opponent on this night was razor-thin, and the fact that they came out on top flushed away any reserve of cool they might have had (not that this team was big on that, though). In fact, any traces of the institutional smugness the Duke program (or, at least, the appearance of such) had acquired over the decades might have vanished by the time the game tipped off -- but all traces were absent by the time it ended. They were genuinely thrilled to have survived and to be able to cut the nets down as a reward.
1. The final minute of the championship game was the most tense many observers had ever experienced. Whether all the story lines that were converging at that point were real, imagined, cliched or hokey, they all came into play as Butler found itself with possession and a chance to take one shot to win the most improbable national championship in tournament history -- more than Loyola, Texas Western, N.C. State and Villanova put together. It was beyond basketball, beyond television, just absolutely riveting human theater, the best kind of reality show.
With that, one final hat-tip to the Indianapolis Star's title-game special section Tuesday morning: a full-page photo of Hayward launching the final shot on the cover, with the headline, "Goliath 61, David 59.''