INDIANAPOLIS — “We’re in the future now,” Louisville guard Peyton Siva said, and yes, that is technically impossible. But memory stretches time in weird ways. And so do dreams.
Louisville and Duke play for the Final Four on Sunday, but a lot of the talk on Saturday was about 1992. That was the last time Rick Pitino and Mike Krzyzewski met in the NCAA tournament, back when Pitino was at Kentucky. That game was a regional final, too. It turned out to be the Laettner Game. Only the best college basketball game there ever was.
There were lots of questions about that game on Saturday, even to the players, even though they didn’t have a whole lot to say about it, seeing as how some of them had not been born yet in 1992. (We’ll pause so those of us who remember that game clearly can take a knee to catch our breath. Funny how time slips away.)
Here, on a scale from 1 to 10, is how much the Laettner Game matters to this game on Sunday: Zero point zero.
“This is the real national championship game,” a fan said to me after the matchup was set Friday night, and it does sort of feel that way. How do you beat this Louisville team? Three-point shooting? Tight man-to-man? Ebola? The Cardinals haven’t lost in seven weeks. Russ Smith had a cold, was coughing all over his teammates, and still put 31 on Oregon. Nobody in the tournament has stood square with Louisville yet.
Then again, how do you beat this Duke team? Ryan Kelly missed 13 games with an injury, Seth Curry basically hasn’t practiced all season, and the Blue Devils are still 30-5. They’ve won all three tournament games by double digits. They have a Plumlee on the roster for the 28th consecutive year. They strangled Michigan State so thoroughly in the Sweet 16 that it made sense that the game ended around midnight. Spare the children.
So, clearly, neither team is going to lose this game. This could be a logistical problem.
But, just as 1992 doesn’t matter, all those games from this season don’t matter much either. Duke beat Louisville 76-71 back in November in the Bahamas, and as tourists will tell you, nothing that happens in the Bahamas should count against your permanent record. Not only that, Louisville center Gorgui Dieng was out with an injury. About all you can take from that game is that these two teams are pretty even.
Louisville was in the Final Four last year. Kelly and Mason Plumlee, two of Duke’s key players, were backups on the 2010 team that won the national title. (Curry was on campus, sitting out his transfer year.) These schools and these coaches and these players bring years of experience to big games like this. Nobody’s going to be weirded out playing in a football stadium. Nobody’s going to tense up at the sight of Jim Nantz.
Wichita State waits in Atlanta, and no disrespect to the Shockers, but the winner of this game is a big favorite to make it to the final. This is one of the moments these teams have dreamed of — even Coach K and Pitino, who have already lived some fine dreams. The past doesn’t matter. Not 1992, not even last week. We’re in the future now.