LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Welcome to Louisville, the Capital City of Hoops Nation, Main Street of March Madness, at least in this One Shining Moment.
The season began with the three programs who intersect in this metropolitan area -- the universities of Indiana, Louisville and Kentucky -- ranked No. 1, 2 and 3 in the preseason men's basketball polls.
It ends with one.
The University of Louisville is the lone No. 1 seed left in the men's basketball tournament and the favorite to win the national championship in Atlanta this week, where head coach Rick Pitino is a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame and reserve point guard Kevin Ware is the latest recipient of the nation's good will after suffering a gruesome leg fracture on national TV in the regional final against Duke.
U of L also is, in the words of head coach Jeff Walz, "the ugly duckling" of the women's Final Four to be played in New Orleans. The women crashed the party by beating Baylor, defending national champion, home of 6-8 dominant force Brittney Griner, and winner of 74 of its past 75 games, then knocking off perennial women's powerhouse Tennessee. And U of L's emotional leader, Shoni Schimmel, installed herself, not Griner, as the most entertaining player in the women's college game.
One of these trips was expected. The other, not so much. The U of L men are stinging over the loss of a key player for the season. The U of L women have lost three key players, and senior Monique Reid is playing on a surgically repaired knee that is nowhere close to full strength.
People used to put U of L down as a "commuter school." This weekend, you better believe it will be. Only the commute will be between Atlanta and New Orleans.
The simultaneous Final Fours, along with U of L's Sugar Bowl victory over Florida in January, have left the program's backers in the equivalent of an athletic sugar buzz.
But this town has always been hopped up on hoops.
It has been the top CBS NCAA Tournament market for more than a decade, whether this area's teams were succeeding in the tournament or not. It was no different when the latest ratings were announced this week.
Fans here show up. The U of L men ranked third nationally in attendance. So did the U of L women. Combined, they pulled in better than a half-million fans in 32 dates, plus a few exhibitions. They averaged a combined 16,667 over those dates. Up the road in Indianapolis, the NBA's Pacers are putting together a splendid playoff season. They're averaging 15,035 a game and have drawn only about 30,000 more fans through the turnstiles in 37 dates, if U of L's exhibitions are thrown in.
A year ago, the city was turned on its ear when U of L and UK met in the Final Four. This year, it celebrates on its own.
Louisville's following out in the state has grown over the years, but it still doesn't rival Kentucky's outside the city and surrounding area. U of L fans live with that shadow year-round. On the city's biggest sports talk radio show Tuesday night, with the U ofL men having made the Final Four and the women playing for it later that night, they were treated to the lead topics of 1). Nerlens Noel's draft status and 2). Whether all the talent at UK would lead to turmoil on the roster next season.
This morning's paper includes a discussion of whether UK will have a No. 1 national ranking and 40-0 record . . . next season.
It's a way of life. Even center stage, it seems, must be shared. Before last season, a group from out in the state had the idea to print up a clothing line featuring the words, "Louisville Doesn't Exist."
This week, that is a tough argument to make. U of L's men's and women's teams have offered a rebuttal via metaphysical madness. I believe it was Descartes who said, "I win, therefore I am." Or maybe it was Jay Bilas.
Either way, in a season where the national expectations were high for everybody in these parts, Louisville showed up.