Think about this basketball season. Spend some time in thought, in retrospect, and allow yourself a significant interval to process those thoughts. I honestly want you to stop reading this until you have time to fully let the season, in its entirety, sink into your thoughts.
You need a starting point, so I want you to think about last October 15. How did you feel? Excitement? Apprehension?
Think about stepping up in weight class to a loaded Atlantic 10 that would eventually send five teams to the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament. We finished second in that league, that much better league, and lost an absolute war for the conference tournament title.
Think about beating Memphis and the pain of narrow losses to Duke and Missouri in the Bahamas. Did you realize five of our first six opponents made the NCAA tournament?
Think about the demolition of Belmont. Of Alabama and our old friend Anthony Grant.
Think about those years past where we slammed books on the coffee table and nearly threw our shoulders out hurling paper at the wall, unable to explain a head-scratching and life-sucking loss to an undermanned opponent. That never happened this year.
Think about the 14 Seconds of Perfection, those precious moments where everything came together and the kids pulled victory from the jaws of defeat against St. Joseph's.
Think about that havoc banner stretching long and wide over the student section. And the Stripe the Stu that was better than advertised.
Think about every single one of Troy Daniels's threes, all 124 of them.
Think about LaSalle coming into our home and winning, that feeling of "it's LaSalle for crap's sake!" Now consider the Explorers are in the Sweet 16.
Think about the national media coverage. Five years ago we lathered at any scrap of national coverage. This year we had features in ESPN the Magazine and Sports Illustrated.
Think about being down by 17 in the second half to Xavier, a building in which the home team was 52-1 since 2007. Fifty-two and one. Now remember wiping out that deficit in six minutes, and Rob Brandenberg making four free throws in front of his family and coaches who chose not to recruit him to seal the victory.
Think about the rise you got when David Hinton walked to the scorer's table. All Hinton did was whatever was asked of him. We can all appreciate Hinton.
Think about the fact that we were listed as a "good win" in the resumes of bubble teams.
Think about Butler, the absolute pasting of a top 15 team, especially Briante Weber's steal and dunk that had better make it to a poster that will hang on my wall.
Think about Brooklyn. Every single bit of it, including The Peppas on the Today Show and that battle against Saint Louis. Yeah, we travel.
Think about the teams you read in the lines above. Memphis, Duke, Missouri, Belmont, Alabama, St. Joseph's, LaSalle, Xavier, Butler, Saint Louis. With no disrespect meant, all of them are of higher caliber than previous years opponents, and we still won 27 games. We were ranked for several weeks.
Think about the fact that only eight programs have won a game in the NCAA tournament in each of the past three years. VCU is one of those eight.
Think about your pride in Darius Theus, how he grew from a skinny freshman to a top shelf leader. And his dad, always with the sign.
Think about those moments you remember that I have not written. There are many, and you have your moments. Stop now, and think about those.
We lost to Michigan. We got our backsides handed to us. You can choose to grouse about that, and hang your hat on a bad Michigan loss and not advancing to the Sweet 16. That's your choice, but you're missing the point. You are so very much missing out.
The regular season, the A10 tournament, and Akron showed us what we are. Michigan showed us what we are not. You cannot compare this team to the Final Four. You have to compare this season to last season. To the Final Four year. To 2007, 2004, 2000, 1990. It all matters.
We took a giant step forward this season, from an underdog to a program of national relevance. A second place finish in a top basketball conference and a third straight season with an NCAA tournament win are proof. But we still are not there, not yet graduating from underdog to overdog.
There's room to grow as a program. Unfinished business or work yet to be done, if you prefer.
Think about this year, the 27 wins, the 35 sellouts, the crowd in Brooklyn, the NCAA tournament win. Think about the $7 million that other people pledged. They believe in what we're doing and where we're going. Think about all that goodness and euphoria and momentum we have going for us.
Now think about this. Michigan feels bad and it stinks, but there's a huge upside to not being "there" yet, to reaching certain goals but not all of them.
Because we are still growing, it's going to get better.