Late Monday night, Villanova or Michigan will be enshrined national champion in NCAA Division I men's basketball.
Then a lot of us will talk or type about how this is a transformative event for the winner and its coach and some sort of an indictment of the runner-up and its mentor.
When he thinks about Villanova counterpart Jay Wright, though, Michigan coach John Beilein knows better.
“At the end of the game tomorrow,” Beilein said Sunday, “he’ll still look like George Clooney and I will (still) look like Columbo by Peter Falk.”
Joke as Beilein might, that was just camouflage for a more sophisticated belief of his that bears emphasis.
It’s one that speaks to — against, actually — the black-and-white absolutes and mystiques and stigmas we assign to the 50 percent who win or lose every game.
If the 65-year-old Beilein’s Wolverines prevail, it would be their first national title since 1989 and the 800th win of Beilein’s career.
It would be joyous for Michigan fans and, surely, some element of dream come true for him.
But not, as it turns out, the measure of his life.
Even if winning would spackle in some sort of void others assume and most likely he feels to some degree, he is certain about this:
It would make him no different a person than he has been in a pursuit that included the painful 2013 title game loss to Louisville and a squandered 20-point lead against the Cardinals in a 2005 Elite Eight game when Beilein was coaching West Virginia.
It wouldn’t make him a better coach, for that matter.
“I honestly say I wouldn’t look at (my career) any differently. I really would not,” he said, adding a critical point in all this. “Others may.”
He has conviction about that because he knows so much can hinge on so little — and quirks and fortune sometimes, as Wright himself recalled on Sunday:
After three losing seasons at Hofstra, it came to him that he was in jeopardy of being fired and started talking to his wife about career alternatives.
“Getting into sales; that’s what I was thinking about,” said a smiling Wright, whose 2016 Wildcats won the championship by beating North Carolina in one of the most frantic endings in title-game history.
For all that so many invest in this, at some points along the way it’s merely a whimsical line of how a ball bounces that separate a lot of this.
That’s self-evident in a Final Four that included a Loyola-Chicago team that won its first three tournament games by a total of four points and a Michigan team that needed Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beating three-pointer to beat Houston in the second round and a Kansas team that got fresh life when Duke's Grayson Allen's last-second regulation shot in the Elite Eight somehow kicked back out of the basket.
This reality is worth remembering as we process the local men’s basketball teams' NCAA Tournament experiences:
Kansas was mangled by Villanova on Saturday in the national semifinal but had a Final Four run that seemed improbable in early January; Kansas State was run out of the tournament by Loyola-Chicago but nonetheless earned just its second Elite Eight berth in 30 years … and Mizzou was swatted aside by Florida State in a first-round game after making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
All ended with various stages of losses, in other words.
But all are just prologues in a line of work that really is more about the journey than the destination, and that’s really what matters to remember.
Win or lose, day-in, day-out, it’s always about what’s next.
Especially if you consider the rather poetic point made by Dallas Cowboys running back Duane Thomas when asked before Super Bowl VI what it meant to get to play in the ultimate game.
“If it’s the ultimate game,” he said, “how come they’re playing it again next year?”
So they’ll be playing all of this again next year, and evidently for decades to come, and all but one team will win it every year while the rest will be left to reconcile that they didn’t.
Cynics will call this the ballad of the loser, but there is ample value in learning how to manage that. And it goes far beyond just the simple notion of losing allowing you to appreciate winning.
Losing isn’t defining.
What is are our reactions, from striving for grace in the moment to lessons learned to resolve to improve.
You saw examples set by your coach — Bill Self or Bruce Weber or Cuonzo Martin — in their compelling postgame interviews after their seasons ended. You can also bet they’ve already set about imparting the lessons learned and jaw-setting towards next season.
For that matter, one of the most striking news conferences in the last few days at the Final Four was with Virginia coach Tony Bennett, whose Cavaliers became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 when UMBC clobbered them 74-54.
This wasn’t just an abrupt end to a season; it was an unprecedented event that will be indelible on Bennett’s ledger.
The extra twist was that Bennett’s appearance here was to accept The Associated Press national coach of the year award — which was voted on before the tournament.
“I thought it was for the NCAA Tournament coach of the year,” Bennett joked. “I didn't get that? I wasn't sure.”
But Bennett didn’t just deflect this with humor. As he somehow managed in the immediate aftermath of the game, Bennett offered meaningful and even inspirational perspective.
“There’s an emptiness,” he said. “ … There's part of that where you're feeling the sting. But it causes you to do a little soul-searching and say, ‘OK, where's my identity? What matters?’And the sun did come up the next day.”
Beyond that, Bennett thought about “the opportunity” his players now have: To “handle this in the right way, and the influence that will have on their family members and their friends, if they handle it in the right way and show, of course, you can be discouraged, but you can deal with this and be OK.”
If it’s any indication of how that’s going, Bennett raved about a text he received from one of his players, Ty Jerome.
“ ‘Coach, this is now part of our story, and we get to respond to it the way we want,’ ” Bennett recalled it saying, later reiterating, “It’s part of our story now, and we get to choose how we respond. And that’s where it’s at.”
Not that there won’t be more hardships ahead with the triumphs.
“But I think that’s what makes you who you are and your unique journey what it is: your own journey,” he said.
So the end of this season’s journey tonight either will be a first title for Beilein or a second for Wright, who figures all that actually changed for him after 2016 was that he got a lot more attention.
Then it was on to the next, the intrinsic part of all this that in the end says a lot more than the extrinsic ever will.
“It’s just like you hang in there and you just do your absolute best every single day,” Beilein said. “And someday you’re going to say, ‘I gave it everything I had.’ And if I’m falling into my grave (without a title), that’s OK, too.
“But you just do everything you can to be the best coach, the best mentor, the best teacher, the best husband, the grandfather, father, every day, and you go do it again. And that’s all I want to be.”
And all anyone can actually ask amid all the warped perspectives that will be attached to the result.