Any fan of college basketball will enjoy this book from John Feinstein. It is a remarkably quick read filled with interesting anecdotes and stories from previous Final Fours and different perspectives from the 2005 Final Four in St. Louis.
However, I felt there were two fairly significant flaws in the book. First, the book is remarkably repetitive. Within the first 15 pages of the book I learned that the Duke class of '86 was Coach K's first "great" recruiting class, that they had a great team in '85-'86 and were stunned, disappointed and impacted by losing in the Final game to Louisville. Great. But I did not need to hear versions of literally the same sentences 3 or 4 more times in the book. Likewise, outside of Harry Potter, I never thought I would see the phrase "Lord Voltemort" 3 or 4 times in a sports book. These were not the only examples.
It seemed that this was a very good 220 page book extended into 330 pages. The book felt like it was made of discrete chapters, but not to be read together due to the repetition. I am no literary critic, but I am curious about the editorial decision to compose the book in a way that so frequently repeats the same stories.
The second, and perhaps more disappointing critique, is that it is not as interesting as I had hoped. Missing from this book, that likely will be read by fairly serious college basketball fans, is any sense of basketball strategy that the Final Four coaches employed during the 2005 games. I presume Feinstein did not have access during the tournament or after to the coaches that could have added detail to the game flow and strategy. With a greater level of "technical detail" the book would have been more interesting to me.
In the same vein, there are a number of anecdotes about various major coaches...all of whom are generally viewed in a positive light. I am sure they are decent, good people and tremendous basketball coaches, but there is not much that grabs you. There were multiple references (again) to Rollie Massimino and his falling out at Villanova, but no flesh on the bones. The NCAA and to a lesser extent the media (sports talk radio) come off as bad guys, but the coaches are treated gently. Feinstein seems to capture all the right folks and hear their anecdotes, but is not as incisive as hoped.
The best part of the book, in my opinion, is where we see strong research and opinion from the author. The chapter on the referees is enlightening and humorous. The chapter on the selection committee is even better. While respectful of their efforts and challenge, Feinstein posits and defends opinions in a manner that is engaging and interesting.
All in all the book is enjoyable; a quick read and worthy of getting fans ready for Selection Sunday. However, I felt the book was unnecessarily repetitive, lacked a component of 2005 Final Four "game strategy" and was overly deferential to the coaching "storytellers".