SAN ANTONIO -- When Villanova beat Michigan 79-62 in the national championship game on Monday night, college basketball made sense for the first time all season.
A season of surprises and scandals that created chaos within the sport ended with the game's most dependable and predictable product winning its second national title in three years. And with the bulk of Jay Wright's squad eligible to return next season, Monday's win might represent the next chapter for a dynasty.
In the title game, Donte DiVincenzo saved Villanova with his 31 points.
But Villanova did its part to salvage the sullied reputation of a sport gone awry in 2017-18 by producing the proper conclusion via the beautiful basketball that the season's drama had overshadowed. Wright and the Wildcats wanted another championship.
The sport, however, needed a Villanova win to remind us that amid the wild times, what happens on the court is still the game's centerpiece.
We weren't sure of that in September.
The college basketball season usually commences each November with a series of attractive matchups designed to lure fans -- both casual and devoted -- to the sport's official tipoff.
But the 2017-18 season began in September with Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, standing at a dais and unveiling the details of a widespread bribery scandal that rocked college basketball.
"We have your playbook," Kim said.
What did that even mean? We weren't sure.
By then, we knew that four Division I assistant coaches and others had been arrested. We also believed the FBI might kick in the doors of other programs, coaches and players and alter both the season and the sport.
As a result, the preseason chatter around the game centered on concerns about the irreparable damage the FBI's investigation might inflict upon the game.
It was actually the perfect, albeit surprising, start to a zany season.
LaVar Ball verbally sparred with President Donald Trump after Ball's middle son, LiAngelo, was arrested in China. North Carolina escaped major sanctions in a lengthy academic investigation. Louisville fired Rick Pitino and refused to pay him.
And then the games started.
Arizona, a preseason pick by many to win the national title, lost all three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Collin Sexton nearly led Alabama to a win over Minnesota when Alabama had just three players available in the final 10 minutes. In March, the SEC sent more teams to the NCAA tournament, with eight, than the Big Ten (four) and Pac-12 (three) combined.
The NCAA tournament generated results that lined up with the season's uncertainty. Virginia lost to UMBC in the first victory of a 16-seed over 1-seed in tourney history. Kentucky couldn't escape the weakest region in NCAA history. Loyola-Chicago reached the Final Four, a feat no ACC squad achieved.
But Villanova emerged from the rubble as the team to beat.
The Wildcats had everything.
Six players on the roster made nearly 40 percent of their 3-pointers this season. Mikal Bridges is a 6-foot-7 NBA lottery pick. Jalen Brunson could win the Wooden Award. DiVincenzo, the most outstanding player in the Final Four, came off the bench on Monday night.
Throughout the regular season, the Wildcats did not just win games, they punished teams.
A nine-point win over SEC champ Tennessee. A 16-point win over Gonzaga. Two wins over Xavier, a 1-seed, by a combined 40 points.
The consensus by midseason was clear: If every team in America plays their best basketball in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats will win their second national title under Wright.
They justified the hype with four double-digit tourney wins entering the Final Four.
Then, Villanova crushed Kansas in the national semifinals.
The Wildcats had become the beacon for a game desperate to send a message to every naysayer with a pessimistic outlook on the sport.
Villanova was the golden child, the answer to every negative refrain about a sport still wading through the FBI's frigid waters as its investigation persists.
Yeah, we have our problems ... but take a look at Villanova.
In the first half of Monday's game, it seemed the Wildcats might extend the confusion. The Wildcats started 1-for-9 from the 3-point line. Brunson struggled. There was foul trouble for Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall.
But DiVincenzo's breathtaking display aligned with the performances we had witnessed all season from the talented wing and his teammates.
As they stood on the Alamodome court on Monday night after the championship victory, the Wildcats celebrated with current and former players.
Kyle Lowry took a selfie with NFL receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Kris Jenkins, who hit the buzzer-beating winner against North Carolina in the national title game two years ago, jumped into the scrum and screamed.
Wright, his Italian suit still pressed and neat after 40 minutes on the biggest stage in the sport, smiled. It was a fun scene. Young men and women were cheerful. Music blasted through the building. Confetti landed everywhere.
Villanova, the best team in America, had authored the final scene of the crazy 2017-18 campaign. It was an expected conclusion.
It was also the ending the game needed.
Only good basketball could lead college basketball through the turmoil.
That's why Villanova's win on Monday was big for the program but perhaps more significant for a sport that needed a hero.