And now, time again for the song that warms the heart of college basketball every year . . . One Memorable Moment
No, no. Not the one about a shining moment. The most unforgettable deeds from the NCAA Tournament don’t always come from the national champions. Just usually. Now that March is here, let’s start clicking the buttons on the memory bank, and see what pops up as a lasting image from each year since 2000. Feats of the 21st Century.
Michigan State’s tattoos in 2000
One word on the arms of several Michigan State players said so much. Flint. Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Charlie Bell were all sons of Flint – a city battered by economic hard times, in need of any upbeat trend. Hence, the Flintstones became a national feel-good story, which felt even better when they combined for 48 points in the national championship game. For one night, anyway, Flint was on top of the world. Ten years later, Bell would say, “I don’t think there’s a basketball player in Flint who doesn’t have that tattoo now.”
Mike Krzyzewski’s halftime talk in 2001
Down 22 points to Maryland after 13 ½ minutes, Krzyzewski had two main things to say to his Duke team at halftime. No. 1, stop running set plays on offense and let the motion game freely flow. No. 2, would somebody please try to slow down Juan Dixon, who had just scored 16 points in one half? How about you, Nate James?
The record will show that no-set-plays Duke scored 57 points the second half to win 95-84, completing the greatest comeback in Final Four history. And Dixon went 1-for-8, with James doing most of the guarding.
Missouri’s run in 2002
The NCAA selection committee apparently didn’t think much of Missouri’s double digit losses, slipping the Tigers into the bracket as a No. 12 seed. Two weeks later, they had rolled to the regional championship game against Big 12 colleague Oklahoma. The road stopped there with an 81-75 loss, aided and abetted by 14 missed free throws. But Missouri is still the only 12th seed to ever get to an Elite Eight.
Roy Williams’ blankety-blank in 2003
Williams’ Kansas Jayhawks had just lost an 81-78 heartbreaker to Syracuse for the national championship, and everyone wanted to know if he was truly taking the job at his alma mater North Carolina, as had been widely rumored. So the CBS sideline reporter asked him. Twice. He wasn’t in much of a mood to answer.
“I don’t give a (bleep) about North Carolina. I care about those 13 kids in the locker room,” he snapped to a live audience. Later, he would say of his mentor, “Coach (Dean) Smith would be disappointed in my blankety-blank, but he understands.”
Emeka Okafor’s uneasy sit in 2004
Two quick fouls sent the UConn star to the bench for most of the first half of the Final Four game with Duke, and he watched miserably as the Blue Devils moved ahead. Then he scored all his 18 points after halftime, and a stunning late 12-0 UConn run wiped out an eight-point Blue Devils lead. The Huskies slipped past Duke by one point, then stormed through the title game against Georgia Tech. It probably cost Krzyzewski another championship.
“My first time in the Final Four, I didn’t want to miss a minute. I was going to miss 16,” Okafor said afterward of his bench vigil. “It was eating me up inside.”
Regional weekend in 2005
Might be the greatest non-Final Four weekend in NCAA Tournament history.
Four regional championship games, three went overtime.
On Saturday, Illinois was down 15 points to Arizona with four minutes left. The Illini rallied and won in overtime. Louisville was down 20 in the first half to West Virginia. The Cardinals rallied and won in overtime.
On Sunday, Kentucky’s Patrick Sparks hit a jumper at the buzzer, with Kentucky trailing Michigan State by three points. It took officials more than five minutes of studying replay angles – they dissected the shot frame-by-frame as if it were the Zapruder film – before deciding that Sparks’ toe had been behind the line by about the width of a hair on Tom Izzo's head. So yes, 3-pointer. Tie game. Michigan State won in double overtime anyway. The same day, eventual national champion North Carolina put down Wisconsin in the final minute 88-82, and that almost seemed routine.
George Mason in 2006
Critics howled when George Mason was given an at-large berth in the tournament. A team from the Colonial Athletic Association getting a bid that should have gone to one of the big boys? Outrageous. Then the 11th-seeded Patriots started knocking off bluebloods.
Michigan State, first. North Carolina, next. There went half of the previous year’s Final Four. They polished off Wichita State in the Sweet 16, and then came the biggest shocker of all – 86-84 in overtime over No. 1 seed Connecticut. By then, something mystical seemed afoot. They hit six consecutive 3-pointers to get into overtime, and made five of six shots in OT to win. George Mason had gone from punching bag to the Final Four.
“I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having,” coach Jim Larranaga said. Alas, Florida put an end to the fun the next week, 73-58.
Florida’s title defense in 2007
The only three programs to repeat as champions in the past 56 years are UCLA, Duke and . . . Florida? Yep. All the starters for the Gators’ ’06 champions decided to return for an encore. They had a bump or two during the regular season, as they more or less waited around for March. But in the end, no one could stop them – their closest tournament margin was seven points.
The guy who made a lot of shots, and the guy who made one shot in 2008
Tiny Davidson became one of the darlings of recent tournament history, knocking off big name after big name as a remarkable shooter staged his coming out party. Steph Curry. The Wildcats knocked aside Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin, and were on the cusp of the Final Four, before Kansas barely turned them back, 59-57. The nation would hear from Curry again, in the NBA.
A week later, the Jayhawks passed the ball to an unforgettable shooter of their own.
Memphis, ahead in the national championship game by nine points with 2:12 remaining, left the door ajar by missing four late free throws. Someone had to save the day for Kansas, and Mario Chalmers did, with a 3-pointer in the final seconds that forced overtime, giving the Jayhawks their opportunity to win the title. “It will probably be the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history,” Bill Self said that night.
It still is.
North Carolina’s dominance in 2009
The Tar Heels carried the burden of being expected to win. And boy, did they ever win. The victory margins in the tournament were 43, 14, 21, 12, 14 and 17. They took on Michigan State for the national championship in Detroit, with the building heavily Spartan green, and the halftime score was 55-34. To think, North Carolina started the ACC season 0-2. “You’re looking at a team that could probably beat the worst team in the NBA,” Michigan State guard Travis Walton said.
The Hail Mary that didn’t fall in 2010
That Butler was playing Duke in the national championship game, only six miles from its Indianapolis campus, was remarkable enough. That it was 61-59 in the final seconds made it more so. And had Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt shot at the buzzer gone in, instead of ratting around the rim, nominations would have been closed for most shocking ending of all time.
Kemba Walker’s run in 2011
Coach Jim Calhoun told Walker to take leadership of Connecticut, and he never blinked, nor apparently got tired. The Huskies made history by winning five games in five days to take the Big East tournament. Then they rolled to the national championship, relying on defense that even squeezed the magic out of Butler. The Bulldogs shot a record low 18.8 percent in the title game. Eleven elimination games, eleven victories, and Walker was the leading scorer in all of them. “He gave me the keys,” Walker said of his coach. “From that point, I just drove.” At 68 years and 10 months, Calhoun remains the oldest coach to win a championship.
The Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 2012
Notice Anthony Davis’ stat line for Kentucky in the title game win over Kansas. He took 10 shots, and missed nine. Only six points in all. So was it a voting malfunction, Davis ending up named MOP? Read the rest of his line – 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists. No, the voting was fine. “About a month ago, I looked at them all and said, `tell me what you do to help us win when you’re not scoring,” John Calipari said. “You saw today with him.”
Welcome to Dunk City in 2013
Florida Gulf Coast? What’s a Florida Gulf Coast? The college basketball world found out when the Eagles – a rollicking bunch that earned its Dunk City moniker slam by slam – became the first (and still only) 15th seed to get to the second weekend. In-state heavyweight Florida put a stop to the dunking at that point, but in one incredible week, FGCU had become way more than four letters. “Hopefully by now, people are learning those initials,” coach Andy Enfield said. Enfield used the fame to quickly climb the coaching ladder to different initials. Three days after FGCU lost, he was at USC.
The national championship game nobody saw coming in 2014
Connecticut was No. 7 seed. So what was more amazing, that the Huskies reached the title game, or that they were wearing white uniforms as the higher seeded team when they got there? That’s because Kentucky, surviving its first five tournament games by a combined 18 points, was a No. 8. The Wildcats seemed a true underdog tale, except, well, does Kentucky as Cinderella strike you as maybe a miscast? UConn won 60-54, and suddenly the Huskies had four championships in 16 years. They were almost getting to be like the women’s team.
The almost perfect season in 2015
Kentucky was 38-0 headed for the Final Four and coronation, and a lot of media members were looking up the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers – the last unbeaten national champions. How did they like the idea of getting company? But Wisconsin, a one-point Final Four victim of Kentucky the year before, got its revenge with a 71-64 win. Never mind, Hoosiers. Two days later, the Badgers had much less fun against Duke.
Kris Jenkins’ shot in 2016
North Carolina had just tied the national championship game and only 4.7 seconds remained, so overtime seemed pretty certain. But here came Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono, rushing the ball up the court. You figured he’d do what 99 out of 100 seniors would in that situation—try to make a play himself and win the game. But he had something else in mind. He turned and flipped the ball to a trailing Kris Jenkins, who had just enough space to pull up and launch a long 3-pointer and . . . well, you know the rest.
North Carolina’s redemption tour of 2017
It took the Tar Heels 12 months to forget what happened when that shot left Jenkins’ hands. They labored all season to get back and finish the job, and did it at a Final Four of otherwise new faces. Oregon was there for the first time in 78 years, Gonzaga and South Carolina for the first time ever.
One Stunning Moment in 2018
UMBC was No. 16 seed. Virginia was No. 1. The record of No. 16 teams against top-seeds at tipoff was 0-134. Need we go on? Except to mention the final margin was 20 unfathomable points. The Retrievers were gone 48 hours later, evicted by Kansas State, but they had changed the history book.
Something John Beilein said during the incredible regional weekend in 2005. He was coach at West Virginia then, and had just suffered the overtime loss to Louisville, after leading by 20. How to explain such a thing?
“That’s the beauty of this game,” he said. “Expect the unexpected.”
So it seems. Every. Single. March.