College Basketball ended last night with one of the most entertaining games in National Championship history between Louisville and Michigan. Emphatic dunks, long-range three’s, hard nose defense, individual explosions from Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht and a heart warming story. It was the perfect way to end such a nutty season and March Madness. So let’s take a look back into the chaos with the ten best of the best from the tournament.
10. More than a bunch of nerds.
New Mexico and Harvard was a 14 vs 3 match-up that pretty much everyone had New Mexico winning. In fact, many were so caught up in the Lobos success this season that many had them as the surprise pick to go to the Final Four. Well, apparently Steve Alford and co. didn’t get the memo that winning in March means taking a “one step at a time” approach. The Crimson of Harvard would take all the hype around the Lobos and shoved it right back in their face with a 68-62 shocker that from the get-go ruined many peoples bracket. A school known for producing the most Presidents, Supreme Court Justices and the creator of Facebook, changed the world. Well the sports world that is.
9. Aaron Craft = Buckets
The undisputed leader of of the Buckeyes this year was Aaron Craft. He doesn’t make the “Oh dear lord” athletic plays, he doesn’t blow past anyone with speed or quickness and his shot has a weird hitch in it that makes you ask yourself, how is he so good? It’s simple. He plays ferocious defense that gives every guard in the Big Ten a sigh of relief that this was his last year in College, his IQ for the game could be the best in College Basketball, his leadership is the reason why Ohio State made it so far in the tournament. And let’s not forget, the guy has ice in his veins. Iowa State looked poised to upset Ohio State in the round of 32, with only a few seconds left, the game on the line, Aaron Craft, not even the best player on his team ( that would go to Deshaun Thomas) who he waived off so he could take the final shot, rose up and in the words of Uncle Drew “Was getting buckets” and drained the three to send THE Ohio State to the Sweet 16. Many doubted Craft’s ability before that shot, none do now.
8. Marshall Henderson
You either Love him, or you hate him. There is simply no in between with this guy. He may be cocky, arrogant, annoying and have a loud mouth, but above all those things, he can flat out play. Single handily, Henderson led Ole Miss to the tournament with his heroics vs. Vanderbilt where he scored 22 and Mizzou where he scored 27, in the SEC tourney. But he wasn’t done quite yet. Every year when Wisconsin get into the tournament, they’re always a tough out, so everyone picks them to go deep. This year was no different, except they ran into Marshall. He lit up the Badgers in the second half with 19 points and nearly sent the surprising Rebels to the Sweet 16 against La Salle with 21, coming within a game winning shot. He averaged a solid 20 points this season, and it is most likely that returns for his senior season. Whether you like it, or not.
7. Mitch McGary
On a team full of talented superstars who will be lottery picks in the NBA draft this year, or next. Mitch McGary was the engine behind the Wolverines run. He averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds throughout the tournament with a huge performance against VCU, who looked poised to upset Michigan. Yet while all the attention was on Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke, Mitch found a way to put up points and be effective all season and all March. He might even be a lottery pick himself.
6. The Ducks are still Flying.
Oregon has always been known for their football up in the Northwest. LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, DeAnthony Thomas and so on are the reason why with their ridiculous speed and ability to put up points at will. But beyond all that, there is a basketball team with bright colored uniforms as well. And they can play too. They beat everyone in their path to become Pac-12 champs to just get in. Yet they only received a 12 seed. That ain’t right. They would make the committee look like fools by whooping 5 seed Oklahoma State and running over Saint Louis, who was supposed to make a deep run this year. Behind standout transfer Arsalan Kamezi who averaged 15 rebounds in the big dance, Oregon can do much more than score touchdowns.
5. The Explorers
Teams that usually play in the “First Four” aren’t suppose to make deep runs in March. La Salle finished finished 4th in their conference and were lucky to get into the dance. But boy when they got in, they made some noise. They won their opening match-up in the First Four, then shocked Kansas State 63-61 and then did it again against Marshall Henderson’s squad on a game winning runner from transfer Tyronne Garland. If you haven’t noticed yet, it was the year of the transfer.
4. “Russdiculous” and Trey Burke
Listed at 6′ 1″ 165 pounds, Russ Smith shouldn’t be able to play basketball. He doesn’t. He dominates it. Mark my words this guy could possibly be the next Allen Iverson. He takes questionable shots at times but just about every coach will take the good with the bad with Russ. Because most of those shots go in. He might be too short, too small and doesn’t jump out the building, but he’s quick as lightning. He blows past everyone and gets to the hoop with ease, just like AI. His range is unlimited, usually when he crosses half court, there’s a good chance if he shoots it, it’s going in. And it is as simple as this, Louisville doesn’t win the Big East and reach Atlanta without Russ. The same goes with Trey. The Player of the year, Burke played just about as good as anyone has every played in a tournament. His performances rival that of Steph Curry of Davidson and Derrick Rose of Memphis. His shot against Kansas that sent that game into overtime was taken from a different area code and set the Twitter nation into a frenzy. The shot might have won him the award, but its legacy will be in the company of Christian Laettner’s and Bryce Drew’s memorable shots.
3. Shocking the world.
Everyone from Witchita State hates that pun. But honestly what else am I going to use? A team full of Juco (Junior College) transfers and players willing to work to pay for their education just to play basketball is the definition of a Cinderella story. Funny thing was, the Shockers were everything but. After losing their five top scorers from a year ago, and suffering plenty of key injuries along the way, Greg Marshall found a way to put together a ball club that destroyed your bracket. Behind Malcom Armstead who was named West region’s most outstanding player, Cleanthony Early who put himself in position to be player of the year next year and put up 24 points and 10 rebounds against Louisville in the Final Four, Marshall had a ball club that “played angry” and was athletic and tough. Defeating Gonzaga and Ohio State it was surely a Cinderella story as a 9 seed from a mid-major conference. Yet, like I said before, they were everything but.
2. Dunk City, Population Florida Gulf Coast University
This is the reason why we love the Big Dance so much. The possibility of a team never heard of before, taking center stage on a national level. It wasn’t hard not to fall in love with this team half way through their upset against Georgetown. They didn’t take themselves too seriously, they laughed and they dunked. A lot. It wasn’t just one guy, it was the whole team. It was like watching a pick up game down in South Beach, up and down with one guy fueling all the alley-oops. That guy’s name was Brett Comer. A 6′ 3” guard averaged 10.3 assists and was the miracle worker behind the explosion of Dunk City. Thanks to FGCU, it reminded us that playing basketball is suppose to be fun and that it is OK to do the chicken dance every once and awhile.
1. The National Championship Game
It is suppose to be the best game in March. But only few can deliver. This one did. Like I said 1300 words before, it had everything you want in a great College Basketball game. Up and down, defense, long-range shots and big time jams. And while Michigan played heroically behind Trey Burke who had 24 points, they fell short to the only team capable of beating them. The Louisville Cardinals. Fueled by the words of their fallen brother Kevin Ware “Win the Game.” They would do simply that. Legendary Coach Rick Pitino has coached some of the greatest players in College Basketball history, yet Peyton Siva is his favorite. Siva had another outstanding game in his final one as a Cardinal with 18 points. But as always with Louisville this season, it was a team effort. Russ Smith didn’t shoot well all night, only going 3-15, but he drained a clutch three that ultimately put the game out of reach. Chane Behanan received plenty of praise from Charles Barkley after the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Behanan who calls Kevin Ware “his brother” played like a man on a mission taking on every Michigan big man thrown at him and nonetheless continued to own the paint. And then there was Cool Hand Luke. Before the explosion came one from Michigan freshman Spike Albrecht, who made 4 straight 3’s and scored 17 in all and was the main reason Michigan was up 12 early. But just before half ended, Luke Hancock made every Luke around the world proud, including this one. The only person to approach Ware after the awful injury, disregarding that Ware’s bone was sticking out of his leg, Hancock would take the motivation of “winning it for Ware” to another level Monday Night. He exploded for 22 points off the bench including 14 straight points on his own to close out the half. He would be named the first non-starting Most outstanding player of the Final Four. Pitino’s group of players, which he calls the 13 toughest players he has ever coached were truly a band of brothers. They were a mix of personalities not usually seen on a Championship team. They were college kids living their dreams of playing for a National Championship. And while Kevin Ware didn’t get to play Monday night, it was only fitting that he and his team are the lasting image of the tournament and the year. What year it was. See you in November College Basketball.