Dunk of the Year Awards

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With the 2011-2012 season finally in the books, its time to look back at the moments that made this season so special. We’ve addressed the best tournament moments, and best games of the season. But each game is made up of individual moments which can stand out on their own given certain circumstances.

The 2011-2012 season had no shortage of gravity-defying dunks. There was not a week that went b without somebody ending up on the wrong end of a posterization. In fact, poster-dunks were at such a premium this season, it’s not too long before the word “posterized” make’s it into the Webster’s dictionary.

But what made all the dunks, slams, alley-oops, and rim-rockers great was the circumstances. We saw opening-tip poster-jams, game-winning dunks, and highlight reel slams at all levels of competition.

Before we get to our top-10 dunks of the 2011-2012 season, have a gander at the best dunks from a variety of different categories, including “Dunker of the Year”.

Best Single Game Peformance: Trevis Simpson –  UNC-Greensboro vs. Miami

There were a bunch of worthy candidates in this category. Any time Alabama’s Tony Mitchell stepped on the court, he was good for at least four dunks. Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown was a human dunk machine night in and night out. Southern Mississippi’s Torye Pelham dropped three Top Plays in one game, and Xavier’s Dez Wells put on a showstopping performance against Duquesne, but Simpson takes the honors here because of what he did to the basket. He dunked so hard that a few bolts broke off the rim. Now that’s called “Sending it in”.

Best Alley-Oop: Julian Boyd – Long Island vs. Robert Morris

A half-court alley-oop is one of the prettiest sights in college basketball. But when it’s thrown down in a conference championship game, with a tournament bid on the line, in front of a sold out crowd, well, you just can’t get any better than that. Well, Spike Lee was there, so maybe you can. Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown caught a three-quarter court alley-oop from Keiton Page, but it wasnt as pretty as Boyd’s.

Most Creative Dunk:  Darrion Pellom –  Hampton vs. Maryland-Eastern Shore

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Is there really any debate with this one? We’ve seen guys catch alley-oops off the backboard from teammates, but to do it all yourself? Now that’s just impressive. The best part is that he threw it up, went behind the defender’s back and caught the slam. There’s a reason this dunk also made our Top-10 list.

Best two-footed Dunk: Kyisean Reed –  Utah State vs. Southern Utah

You would be surprised at how many dunks are started by jumping off of two feet. Sure, most of the highlight reel dunks are fast-break poster-dunks, but Utah State’s Kyisean Reed shows us that if you got “hops” you don’t need a running start. In fact, you get a more explosive jump when using two feet, which mean be the reason why Kyisean looked like he was getting shot out of a cannon.

Best One-Handed Slam: Rodney Williams – Minnesota vs. Nebraska

Rodney Williams has excellent hops and excellent length, which makes his an excellent dunker. He is a slashing guard who you do not want to give up the baseline to. If he get’s past you on the baseline, it’s take-off time for the “The Rodney Williams Express Airlines”. This one-hander is so spectacular because he gets such good extension and velocity. Most of the season’s best dunks were one-handers, but this one stands out.

Best Poster-Dunk: DeShon Minnis – Texas Tech vs. Southeastern Louisiana

Like the previous category, many of the best dunks of the year were of the poster-variety. But “Biggie” Minnis’ dunk takes the cake for several reasons. First, if you aren’t aware, just dunking over somebody doesn’t constitute a “posterization”. The defender has to make a serious effort to thwart your dunk attempt.

Elgin Bailey, the 300-pounder on the wrong end of this dunk, makes more than a serious effort to get the block. You can see him take the stutter-steps needed to pin the shot up against the glass. But unfortunately for Bailey, he’s not as athletic as Minnis. The chaos that ensues following the dunk si what really seals the deal. Poor photographer. While there are a host of other poster-worthy nominees, this one is by far the most entertaining.

Best Tip-Dunk: TrayVonn Wright –  North Dakota State vs. South Dakota

You probably never saw this dunk. You probably never even knew when these teams played. Hell, you probably didn’t even know these two teams played at all. And for shame, because Wright’s one-handed tip-jam was out-of-this-world. Dunks like these are only  thrown down by guys like Anthony Davis, and TrayVonn Wright is no Anthony Davis. Seriously, this was the best dunk of the year that nobody saw.

Dunker of the Year: Markel Brown, Oklahoma State

It was a tough decision. There were so many guys who threw down SportsCenter Top Plays on a weekly basis. Here is the group of ten finalists we narrowed it down to:

Quincy Acy (Baylor), Doug Anderson (Detroit), Markel Brown (Oklahoma State), Dion Dixon (Cincinnati), Chris Evans (Kent State), Tony Mitchell (Alabama), Andre Roberson (Colorado), Dion Waiters (Syracuse), Dez Wells (Xavier), Rodney Williams (Minnesota)

But Markel Brown gets the nod because of his overall resume. Tony Mitchell probably had more dunks, and Rodney Williams probably had a better vertical, but Brown’s overall package was as well put together as you could imagine. He caught full-court alley-oops. He threw down reverse  two-handed alley-oops, and back-door one-handers, and countless posterizations. But the icing on the cake was his dunk-related ejection against Missouri on January 25th.

He dunked all over Kim English on the first play of the game, and was assessed a technical foul for “excessive celebration”. When you “yunk” on somebody that bad, you get to celebrate excessively. Later in the game, he posterized Matt Pressey, and once again drew a technical foul. Brown may be the first person in the history of college basketball to get ejected from a game because he couldn’t help himself from posterizing every member of the opposing team.

Markel Brown was instant showtime.

But where’s the “Dunk of the Year” award? It’s coming in our next section, which will chronicle the ten best dunks of the 2011-2012 season.

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

Sister Jean the star of Loyola’s Cinderella run

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Yeah, Loyola beating Tennessee to gain a spot in the Sweet 16 is a great basketball story, but the best news about their Cinderella run is something else entirely.

America gets another week with Sister Jean.

The Ramblers’ 98-year-old team chaplain has captured the hearts of the March Madness public, with her pre-game prayers and post-game celebrations. Clayton Custer’s game-winner was fine, but Sister Jean’s been great.

Loyola, though, will now have to try to defy Sister Jean. She picked against the Ramblers in the Sweet 16 in her bracket.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Azubuike’s presence huge as No. 1 Kansas holds off No. 8 Seton Hall

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It turns out Kansas is a whole heck of a lot better when Udoka Azubuike is in the floor.

Who knew?

The sophomore center returned Saturday for extended minutes after being limited with a knee injury to help the No. 1 Jayhawks to a 83-79 win over No. 8 Seton Hall to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

Azubuike had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but the strongest stat in his column was his plus-minus. When he was on the floor, Kansas bested the Pirates by 21 points. When he was off, the Jayhawks got outscored by 17, and there is noise in that number as Seton Hall continued to put them on the foul line in the last minute with Azubuike on the bench.

The 7-footer’s importance to Kansas has been apparent all season, but it was even starker against the Pirates, whose Angel Delgado feasted when Azubuike wasn’t on the floor.  Seton Hall’s double-double machine finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to power the Pirates into next week. Neither was Khadeen Carrington’s 28 points, all but two of which came after halftime.

Azubuike’s critical role for Kansas is three-fold. First, he’s very talented. Second, he makes the four-out offense possible. Third, the drop-off behind him – apologies to Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa – is rather significant.

Kansas, which got 28 points from Malik Newman, has to play a very specific way offensively with guard-heavy roster. The Jayhawks have to get up a ton of 3s, and they’ve got to make a bunch of them. Without Azubuike in the middle drawing attention and making it difficult for defenders to stay hugged-up on shooters on the perimeter, the architecture of the offense can crumble in on itself.

Azubuike certainly isn’t a perfect or dominant player, but he rebounds well, blocks shots and makes about three-quarters of his shots. Which, of course, means he fits his role perfectly for maybe the most vulnerable Kansas team in Bill Self’s tenure. The Jayhawks’ margin for error, at least at this juncture against the competition they’re going to see in Omaha, is pretty small. Deviate from the plan and things can get away from them quickly. Duke and Michigan State, Kansas’ presumptive opponents in the Elite Eight, will punish them for any missteps or holes in their gameplan.

Azubuike is the linchpin. When he’s in place, things hold together. When he’s not, there’s trouble.

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago beats No. 3 Tennessee to advance to Sweet 16

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Cinderella is headed to the Sweet 16!

For the second time in this tournament, trailing 62-61 on the final possession of the game, Loyola-Chicago has won.

On Thursday, the Ramblers got the benefit of a missed Lonnie Walker free throw and a game-winning three from Donte Ingram to beat No. 6-seed Miami, 64-62.

On Saturday, the situation was almost the same — the Ramblers had the ball with 10.5 seconds left on the clock — but the execution was different.

Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to answer Grant Williams’ and-one and send Loyola-Chicago to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the immortal words of Gus Johnson, the slipper still fits:

Loyola was in control of this game for the majority of the second half and led by eight points at the under-four time out, but a pair of threes from Tennessee set up Williams’ and-one on Tennessee’s final possession. Jordan Bone had a shot to win the game at the buzzer that bounced off the back of the rim.

Aundre Jackson led the Ramblers 16 points off the bench as No. 11-seed Loyola landed their second upset of the weekend, beating No. 3-seed Tennessee, 63-62, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Those 16 points that Jackson scored were the most that any Loyola player scored in either of their games this weekend. The 10 shots that Jackson took in the first round win over No. 3-seed Miami was the only time in those two games that a Rambler player had double-digit field goal attempts. They held Miami and Tennessee to a combined 116 points.

I say all that to say this: Loyola is not a typical Cinderella team. They don’t have some superstar scorer that carried them to this point in the tournament, like a Jairus Lyles from UMBC or a Jon Elmore from Marshall. They’re not a high-scoring team or a team that just-so-happened to catch fire from three at the right time. What they are is a smart, tough and extremely well-coached group that is everything you think of when you picture Missouri Valley basketball.

They aren’t going to give up penetration defensively. They are going to pound the defensive glass. They aren’t going to commit silly turnovers or take dumb shots. They’ll run their offense and trust that whatever their coach calls is going to get them the shot they need to get.

They will not beat themselves, and if you are going to beat them, you’re going to work for every possession.

And it’s worked.

Loyola will advance to Atlanta where they will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 7 Nevada. With Buffalo losing and either No. 10-seed Butler or No. 11-seed Syracuse counting as anything close to a mid-major, Loyola, Marshall and UMBC are the only true Cinderella teams left in the tournament. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers, who became the first No. 16 seed to get to the second round of the tournament after a Friday night win over top overall seed Virginia, take on No. 9-seed Kansas State on Sunday while No. 13-seed Marshall gets a date with in-state an rival, No. 5 West Virginia.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paces No. 5 Kentucky past No. 13 Buffalo

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Its deficit cut to five, Buffalo zipped down the floor in transition. The ball found Jeremy Harris, who stepped into his 3-point shot attempt and let it fly as the crowd in Boise was ready to blow the roof off Taco Bell Arena, hopeful they’d have the chance to will the Bulls to an upset of Kentucky. The shot barrelled toward the basket, carrying Buffalo’s Sweet 16 dreams with it.

The ball, along with control of the game, clanged off the rim and bounced into Kentucky’s hands.

The No. 5 Wildcats turned away No. 13 Buffalo, 95-75, on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.

Buffalo got 26 points from Wes Clark and 18 from CJ Massinburg, and made the Wildcats sweat deep into the second round until things spiraled away from them. Making just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and your opponent shooting 56.3 percent from the floor is no recipe for an upset.

Even with a rough shooting day, Buffalo threatened Kentucky time and again, but at every turn, the Wildcats had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The 6-foot-6 freshman was simply spectacular, scoring 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He added six rebounds and six assists for good measure.

Gilgeous-Alexander was an unsolvable problem for Buffalo. The Bulls were never able to find a way to corral or deny him. He just got what he wanted when he wanted it, and what he wanted was buckets. Lots of them.

Inconsistency has been the pock on Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie campaign, but in recent weeks he’s found his groove. He’s scored in double-digits in nine-straight games. He’s either made shots or gotten to the free-throw line. Sometimes both.

For a Kentucky team without a dominant player, Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a go-to and consistent scorer is huge. The Wildcats are going to have an athletic advantage in almost every game they play. If they’ve got a guy other than Kevin Knox they can count on for 15-plus, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off an offense that doesn’t have the benefit of much in the way of shooting.

The path for Kentucky to the Elite 8 looks incredibly navigable after Virginia’s stunning and historic loss Friday to UMBC. The Wildcats will have to beat a nine or 16 seed to be just 40 minutes from another Final Four.

If Gilgeous-Alexander can continue to be the offensive weapon he’s turned into over the last month, San Antonio may very well be hosting Big Blue Nation in April.

VIDEO: Buffalo’s Nick Perkins posterizes Kevin Knox

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Buffalo and Kentucky are locked in an entertaining battle on Saturday afternoon, and while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been completely dominant, the play of the day comes courtesy of the Bulls.

After Kentucky pushed their lead to 10 points with less than nine minutes left, Nick Perkins — who is known for as a three-point shooter than anything else — dunked on Kentucky’s soon-to-be lottery pick, Kevin Knox, emphatically: