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Ten moments that defined March Madness (plus two the NCAA won’t show you)

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If you have come recently to the love of college basketball, you may know the term “March Madness”, but have no real grasp on what that vague notion really means. There are some signature moments that have happened over the years that codified the unpredictable beauty of this time of year, and I aim to share a few of them with those who might not know the rich history of college hoops and the NCAA tournament.

The first ten moments I chose are canon. They can be viewed by visiting the NCAA’s video gallery of great moments selected by their staff. Not content to parrot the party line, I’ve added two more at the end that don’t show up on that list.

First, the Ten:

1. Magic vs. Bird (1979): As the inestimable Seth Davis chronicled in his book When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball, this was the moment that the NCAA Tournament became a true national spectacle. The perfect storm of national television coverage (35 percent of all American TVs were tuned to the final game) and two incandescent stars forming a lasting rivalry was like a match to dry grass. It was symbolic even beyond that: Earvin Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans were “Magic”, and Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores were led by the “Hick from French Lick”. The David vs. Goliath subplot became an enduring pillar of the March Madness pantheon.

2. Danny Ainge goes coast-to-coast (1981): The game-winning deep shot happens often, and involves several players facilitating the final outcome. One player taking the ball from end-line to end-line is very rare, and Ainge did it in legendary fashion to help Brigham Young defeat Notre Dame. It happened again when UCLA’s Tyus Edney knocked Missouri out in 1995, but Ainge defined the genre.

3. Jordan and Worthy (1982): Two of the NBA game’s all-time greats got their start in short, short (indecently short, really) pants. Michael Jordan hit one of his trademark floating-on-air jumpers to give North Carolina the lead over Georgetown, but the Hoyas had time left on the clock. As G’town raced downcourt to set up a potential game-winning shot, Fred Brown accidentally passed the ball to his opponent, James Worthy, who dribbled out the clock and set off a massive celebration for Dean Smith’s Tar Heels.

4. Valvano’s Wolfpack shock Phi Slama Jamma (1983): You may have seen video of Jim Valvano racing around the court, searching for someone to hug. The play that precipitated his joyous scramble was no less iconic. Dereck Wittenburg launched a deep, deep desperation shot that fell well short of the mark, seemingly ending N.C. State’s hopes of upsetting the Houston Cougars of Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwan. But alert teammate Lorenzo Charles caught the airball and dunked it with microseconds to spare, sparking one of the most memorable title-game upsets of all time.

5. Keith Smart catches fire (1987): Indiana appeared to be out of the running for the national title, with Syracuse and the deadly zone sapping the Hoosiers’ collective energy. Then Keith Smart took it upon himself to be the zone-buster, hitting shot after shot and scoring twelve of his team’s final fifteen points to bring about the comeback. This is about moments, so we’ll focus on the final 16-footer that dropped in with one second left on the clock – that one came off of Smart’s fingertips as well.

6. Bo Kimble’s lefty free throws (1990): Loyola Marymount attracted positive attention before the tournament began, playing a run-and-gun style that routinely resulted in NBA-like scores. Then came the sad moment, when star forward Hank Gathers collapsed and died during the WCC tournament. His teammate Bo Kimble – a natural righty – shot his first free throw of each game thereafter with his left hand in tribute to his fallen friend. Kimble got his team all the way to the Elite Eight that season, and made every one of his four tribute lefty free-throws. Mention Kimble or Gathers to anyone who saw it, and you’ll see the goose bumps rise.

7. Laettner’s shot (1992): Honestly, if it were just the shot that Laettner dropped in to take Duke past Kentucky, it would have been a pretty big deal. What makes it legendary is the dribble. Laettner was the epitome of cool under fire, gathering in Grant Hill’s three-quarter-court football pass with two seconds left on the clock and taking a moment to bounce it off the court before turning and drilling college basketball’s most iconic game-winning shot.

8. Bryce Drew (1998): Every crazy three-pointer from an underdog to knock out a power-conference foe will forever be compared to this shot. Much like Laettner’s effort, this one involved a long, long pass from under the opposite basket (the one that belonged to Ole Miss), but this one went down the wing to Valparaiso shooting star Bryce Drew, who calmly put it up and watched it fall in, just moments before being buried beneath ecstatic teammates. The shots of his father, good-guy coach Homer Drew, smiling with pride on the sidelines give this one a little extra glow.

9. Mario’s Miracle (2008): Again, last second shots happen often in basketball. What makes this one – a game-tying shot – amazing is that it came on a broken play. Kansas was trailing Memphis with two seconds left, and entrusted the ball to sophomore point guard Sherron Collins. Collins was to hand the ball off to the team’s best shooter, Mario Chalmers. Instead, he stumbled and flipped the ball backward to Chalmers, who was double-covered. Not only did Chalmers catch the ball cleanly, but he splashed it to force overtime, which led to a title for the Jayhawks.

10. Butler’s near-miss (2010): The Butler Bulldogs overcame massive odds to reach the Final Four, which happened to be held in their hometown of Indianapolis. They nearly walked the NCAA trophy down Broad Ripple Street, but Gordon Hayward’s last-second heave was just off the mark, and Duke escaped with yet another bauble to stuff in a corner at Cameron Indoor Stadium. It was a miss, but the shot itself was so full of possibilities and hope that it will never be forgotten. At least until a similar one goes in.

Bonus Section

11. Chris Webber’s phantom time-out (1993): There are a couple of reasons the NCAA site won’t show you this one. First, I’d imagine they don’t want to define their game by an epic fail. Second, and more meaningful, they disassociated themselves from Webber’s achievements (and errors) after an investigation into booster payments that stripped Michigan of several wins and individual honors. The fact is, Webber was an amazing player, and his exploits on the court did happen, no matter who tries to tell us they didn’t count. Sadly, Webber will always be best remembered for losing his head in the big game against North Carolina (never mind that he traveled long before he made that second mistake).

12. Eric Maynor and The Dagger (2007): And so began the national love affair with VCU basketball. Rams point guard Eric Maynor, little-known on the national stage prior to this first-round game, booted the Duke Blue Devils with a cold-blooded stroll down the court to paydirt.

This play is partly famous because the victim of Maynor’s knife attack was much-hated-upon Duke, but also because broadcaster Ian Eagle spontaneously named it “The Dagger”. If your play has a name, it’s part of history.

Here’s hoping 2013 gives us a couple more mind-bending moments we can tell our grandkids about.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Auburn junior guard Kareem Canty to turn pro

Auburn guard Kareem Canty (1) screams in pain after being fouled during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, in Auburn, Ala. Auburn won 75-70.  (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
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Auburn junior point guard Kareem Canty, the team’s leader in both points and assists, has missed the Tigers’ last two games as a result of a suspension handed down by head coach Bruce Pearl for a violation of team rules. Thursday night Canty announced via Twitter that he will be turning pro, ending his Auburn career with less than one full season of play.

In 21 games this season Canty averaged 18.3 points and 5.3 assists per contest, shooting 40.1 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three. Given Auburn’s lack of perimeter depth Canty had ample opportunities to score from the point guard position, but he struggled in the four games following standout performances in wins over Kentucky and Alabama.

Auburn’s lost six straight since beating the Crimson Tide, most recently falling 71-45 at Tennessee Tuesday night. Without Canty, Bruce Pearl called upon TJ Lang and Bryce Brown as the perimeter starters in that game with Patrick Keim and New Williams playing a combined 33 minutes off the bench. They’ll continue to see those minutes moving forward.

As for next season, Auburn brings in four-star point guard Jared Harper and currently injured point guard Tahj Shamsid-Deen will be available as well.

Canty began his college career at Marshall, playing the 2013-14 season for the Thundering Herd before deciding to transfer. Canty committed to Auburn in mid-April of 2014, only to change his mind in favor of USF before making the switch back to Auburn.

Canty’s name wasn’t showing up in early draft projections, and making this decision while in the midst of a suspension likely won’t help matters when it comes to getting selected.

BUBBLE BANTER: All of tonight’s bubbly action in one place

Fran Dunphy
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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This post will be updated as the games are completed.

You know what’s not going to be fun on Selection Sunday?

Trying to evaluate the profile that Temple (KenPom: 95, RPI: 69) eventually puts together.

The Owls are currently sitting tied for first place in the American at 9-3. They’ve swept UConn after coming from down 12 to beat the Huskies in Philly on Thursday. They’ve swept Cincinnati. They handed SMU their first loss of the season. They beat Tulsa. That’s four top 50 and six top 100 wins, which are good numbers in comparison to other bubble teams.

The problem?

They also lost at Memphis (yuck) and East Carolina (double yuck), have a non-conference strength of schedule that sits right around 200, lost to every good team they played out of conference and have thus far managed just six top 150 wins this season. The other issue? They’ve basically run out of quality opponents in the league. They do play at Tulsa (RPI: 50) and Houston (RPI: 91), which are basically must-wins at this point, and since every other opponent they play in the American has a sub-100 RPI, those are essentially can’t-lose games.

What that leaves us is the Villanova game. That will be played next week, and that’s as close to a must-win as you can get in mid-February.

WINNERS

  • Syracuse (KenPom: 39, RPI: 44): Syracuse landed their sixth top 50 win and eighth top 100 win of the season on Thursday. They also got word that the selection committee will factor in that Jim Boeheim missed time for the Orange. It may be time to take them off of this list, at least for the time being.

LOSERS

  • UConn (KenPom: 19, RPI: 46): On paper, UConn’s loss at Temple on Thursday isn’t all that bad. It’s a road loss to a top 100 opponent. Those happen in league play. Where it hurts is that the Owls have now not only swept UConn, but they did it by erasing a 12-point lead in the final five minutes. The Huskies fall to just 5-7 against the top 100 with just one top 50 win, albeit at Texas. With no bad losses and two shots left against SMU, UConn is still in decent shape.
  • Florida State (KenPom: 37, RPI: 38): The Seminoles missed a shot at landing a nice road win at Syracuse on Thursday. It doesn’t hurt their profile, and with three top 25, another top 50 and a top 100 opponent left on their schedule, there are still chances to play their way onto the bubble. The problem? All those games are losable as well.
  • VCU (KenPom: 32, RPI: 40): The Rams were on the wrong end of a brutal loss to UMass on Thursday night. It’s not the kind of loss that is going to eliminate VCU from the bubble conversation — not by any stretch — but one of the strengths of VCU’s résumé was that they didn’t have any bad losses to speak of. Now they have a loss to a sub-150 team. Their next four games are all potential landmines as well. Will Wade’s club would do well to avoid losing any of those four.

Games left to be played.

Arkansas-Little Rock (KenPom: 41, RPI: 63) at Louisiana Monroe, 8:00 p.m.
Northern Kentucky at Valparaiso (KenPom: 22, RPI: 48), 8:00 p.m.
No. 4 Iowa at Indiana (KenPom: 24, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
No. 11 Oregon at Cal (KenPom: 44, RPI: 32), 9:00 p.m.
Washington State at Colorado (KenPom: 56, RPI: 29), 11:00 p.m.
Gonzaga (KenPom: 33, RPI: 66) at Portland, 11:00 p.m.
Pepperdine at Saint Mary’s (KenPom: 26, RPI: 52), 11:00 p.m.
Oregon State (KenPom: 81, RPI: 31) at Stanford (KenPom: 104, RPI: 71), 11:00 p.m.