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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.

Osun Osunniyi picks St. Bonaventure over Syracuse, Georgetown

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St. Bonaventure has made something of a late splash on the recruiting trail.

Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, signed with the Bonnies, the school announced Monday.

It’s a bit of a recruiting coup for coach Mark Schmidt, who won the services of Osunniyi over offers from Syracuse and Georgetown, both of whom hosted the prospect on official visits this spring.

“Osun oozes with potential. His ceiling is extremely high. He has so much God-given ability,” Schmidt said in a statement. “And, he’s a great kid, a character kid who is level-headed. He has a great wingspan, he runs well, he has a natural talent for blocking shots and is a very good rebounder. He can score around the basket.

“Osun wants to get better, like all of our players. We saw how he developed at Putnam, which is a credit to coach Espinosa and the staff there. He’s come a long way to become a kid who was highly recruited. We’re thrilled to have him come to St. Bonaventure.”

Osunniyi, who previously committed to La Salle before taking a prep year, becomes the fourth member of the Bonnies’ 2018 freshman class. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots per game while Putnam won a national prep championship.

The Bonnies made the NCAA tournament as an 11 seed last year after going 26-8.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

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Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

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South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

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Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.