Fifteen unforgettable college basketball moments from 2014

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1. UConn men’s and women’s basketball teams both win national titles, only school to do so … and they’ve done once before

The UConn men’s basketball team won its second national championship on Apr. 7, an improbable run culminating in a wire-to-wire win over Kentucky. The following night, the women’s basketball team capped an undefeated season, repeating as national champion. Since 1999, the two programs have combined for 12 titles. UConn is the only school to have dual champions in the same season, first doing so in 2004.

2. Aaron Harrison’s 3-pointers vs. Michigan and Wisconsin put Kentucky in the national championship game

Kentucky entered the 2014 NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed, a disappointing seed given the preseason hype around the team. The Wildcats went through growing pains all season long, and hit their stride in March, reaching the national title game with dramatic wins over Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan and Wisconsin. In the latter two, Aaron Harrison cemented himself as one of the clutchest players in the tournament’s history with identical shots against Michigan and Wisconsin.

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3. Lauren Hill inspires nation through her fight with inoperable brain cancer

By now you know the story of Lauren Hill, the freshman at Mount St. Joseph in Ohio. She was diagnosed last season with terminal brain cancer. She has inspired others by continuing to pursue her dream of playing college basketball while also raising awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. The NCAA approved moving her team’s season debut up to Nov. 2, in which she scored the season’s first basket. Hill has appeared in several more games before being named honorary coach. So far, she has helped raise over $1 million.

4. UMass guard Derrick Gordon becomes the first openly gay player in Division I men’s basketball

Months after NFL Draft hopeful Michael Sam announced he was gay, UMass junior guard Derrick Gordon did the same, becoming the first active player in men’s Division I basketball to do so. Gordon, in his second season with the Minutemen, is averaging 11.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.2 steals per game.

5. Rashad McCants reveals he took bogus classes at North Carolina in order to remain eligible

There has been controversy around the North Carolina athletic department for quite some time. In June, Rashad McCants, a member of the 2005 national championship team, accused Roy Williams of steering him into no-show, paper classes in order to remain eligible. This sparked the reopening of an NCAA investigation, in whichKenneth Wainstein, a former member of the U.S. Justice Department, found 18 years of academic fraud. McCants, who spent four years in the NBA, has been relatively quiet since claiming UNC and the NCAA were set to pay him $310 million.

6. Kentucky’s platoon system is unveiled

With nine McDonald’s All-Americas on the roster, and several holdover John Calipari was not expecting on having, how was Kentucky going to divide the play time so everyone would be satisfied? Easy, Coach Cal implemented a platoon system. It’s not always going to be the game plan, but it’ll certainly continue to be a talking point into 2015.

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7. Wichita State runs the table, 31-0 regular season

Gregg Marshall followed a Final Four run in 2013 with 35 consecutive wins. The Shockers capped off a perfect 31-0 regular season with a 68-45 win over Missouri State. Wichita State would win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament and advance to the Round of 32 where the Shockers met Kentucky in arguably the best game of the year. It took a Kentucky team, playing its best basketball of the season, to narrowly hand Wichita State a loss.

8. Adreian Payne’s friendship with 8-year-old cancer patient, Lacey Holsworth

In February, Jason King of Bleacher Report told the heartwarming story of Michigan State big man Adreian Payne befriending 8-year-old cancer patient, Lacey Holsworth. The nation really got to know Princess Lacey when she became part of Payne’s Senior Night. Lacey died in April. Payne and Michigan State gave her a brought her so much joy in her final months — inviting her to the East Regionals in New York and to Dallas to watch Payne in the college basketball dunk contest — and in return she touched countless lives, stretching far beyond the East Lansing campus.

9. Shabazz Napier tells reporters he goes to bed “starving” weeks before leading UConn to the national title

The NCAA has consistently been under fire for its lack of compensation for student-athletes. In March, UConn senior Shabazz Napier went on record stating, “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving.” That quote were originally from late March, but didn’t gain traction until CNN posted it right before the national title. Without UConn’s championship run, those comments likely don’t get the attention it did. The NCAA approved unlimited snacks a week later.

10. Doug McDermott scores his 3,000th point in a Creighton uniform

On Senior Night, Creighton forward Doug McDermott became only the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 points. Naturally he surpassed the milestone with a 3-pointer en route to 45 points in a win over Providence. McDermott, now a rookie with the Chicago Bulls, ended with 3,150 career points.

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11. Jim Boeheim’s jacket becomes the focal point of an epic meltdown

The first matchup between Syracuse and Duke as ACC rivals was an instant classic with the Orange prevailing in overtime. The second meeting looked to become another thriller until Jim Boeheim had a Hall of Fame worthy tantrum. C.J. Fair was called for a controversial charge with 10.4 seconds left and the Blue Devils leading 60-58. Boeheim, quite simply, lost it. Racing down the sideline, saying words I can’t write on this website and getting ejected from the came. Duke was able to secure the win from the line thanks to the meltdown. This also sparked some of the greatest memes.

12. Austin Hatch, a two-time plane crash survivor, scores his first point for Michigan

The Michigan freshman has endured more than you can imagine over the years. He’s been involved in two plane crashes, resulting in the death of five family members. Michigan promised to honor his scholarship, and earlier this month he scored his first career points.

13. Mercer upset sets Duke, Kevin Canevari does the ‘Nae-Nae’

The upset of the tournament was No. 14 Mercer over No. 3 Duke in the Round of 64. Plenty came from this game. There was an awesome postgame interview. Lehigh, which upset Duke in a 2012, and Florida Gulf Coast, Mercer’s conference rival and previous tournament darling, tweeted congratulations. Duke legend Christian Laettner tweeted that this wouldn’t have happened during his career. But the most memorable was Mercer reserve guard Kevin Canevari doing the ‘Nae-Nae’.

14. Dayton’s Elite 8 run

The Flyers started Atlantic 10 Conference play 1-5 after cracking the top 25 rankings in November. Dayton recovered to win 23 games and become one of six bids from the A10, as a No. 11 seed. In the Round of 64, the Flyers were slotted against in-state rival Ohio State, upsetting the Buckeyes before taking down No. 3 Syracuse and then topping No. 10 Stanford in the Sweet 16. The run came to an end against top-seeded Florida. The run turned Dayton head coach Archie Miller into a prime candidate for several coaching vacancies, but he signed an extension in March.

15. Wofford’s Aerris Smith delivers a passionate speech in his final collegiate game

This may not be as well known as other moments in 2014, but this is truly an incredible speech. Wofford forward Aerris Smith had his senior season dominated by injuries. After the Terriers won the Southern Conference Tournament championship, Smith announced that he had played in his final game.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.