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2016 Year in Review: College Basketball’s 12 Most Memorable Games

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With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time for us to take a look back and all the good things that happened to us. The most memorable moments, the best dunks and, today, the most thrilling, unforgettable college basketball games from the last 365 days.

Yeah.

This will be fun to reminisce about. Here are the top 12:

12. Duke 74, North Carolina 73: Duke played the majority of last season as, essentially, a six-man team, but on this Wednesday night in February, they were down to five guys as Matt Jones got injured in the first half. Those five – Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton and Marshall Plumlee – went into the Dean Dome and knocked off the Tar Heels, erasing an eight-point deficit with six minutes left and, with a defense that was as porous as swiss cheese, holding the national runner’s-up scoreless on two possessions in the final minute.

11. Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 OT and Oklahoma 72, LSU 70: There were people that doubted the SEC/Big 12 Challenge – Why would you play a day’s worth of non-conference games in the middle of the league schedule? – but these two games gave the entire ordeal meaning. It started with Buddy Hield vs. Ben Simmons, a great college player having an all-time great season going up against the Next Big Thing having a dreadful one-and-done year, and that game turned into a shootout that was ended on a game-winner from Isaiah Cousins and an ensuing possession that didn’t see Simmons touch the ball. Hield finished with 32 points.

As soon as that barn-burner finished, we jumped to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where Kentucky gave Kansas all they could handle. Wayne Selden popped off for 33 points, making clutch shots down the stretch, as the Jayhawks held off a feisty Kentucky team in overtime. This performance helped spark a run for the Wildcats that saw them turn around what was, to date, a pedestrian season.

10. UConn 104, Cincinnati 97 4OT: You know something crazy has to happen for an early-round AAC tournament game to be considered among the best games in college basketball in 2016, and something crazy certainly did happen. The four overtimes were wild enough, but it was the end of the third overtime that is going to go down in the annals of UConn basketball history. Check this out:

9. Notre Dame 76, Stephen F. Austin 75: The Lumberjacks looked like they were on their way to the Sweet 16, becoming just the third No. 14 seed to get their in the last 20 year, before a freshman you never heard of – Rex Pfleuger – somehow tipped home a missed shot with 1.5 seconds left.

This was thrilling and tense and saw an underdog go head-to-head with a powerhouse program that made back-to-back Elite 8s. It was everything we love about March Madness. All it lacked was a true buzzer-beater.

8. UCLA 97, Kentucky 92: We’ll remember this game as the moment that UCLA basketball was back. The Bruins reached three straight Final Fours under Ben Howland before the success stalled and, eventually Howland gave way to Steve Alford. Alford reached back-to-back Sweet 16s in his first two seasons, but his teams were just OK and, in year three, the Bruins went 15-17 and the over-reliance on Bryce Alford had Bruin fans ready to find a new coach, regardless of the price.

Then, after a hot start to the season, the Bruins went into Rupp Arena and smacked around Kentucky, who was then the No. 1 team in all of college basketball.

7. Middle Tennessee State 90, Michigan State 81: If you didn’t know any better, you would think that MTSU was the team that was the higher seed in this game. They never trailed against the Spartans. They shot 11-for-19 from three. They answered every Sparty run with a three or an and-one. And, in the process, they landed what is arguably the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.

It wasn’t the biggest difference in spread and MTSU was hardly the worst team to ever win a game, but Michigan State was everyone’s pick to win the national title despite being a No. 2 seed. I went back through every No. 2 seed that has lost a first round game in the tournament. None of them were the trendy pick to win the title.

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18: Darnell Harris #0 of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders celebrates late in the game against the Michigan State Spartans during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

6. Syracuse 68, Virginia 62: Virginia’s been a dominant force in college hoops for the last three or four seasons, but there’s a segment of the college basketball populace that won’t accept Tony Bennett as a ‘winner’ until he’s able to prove Virginia can have success in March. (Those are mostly the same people that didn’t believe Bo Ryan was any good until he got Wisconsin to back-to-back Final Fours.) Virginia was getting ready to shed that label, as they held a 15-point lead over Syracuse in the Elite 8 with just under 10 minutes remaining last March.

Then the wheels fell off, as Malachi Richardson spurred a 25-4 run to close the game and send the Orange on to the Final Four. The comeback isn’t only memorable because of the way the game played out, but because of the fact that Virginia is nearly impossible to make a run on. They play as slow and defend as well as anyone in college basketball. Coming back from 15 points against them is like coming back from 25 down against a normal team.

5. Kentucky 103, North Carolina 100: This game had everything. Two of college basketball’s biggest brands. Two of the best teams this season. Two teams that want to run-and-gun. A pair of back court stars on either team going back-and-forth, trading big shot after big shot. An iconic individual performance, the 47 points that UK freshman Malik Monk poured in. And, of course, a game-winning three with 15 seconds left from said freshman:

And it all happened on a neutral court that had equally-sizeable – and loud – crowds supporting each team. It does not get much better than this.

4. Northern Iowa75, Texas 72: With 2.7 seconds left, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor scored on a runner to tie a first round NCAA tournament game at 72. UNI inbounded the ball to Paul Jesperson, who took one dribble and casually fired up a prayer from half court … that banked in and sent the Panthers back to the second round of the NCAA tournament:

It also led to an iconic photo of the agony and ecstasy of the NCAA tournament … :

Texas guard Isaiah Taylor (1) reacts as the Northern Iowa team celebrates after guard Paul Jesperson made a last-second half-court shot to win the the first-round men's college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament in Oklahoma City, Friday, March 18, 2016. Northern Iowa won 75-72. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)
(AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

… but it would be far from the lasting memory that we had of the Panther tournament run.

3. Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88 2OT: Just 48 hours after the most memorable moment in program history, the Panthers managed to put together the worst collapse in the history of college basketball, shucking a 12-point lead in the final 44 seconds. Perhaps the most impressive part of this game for UNI was that, after that collapse, they didn’t fold, forcing a second overtime before eventually succumbing to the Aggies.

Our Travis Hines wrote a really good story earlier this year on the Panthers and their attempt to bounce-back from such a catastrophic loss. It’s not an easy thing to do.

2. Kansas 109, Oklahoma 106 3OT: This might be the greatest regular season basketball game that I’ve ever seen, which isn’t quite as impressive as the fact that it actually was able to live up to the hype that it had coming in. This was No. 1 vs. No. 1; when the game was played, Oklahoma was No. 1 in the AP poll while Kansas was No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. The Sooners got 46 points from Buddy Hield – who got a standing ovation from the Phog Allen Fieldhouse crowd – but it wasn’t quite enough as the Jayhawks were able to pull out a win in the end.

1. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74: I’m not sure we’ll ever see a better national title game than the one that we were greeted with last season. A fantastically-played game for 40 minutes, Villanova opened up a 10-point lead with five minutes left before the Tar Heels started chipping away at the lead. UNC would eventually tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left thanks to this ridiculous, totally-forgotten shot from Marcus Paige:

Then … BANG:

 

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.