Most memorable moments from first weekend of 2018 NCAA Tournament

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eric musselContrary to what people that were caught up in the moment are going to try and tell you, this was not the craziest first weekend of the NCAA tournament of all time.

We may have had the single-craziest moment ever — we’ll get to that — and we did lose a number of the top teams in the bracket, but the insanity of this weekend wasn’t quite clinical. 

That said, we did get left with a number of memorable moments through out the first four days of the greatest sporting event in America. Here are the 12 that will stick with us for the longest time:

12. THE KEENAN EVANS TAKEOVER

We’ve been trying to let you know about this guy all season long. The Texas Tech star averaged 22.5 points and 3.0 assists through the first two weekends of the event, and 33 of the 45 points that he scored came in the second half of two close wins. He hit the go-ahead three to beat Florida with just over two minutes left and made all the big plays in the come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the first round. He is a killer.

The best moment, however, might have been this lob that elicited memories of Kobe-to-Shaq:

11. MYLES POWELL FOR THE COVER

If you’re not a gambler, you may not have noticed that the final, seemingly meaningless shot in Kansas’ win over Seton Hall in the second round had all kinds of weight behind it. Powell hit a running 30-footer as time-expired, cutting the Kansas lead to 83-79. Kansas was favored by 4.5 points in that game. The shot that he hit meant that the Pirates covered the spread. Millions of dollars — that’s not an exaggeration — changed hands as a direct result of that shot going in.

10. MEET ZACH NORVELL

You may not have known who he was before this event started but you probably know who he is now. The Gonzaga freshman scored 15 points and hit the game-winning three as the Zags beat UNC Greensboro in the first round of the NCAA tournament, following that up by going for a career-high 28 points, a career-high 12 boards, a career-high six threes and his first career double-double in a second round win over Ohio State. He’s scored at least 14 points in each of his last six games. He will be the next superstar in Spokane.

9. SYRACUSE IS IN THE SWEET 16 PLAYING BASKETBALL THAT MAKES VIRGINIA SEEM EXCITING

Jim Boeheim, man. You have to give him credit. For the second time in three seasons, his Orange team has snuck into the NCAA tournament with a resume that didn’t deserve a bid and proceeded to make everyone seem like an idiot for saying they didn’t belong. The Orange are in the Sweet 16 after starting in the First Four and failing to score more than 60 points in any of their three games. Boeheim just packs in that 2-3, puts as many long and athletic people on the floor that he can and lets Tyus Battle go make plays. And it works. Sometimes basketball is an easy game, I guess.

8. TEXAS A&M MOLLYWHOPS THE REIGNING NATIONAL CHAMPS

One thing that I never thought that I would see in this event is a team with Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson getting run out of the gym. Those two dudes are so good and so tough and been through so much that I expected them to be in a dogfight every time they set foot on a court for all of eternity. Then Sunday happened, and Texas A&M — who spent four months flirting with the idea that maybe living up to their potential was a possibility — absolutely trucked them. They won by 21 points, and the outcome never really felt in doubt after the final TV timeout of the first half.

7. BUFFALO STEAMROLLS ARIZONA

Remember when we all thought that this was going to be the most memorable upset for the first weekend?

Hahaha. That was fun.

But just because Virginia happened to go full Virginia and exactly one half of the top three seeds in the tournament were knocked out before the start of the second weekend doesn’t mean that what Buffalo did should be swept under the rug. The Bulls eviscerated an Arizona team that looked like they were ready to quit on this utterly forgettable season by the middle of the second half.

6. FLORIDA STATE SENDS XAVIER PACKING

Xavier, the No. 1 seed in the West Region, looked like they were going to be able to cruise into the Sweet 16, as they led the Seminoles by 12 points with under 10 minutes left in the game. But that did not last, as they were outscored 18-4 to close out the game while Florida State reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2011.

It’s the first time since 2004 that we head into the Sweet 16 with two of the nation’s No. 1 seeds sitting at home.

5. NEVADA WITH TWO COMEBACKS IN THREE DAYS

Eric Musselman and the Wolf Pack managed two thrilling wins in the span of three days. First, they came from way behind to beat No. 10-seed Texas in the opening round of the event before erasing the second-largest deficit in NCAA tournament history when they came back from 22 points down in the final 11:43 to second No. 2 Cincinnati back to the Queen City.

4. JORDAN POOLE HITS HIS GAME-WINNER

This shot, to beat Houston in the second round, will be the most memorable shot from this first weekend:

While this image is one that will forever epitomize what makes March Madness so special:

( Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

3. ROB GRAY’S FIRST ROUND PERFORMANCE

The shame in Poole’s shot going in was that it ended the tournament run of Houston star Rob Gray, who put together one of the best first weekend’s in tournament history as well as a performance that should have been iconic. In the first round, against No. 11-seed San Diego State, Gray finished with 39 of his team’s 67 points, including the game-winning bucket with 1.1 seconds left on the clock.

That game-winner capped one of the wildest finishes to a game that I can ever remember seeing. Check this out:

And that led directly to this:

2. THE No. 11-SEED LOYOLA-CHICAGO RAMBLERS, AND SISTER JEAN, ARE IN THE SWEET 16 AFTER TWO GAME-WINNERS

I don’t even know where to start with this.

Twice in the span of three days, Loyola trailed 62-61 with less than 10 seconds left and twice in the span of three days they made a game-winner to advance to the next round of the tournament.

Sister Jean loves it.

1. UMBC!

Could it be anything else?

For the first time in the history of the world, a No. 16 seed has beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament as the Retrievers knocked off Virginia to get their shot to play their way into the Sweet 16. They lost to Kansas State on Sunday, but who cares? It would have been terrific theater to see them get their shot in the Sweet 16, but it was not meant to be.

We’ll have to simply settle for UMBC truck-sticking the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

Joeviair Kennedy, ex-Western Michigan player, gets at least 17 years in prison

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. (AP) — A former Western Michigan University basketball player has been sentenced for his role in a robbery that led to the fatal shooting of another student.

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports that 21-year-old Joeviair Kennedy was ordered Monday to spend at least 17 ½ years in prison.

Kennedy was convicted last month of armed robbery and using a firearm during a felony. But he was acquitted of murder in the 2016 slaying of 19-year-old Jacob Jones in an off-campus apartment.

Kennedy’s co-defendant and former Muskegon High School teammate, Jordan Waire, was convicted in April of murder and armed robbery. He’s been sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Witnesses said Waire and Kennedy burst into Jones’ apartment demanding money and marijuana. Kennedy was on Western Michigan’s basketball team when he was arrested.

UConn’s Mamadou Diarra out four-to-six months

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Dan Hurley’s first season in Storrs may begin with his sophomore forward on the shelf.

Mamadou Diallo, who averaged 10 minutes per game last season, will be out four-to-six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, the school announced Monday.

“The surgery went very well and there were no surprises,” UConn athletic trainer James Doran said in a statement released by the school. “Mamadou will begin rehab immediately and we would expect him to make a full recovery.”

The  6-foot-8 forward from Queens suffered the injury during workouts last week and an MRI revealed the extent of the injury. He’s no stranger to knee injuries as he sat out the 2016-17 season due to patellofemoral syndrome, a condition that results in significant knee discomfort from the stress of high-level basketball.

Diarra averaged 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds while appearing in 31 games last season for the Huskies.

UConn went 14-18 last year in a campaign that ended with the firing of Kevin Ollie and the hiring of Hurley, who went to back-to-back NCAA tournaments at Rhode Island the last two seasons.

Kentucky leads country in attendance once again

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Kentucky led the country in average attendance last season while the Big Ten was tops among conferences, according to data released by the NCAA.

The Wildcats had a total of 393,743 fans attend 18 home games for a country-best 21,874 per game. Syracuse actually led the nation in total fans with 407,778 fans in attendance, but with 19 home games, the Orange narrowly trailed Kentucky with 21,462 fans per game.

Kentucky has led the country in attendance in four of the past five seasons and seven of the last nine.

Rounding out the top five was North Carolina (18,378), Wisconsin (17,272) and Creighton (17,000).

The Big Ten averaged 12,197 fans per game across the league with a total of 3,098,134 attending games for all 14 teams. The B1G also led the country in conference tournament attendance with 106,169 – which the league undoubtedly will look at as a huge success for it first foray into New York City and Madison Square Garden.

The SEC averaged 11,628 fans per game while the ACC was at 10,773, the Big 12 at 10,376 and the Big East at 10,371.

The Final Four had a total of 136,088 fans attend its three games while the entire NCAA tournament averaged 19,246 fans per session.

 

Final Four sites selected through 2026

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The NCAA announced the location of the Final Four for the 2023-2026 seasons.

It goes like this:

  • 2023: Houston
  • 2024: Phoenix
  • 2025: San Antonio
  • 2026: Indianapolis

That will follow Final Fours the next four years in:

  • 2019: Minneapolis
  • 2020: Atlanta
  • 2021: Indianapolis
  • 2022: New Orleans

For the most part, this is fine. What makes a good Final Four city — hell, what makes a city a good candidate to host any major sporting event — is that the arena, stadium or dome is walking distance from good hotels and the best restaurants and bars.

That’s why Indianapolis, New Orleans and San Antonio are generally considered the best locations for the event and why cities like Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not.

The saving grace with Phoenix is that Scottsdale is a ton of fun and a great spot for fans to go, even if it is a $30 Uber ride from seemingly everywhere in the state of Arizona, and while I’ve heard great things about Minneapolis, going in early April does not sound all that pleasant.

But Houston?

I despite little more than going to Houston for the Final Four. Everything is so spread out, the traffic is a nightmare and I’m still searching to find a place that actually felt like a night at the Final Four instead of a night out in a big city.

Houston is fine, I guess. Houston is not a place where the Final Four should be.

That said, last time I was there I saw James Harden tip a bathroom attendant $20.

So it’s not all bad, I guess.

2018 Peach Jam Takeaways: Vernon Carey tops the class, C.J. Walker shines, and why the media saved Peach Jam

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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Peach Jam is unquestionably my favorite event to cover during the summer months.

It’s the highest level basketball that you are going to find in America prior to college, the atmosphere is better than most high school games and the town of Augusta has really grown on me; there are some good restaurants there, and the bar scene isn’t all that bad as long as certain media members that shall remain unnamed aren’t taking you to a place where smoking is still legal inside.

Combine that with the fact that every coach in the country is there along with, at a minimum, a half-dozen future lottery picks, and I truly believe that it’s an event that every real hoophead in the country needs to attend at least once in their life.

This year’s Peach Jam ended on Sunday afternoon with Team Takeover out of Washington D.C. winning the title by going 23-1, the best record in the history of the EYBL. Here are a few things to take away from the event.

THE MEDIA SAVED PEACH JAM

I realize that there is a large portion of our population that despises the media, and even those that do appreciate the job that journalists have to do can get fed up with the self-importance that people in my industry tend to have. We’re here to tell stories, break news and operate as a watchdog for our nation’s biggest entities. We’re not here to complain about flight delays and getting shorted a few Marriott points.

That said, I’m here to tell you that the college basketball media saved Peach Jam.

I’m convinced of it.

Here’s what happened: In June, Jeff Goodman and I caught wind of changes that were going to be proposed by the NABC to the Commission on College Basketball that would ban coaches from attending AAU tournaments and show company events in July. I railed against the recommended changes in a podcast last week, as did every media member even remotely involved in covering college basketball, from recruiting analysts and independent bloggers to the likes of Jay Bilas and Gary Parrish. I spoke with more coaches at the event about those changes than any other subject, and I honestly could not find a single one out of what probably amounted to 50 or so coaches that was a fan of the changes, and I know for a fact that I was not the only one that heard about it from those coaches.

That is why you are now seeing some influential voices start to pump the brakes while speaking on the record.

One thing that the NCAA, and college basketball decision-makers specifically, does a good job of is listening to the criticism. For example, they’ve been crushed for years about the flaws with the RPI as a metric and, as a result, they’ve started to phase it out. They listened when we said that valuing home and road wins equally is silly. They listened when we said college basketball needs a better opening night. And it appears that they are listening to us now.

I was told back in June that these changes were being proposed to be implemented as soon as possible, that the plan was to get the rules changed for next summer. But what happened is that the NABC — National Association of Basketball Coaches — ad-hoc committee that developed this proposal was made up of the upper-echelon of the coaching profession, and that the rank and file by and large does not agree with the biggest names, and that the biggest names supported these changes more or less out of selfishness.

For some, it’s because they recruit their home city and know all of the high school coaches that they don’t need AAU events to find players. For others, it’s because they’re a high-academic institution and thus can easily identify who actually has a chance to get into their school. For at least one influential voice in that room, it is because his program is in hot water for dealing with a shoe company and he’s looking to make his own life easier.

Whatever the case may be, I believe now our voices were heard.

“Keep killing them,” one coach at a top 25 program who despises the proposal told me. “It’s working.”

VERNON CAREY IS THE BEST PROSPECT IN THE CLASS

The 2019 class is weird in the sense that there are a lot of guys that are a typical top five prospect but there doesn’t appear to truly be a No. 1 player in this class. There is no Anthony Davis. There is no Deandre Ayton or Marvin Bagley III. Sometimes that happens.

James Wiseman, throughout the last few years, has been considered by most to be the best player in the Class of 2019, and I get it. He’s a 7-footer that can get up and down the floor with pretty good range on his jumper. He certainly isn’t a small-ball five, but he’s not inept when it comes to playing on the perimeter.

Cole Anthony is probably the most well-known player in this class, in part because of his pedigree — he is Greg Anthony’s son — and in part because he’s an uber-productive player that led the EYBL in scoring with highlight reel athleticism.

I get why you would have either of them ranked as the No. 1 prospect in 2019.

But for my money, Vernon Carey Jr. is the best player in the class.

At 6-foot-10, Carey has the athleticism, mobility and handle to thrive. He is a constant grab-and-go threat in transition, he can score in the post and while facing up and, when engaged, he’s a man-child on the glass. As one coach recruiting him told me, “he’s the best player in the world when he decides to play hard.”

And at Peach Jam, he did. In five games at the Riverview Park Activities Center, Carey averaged 23 points, 10.4 boards, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals, up from 17.8 points, 7.4 boards, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 steals during his 14 previous EYBL games. That included 21 points, 13 boards, five blocks and four steals while going head-to-head with Wiseman in a one point loss. He also had 25 points while grabbing one of the most impressive rebounds I’ve ever seen to seal a win over Team Takeover, the only loss TTO took on the EYBL circuit.

There’s another issue as well. Carey is the son of former offensive lineman Vernon Carey Sr. and seems to have inherited his father’s ability to carry weight. Carey Jr. was about 255 pounds at Peach Jam, but that was because he got sick during Team USA’s trip to Argentina for the U17 World Championships and lost 20 pounds.

Motivating a player with weight issues is not exactly ideal, but neither is hoping Cole Anthony is Russell Westbrook or rely on Wiseman, a 7-footer that averaged 5.8 boards in the EYBL while shooting 10 percent from three in 16 games, to thrive in the small-ball era.

THEN THERE IS JADEN MCDANIELS

The ascent that McDaniels, the latest in a long line of talented players to come through the Seattle Rotary program, has made in the past year is impressive. The younger brother of Jalen McDaniels, a potential first round pick at San Diego State, has gone from a player that was a borderline top 100 prospect to someone that may just have the highest ceiling of anyone in the class.

He’s an absolute scoring machine. A slender, 6-foot-11 perimeter four, he has the skill-set to one day be a 20 point-per-game scorer in the NBA. He needs to add strength — he’s currently listed at 182 pounds — and continue to get more fluid and explosive. He needs to be more consistent from beyond the arc and I’m not convinced he’s close to being the defender or the passer he needs to be, but it’s hard not to look at him and be reminded of Brandon Ingram, another lanky late-bloomer that developed into the No. 2 pick of the 2016 NBA Draft. Hell, I had one coach tell me that he was going to be the killer from Golden State that I refuse to compare any basketball player to.

Every coach on the west coast should be prioritizing him.

HOP ON BOARD THE C.J. WALKER HYPE TRAIN

If there was a breakout star at this year’s Peach Jam, it was probably C.J. Walker, a borderline top 50 prospect out of Orlando that plays for Each 1 Teach 1.

A 6-foot-7 forward already known for his athleticism, Walker did not disappoint in that department, throwing down what was probably the dunk of the week, on Vernon Carey, no less:

Walker finished with 40 points in that game, and what was perhaps the most impressive part about the performance was his shot-making. We know the kind of athlete that he is, but if he can develop into a player that can consistently make threes and create offense with the ball in his hands, he’s reaches a different level.

He’s already had a couple of programs, including Louisville, offer him based off of what he did in Augusta. It will be interesting to see who else follows suit.

SOMEONE IS GETTING A STEAL IN DREW TIMME

Maybe I just happened to catch him when he was playing well, but I could not have been more impressed with Drew Timme.

A 6-foot-11 center from Texas, Timme was sensational offensively in the two games I watched him. He had 25 points against MoKan Elite and followed that up with 21 points, including a dominating second half, against Cole Anthony’s PSA Cardinals. He can pass, he can shoot, he can handle the ball, he’s mobile, he scores with his back-to-the-basket. One coach that played in the NBA told me he thinks Timme is the next Spencer Hawes, although I think Ethan Happ is a more apt comparison. Timme to me screams college all-american that will play in the NBA if he learns to shoot it.

SCOTTIE BARNES IS A MONSTER

I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know the Class of 2020 all that well, but I do know this: If there truly are two players in that class better than Scottie Barnes, they are going to be superstars.

Because, for me money, Barnes was one of the eight or so best players at the event.

He’s a 6-foot-8 wing that defends, can handle the rock and is a really good passer, especially in transition. He also made some big plays and big shots in close games, and did all of that despite heading to Peach Jam just a day or two after returning home from Argentina, where he was playing for the U17s despite being a year younger than most of the players on that roster.