The Greatest Moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament first round

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Look at the time stamp on this post.

12:15 p.m.

On Thursday, March 19th.

This is the precise moment that the 2020 NCAA Tournament — the real tournament, not that First Four nonsense — was supposed to start.

So to honor that moment properly, here are 16 of my favorite first round moments from the NCAA tournament. Please share your favorite in the comments below or tweet at us with the video.


Without question, the greatest first round site in the history of the NCAA tournament was the Tampa pod in the 2008 big dance.

Friday, March 22nd, 2008 at the St. Pete Forum will go down as perhaps the Maddest day of all the Madness.

That’s because there were four double-digit seeds landing upset wins. Two games went into overtime. Two games were won on buzzer beaters.

It just does not get any better than that.

It started with perhaps the best shot of the day, as Ty Rogers hit a three at the overtime buzzer to beat 5-seed Drake, 101-99, with a play that will remind many of the Kris Jenkins shot to beat North Carolina:

Of course, that was followed up by 13-seed San Diego pulling off an upset with a game-winner with 1.2 seconds left against 4-seed UConn:

That was followed up by 13-seed Siena beating Vanderbilt by 21 points in the third game of the day before 12-seed Villanova upset 5-seed Clemson, 75-69, in the last game of the evening.

And that may actually be the wildest part of the entire day.

As a 12-seed, Villanova upset 5-seed Clemson.

I know, completely unbelievable, right?


The context of this incident is important.

Ron Hunter, then the Georgia State head coach, tore his achilles celebrating the 2015 Atlantic Sun tournament championship because that’s the kind of coach that he is. So when his 14th-seeded Panthers took on Baylor in the first round of the tournament, Ron was rolling around on a scooter and sitting on a stool.

Fast forward 39 minutes and 44.9 seconds, and Kenny Cherry missed a free throw that would have put Baylor up by three. Instead, R.J. Hunter – Ron’s son and a future first round pick – gets the rebound, and this happens:

Just incredible.

The sneaky hilarious part about this is the announcer. “They gotta push this to the basket guys, take this to the basket. What are they doing?”

Oh, just winning the game.



One of the iconic March Madness moments.

15-seed Hampton was leading Jamaal Tinsley and Iowa State at the half, but a second half run put the Cyclones up 55-44 with under five minutes left. But the Pirates were going away, and Tarvis Williams capped off a 14-2 finish to the game with a bucket in the lane with a very nice 6.9 seconds left on the clock. After Tinsley missed a layup at the other end of the floor, Hampton advanced, becoming just the fourth 15-seed to win a game in the NCAA tournament.

During the celebration, this happened:

I remember watching that play happen live, and thinking that moment was the best moment in the history of sports.

The image of Merfeld punching and kicking the air while lifted four feet off the ground by a player almost twice his size will forever be etched into my mind.

But that wasn’t the wildest 15-over-2 upset we’ve seen.


Florida-Gulf Coast, a tiny school in Ft. Myers, Florida, has only been in existence since 1991. Their basketball team has only been a thing since 2002. And yet, in 2013, under the tutelage of now-USC head coach Andy Enfield, the Eagles went on what may be the greatest cinderella run in the history of college basketball.

FGCU became the first 15-seed to make it to the Sweet 16, and they did so in incredible fashion. They didn’t needed a fluky buzzer-beater or a couple of lucky bounces to win. They quite literally dunked on, around and over Georgetown (and San Diego State) en route to the second weekend:

They were the better team both days, no questions asked.

And the result was this: A nickname we created. You’re welcome for that.


Perhaps the biggest 15-over-2 upset in tournament history came in 2016, when Kermit Davis and Middle Tennessee State stunned Michigan State in the first round.

A couple of qualifiers here: For starters, Middle Tennessee State was a really, really good mid-major program, one that did battle with high-majors before and after this upset win. They probably didn’t deserve to be on the No. 15-seed line in this bracket. They were better than that.

But Michigan State entered this game as the favorite to win the title. They had the co-National Player of the Year on their roster in Denzel Valentine. They would have been a No. 1-seed if they had not dealt with some injuries — including to Valentine — during the season. You know how there is always one team that the majority of the talking heads pick to win the title as soon as the bracket is officially announced? Michigan State was that team in 2016.

And Middle Tennessee State kicked their behinds:


Another first round stunner came during the 2012 NCAA Tournament, when 15-seed Norfolk State knocked off Missouri.

Perhaps the wildest part about this win is that the best pro on the floor turned out to be a player from Norfolk State.

Missouri was one of the most entertaining teams in the country to watch this season. They played four sharp-shooting guards around Ricardo Ratliffe and let it fly. They scored in bunches, but they were always susceptible to a bruiser in the paint and an off-night. Enter Kyle O’Quinn, a 6-foot-10 New Yorker that ended up at Norfolk State before become a second round pick in 2012. He’s still playing in the NBA today.

He had 25 points and 12 boards in the win, including what proved to be the game-winning bucket:


In the very next session of games, 15-seed Lehigh and future top ten pick C.J. McCollum went out and upset a Duke team that featured a couple of Plumlees, Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, which made for one of the wildest and most unforgettable days of NCAA tournament basketball every.

Think about how many brackets were blown up when this happened:

That’s not even my favorite Duke first round loss, by the way.

The 2014 loss to 14-seed Mercer is, mostly because this white boy got to show off his moves:

With the benefit of hindsight, I think even Duke fans can agree that is just the absolute best.


UMBC picking off No. 1-seed Virginia.

That story has been beaten to death at this point.

And it also happened to turn into the greatest turnaround in the history of sports.

Virginia, if you have forgotten, won the national title the very next season.

So how about you just watch this video on how and why everything changed:


It sounds weird to think about now, after seeing Kansas win a national title, 14 straight Big 12 titles and get to a trio of Final Fours, but early in Self’s tenure in Lawrence, there were questions about whether or not he was a good enough coach to win the big one.

Part of the reason that was part of the narrative of his career was because of games like this, where the 3-seed Jayhawks lost to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament.


Jim Valvano is a legend in the sport of college basketball.

Part of it is because of his personality, part of it is because of the grace and dignity that he handled his fight with cancer and part of it is because of the way that Dick Vitale has chosen to dedicate his life to honoring Jimmy V and fighting against cancer.

The Jimmy V Classic. Jimmy V week. The speech. There isn’t a college basketball fan that doesn’t love him.

But one of the biggest reasons that he is a name that is important enough to honor that way is because he won the 1983 NCAA Tournament with N.C. State as a No. 6 seed on a buzzer-beating tip-in from Lorenzo Charles. Everyone remembers that game and that highlight.

What they may not remember is that the Wolfpack were taken to double-overtime by Pepperdine in the first round, and they needed to rally in regulation and the first extra frame just to have a chance to win at the end.

This is one of college basketball’s great ‘what ifs?’


For my money, Harold Arceneaux will forever be the name etched in my mind as the greatest underdog performer in NCAA tournament history.

‘The Show’ scored 36 points in the first round of the 1996 NCAA Tournament, leading 14-seed Weber State to a win over 3-seed North Carolina.



This is hardly a complete and definitive list of the best buzzer beaters from the first round of the NCAA tournament, but it is a few of my absolute favorites.

Let’s start with the classic: Bryce Drew and Valpo beating Ole Miss by going the length of the court in 2.5 seconds:

Or what about when Northwestern State beat Iowa and the announcers didn’t know who hit the game-winning shot?

Or Drew Nicolas beating UNC Wilmington before disappearing down the tunnel?

Since we’re talking about UNC Wilmington, how about this dunk?

But I think easily the wildest, craziest, maddest end to a first round NCAA tournament game came in 2016, when Northern Iowa and Texas did this:

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies


SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.