The greatest moments in the history of the NCAA tournament second weekend

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As weird as this may sound, I think I might like the second weekend of the NCAA tournament more than the first weekend.

The first weekend is full of insanity and wall-to-wall college basketball, which is awesome. Don’t get me wrong.

But the second weekend has a feel of completion to it. Not only do we get games between juggernauts, not only do we get the culmination of narratives and cinderella storylines, but we actually crown someone.

Getting out of the first weekend is an accomplishment.

Getting out of the second weekend is a banner.

There’s a difference, and you can feel it in the buildings and with the way the games are played.

Here are my favorite moments from the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

THE GREATEST GAME OF THEM ALL

Duke’s win over Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight in Philadephia is likely the best college basketball game ever played.

Mike Krzyzewski vs. Rick Pitino. Christian Laettner vs. Jamal Mashburn. The game was tied at 93 after regulation. There were five lead changes in the final minute of overtime. Sean Woods somehow banked in a floater from the foul line with 2.2 seconds left to put Kentucky in the lead.

Then this happened:

I think the most under-appreciated part of this game is that Laettner quite literally played a perfect game. He was 10-for-10 from the floor. He was 10-for-10 from the line. He scored 31 points. He hit a game-winner. And he stomped on someone’s chest without getting tossed.

That’s quite a game.

KANSAS STATE AND XAVIER PLAY AN INSTANT CLASSIC

The best game in the history of the second weekend of the NCAA tournament pitted arguably the two biggest programs in the country, a pair of Hall of Fame head coaches, a couple of future top five picks and a trip to the Final Four.

The second best game of the NCAA tournament’s second weekend?

There’s an argument to be made that it didn’t feature a team that is among the top two basketball programs in their own state.

Tu Holloway and Jamal Crawford vs. Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente lived up to all the hype and more, as No. 2-seed Kansas State beat No. 6-seed Xavier, 101-96, in double-overtime for the right to lose to Butler in the Elite Eight.

There were so many unbelievable moments and calls during that game, but one stands out as the best of them all — and maybe the best of Gus Johnson’s career as a broadcast:

He goes into full-on meltdown mode, which is exactly what every single person watching this game, either in the arena or on TV, did at the exact same time.

And that, quite frankly, is why Gus Jeezy is a legend.

VIRGINIA SURVIVES CARSEN’S INFERNO

For my money, the third-best game in the history of the second weekend of the NCAA tournament came just this past season.

Carsen Edwards scored 24 of his 42 points in the second half, including a five minute stretch where he scored 14 points, completely lighting up the best defender in college basketball in Deandre Hunter. His sharp-shooting led the Boilermakers back from eight points down to take the lead in the final seconds, which set up arguably the most memorable shot of Virginia’s 2019 title run:

There are a couple things worth talking about beyond the insanity of this game itself.

First and foremost, it might not have even been the craziest game that Purdue played that weekend. The Boilermakers blew an 18-point lead with 16 minutes left to Tennessee, forced overtime when Edwards was fouled shooting a three at the end of regulation and eventually won in the extra period. This came one round after Tennessee blew a 25-point second half lead to Iowa in the second round before winning that game in overtime.

The other part of this is that some believe that the 2019 Elite Eight was the best Elite Eight of all-time. Duke-Michigan State was a thriller. Texas Tech-Gonzaga was a great game. Auburn found a way to upset Kentucky without Chuma Okeke.

But still, I disagree.

BECAUSE THE 2005 ELITE EIGHT WAS BONKERS

The game that everyone remembers is when No. 1-seed Illinois came back from 15 points down in the final four minutes — and from eight points down in the final 1:10 — to beat No. 3-seed Arizona in overtime.

That comeback was absolutely bonkers, but it wasn’t even the biggest comeback of the day. In the first game of the day, No. 4-seed Louisville erased a 38-18 deficit against Kevin Pittsnoggle, John Beilein and No. 7-seed West Virginia to win 93-85 in overtime.

As an aside, that wasn’t even the craziest exit that we saw from a Kevin Pittsnoggle team in the NCAA tournament, because that came a year later on this insane sequence:

The third game of the 2005 Elite Eight featured No. 1-seed North Carolina ousting No. 6-seed Wisconsin is good, largely unremarkable 88-82 win.

It was that Sunday’s nightcap that really put the icing on the cake, as No. 5-seed Michigan State knocking off No. 2-seed Kentucky in a game that featured the most memorable NCAA tournament shot by a player from the losing team this side of Marcus Paige.

This is the quintessential NCAA tournament moment in my mind. The Wildcats were down by three on the final possession when Patrick Sparks airballed a three and Kelenna Azubuike bricked a three of his own before Sparks, getting a long offensive rebound, hit a three that bounced off the rim five times before dropping in. After the officials reviewed whether or not Sparks toe was on the line for roughly ten minutes, the game went to overtime:

After Azubuike missed a potential game-winning three at the end of the first overtime, the Spartans were able to pull away in the second OT.

But that’s not what anyone remembers from this game.

It was the insanity of that final possession in regulation. The bad shots, the hustle plays, the drama and a guy we would never hear from again etching his name into March Madness lore.

ADAM MORRISON’S TEARS

I mentioned Gus Johnson’s greatest moments earlier.

“Batista with the caaaAAATTCHH” is up there, too.

For those that don’t remember, Adam Morrison’s Gonzaga team led No. 2-seed UCLA by 17 points late in the second half of the Sweet 16, but they proceeded to melt away that lead before a J.P. Batista turnover with less than 15 seconds left led to a game-winning bucket from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. That led to one of the iconic images in NCAA tournament history, when Morrison — a National Player of the Year, soon-to-be top three pick and the nation’s leading scorer — was crumped on the court, sobbing.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

As another aside, that season was one of the most memorable for me because of the battle between J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison for National Player of the Year. Their battles for the scoring lead and the title of college basketball’s best was to the 2006 season what Trae Young was to 2018 and Zion was to 2019.

And then, in the span on a couple hours, both players were upset in the Sweet 16; Redick’s season ended with a loss to No. 4-seed LSU as Morrison’s final college basketball game was tipping off.

I wrote a long feature about that season four years ago. It’s still one of my favorite pieces.

GEORGE MASON GETS TO THE FINAL FOUR

We’ve seen a number of double-digit seeds and mid-majors make their way to the final weekend of the NCAA tournament in recent years. Loyola-Chicago did it in 2018. Butler make it to the national title game twice. The second time, they beat No. 11-seed VCU in the Final Four the year that VCU started out in the First Four. Wichita State made it to the Final Four as a No. 9-seed.

Each and every one of those runs had their own memorable moments. Butler’s runs catapulted Brad Stevens to the NBA. The same can be said about Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early from Wichita State. Books can be written about Loyola’s Sister Jean and VCU’s band The Peppas and the birth of Havoc.

But the most memorable of those cinderella Final Four runs was the first: George Mason in 2006.

The Patriots were one of the last teams in the NCAA tournament field that year, but they managed to find a way to knock off Michigan State and North Carolina in the first weekend before getting past fellow Cinderella Wichita State in the Sweet 16 for the right to take on UConn, a No. 1-seed that had a chance to win their second title in three years and third title in seven season.

That’s not the way it went down:

UConn has been involved in their fair share of incredible second-weekend moments.

There was Tate George’s shot in 1990, where UConn went 94-feet in 1.0 seconds to beat Clemson in the Sweet 16. There was Rashad Anderson’s shot to tie the game and force overtime in the Sweet 16 two days before the loss to George Mason; UConn erased a five-point lead in the final 40 seconds of that win.

And, of course, there was this insanity in 1998:

BEFORE HE WAS STEPH, “STEVEN” CURRY HAD DAVIDSON A SHOT AWAY FROM FINAL FOUR IMMORTALITY

Back when Davidson was still just an upstart program in the CAA and Curry was just another mid-major gunner whose name no one could properly pronounce yet, he scored 128 points in four games to get his team to within one shot of getting to the Final Four.

And in the end, what people are going to remember is that it was Jason Richards, not Curry, that got the shot that could have ended Bill Self’s only national title run two games early, but what we should remember is how he took over games against Gonzaga and Georgetown, averaging 35 points as the Wildcats erased 11 and 17-point second half deficits, respectively.

It was one of the best individual tournament runs in college basketball history.

THE THREE MOST UNDERRATED GAMES

GREG ODEN’S COMEBACK WIN AGAINST TENNESSEE

The No. 1-seed Buckeyes somehow managed to dig themselves a 49-29 hole late in the first half against Bruce Pearl and No. 5-seed Tennessee in the 2007 Sweet 16, but they came storming back in the second half.

Ron Lewis scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and Greg Oden battled foul trouble the whole game, but it was Oden that saved the day.

His block on the final possession of the game sealed the win:

INDIANA KNOCKS OFF THE DEFENDING NATIONAL CHAMPS IN RUPP

Duke entered the 2002 NCAA Tournament as a No. 1-seed. They were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason. They never left the top five throughout the year. They had a roster that featured Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Dahntay Jones, Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon. They were considered the favorite to repeat as national champs.

And then, in the Sweet 16 in a game played in Rupp Arena in Lexington, the Blue Devils lost to No. 5-seed Indiana, a team that finished 11-5 in the Big Ten and lost 11 games on the season. Duke jumped out to a 17 points lead and held a 42-29 lead at the half, but led by Jared Jeffries and his 24 points, the Hoosiers came back to win en route to a trip to the national title game.

OKLAHOMA STATE ENDS ST. JOE’S SEASON IN 2004

The 2004 season was to St. Joe’s what the 2020 season was supposed to be for Dayton. The Hawks, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, went undefeated until the Atlantic 10 tournament, earned themselves a No. 1 seed and made it to the Elite Eight, where their season was ended by this shot from John Lucas III:

And that is a fitting way to bring us to …

THE BUZZER BEATER PORTION OF THE PROGRAMMING

LUKE MAYE (WHO?) ENDS KENTUCKY’S SEASON

Before he became an All-American forward for North Carolina, Luke Maye was just some dude with bushy eyebrows on their bench when he capped off this ridiculous sequence to get North Carolina to the 2017 Final Four:

The Tar Heels won the title that season.

BRANDON KNIGHT BEATS AARON CRAFT

I’m sure there are going to be plenty of Kentucky fans that disagree with me here, but my favorite UK moment from the second weekend of the NCAA tournament came in 2011, when Brandon Knight beat Aaron Craft for this game-winning bucket in what was a thrilling final sequence:

The narratives here are what make this so good in my mind.

This was a season after Kentucky got bounced in the Elite Eight with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and a year before they won the title with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Ohio State was the No. 1 over all seed and the clear favorite to win the national title entering the tournament.

And Kentucky not only got the job done, but I called the upset in my bracket.

Boom.

DANNY AINGE GOES TYUS EDNEY BEFORE TYUS EDNEY

Before Tyus Edney went coast-to-coast to be Missouri in 1995, Danny Ainge did the same for BYU as they knocked off Notre Dame and make it to the 1981 Elite Eight:

Then in 2009, Scottie Reynolds did the same thing to get Villanova past Pitt and into the Final Four:

TREY BURKE’S BOMB BEATS KANSAS

In 2013, the year Michigan made it to the national title game, National Player of the Year Trey Burke hit a 30-footer to force overtime against No. 1-seed Kansas:

HOW DID GRAYSON ALLEN MISS THIS SHOT?

This one felt like karma coming full circle, as Grayson Allen somehow missed this would-be game-winning shot as Duke lost to Kansas in the 2018 Elite Eight. I’ll never understand how this shot didn’t go in:

AND THE BLOWN CALLS

What was the bigger whiff, officials missing this travel on Jeff Green:

or calling this shot from Kenny Anderson good?:

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

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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

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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

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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.