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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?:

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.