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2018 College Hoops Year In Review: The 10 best games from the last 12 months
The calendar is flipping ahead to 2019, and the most intriguing parts of an already strong college basketball season lie ahead of us, but we’d be remiss in not taking the moment to look back over the last 12 months of ball, which featured not only some great games, but some truly historic ones as well. Here are the top-10 2018 had to offer.
10. Feb. 27: St. Bonaventure 117, Davidson 114, 3OT
This list wouldn’t be complete without a game featuring multiple overtimes, and this late-February matchup between two of the A-10s NCAA tournament teams is the best of the bunch.
Davidson star Kellan Grady scored 39 points, but it was teammate Peyton Aldridge who led the team in scoring with 45 as both players logged more than 50 minutes in a losing effort. On the other side, the Bonnies had three players register at least 30 points in Courtney Stockard (31), Matt Mobley (33) and Jaylen Adams (34) as a 10-0 run in the final minute powered St. Bonaventure to victory.
9. Dec. 9: Tennessee 76, Gonzaga 73
Both of these teams will make appearances later in this list – with opposite results – but there battle in the final month of the year warrants inclusion.
Gonzaga was just a few weeks removed from a win against Duke and a Maui Invitatoinal title, ranked No. 1 and undefeated with games against the Vols and North Carolina the only things standing in the way of legitimate run-the-table talk. Admiral Schofield was having none of it.
The Tennessee senior scored 30 points, making 6 of 12 shots from distance, while grabbing six rebounds in 30 minutes and the Vols announced themselves are true national title contenders and Gonzaga saw any discussion of a perfect season come to a halt, with coach Mark Few probably not too beat up over that last development.
8. March 17, Second Round: Loyola (Chicago) 63, Tennessee 62
This game is important for a lot of reasons. One, it unlocked a Final Four run on par with those by George Mason, VCU and Butler in recent memory. Two, it was a great game, decided in the final second. Third, and most importantly, it made Sister Jean an international celebrity.
7. Jan. 20: Oklahoma State 83, Oklahoma 81, OT
This game might have been the moment where the nation’s relationship with Trae Young went from infatuation and intrigue to doubt and degradation.
The freshman guard scored 48 points and had eight assists, five rebounds and two steals while going 12 of 12 from the free-throw line in 43 minutes…but took 39 shots (20 from distance) and had seven turnovers in what ultimately was a loss. If you were a Young believer, it was evidence of his talent and his teammates’ shortcomings. If you were a Young doubter, it was further proof that his game was big but the team results were small.
Whichever side was right – and there will never be agreement to which was – the final results are indisputable – the Sooners lost 12 of their final 16 games and bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the first round – while Young led the country in scoring and assists.
6. April 2, Title Game: Villanova 79, Michigan 62
Frankly, the game that crowned a champion for the 2017-18 season wasn’t all that compelling. After a strong start from Michigan, Villanova spent the game’s final 30 minutes just dismantling the Wolverines.
There was more to this game than 40 minutes of basketball, though.
It established Villanova as a no-doubt blue blood, putting it at the top of the college basketball hierarchy with a second title in three years. Jay Wright’s team did it again with a different kind of blueprint, relying on season vets rather than talented one-and-dones. Villanova, though, didn’t win on pluck and grit. The Wildcats had experience and elite talent, with four players from its title team – Miikal Bridges, Omari Spellman, Jalen Brunson and title game star Donte DiVincenzo – all off to the NBA after cutting down the nets.
This game was a coronation for Wright and the Villanova program.
5. March 18, Second Round: Nevada 75, Cincinnati 73
There was a time that it looked like Nevada’s NCAA tournament highlight would be knocking off Mo Bamba and Texas in the first round. That’s not a bad trip through the sport’s premier event, even if it doesn’t last longer than a weekend. Down 22 in the second half to two-seed Cincinnati, though, it appeared that the Wolf Pack’s time had run its course. Eric Musselman’s team wasn’t done, though.
The Wolf Pack underwent a wild 32-8 run against the Bearcats in the final 10 minutes, getting a go-head bucket – Nevada’s only lead of the game – with nine seconds to play to complete the second-largest comeback in tourney history.
What Nevada showed that day – and what it returned on its roster – makes its 12-0 start to this season considerably less surprising than that Sunday tilt in Nashville.
4. March 17, First Round: Michigan 64, Houston 63
Great games are nice, but iconic finishes are better. This game had it both.
A seesaw affair that was never separated by more than six points, Michigan and Houston delivered a great second-round game that pitted an under-appreciated Michigan team against an upstart Houston team. Ultimately, though, this game will be remembered for Jordan Poole.
The freshman from Milwaukee played just 11 minutes and scored only eight points, but he put himself among legends in Ann Arbor and NCAA tournament lore when as the final 3.6 seconds slipped off the clock, he set up beyond the trip point line and waited impatiently for the ball to find him. When it did, he caught, gathered and let his future fly, connecting on a buzzer-beater that edged the Cougars and put the Wolverines on the path to John Beilein’s second national championship game.
3. Nov. 21: Gonzaga 89, Duke 87
It’s hard for a game in the first month of the season to register this high on the list, but given the teams, programs and tournament involved, this game earned this spot.
Just a couple weeks earlier, Duke opened the season and eyes with its dominant performance against Kentucky in which the raw talent and uncanny cohesion of its top-ranked recruiting class announced itself as not only a force to be reckoned with not only for presumably their one season in college but in the history books. Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones were that good that early. On the other side of the ledger sat the Bulldogs, just 18 months or so removed from a national title game with a top-five team and a transcendent player in Rui Hachimura. The setting was the title game of the Maui Invitational, an notable game every year but maybe never more so than this with an amazing field battling at the Lahaina Civic Center.
Gonzaga looked as though it may pull away early, but the Blue Devils battled back to make it not only a game but an event. The two teams looked ready to compete for a national title, not just a November tournament championship. It was extremely high-level hoops with two of the best programs of the last two decades operating at perhaps the height of their powers. Gonzaga won, and it’s not hard to imagine a potential March or April rematch topping this list come 2019.
2. March 25, Elite Eight: Kansas 85, Duke 81, OT
Just by virtue of these two programs meeting with a Final Four on the line, this game was destined to be a classic. The Jayhawks and the Blue Devils battling for a spot in the sport’s pinnacle weekend, that by itself is a historic occurrence. Add in storylines like Grayson Allen’s final season, Kansas’ flawed-but-successful-roster, Duke’s first-round freshmen and the two coaches leading both teams, the setup was a dream.
The 45 minutes of action actually lived up to it, too.
Allen narrowly missed a potential game-winner at the end of regulation, and the Jayhawks out-muscled Duke in the extra frame to claim a victory and the third Final Four under coach Bill Self. The game had 18 lead changes and 11 ties, keeping even the most-casual bracketologists on the edge of their couches on a Sunday afternoon that won’t soon be forgotten.
1. March 16, First Round: UMBC 74, Virginia 54
In a sport that’s often defined by upsets and underdogs, it can be hard to truly separate yourself as a special Cinderella. College basketball just has had so many memorable ones over the years. UMBC, though, found a way to join the pantheon of of historic spoilers when the Retrievers (the name alone is notable) became the first-ever 16-seed to topple a No. 1 when they downed Virginia, which was not only the top seed in the south region but of the entire tournament.
And it was an absolute shellacking.
There were 135 16-seeds that came before the Retrievers (I can hardly write that name with a straight face), and all were sent home by the top seeds, usually in cursory fashion with a few close shaves mixed in. This time, though, UMBC just thrashed Virginia, connecting on 12 3s while holding the Cavaliers to 4 of 22 from distance. Tony Bennett’s team just crumbled in a way we’ve truly never seen before. The game wasn’t so much good as it was completely shocking and unprecedented. It’s hard to be surprised in 2018, but a team called Retrievers found a way.
2018 College Hoops Year In Review: The 12 most memorable moments from the last year
College basketball had a lot of memorable happenings during 2018 as on-court drama and off-court changes led to a lot of major headlines for the sport. The FBI’s investigation and trials about corruption in college hoops cast a light on some of the sport’s big issues while the NCAA tournament featured a monster upset and some great runs from new and old characters.
Here are some of the major things to remember in 2018 from college basketball as the sport will surely have more on some of these storylines in the upcoming year.
1. No. 16 seed UMBC shocks No. 1 seed Virginia in the NCAA tournament
When we look back on 2018, it will always be associated with one of the greatest upsets in the history of sports. Many believed a No. 16 seed would never take down a No. 1 seed.
And it happened. And it happened in blowout fashion to a team that rolled through a great ACC.
The stunning UMBC win was enhanced by a national audience that kept slowly tuning in as the realization set in that crazy history was happening. Time seemed to stop. Twitter went ballistic. UMBC helped seize the moment by going on a social media run that enhanced their exploding national reputation.
Some questioned Tony Bennett’s style of play. Others made jokes on Virginia’s behalf that will likely continue for decades. Unless No. 16 upsets over No. 1 seeds become more common — or Virginia wins a national title — the Cavaliers will forever be associated with this game.
2. Villanova captures its second national title in three years by beating Michigan
Etching its name into the blueblood equation with a second national championship in three seasons, Villanova marched its way through the 2018 NCAA tournament with a dominating effort. The Wildcats culminated their efforts with a big win over Michigan in the title game.
Although Villanova’s 2018 title wasn’t as exciting as the buzzer-beating win in 2016, this group will be remembered for its incredible group of veteran talent. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo helped the Wildcats win multiple national titles before all three left school with eligibility remaining to become NBA draft picks. Omari Spellman quickly developed into a draft pick of his own after a redshirt year and only one season with the team.
The 2018 title team spoke to Villanova’s ability to develop talent and bring elite groups together despite losing key pieces from a title team two seasons before.
3. Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale knocks down back-to-back game-winners during women’s Final Four
The women’s Final Four had better games than the men’s side this year. Ogunbowale’s heroics were a huge reason why.
For her Final Four MOP efforts, Ogunbowale appeared on Ellen and met Kobe Bryant. She also made national headlines, once again, when Ogunbowale was allowed by the NCAA to compete on Dancing With the Stars. Ogunbowale placed seventh in the competition. She’s currently in her senior season for the top-five Irish as Ogunbowale recently passed 2,000 points for her college career.
4. No. 1 Kansas beats No. 2 Duke in overtime during the Elite Eight
Since the Final Four didn’t produce many memorable individual moments, this clash of bluebloods was probably the game of the 2018 NCAA tournament.
The Jayhawks had huge performances from Malik Newman and Svi Mykhailiuk as they reached the Final Four for the first time since 2012. Although Duke had tons of one-and-done freshman talent — led by Marvin Bagley, Wendell Carter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr. — this game also served as the final time Grayson Allen took the floor in a Blue Devil uniform.
Ultimately, it had a thrilling regulation finish with two Hall of Fame coaches, many memorable college players and a trip to the Final Four on the line.
5. The national emergence of Loyola (Chicago) and Sister Jean during a Cinderella run
College basketball has increasingly become a sport of blueblood programs and elite players. Which is why Loyola captured the nation’s attention as the fun underdog during an improbable run to the 2018 Final Four.
The Missouri Valley Conference champions hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1985. But the No. 11 seed Ramblers showed a special ability to win in tight games thanks in-part to a tremendous, unselfish veteran core and Sister Jean, the school’s 98-year-old nun who became a national sensation.
The Ramblers lost to Michigan in the national semifinals, but they made a huge imprint on college hoops. Head coach Porter Moser earned well-deserved praise and a contract extension. Recruiting has picked up at Loyola.
6. Michigan’s Jordan Poole knocks out Houston with buzzer-beater to fuel Wolverine Final Four push
The 2018 NCAA tournament didn’t have many true buzzer-beaters. Which is part of what made Michigan’s win over Houston so special. Jordan Poole’s loooong three-pointer gave the Wolverines a one-point win. It also gave Michigan a huge jolt of confidence as they ended up in the title game against Villanova.
None of those hirings made as much of a national splash as Penny Hardaway replacing Tubby Smith at Memphis. Revitalizing a hungry fanbase right away, Hardaway has taken local Memphis high school connections and used them to immediately bring in local talent.
While Memphis isn’t a juggernaut this season, they’ve improved enough to have the city excited. Perhaps more importantly, the Tigers have a recruiting class to be reckoned with. This is especially true after Penny went toe-to-toe with John Calipari and Kentucky and ended up with local top-three center James Wiseman.
Memphis currently has a top-ten recruiting class with the potential to add more. Hardaway is going to be fun to watch as he tries to restore Memphis into a national powerhouse.
8. Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett usher in new Duke superteam during Champions Classic blowout over Kentucky
Potentially the top two players in the Player of the Year race and the 2019 NBA Draft, these two superstar freshman had some monster plays as the Blue Devils ran past the Wildcats in a matchup of preseason top-five teams. Duke was so good that some questioned if they would go undefeated (they ultimately lost to Gonzaga at Maui).
9. The first FBI college basketball trial verdict is delivered
Late October saw the first verdict in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption. Adidas executives James Gatto and Merl Code and former runner Christian Dawkins were all found guilty on conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Sentencing takes place in March 2019 as appeals will likely take place.
While the guilty counts were always likely to happen, the trial did get interesting at certain points when some took the witness stand. Former five-star recruit Brian Bowen’s father testified about some of the alleged offers he received for his son while former Adidas AAU coach and runner T.J. Gassnola also revealed some intriguing details. Some big-name programs and players like Kansas and Arizona’s Deandre Ayton ended up being named during testimony.
We’ll hear a lot more about the college basketball corruptions cases in 2019 as two more trials are supposed to happen in February and April. Former college coaches and others remain heavily involved as more information could be revealed if a plea agreement isn’t reached before trial.
10. Texas guard Andrew Jones returns to action following leukemia diagnosis
A very sad story turned into an uplifting one as Texas guard Andrew Jones continued a remarkable fight against leukemia.
Jones played in two games early in the 2018-19 season and hasn’t appeared in a game since mid-November as he’s leaving the team for several weeks to continue treatment.
11. Buffalo smashes Arizona in NCAA tournament first-round upset to end a bizarre March for the Wildcats
Arizona had a truly bizarre final month to the season in 2017-18 as they had numerous highs and lows. The ride finally ended when No. 13 seed Buffalo completely ran the Wildcats out of the tournament with a stunning first round blowout.
The basketball world responded with deserved skepticism, as many of the changes called for other governing bodies outside of the NCAA to change rules to accommodate what’s best for college basketball. Amateurism was also one of the topics that wasn’t touched on. While the recruiting calendar has seen some changes in June and July, there haven’t been a lot of sweeping changes yet to other areas of the game.
NBC Sports Top 25: Duke back to No. 1, Tennessee hops Gonzaga
Here’s the conundrum that is going to face voters in the top 25 this week: What do you do with Kansas?
When it comes to resume, Kansas probably has the strongest one of any team in the top seven. They’ve beaten Michigan State on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Tennessee on a neutral court. They’ve beaten Marquette on a neutral court. Every win they have in Phog Allen Fieldhouse this year comes against teams ranked in the top 135 on KenPom.
And then there is this: Kansas has beaten Tennessee. Tennessee has beaten Gonzaga. Gonzaga has beaten Duke. Duke, according to some, can beat the Cavs, which officially means that Kansas is a playoff team in the Eastern Conference.
Or something like that.
The point is that it makes total sense to rank Kansas No. 1 based on what they’ve accomplished this season, but I think that even the most irrational Kansas fans will cop to the fact that these Jayhawks haven’t come close to hitting their stride yet this season, and that’s before you factor in the loss of Udoka Azuibuike to an ankle injury.
The difference between the top seven teams this season is marginal, particularly if you are not as high on Duke as I am, and while that means there really isn’t all that much difference between Nevada at No. 7 and whoever it is that you are going to rank No. 1, it does mean that a team like Kansas — who is in a bad run of form — drops to sixth in this ranking.
And to be frank, as long as your top seven is, in some order, the same as my top seven, your ranking is probably going to be just fine. I’d quibble with ranking Nevada in the top four, and I think it’s probably silly to have Duke, Tennessee or Gonzaga outside the top four, but there are arguments to justify it all. I’m sure Kansas fans will call me a Duke homer and say that Bill Self must ignore my calls, but the truth of it is that there are a lot of really good teams at the top this year. Parsing through a jumbled mess like that is never easy.
I dropped Kentucky all the way out of the top 25, as I did Kansas State, but I’ll go more in depth on that in the Monday Overreactions column.
UMBC commemorated their memorable NCAA tournament upset of Virginia on Friday night by raising a banner to celebrate the No. 16 vs. No. 1 victory.
The school hosted its first-ever Retriever Madness event on Friday as UMBC raised two banners during the celebration. While it’s nice to have a banner to remember an America East championship, the NCAA tournament second-round banner — which includes the final score of UMBC’s win over Virginia — is the special one.
With the win, UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to ever defeat a No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament — an accomplishment many sports fans never believed possible. The UMBC win over Virginia has also been used countless times as a running joke on the internet, as people will likely continually bring up that upset for the rest of time.