Because we can’t actually enjoy and celebrate the greatness that is March Madness, I figured I’d reminisce about the good times that have come along with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament and mention some of my favorite memories, in no particular order.
Before I jump in, however, please note my favorite memories are just that and I therefore, will not include some of the best moments of all time simply because I’m too young to remember them. So that knocks off NC State’s buzzer beater against Houston as Jimmy Valvano ran around looking for someone to hug, Michael Jordan knocking down the winning shot to beat Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown squad, battles between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, as well as several other iconic moments.
Allow me to just begin with a few moments from SFA. I was finishing up college when the Lumberjacks made their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history in 2009. I was the sports editor for the school’s newspaper – the Pine Log, and got to cover the entire basketball season, including their first-round matchup against Syracuse. The results weren’t what SFA wanted but it was cool just to be there knowing it was the first and what would follow in years to come.
I’ll never forget 2014, my first year in Marshall. I was covering a Mavericks baseball game while the No. 12 seed Lumberjacks were taking on VCU, led then by Shaka Smart. I remember looking at my phone and seeing the Lumberjacks were down by four with just seconds remaining. I put my phone in my pocket and thinking that game was over and focused on the remaining moments of the baseball game. Then my phone started blowing up with text messages and calls I couldn’t take at the moment. Then naturally, I had to wonder, did SFA somehow pull of a miracle?
Yes, yes indeed. Desmond Haymond launched a three as he was fouled. He then completed the four-point play at the free-throw line to tie the game up and bring it into overtime where the Jacks came away with the 77-75 upset victory. SFA returned to the tournament a year later and lost in the firsts round to Utah before going back yet again, this time as a No. 14 seed, defeating No. 3 seeded West Virginia in the first round, 70-56 and losing in the next round to Notre Dame but just one point.
One of my earliest memories of the tournament occurred in 1993 when Michigan trailed North Carolina 73-71. Chris Webber asked for a timeout but his Wolverines had none. That resulted in a technical foul that helped the Tar Heels seal up the championship.
Even though it busted my bracket, one of my favorite stories ever occurred just a couple years ago when University of Maryland Baltimore County became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the first round by defeating Virginia 74-54. For the majority of the first half, I had myself convinced that it was just a matter of time and Virginia would turn it around and come away with an easy win, as if the Cavaliers were just toying with UMBC. Eventually, I game to terms with the fact that it wasn’t the case. I’m pretty sure if you had stepped outside as the buzzer sounded, you could also hear the sounds paper tearing and crumbling as brackets everywhere were being busted.
One of my favorite years was 2010 when the No. 5 ranked Butler Bulldogs made it all the way to the national championship. I, along with many Americans, desperately hoped for a Bulldogs upset over Duke. We would have had just that had Gordon Hayward’s buzzer beater fallen in, but instead, the shot just barely missed and Butler lost in a nail-biter, 61-59. It was definitely a great story nonetheless though.
One of the most memorable years for the tournament was 2006. Not a single No. 1 seed made the Final Four and one of the teams that did make the Final Four was No. 11 George Mason, a true underdog. The Patriots had their work cut out for them as they defeated Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn along the way.
Also just years ago, the nation was introduced to the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers, who were also a No. 11 seed who knocked down game-winning shots to defeat Miami and Tennessee. What made that most memorable was the team chaplain, then 98-year old nun named Sister Jean, who is now alive and kicking at the age of 100.
I know there are moments I’m missing, even from my lifetime, but these are just a few of what stand out in my mind. What are some of your favorite memories from the NCAA men’s basketball tournament?