This time of year always invokes great memories of sporting events gone by. Part of the appeal of March Madness other than the office pool side of things is that you get incredible dramatic sports moments from young athletes and in an chaotic atmosphere. This leads me to the topic of today's top ten list. From the past twenty years which is really when I started to watch and comprehend completely what I was seeing. Some are buzzer-beaters which are the natural choice for amazing moments, but there are also some upsets and individual performances that register on my list. It was hard to narrow it down to ten, but Catfish treats these lists like he is running a police state and anymore than a deca of moments and I would spend time in the ASD Gulag. I threw the runner-ups in honorable mention however. The top ten Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moments are after the break.
10. 1991: Duke Upsets UNLV
It may seem a distant memory to think of Jerry Tarkanian biting his towel on the sidelines, but at the beginning of the 90s, the Runnin' Rebels were the dominant force in college basketball. Having beaten Duke in the finals the previous year 103-73 in an extremely embarrasing loss for the Blue Devils, UNLV was looking to repeat and cement their legacy as one of the greatest teams if not the greatest of all time. UNLV went 27-0 in the regular season and blew threw the West Region by an average of over 17 points. Duke came in as a 2 seed out of the Midwest and was not expected to lose by 30 again, but to be overtaken by the Rebels. The starting roster for the rebels consisted of Larry Johnson (22.7 PPG), Stacey Augmon (16.5PPG), George Ackles, Greg Anthony (8.9 APG), and Anderson Hunt. Duke had its usual cast of characters in Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, and Christian Laettner, Antonio Lang and Thomas Hill. The Blue Devils did the unthinkable and pulled off the upset 79-77 and then went on to beat Kansas in the final and earn their first national title. This was pretty much the moment that Duke became Duke as we know it today, thanks a lot Rebs.
9. 1999: Harold "The Show" Arceneaux
I do not think a single outstanding performance leaves you shaking your head as much as Harold Arceneaux's NCAA Tournament performance in '99. The Show and his Weber State Wildcats stunned #3 seed North Carolina 76-74 in the first round of the West Region. Arceneaux scored 36 points, including 20 in the second half to lead Weber to the huge upset. In their second round game against the 6 seed Florida, The Show again had a great performance, scoring 32 in an overtime loss 82-74.
After the season, Harold considered entering the NBA draft to strike while the iron was hot. He eventually decided to return to Weber for his senior year, but the Wildcats finished 18-10 and did not make the tournament. Arceneaux was not drafted after the season and came close to a deal with the Jazz but was never offered a contract. After this begins long and winding road of obscure American basketball teams and foreign countries. First The Show played with the Richmond Rhythm of the IBL and the Columbus Riverdragons of the NBDL. His foreign tour included Austrailia, France, Portugal, the Philippines, Venezuela, and Mexico. In 2004 he returned to the US and played for the Utah Snowbears(that should be the Jazz's nickname) of the ABA before the league went under. In 2006 he played for the CBA's Utah Eagles before that league went under as well. The 1999 Tournament was The Show's one shining moment and it was truly a moment because as quickly as he appeared on the national stage, he was gone from the national conscious just as fast. He is the quintessential NCAA tournament one hit wonder.
8. 1997: Arizona Beats Kansas, Then UNC and UK
Much like the 1991 UNLV squad, the 1997 Jayhawks of Kansas were one of the greatest college teams ever assembled in my opinion. Led by Jacque Vaughn, Scott Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, and Paul Pierce, the Jayhawks were 32-1 going into the tournament with their only loss coming in overtime to rival Missouri. The non-NBA players for Kansas were solid as well led by senior Billy Thomas, B.J. Williams and Jerod Haas. Roy Williams had what appeared to be his best shot ever at the title that eluded him many times before.
But in stepped Arizona, the 4 seed in the southeast region. By this point in time, Lute Olson coached teams had developed a bad reputation for bad first round losses over the years. It almost happened to them in this tournament as they trailed South Alabama by ten in the first round but rallied to win and then overcame a similar deficit against College of Charleston in the second round. The Wildcats were a mixture of senior leadership and young exuberance. The former came in the form of Mike Bibby, who led the way at the point. Miles Simon was the crafty veteran with an unorthodox shot that rivaled Shawn Marion's. Simon was also Darryl Strawberry's nephew. Michael Dickerson, A.J. Bramlett, Eugene Edgerson (now with the Globetrotters), the high flying Bennett Davison, and current Dallas Maverick Jason Terry.
Kansas played a horrible game and trailed big but stormed back to put themselves in a position to tie with a 3 but could not get it to go and lost 85-82. Roy Williams would receive the kind of heat that became the norm for him until his title in 2005 with Carolina. Arizona went on to beat Providence in overtime to reach the final four. Once there, they defeated another #1 seed North Carolina in Dean Smith's final game and then beat the defending champion #1 Kentucky Wildcats in overtime to win the national championship completing a truly "Where the f@$% did these guys come from?" tournament. Arizona beat 3 #1 seeds in one tournament for the first time ever and did it against the three of the premiere college programs in history.
7. 1996: John Wallace Tops Georgia
This was one of the craziest games I have ever seen in any sport. The 8 seeded Georgia Bulldogs were coming off an upset of 1 seeded Purdue. Syracuse was the 5 seed and not expected to do much in the tournament. In a sloppy back and forth game where both teams held large leads, Syracuse sent the game into overtime as John Wallace threw a pass in the corner to Jason Cipolla, the Frank Sinatra look-alike and this was the result:
In overtime the teams battled back and forth until Wallace threw in the prayer.
The win propelled the Cuse all the way to the championhsip game where they ultimately fell to Kentucky. Wallace had a Danny Manning type effort throughout and this shot will always live on in Syracuse lore. After the team's win over Kansas in the Elite 8, Al Mcguire my all-time favorite color analyst celebrated with the team in this now famous clip that spawned the battle cry, "The Cuse is in the House, Oh my God oh my God!" Final tidit on this game: Donovan McNabb was a bench player for Syracuse during their run. We miss you Al.
6. 2006: Adam Morrison Let's It Out
If you watched this game live there is no way you could be left dumbfounded after what transpired in the final moments. UCLA's 11 point run in the final minutes shocked Gonzaga, the nation, and All-American Adam Morrison. When J.P. Batista was stripped and UCLA made the go-ahead lay-up, Morrison already began to get emotional. I remember thinking, "There is still time left, no time to cry now, take the last shot." But the final pass went to Batista who got off a decent shot but fell short and led to another year of heartache without a Final Four for Gonzaga. Morrison collapsed on the court after the final buzzer in tears, a move that earned him both respect and mockery from the pundits. UCLA eventually made it to the championship game but fell to Florida. Morrison was drafted 3rd overall a few months later by MJ and the Bobcats....but that did not work out so well. The best part about revisiting this game was the call by the legendary Gus Johnson: "Batista with the caAAATCH!"
5. 2005: Illinois Overcomes 15 Point Deficit In Final Minutes
Illinois had only lost one game all season and was playing in the cozy comforts of Chicago when 3 seed Arizona jumped ahead by 15 with about 4 minutes left to play. Through sheer desperation Deron Williams and Luther Head mounted a comeback for the ages. As I watched this game I kept thinking there was simply no way the Illini would have enough to catch them but thanks to great shooting and a mental breakdown on Arizona's part, they did. In overtime, Wildcats had a few shot sto win it, but it looked all of a sudden as if Arizona forgot how to play basketball. Stoudamire had hit a game-winner against Oklahoma State in the Sweet 16 but he could not do it again here. Also the Wildcats were only down one but did not drive to the basket at all after the first attempts failed and they got the offensive board. A WTF comeback and WTF final shot earns this one the 5 spot on my list.
4. 1996: Princeton Goes Backdoor
UCLA was the defending champs thanks in large part to Tyus Edney's 4.8 second fullcourt dash. The following year in 1996, they were on the wrong end of the improbable. UCLA lost a lot from their championship team but still were an upper tier team heading into their st round game against the Tigers from the Ivy League. In the second to last game legendary head coach Pete Carril would ever coach in his final year at Princeton, the Tigers played the slow it down, work the ball offense and eventually hung in there with the Bruins. With less than a minute left Gabe Lewullis cut backdoor once and then again to beat Charles O'Bannon for the go ahead score. How O'Bannon got taken by the signature play of the Tigers is beyond me, but it led to one of the great upsets and a perfect swan song for Carril.
3. 1992: 2.1 Seconds
This game is cliché I know, but in my opinion it is still the best college basketball game I have ever seen. The things I remember from this game are Pitino's amazing coaching job, the juxtaposition of Jamal Mashburn with the Unforgettables, Laettner having a perfect shooting night, the shoe stomp on Timberlake, Sean Woods ridiculous almost game winner, and of course Thomas Hill's disbelief. This is game is hyped up every March but everytime you relive it, it lives up to that hype. As a kid watching this game from my kitchen, the game and the Laettner shot is one of the ultimate WTF just happened moments.
2. 1993: Chris Webber Needs A TO
Chris Webber will always take the brunt of the blame for this playand he does hold some accountability. But the coaching staff at Michigan should have let the players know they had none left and furthermore, should have had a play ready for Michigan when Webber made that rebound. Webber was the man about it afterwards and accepted full blame. It was a lame ending to what was a thrilling championship game unless you are a Carolina fan. Webber carried the Wolverines and the Fab Five in the second half, and perhaps mental fatigue set in. The result was a championship WTF moment for Michigan although due to certain violations were are supposed to pretend like this game never happened.
1. 2006: George Mason.....seriously
I am a Connecticut fan and have been since I was young since I was born there but I think regardless of that this still has to be one of the biggest WTF moments in sports. George Mason was a solid mid-major, so solid they gained an 11 seed in the tournament. They then proceeded to beat Michigan State in the first round, who is a notoriously good tournament team, then defeat North Carolina. After disposing of Wichita State in the Sweet 16, they faced UCONN. The Huskies would have all five of their starters drafted off this team, they were the most talented team in the country, but their refusal to play as one ultimately bit them. It was not just that though, the Patriots played out of their minds in this game. Even After Denham Brown forced overtime on a crazy reverse layup, George Mason fought back. I cannot explain what is was like to sit there and watch your team getting taken by this group of players from a smaller program that were playing like they were on the Celtics and Lakers of the 80s. Ridiculous shot after shot went down for George Mason and in the end, they earned the first ever mid-major spot in the Final Four. They tied with LSU as the highest seed ever to reach the national semifinals. I could complain about the luck factor or the fact that this game was played in George Mason's home city of Washington D.C but the plain and simple truth is that Connecticut lost this game and I will never understand why. Whiskey.....Tango.....Foxtrot.
1996 Tyus Edney 4.8: Nice defense Mizzou
2001 Hampton over Iowa State: Steve Merfeld gets picked up off the ground; Eustachy not pimpin' (sorry Walt)
1998 Bryce Drew: This is why you practice end of game situations
1998 Arthur Lee and Stanford break Rhode Island's heart: Jim Harrick coaching URI here, please watch Mark Madsen doing his celebration on the 3 point play.
2008 Stephen Curry: Even though he will not make an appearance this year, last year's run was jaw-dropping at times.
2005 We get Pittsnogled: The sweet 16 game against Wake and then West Virginia's Elite 8 against Louisville some of the most entertaining games by any team.
1992 James Forrest .8 seconds: Holy mackerel!