By Kevin Sweeney
The month of March is without a doubt the best month of the year for college basketball fans. Every year, there are incredible moments that make March Madness so great. Whether they be conference tournament upsets, to buzzer-beaters, to miraculous runs deep into the NCAA Tournament, March provides fans with incredible entertainment and memories that last a lifetime. I’ve ranked my top 10 moments of March (and April) as I relive them, sitting in denial that the season is actually over.
10. Youngstown State’s Buzzer-Beater sends Motor City Madness into Disarray
“They rope-a-doped the one seed!” was the call as Cameron Morse found a wide-open Jorden Kaufman under the basket for the game winning bucket. The Penguins, who had lost their first two meetings to Oakland by a combined total of 43 points, came away with a stunning win in the first quarterfinal of a Horizon League Tournament in which Oakland was heavily favored. With Valparaiso’s Alec Peters injured, it was Oakland’s tournament to lose. But Morse posted 34 points and Kaufman had the game of his career with 22 points and 10 rebounds to shake things up in a big way.
9. Northwestern Dances, Finally
Northwestern, long the only power conference school to never make the NCAA Tournament, finally reached the Big Dance this year. Even though they were widely expected to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, the jubilation on the faces of players and coaches when they finally had their dream come true was special. The Wildcats provided us with a pair of scintillating games,. First, they snuck past Vanderbilt after Matthew Fisher-Davis lost track of the score and foul intentionally, allowing Bryant McIntosh to sink a pair of game-winning free throws. Then, they roared back from 20 down against Gonzaga before falling just short, partially due to a missed goaltending call and subsequent technical on Northwestern coach Chris Collins.
8. Chris Clemons Scores 51!
One of the reasons I love March Madness is that guys most have never even heard of get a chance at the national spotlight. Clemons, a diminutive 5-9 guard, put on a scoring performance unlike anything I’d seen all season as he almost single-handedly carried Campbell to an upset victory over UNC-Asheville. Clemons did it all, from blocking shots to ridiculous step-back 3’s to nearly jumping OVER a defender for a layup. He continued his hot play to carry the Camels to a Big South title game appearance and a deep run in the CIT. He will be one of the stars of mid-major college basketball next season.
7. Clareth’s Insane Second Half Carries Siena Past Monmouth
It was one of the most incredible games I’ve ever witnessed personally. Facing a seventeen-point second half deficit against top-seeded Monmouth, Siena star guard Nico Clareth put on a performance for the ages. Clareth, who was barely able to play in the first half with a nasty ankle injury, drained 7 of his 8 three-point attempts in the second half, as well an insane leaner from the baseline in the closing moments, to help Siena complete an incredible comeback. Clareth, who dealt with plenty of adversity throughout the season, put on a display head coach Jimmy Patsos compared to Kirk Gibson’s home run. While Clareth’s Saints fell just short in the MAAC Championship game against Iona, that second half will be remembered by Siena fans for a very long time.
6. Fox Outduels Ball
The Sweet 16 matchup between Kentucky and UCLA had more hype associated with it than any Sweet 16 game I can remember. Potential top pick Lonzo Ball and his uber-confident father LaVar were about to matchup with Kentucky, one of the favorites to win the tournament. While most of the talk in the run-up to the game was about Ball, it was Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox that took over when the lights came on. Fox dominated for 39 points and held Ball to just 10 points in the game.
5. Michigan Goes From Bubble to Cinderella
Entering the month of March, it was no guarantee Michigan would even make the NCAA Tournament. Then, the Wolverines dealt with something much bigger than basketball: a plane crash. Thankfully, everyone was alright. However, that scary experience turned out to be the turning point in their season, as the Wolverines ripped off 4 wins in 4 days (including one in their practice jerseys) to win the Big Ten Tournament. Then, they knocked off Oklahoma State & Louisville and had many people-including me- thinking that they were a team of destiny. Unfortunately, their season came to an end with a heartbreaking loss to Oregon in the Sweet 16, but it was still an incredible story and an inspiring run.
4. Chiozza’s Runner Sends Garden Into a Frenzy
It was as good a NCAA Tournament buzzer-beater as we’ve seen in a long time. After a crazy game that featured miraculous comebacks, discount-double-checks, and chasedown blocks by the guy best known for shooting free throws granny-style, it was only fitting that the Wisconsin vs Florida battle in the Sweet 16 would end like this. With 4 seconds to go, the speedy Chris Chiozza went almost the entire length of the floor to put up a floater from beyond the arc that just beat the horn.
3. South Carolina Stuns Everyone on Way to Glendale
When South Carolina finished their season with losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, most gave up on them as a team who could make noise in March Madness.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
First was a victory over Marquette in which the Gamecocks pulled away late for a 20-point victory. Then was an incredible 65-point second half to knock off heavily favored Duke in the Round of 32. After that, a blowout victory over Baylor before knocking off Florida in the Elite Eight to punch their ticket to the Final Four. Sindarius Thornwell had an incredible tournament, averaging 23.6 points per game during the tournament. While the Gamecocks fell just short against Gonzaga, it was an incredible run that shocked us all.
2. This. Is. Maye?
One of the great stories of the NCAA Tournament was that of UNC’s Luke Maye. Maye, a big man that declined scholarship offers from multiple Division 1 programs to be a preferred walk-on at North Carolina, had multiple big games during the Tar Heels’ big run. However, it was his last-second jumper to knock off Kentucky that will be remembered forever in Chapel Hill. After Malik Monk had tied the game for Kentucky with a desperation three, Theo Pinson rushed the ball up the floor and dished it to Maye, whose long jumper was nothing but net.
Then of course, Maye made headlines the next day for showing up to his 8am class.
1. North Carolina Gets Redemption
After losing last season’s national title game on a buzzer-beater by Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, UNC had one thing on its mind: redemption. It was such a theme that the team named its group chat “Redemption”.
They got exactly what they were looking for.
The Tar Heels knocked off Gonzaga in an ugly, yet entertaining affair to cut down the nets for the first time since 2009.