The 14 defining moments of the NCAA tournament
1. Anthony Davis forces Elijah Johnson’s travel: Kansas had trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half. But after Marquis Teague missed a free throw with 35 seconds left in the game, the Jayhawks had the ball down just six points, which was as close as it had been all game long. Elijah Johnson came off of a double-screen and found himself wide-open in the corner. Anthony Davis went flying at him, his length forcing Johnson into a travel which, after two UK free throws, effectively ended the game.
Davis was the National Player of the Year and the NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player, but his effect on the game related to defense, not offense. Nothing encapsulates just what Davis provided more than that play.
2. Kendall Marshall’s wrist and Fab Melo’s suspension: Kentucky was the favorite heading into the tournament, but both North Carolina and Syracuse were considered serious challengers. But two days before the tournament was to begin, Melo was ruled ineligible because of academic issues. Later that week, Kendall Marshall broke his wrist after an awkward fall against Creighton in the round of 32. Kentucky’s two biggest challengers both lost their most important player. The Wildcats could have been handed the title then and there.
3. Missed threes: As much as I enjoyed this year’s tournament, it was not great television for the general college basketball watching public. Outside of a glorious four-hour stretch on the first Friday -- two No. 2 seeds lost, Ohio knocked off Michigan and St. Mary’s came back and then collapsed against Purdue -- this was a tournament without all that much insanity. It was, quite frankly, more about anti-climactic finishes than anything. Think about the number of potential game-winning threes that were missed: Trevor Releford vs. Creighton, Garrett Stutz vs. VCU, Jason Clark vs. NC State, Phil Pressey vs. Norfolk State, Jordan Taylor vs. Syracuse, Rob Brandenburg vs. Indiana, Rob Jones, Lorenzo Howell vs. Kansas, John Jenkins vs. Wisconsin. That’s not even mentioning the halfcourt prayers from Ryne Smith and DJ Cooper that very nearly went in.
4. Elijah Johnson’s layup: The theme for the Jayhawks throughout the entire tournament was close wins and improbable comebacks. They did just that in the Final Four against Ohio State, finally breaking through in the final minute. Johnson’s steal and layup in transition capped a 6-0 spurt and put the Jayhawks in control with a 62-59 lead.
5. Kyle O’Quinn’s and-one putback: The Norfolk State star center finished with 26 points and 14 boards in a win over No. 2 seed Missouri, but none were more important than the three points he had to break an 81-all tie in the final minute. O’Quinn immediately became the star of the first weekend with this epic postgame interview.
6. Robbie Hummel’s final game: The downside of the tournament is seeing seniors play their final collegiate game, and none was harder than Robbie Hummel. The Purdue forward was the easiest player to cheer this season after twice tearing his ACL and costing Purdue a shot at the Final Four. He exploded for 22 first half points against Kansas in the round of 32, but cooled off late as the Jayhawks got an exciting, come-from-behind win. Seeing him choke up as he left the floor was tough.
7. Lehigh becomes second No. 15 seed to win: Just four hours after Norfolk State knocked off Missouri, Lehigh picked up a round of 64 victory over the Blue Devils on the strength of a sterling performance from CJ McCollum. It highlighted a Friday session that was as insane as any I can remember, as Lehigh’s win came at the same time Ohio was beating Michigan and St. Mary’s was coming back against then blowing a lead to Purdue.
8. Chane Behanan’s jumper against Florida: Louisville’s postseason performance will catapult them to the top of every preseason top 25 poll, but the moment that stands out to me is the short jumper that Behanan hit in the final minute to complete an 18-3 run and knock off Florida in the Elite Eight.
9. Ohio’s Sweet 16 run: DJ Cooper led the Bobcats past Michigan and South Florida before nearly knocking off North Carolina in overtime in the Sweet 16. Cooper struggled, but his last-second, half-court heave hit the back of the rim. This run got John Groce the Illinois coaching job.
10. Lane violations: In a tournament where poor officiating (particularly in crunch time) was a massive talking point, there were two instances in the opening round of the tournament where a game was influenced by the same lane violation call. Once, it cost UNC Asheville a shot at a comeback against No. 1 seed Syracuse. The other time, it was Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant wiping away a made free throw from Eric Atkins in the final seconds.
11. Will Sheehy’s game-winner: It beat VCU and sent Indiana to the Sweet 16.
12. Tu Holloway’s game-winner: Xavier eventually reached its fourth Sweet 16 in five years.
14. NC State getting into the dance: There is nothing better than the pure joy experienced when seeing your name on Selection Sunday.