As weird as this may sound, I think I might like the second weekend of the NCAA tournament more than the first weekend.
The first weekend is full of insanity and wall-to-wall college basketball, which is awesome. Don’t get me wrong.
But the second weekend has a feel of completion to it. Not only do we get games between juggernauts, not only do we get the culmination of narratives and cinderella storylines, but we actually crown someone.
Getting out of the first weekend is an accomplishment.
Getting out of the second weekend is a banner.
There’s a difference, and you can feel it in the buildings and with the way the games are played.
Here are my favorite moments from the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Duke’s win over Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight in Philadephia is likely the best college basketball game ever played.
Mike Krzyzewski vs. Rick Pitino. Christian Laettner vs. Jamal Mashburn. The game was tied at 93 after regulation. There were five lead changes in the final minute of overtime. Sean Woods somehow banked in a floater from the foul line with 2.2 seconds left to put Kentucky in the lead.
Then this happened:
I think the most under-appreciated part of this game is that Laettner quite literally played a perfect game. He was 10-for-10 from the floor. He was 10-for-10 from the line. He scored 31 points. He hit a game-winner. And he stomped on someone’s chest without getting tossed.
That’s quite a game.
The best game in the history of the second weekend of the NCAA tournament pitted arguably the two biggest programs in the country, a pair of Hall of Fame head coaches, a couple of future top five picks and a trip to the Final Four.
The second best game of the NCAA tournament’s second weekend?
There’s an argument to be made that it didn’t feature a team that is among the top two basketball programs in their own state.
Tu Holloway and Jamal Crawford vs. Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente lived up to all the hype and more, as No. 2-seed Kansas State beat No. 6-seed Xavier, 101-96, in double-overtime for the right to lose to Butler in the Elite Eight.
There were so many unbelievable moments and calls during that game, but one stands out as the best of them all — and maybe the best of Gus Johnson’s career as a broadcast:
He goes into full-on meltdown mode, which is exactly what every single person watching this game, either in the arena or on TV, did at the exact same time.
And that, quite frankly, is why Gus Jeezy is a legend.
For my money, the third-best game in the history of the second weekend of the NCAA tournament came just this past season.
Carsen Edwards scored 24 of his 42 points in the second half, including a five minute stretch where he scored 14 points, completely lighting up the best defender in college basketball in Deandre Hunter. His sharp-shooting led the Boilermakers back from eight points down to take the lead in the final seconds, which set up arguably the most memorable shot of Virginia’s 2019 title run:
There are a couple things worth talking about beyond the insanity of this game itself.
First and foremost, it might not have even been the craziest game that Purdue played that weekend. The Boilermakers blew an 18-point lead with 16 minutes left to Tennessee, forced overtime when Edwards was fouled shooting a three at the end of regulation and eventually won in the extra period. This came one round after Tennessee blew a 25-point second half lead to Iowa in the second round before winning that game in overtime.
The other part of this is that some believe that the 2019 Elite Eight was the best Elite Eight of all-time. Duke-Michigan State was a thriller. Texas Tech-Gonzaga was a great game. Auburn found a way to upset Kentucky without Chuma Okeke.
But still, I disagree.
The game that everyone remembers is when No. 1-seed Illinois came back from 15 points down in the final four minutes — and from eight points down in the final 1:10 — to beat No. 3-seed Arizona in overtime.
That comeback was absolutely bonkers, but it wasn’t even the biggest comeback of the day. In the first game of the day, No. 4-seed Louisville erased a 38-18 deficit against Kevin Pittsnoggle, John Beilein and No. 7-seed West Virginia to win 93-85 in overtime.
As an aside, that wasn’t even the craziest exit that we saw from a Kevin Pittsnoggle team in the NCAA tournament, because that came a year later on this insane sequence:
The third game of the 2005 Elite Eight featured No. 1-seed North Carolina ousting No. 6-seed Wisconsin is good, largely unremarkable 88-82 win.
It was that Sunday’s nightcap that really put the icing on the cake, as No. 5-seed Michigan State knocking off No. 2-seed Kentucky in a game that featured the most memorable NCAA tournament shot by a player from the losing team this side of Marcus Paige.
This is the quintessential NCAA tournament moment in my mind. The Wildcats were down by three on the final possession when Patrick Sparks airballed a three and Kelenna Azubuike bricked a three of his own before Sparks, getting a long offensive rebound, hit a three that bounced off the rim five times before dropping in. After the officials reviewed whether or not Sparks toe was on the line for roughly ten minutes, the game went to overtime:
After Azubuike missed a potential game-winning three at the end of the first overtime, the Spartans were able to pull away in the second OT.
But that’s not what anyone remembers from this game.
It was the insanity of that final possession in regulation. The bad shots, the hustle plays, the drama and a guy we would never hear from again etching his name into March Madness lore.
I mentioned Gus Johnson’s greatest moments earlier.
“Batista with the caaaAAATTCHH” is up there, too.
For those that don’t remember, Adam Morrison’s Gonzaga team led No. 2-seed UCLA by 17 points late in the second half of the Sweet 16, but they proceeded to melt away that lead before a J.P. Batista turnover with less than 15 seconds left led to a game-winning bucket from Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. That led to one of the iconic images in NCAA tournament history, when Morrison — a National Player of the Year, soon-to-be top three pick and the nation’s leading scorer — was crumped on the court, sobbing.
As another aside, that season was one of the most memorable for me because of the battle between J.J. Redick and Adam Morrison for National Player of the Year. Their battles for the scoring lead and the title of college basketball’s best was to the 2006 season what Trae Young was to 2018 and Zion was to 2019.
And then, in the span on a couple hours, both players were upset in the Sweet 16; Redick’s season ended with a loss to No. 4-seed LSU as Morrison’s final college basketball game was tipping off.
I wrote a long feature about that season four years ago. It’s still one of my favorite pieces.
We’ve seen a number of double-digit seeds and mid-majors make their way to the final weekend of the NCAA tournament in recent years. Loyola-Chicago did it in 2018. Butler make it to the national title game twice. The second time, they beat No. 11-seed VCU in the Final Four the year that VCU started out in the First Four. Wichita State made it to the Final Four as a No. 9-seed.
Each and every one of those runs had their own memorable moments. Butler’s runs catapulted Brad Stevens to the NBA. The same can be said about Fred VanVleet, Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early from Wichita State. Books can be written about Loyola’s Sister Jean and VCU’s band The Peppas and the birth of Havoc.
But the most memorable of those cinderella Final Four runs was the first: George Mason in 2006.
The Patriots were one of the last teams in the NCAA tournament field that year, but they managed to find a way to knock off Michigan State and North Carolina in the first weekend before getting past fellow Cinderella Wichita State in the Sweet 16 for the right to take on UConn, a No. 1-seed that had a chance to win their second title in three years and third title in seven season.
That’s not the way it went down:
UConn has been involved in their fair share of incredible second-weekend moments.
There was Tate George’s shot in 1990, where UConn went 94-feet in 1.0 seconds to beat Clemson in the Sweet 16. There was Rashad Anderson’s shot to tie the game and force overtime in the Sweet 16 two days before the loss to George Mason; UConn erased a five-point lead in the final 40 seconds of that win.
And, of course, there was this insanity in 1998:
Back when Davidson was still just an upstart program in the CAA and Curry was just another mid-major gunner whose name no one could properly pronounce yet, he scored 128 points in four games to get his team to within one shot of getting to the Final Four.
And in the end, what people are going to remember is that it was Jason Richards, not Curry, that got the shot that could have ended Bill Self’s only national title run two games early, but what we should remember is how he took over games against Gonzaga and Georgetown, averaging 35 points as the Wildcats erased 11 and 17-point second half deficits, respectively.
It was one of the best individual tournament runs in college basketball history.
The No. 1-seed Buckeyes somehow managed to dig themselves a 49-29 hole late in the first half against Bruce Pearl and No. 5-seed Tennessee in the 2007 Sweet 16, but they came storming back in the second half.
Ron Lewis scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and Greg Oden battled foul trouble the whole game, but it was Oden that saved the day.
His block on the final possession of the game sealed the win:
Duke entered the 2002 NCAA Tournament as a No. 1-seed. They were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason. They never left the top five throughout the year. They had a roster that featured Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Dahntay Jones, Mike Dunleavy and Chris Duhon. They were considered the favorite to repeat as national champs.
And then, in the Sweet 16 in a game played in Rupp Arena in Lexington, the Blue Devils lost to No. 5-seed Indiana, a team that finished 11-5 in the Big Ten and lost 11 games on the season. Duke jumped out to a 17 points lead and held a 42-29 lead at the half, but led by Jared Jeffries and his 24 points, the Hoosiers came back to win en route to a trip to the national title game.
The 2004 season was to St. Joe’s what the 2020 season was supposed to be for Dayton. The Hawks, led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, went undefeated until the Atlantic 10 tournament, earned themselves a No. 1 seed and made it to the Elite Eight, where their season was ended by this shot from John Lucas III:
And that is a fitting way to bring us to …
Before he became an All-American forward for North Carolina, Luke Maye was just some dude with bushy eyebrows on their bench when he capped off this ridiculous sequence to get North Carolina to the 2017 Final Four:
The Tar Heels won the title that season.
I’m sure there are going to be plenty of Kentucky fans that disagree with me here, but my favorite UK moment from the second weekend of the NCAA tournament came in 2011, when Brandon Knight beat Aaron Craft for this game-winning bucket in what was a thrilling final sequence:
The narratives here are what make this so good in my mind.
This was a season after Kentucky got bounced in the Elite Eight with John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins and a year before they won the title with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Ohio State was the No. 1 over all seed and the clear favorite to win the national title entering the tournament.
And Kentucky not only got the job done, but I called the upset in my bracket.
Before Tyus Edney went coast-to-coast to be Missouri in 1995, Danny Ainge did the same for BYU as they knocked off Notre Dame and make it to the 1981 Elite Eight:
Then in 2009, Scottie Reynolds did the same thing to get Villanova past Pitt and into the Final Four:
In 2013, the year Michigan made it to the national title game, National Player of the Year Trey Burke hit a 30-footer to force overtime against No. 1-seed Kansas:
This one felt like karma coming full circle, as Grayson Allen somehow missed this would-be game-winning shot as Duke lost to Kansas in the 2018 Elite Eight. I’ll never understand how this shot didn’t go in:
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 25, 2018
What was the bigger whiff, officials missing this travel on Jeff Green:
or calling this shot from Kenny Anderson good?: