NCAA Tournament

Was this the best Men’s NCAA Tournament of all time?

Sports can encompass the world like nothing else can. Moments of joy that bring tears to your eyes, fits of rage that end up costing you a brand new TV and friendships that are created out of thin air only for the true fact that both of you are rooting for the same team, the same city, creating a bond as if you were childhood friends.

Every sporting event has a staple, a moment that is circled on everyone’s calendar year in and year out. Whether that be the first week of April for the Masters or the first Sunday in February for the Super Bowl or the first couple weeks of June for the NBA Finals, all sports have their shining moment. But what trumps all other spectacles? What captures a nation no matter what team you are loyal to or how much time you’ve spent watching throughout the season? You know it, I know it and we love it and as Dicky V would say, “it’s March Madness, baby!” (It’s weird how you hear it in his voice, isn’t it?).

Over a three week span from Selection Sunday to Championship Monday a nation is joined together, families filling out brackets based off research and hours and hours of collegiate basketball being watched throughout the season, or simply because mom likes the thought of a Musketeer being cooler than a Volunteer. No matter the level of expertise, millions and millions of brackets are filled out with yellow and red highlighters ready to mark up each and every bracket. But this year is different, you are still filling out your bracket saying this is the year, this is the year where I pick all the right upsets and have all Final Four teams correct en route to a victory in your family’s March Madness bracket buster challenge. 2018 is that year, right?

Of course not! This year was filled with storylines and upsets that no one could have ever predicted (in fact only 550 brackets of the 17.3 million predicted all the Final Four teams correctly according to ESPN) and I wanted to take a week to digest the 2018 Men’s NCAA Tournament.

So that got me thinking, was this was the best NCAA Tournament in history?

It is a tough question to answer because of course, everyone can have a definition of what they would have considered being the “best”. But man, this was quite the year. Let me give a quick recap of some of the craziest highlights of the 2018 Men’s NCAA Tournament.

One of the most targeted upsets every year is the five versus 12 seed match up. In 2018 all five seeds advanced to the Round of 32. But did that mean the tournament was going to be short on upsets? Absolutely not. Two No. 11 seeds, two No. 13 seeds advanced past the first round and oh yeah, a 16 (!!) seed upset a No. 1 seed for the first time in tournament history.

The UMBC Retrievers were going up against the No.1 overall seed Virginia Cavaliers, the one team that had been dominant throughout an unbelievable roller coaster of a college basketball season, and UMBC were trying to do what no 16 seed has done before. It has been tried 135 times in the past with a few close calls but no victors but this March was different. The night belonged to the Retrievers as the kids from Maryland stole the nation’s hearts and stomped on Virginia, 74-54.

That set up a battle no one saw coming, the UMBC Retrievers (No. 16 seed) and the Kansas State Wildcats (No. 9 seed). Of course, no one was rooting for the Wildcats but in a dogfight, no pun intended, the Retrievers came up short, 50-43. But they had already etched their name in history. They will tell this story to their kids and their grandkids and never forget the moment they had on the grandest stage of them all. They put UMBC on the map.

Now with the crazy No. 16 seed eliminated and both 13 seeds, Marshall and Buffalo, falling to West Virginia and Kentucky respectively in the Round of 32, what excitement was left in the tournament? Enter Loyola Chicago Ramblers and Sister Jean.

March Madness

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After an unbelievable game-winning shot in the first round against Miami, they had to match up against a very tough Tennessee team in the Round of 32. Would their dreams run out? The Ramblers entered the tournament on a 10-game winning streak and didn’t want to go home yet. In another incredible game, the Ramblers won on another game-winning shot in the final ten seconds!

Next up? A very resilient and offensively talented Nevada team in the Sweet 16. And of course, they hit another shot in the final 10 seconds to seal the game and punch their ticket to the Elite Eight!

In the South Region, an Elite Eight matchup that no one could have predicted the Ramblers were able to handily defeat the Wildcats of Kansas State and march on their way to history becoming only the fourth 11-seed ever to make the Final Four. They joined the company of Louisiana State in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. What did all three of these teams have in common? They couldn’t get past this Final Four hurdle to play in a National Championship.

The matchup for Loyola Chicago was a tough Michigan Wolverines team who brought in a winning streak of their own. In a grind it out game where the Ramblers led for 30 of the 40 minutes, it seemed to look like they ran out of steam. They were defeated by Michigan 69-57 ending the incredible run put together by the Ramblers.

What was happening on the other side of the bracket while the Ramblers were stealing hearts and crushing brackets? Oh yeah, just Villanova dominating every opponent they faced, defeating each team by an average of over 17 points per game including the predictable and somewhat boring Championship game where they easily defeated Michigan, 79-62.

The 2018 Men’s NCAA Tournament had many highs, twists, and turns that made it truly, well, madness. But was it the best ever?

The favorite storyline that America falls in love with each and every year in all sports is David vs. Goliath, the country rallying behind the underdog hoping and praying that they can pull off the ultimate upset and dethrone the favorite that no one wants to see win. We have seen it time and time again, VCU in 2011, George Mason in 2004, Butler in 2010 and 2011, Loyola Chicago in 2018. But time and time again they fall short not being able to hoist the trophy on that infamous Championship Monday night.

In 1983 the storyline was set once again. Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State posing as David and the mighty Houston Cougars boasting a 31-3 record including an undefeated conference record was posing as Goliath. Some may say it was the ultimate David vs. Goliath battle but this night was different.

In a grind-out game, NC State had a chance to win it at the buzzer tied at 52 apiece. NC State guard Dereck Whittenburg sent a wild 30-foot shot towards the hoop hoping to just get close, a shot he has admitted he knew was short immediately after letting it fly. Teammate Lorenzo Charles was in the right place at the right time to field the shot like a pass and hammer in a dunk with only two seconds left in the game and give NC State a 54-52 lead which ended up being the final score.

This shot has been played over and over again as a stalwart of the NCAA and the madness that ensues in March. Valvano mentioned the moment in his famous ESPY’s speech to “never give up”. NC State was the first team in history to win a national championship after losing 10 games or more in the regular season.

If you are trying to choose between some of the best tournaments in history it is impossible to do so without talking about the infamous shot. Christian Laettner makes what could be argued as the most famous game-winning, buzzer-beater in the history of college basketball.

One of the best games in college basketball history and the performance that Laettner delivered is also considered one of the most remarkable games ever played. The shot sealed a 104-103 overtime victory in the Final Four over Kentucky. They then went on to crush Michigan in the Championship game, 71-51.

Not every single moment consisted of wild game winners and crazy performances. Some of the best tournaments are when you can appreciate the pure domination factor and even in some cases the chase for the perfect season.

In 1976 The Indiana Hoosiers defeated the Michigan Wolverines (poor Michigan) to secure a 32-0 season. You also can’t forget about any of the 10 National Championships that John Wooden and UCLA won could be considered unfathomable.

Of course, I couldn’t talk about the greatness of March Madness without bringing up the GOAT, Michael Jordan. His game-winning, championship-clinching shot in 1982 in North Carolina’s victory against Georgetown is a moment Jordan holds close to his top list of achievements. “That was the birth of Michael Jordan,” he said. “Before that, I was Mike Jordan. All of a sudden I make that shot and I’m Michael Jordan.” I mean come on!

Finally, the best singular moment and possibly the best 30 seconds of basketball I have ever witnessed has to be the 2016 March Madness Championship game between Villanova and UNC. There really isn’t much I can say, so just take a look.

Incredible. Madness.

I understand that there are many moments and tournaments that I didn’t mention but that just further proves my point of how great this tournament is. I am not sure which tournament I would consider being the “best” but what I do know is that we all have next March already circled on our calendars.

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