Top 10 Season-Changing Moments in College Basketball

Erik Schultz@eschultz530Correspondent IFebruary 18, 2012

Top 10 Season-Changing Moments in College Basketball

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    Every season has its moments that have a lasting impact long after the moment itself has passed.

    It could be a shot, a miss, a call or anything else that can impact a team. The moment not only directly affects the outcome of the game, it can affect both teams involved for the rest of the season. 

    Here is a look at 10 moments so far in the 2011-12 college basketball season that have had significant lasting impacts, and how each has done so.

    Moments are listed in reverse order of impact. All moments took place in games prior to Feb. 1, as a way of evaluating the lasting impact of each.

10. Sean Kilpatrick’s Game-Winning Three

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    Game:  Cincinnati at Connecticut 

    When:  Jan. 18

    Most Affected:  UConn

    Just four weeks ago, UConn was very much part of the discussion for not only a Big East championship, but even a possibility for winning another national championship. 

    Thanks to Sean Kilpatrick and Cincinnati, those talks have now shifted to whether UConn can simply make the NCAA tournament, let alone any possible championship talk.

    Kilpatrick buried a three in the final seconds of regulation to break a 67-all tie and give Cincinnati the win, in Storrs. The Huskies had just come off a dominating win at Notre Dame, and were sitting at No. 11 in the nation. With a relatively young team, it seemed like the team’s brief struggles—from losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers—were behind them.

    Instead, Kilpatrick’s game-winning three opened the door to a far more treacherous stretch for UConn.  The Huskies went on to lose five of six after that game to fall below .500 in Big East play. 

    At 16-9 overall and 6-7 in the Big East, UConn definitely has some work to do before it can feel confident about having the chance to return to the NCAAs and defend its title.

9. Chris Crawford’s Missed Game-Tying Three

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    Game:  Murray State at Memphis, Dec. 11

    Most Affected:  Murray St.

    With BracketBusters going on this weekend, this year’s headline game between Saint Mary’s and Murray State has perhaps generated as much hype than in any in the event’s 10-year history. 

    Most of that hype was generated while Murray State was carrying its undefeated record into the month of February. With the Racers being in a mid-major conference like the Ohio Valley, there was serious speculation that they could finish the regular-season undefeated, in the same way that Saint Joseph’s did back in 2004.

    The game that facilitated all the talk behind Murray State being a realistic threat to pull off the extraordinary feat occurred back in December in Memphis. The Racers beat then-No. 20 Memphis on the Tigers' own court 76-72. It was the last major foreseeable challenge on Murray State’s schedule, with the BracketBusters matchup still pending at that time. 

    Murray led almost the entire game and had a 12-point lead with just 2:37 to play. However, the Tigers put together a fierce rally to get within one with 14 seconds to go. After Isaiah Canaan hit two free throws to put them back up by three, Memphis’ Chris Crawford a three in the final seconds that would have tied the game. Had Crawford’s shot gone, the game would have likely gone to overtime. 

    Had the game gone to overtime, Memphis would have had a better-than-not chance of beating Murray State. Had they done so, we would have never had the opportunity to follow the Racers through their continued undefeated streak the past two months. 

    Since that shot did not fall, the nation knows a heck of a lot more about Murray State and what it's capable of than it ever would have before.

8. Tray Woodall to the Bench with Injury

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    Game:  Duquesne at Pittsburgh, Nov. 30

    Most Affected:  Pittsburgh

    Over the past decade, Pittsburgh has built itself into one of the most consistent top-tier programs in the nation. Just last season, the Panthers earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. 

    While Pittsburgh lost three starters from that team, it was stilll given a spot in this year’s preseason Top 10. With the continuity in the program demonstrated over the past several years, the ranking seemed justified. The return of Nasir Robinson, Ashton Gibbs and Tray Woodall figured to help ensure this year’s team had a minimal drop-off, if any.

    The plan became derailed just three weeks into this season, when one of those three players suffered a key injury. Woodall left the game against Duquesne with a groin injury. The injury may have been more serious than initially expected, as Woodall missed the next 12 games for Pittsburgh.

    While Pitt was able to skate by for the remainder of the non-conference season, it hit a serious wall in Big East play without its starting point guard. The Panthers lost their first six Big East games, including embarrassing losses to DePaul and Rutgers, that one at home by 23. Nobody could have expected those kinds of losses from such an excellent program.

    After Woodall finally returned against Louisville, Pitt went on to win four straight after the 0-7 start in league play. However, it's since lost a bit of steam, losing three straight. 

    Now at 4-10 and toward the bottom of the Big East, the Panthers are in desperation mode in their hopes to continue their 10-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances. Had Woodall not missed that crucial stretch in January, most likely Pittsburgh’s streak would not be in much doubt.

7. Ryan Evans' Desperation Three Called off

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    Game:  Michigan State at Wisconsin, Jan. 3

    Most Affected:  Michigan State

    When first seen in real time, it looked as though Wisconsin had forced an improbable second overtime. 

    Down by three, Ryan Evans grabbed an air ball shot by Jordan Taylor. Evans backed it out and hoisted a desperation off-balance three. The shot went in, off the glass. 

    However, after official review, the shot was ruled off. Michigan State escaped Madison with a 63-60 win over Wisconsin. The Spartans knew how tough it is to win at Wisconsin and how much it meant to get this one.

    With the win, Michigan State extended their winning streak to 14 and moved into the Top 10 the next week. MSU started their streak after losing its first two games to North Carolina and Duke, but hadn’t beaten anyone on the level of UNC or Duke. Beating Wisconsin in its own building gave immediate credibility to this year’s Spartans team.

    Since then, Michigan State has continued its strong play, with just a couple hiccups along the way.  Currently MSU sits at 10-3 in the Big Ten, tied with Ohio State for first place. The Spartans beat OSU in Columbus last week, giving them control of their destiny in their quest for a Big Ten title.

    Had that shot by Evans been released just a split second earlier, would Michigan State still have title aspirations? Maybe so, but the fact that the shot didn’t count made the road significantly more manageable.

6. Eric Atkins' Second Free Throw in Double Overtime

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    Game:  Notre Dame at Louisville, Jan. 7

    Most Affected:  Notre Dame

    Based on what they did—or more accurately, didn’t do—in November and December, there was no reason to expect anything out of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish going into Big East play. However, that all began to change after the Irish took No. 10 Louisville to overtime on its own court.

    Finally, in the second overtime, Notre Dame broke through in a sluggish, hard-fought battle with Louisville to win 67-65. The Irish pulled out the win thanks to Eric Atkins. 

    Atkins hit back-to-back jumpers in the final minute, and then finally sealed the game with two free throws with 10 seconds to go to put Notre Dame ahead by four. With the win, the Irish went to 2-1 in Big East play. For a team who failed to beat anyone of note in non-conference play, winning two of its first three in the Big East was an accomplishment in itself.

    However, that proved to only be the beginning for Notre Dame. Since that game, the Irish have developed into one of the toughest teams in the entire league. Just ask Syracuse, who suffered their first and only loss at Notre Dame a few weeks back.

    Notre Dame is currently on a seven-game winning streak, including road wins over UConn, West Virginia and Seton Hall to go with wins over Marquette and Syracuse. At 10-3 and tied with Marquette for second place in the league, the Irish are easily the season’s biggest mid-season turnaround story. 

    That turnaround started to take off when Notre Dame survived that double-overtime battle in Louisville.

5. Michael Snaer’s Buzzer-Beater

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    Game:  Florida State at Duke, Jan. 28

    Most Affected:  Florida State

    A week removed from a complete dismantling of North Carolina, Florida State was out to prove it could contend for the ACC title, as some originally expected.

    In order to do that, they would have to prove they could compete with the ACC’s other traditional roadblock: Duke. While FSU’s impressive win over UNC came at home, this game was in Durham.

    FSU dominated UNC from the start the week before. Against Duke, they never led until the final minute of the game, when Michael Snaer hit a jumper to put the ‘Noles up 71-70. The teams exchanged free throws before Austin Rivers’ layup tied the game at 73 with six seconds to play.

    That game FSU just enough time. Not calling timeout, the ‘Noles moved the ball straight down court, with Luke Loucks finding an open Snaer on the wing. Even though they only need a two, Snaer boldly let the three fly, and it went.

    The stunning victory by FSU gave Duke its first home loss in nearly three years. It allowed the ‘Noles to remain a fixture atop the ACC with Duke and UNC, as all three are currently tied for first place. 

    In addition, FSU’s win helped to create a hint of vulnerability around Duke. Really good Duke teams usually don’t lose at home to anyone outside of UNC. Now, two teams have done it so far this year, with Miami winning in Durham just eight days after FSU did so.

4. The “No Goal Tend” Goal Tend

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    Game:  West Virginia at Syracuse, Jan. 28

    Most Affected:  West Virginia

    Just a couple hours prior to Florida State’s buzzer-beating win at Duke, another game made big headlines based on what didn’t happen—or wasn’t called—in the game’s final seconds.    

    With a chance to tie or take the lead in the final possession against the nation’s No. 2 team, West Virginia’s “Truck” Bryant shot an air ball on a contested three. Deniz Kilicli grabbed the miss and went to put it back up, and the shot was blocked high off the backboard by Syracuse’s Baye Keita. 

    Goaltending was never called, and every replay indicates it should have been. WVU coach Bob Huggins was understandably irate, knowing his team was denied the chance to take Syracuse to overtime. While Syracuse may have won the game anyway, the Mountaineers certainly should have had the chance to knock off the No. 2 team in the Carrier Dome.

    At the time, WVU was making a push to be among the top three Big East teams. With the way they challenged Syracuse to the final seconds, it seemed like the Mountaineers would remain near the top of the league for the rest of the season.

    However, the no-call appeared to have derailed WVU somewhat. After that loss, they went on to lose three of their next four, including home losses to Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. With how well WVU has played at home in recent years, those two losses are a bit unsettling for the team’s fate this season.

    Currently at 17-10 overall and 7-7 in the Big East—putting them in a tie with Seton Hall for eighth place—West Virginia finds themselves right on the NCAA tournament bubble. For a team so close to knocking off Syracuse on its own court, it’s a tough situation to be in.

3. The Cross-Town Brawl

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    Game:  Cincinnati at Xavier, Dec. 10

    Most Affected:  Both

    Everyone has seen it by now, so there’s no need to describe the end-of-game fight between the two schools. However, the fallout from the fight seemed to have opposite effects for the two teams from Cincinnati.

    Both teams suspended some of their most important players—Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates missed six games; Xavier’s Tu Holloway missed one, Mark Lyons missed two and Dez Wells missed five.

    Given the fact Gates—Cincinnati’s go-to guy down low—missed more time than any of Xavier’s key guards, you would have though the Bearcats would have been the team who suffered in the games following the Dec. 10 incident. Instead, Cincinnati rallied and played better afterward than it had played before the Xavier game.

    Cincinnati went on to win games against Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Georgetown—all on the road.  Those wins made Cincinnati a borderline-Top 25 team before losing to West Virginia and Syracuse. Now at 8-5 in the Big East, the Bearcats appear to be in pretty good shape to earn an NCAA tournament berth because of the wins mentioned above.

    Xavier, meanwhile, went into a major slump immediately following the win over Cincinnati. Playing the first game after without Holloway, Lyons and Wells, Xavier was blown out at home by Oral Roberts. The Musketeers then went to Hawaii and struggled in the Diamond Head Classic, losing to Long Beach State (without Lyons and Wells) and the University of Hawaii (without Wells).

    Xavier is just 8-9 since Dec. 10, putting the Musketeers currently at 16-9 overall and 7-4 in the Atlantic 10. Losing five of its first seven games after the fight, Xavier went from a Top 10 and undefeated team all the way down to an NCAA bubble team.    

    While the fight itself certainly produced no winners, there is a pretty clear distinction as to which team better handled the adversity and negative publicity that resulted from the incident.

2. Watford's Buzzer Beater

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    Game:  Kentucky at Indiana, Dec. 10

    Most Affected:  Indiana

    It has probably been the most replayed highlight of any in college basketball this season (though Austin Rivers’ shot to beat UNC might eventually top it). 

    With Indiana down by two to No. 1 Kentucky with 5.6 seconds to go, Indiana brought the ball down toward the basket, looking for a two tie the game. When Kentucky cut off the drive, Christian Watford opened up beyond the three-point line. His shot from the wing was a clean swish, and Indiana pulled off a stunner over the top-ranked Wildcats.

    For Indiana, a program attempting to restore its reputation on the national stage after the Kelvin Sampson-fallout, the win was enormous. It immediately rocketed the Hoosiers into the Top 20, and later the Top 10. The confidence gained by their ability to beat a potential national champion came through once again three weeks later, when Indiana beat then-No. 2 Ohio State in Bloomington.    

    While Indiana was expected to be a much better team than they were last year, the win over Kentucky helped accelerate the progress of the Hoosiers. Currently at 20-6 overall and ranked No. 18 in the AP Poll, Indiana is well on their way to a return to the NCAA tournament after a three-year hiatus. 

    Thanks to the win over Kentucky, and later Ohio State, Indiana will be a threat to beat anyone it faces once it gets there.

1. Anthony Davis’ Game-Saving Block

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    Game:  North Carolina at Kentucky, Dec. 3

    Most Affected:  Anthony Davis, Kentucky

    At the time, it was No. 3 versus No. 1—a game between two favorites to reach the Final Four. The game lived up to the hype and expectations. 

    North Carolina and Kentucky played an incredibly intense, back-and-forth game at Rupp Arena. With UK up by one with 21 seconds to go, Marquis Teague missed a free throw that would have put the Wildcats up two. UNC rebounded, with a chance to win the game on the final possession. They got the ball to John Henson on the baseline for a mid-range look with just under 10 seconds to go.

    Out of seemingly nowhere, UK freshman Anthony Davis comes into the picture. Davis manages to block Henson’s once-good look, and then grabs the ball and runs out the clock (why North Carolina didn’t pursue the ball remains a mystery) to preserve the win for the Wildcats.   

    That block did two things. One, it made Kentucky a legitimate national champion contender. Two, it put a freshman immediately into the National POY race, just eight games into his college career.

    Davis has continued to terrorize opponents on the defensive end, making him perhaps the most valuable player on any team in college basketball. Davis is averaging five blocks a game—a truly incredible statistic that helps to quantify just how much he impacts the game on defense.

    It is uncharacteristic to award the POY to a player who is more known for his defensive contributions, not to mention a freshman. However, what Davis has done, beginning with that block against UNC, shows why he can lead Kentucky to a championship this season.