As Greg Anthony reminds us almost every other commercial, it’s not March Monotony, it’s March Madness! And it’s called madness for a reason.
The beauty of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament is that teams from out of nowhere can suddenly crash the national spotlight, earning respect and making a name for themselves along the way.
The same can be said of unknown star players. People like Bryce Drew, Gordon Hayward and Norris Cole all gained fame thanks to their performances in the NCAA tournament.
Players who have not been mentioned once all season are suddenly flooded with media requests and can see themselves on TV every five minutes.
And this year was no different.
On the first day of the NCAA tournament, it looked like there would be no upsets to be found. But fortunately, madness prevailed once again.
And we have these seven guys to thank.
With all the talk about mid-majors during this basketball season, you knew there would be some huge upsets in the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
So would it be the Murray State Racers, Long Beach State 49ers or Wichita State Shockers?
Try the Ohio Bobcats.
Ohio took on a Michigan Wolverines team that had taken down the Michigan State Spartans, Indiana Hoosiers and Wisconsin Badgers in Big Ten play. The Wolverines were led by guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr.
So to beat Michigan, the Bobcats had to rely on strong inside play, right? Wrong.
Taking center stage in Ohio’s major upset was D.J. Cooper, a 5’11” guard.
Cooper scored 21 points and dished out five assists. He shot 63 percent from the floor and made half of his three-point attempts.
Every time Michigan threatened to take over the game and send the Bobcats packing, Cooper came up with a big basket. He seemed to be able to knife through Michigan’s guards at will and even kept Burke in check for most of the game.
Cooper played the game of his life and his Ohio team will be remembered for a long time. The Bobcats advanced all the way to the Sweet 16 before losing to the No. 1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels in overtime.
As Coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his Duke Blue Devils were upset in the first round by the Lehigh Mountain Hawks: "They had the best player on the court tonight."
And the Mountain Hawks did.
Junior guard C.J. McCollum outplayed star Duke recruits Austin Rivers and Seth Curry and, most importantly, led his team to victory.
McCollum scored 30 points and added six rebounds, six assists and two steals on his way to dismantling Duke’s entire back court.
The Blue Devils’ defense had been vulnerable to penetrating guards all season, and McCollum certainly seemed to have paid attention to the scouting report. He got into the lane effortlessly and was able to either score or set up his teammates.
McCollum’s statistics (21.9 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists) indicate that he is one of the best players in the country. But since he got very little national exposure (a close loss to the Iowa State Cyclones in the second game of the season was as close as Lehigh came to a big-name opponent) all season, he became the best kept secret in college basketball.
Ask almost anyone, and I bet they couldn’t even tell you what the Patriot League was. But now thanks to Lehigh and McCollum, it’s national news.
Has there been a bigger upset in the entire 2012 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament?
The Missouri Tigers were a No. 2 seed, expected by many to be a Final Four team, led by seniors and seemingly destined for greatness.
But the Norfolk State Spartans had other plans. I will forgive you if you had absolutely no idea who Norfolk State was before March 16. Very few people did.
But Kyle O’Quinn made sure that almost everyone in the country has heard of the Spartans now.
O’Quinn averaged 15.9 points and 10.3 rebounds in his senior year at Norfolk State—hardly pedestrian numbers—but against Final Four favorite Missouri, O’Quinn blew everyone away.
The center erupted for 26 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and two blocks, by far his best game of the season considering the competition. O’Quinn took full advantage of Missouri’s four-guard lineup, simply dominating inside and leading his team to the biggest upset of the tournament.
He also provided March Madness viewers with the best quotes maybe of any NCAA tournament,
"I'm very tired, but I told my mom I talked to Craig Sager and I wanted to talk to him again."
"We messed up some brackets! We even messed up my bracket!"
I'm willing to bet that almost everyone watching had forgotten about their busted brackets and were instead smiling at O'Quinn's utter joy.
Everyone knows the facts by now—a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed in NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament history.
This year was almost different.
Apparently still reeling from the loss of Fab Melo (or at least looking like it), the Syracuse Orange teetered on the brink for about 39 minutes of their first-round game against the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs.
J.P. Primm led the Bulldogs’ assault on the No. 1 seed. He scored 18 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists. He came up big for his team time and again and set the tone early that UNC-Asheville was not about to back down.
As of now it looks like everyone will remember the Syracuse-UNC-Asheville game more for the questionable officiating than the game itself, and that is a shame.
(Keeping in mind of course that I think the Bulldogs were utterly robbed and deserve so much more than an apology from those refs.)
What fans should remember is how well Asheville played, how together the team looked and how dominant Primm was.
The senior guard played just as one is supposed to in his last game. He left it all on the floor.
Despite the fact that Syracuse was bigger, more tested and nationally known, Primm played as if he deserved to be mentioned right alongside the Orange players. And now he will be.
What will become of Stilman White? Is he really the North Carolina Tar Heels' heir apparent at point guard?
White, a tiny little freshman, averaged a mere 4.3 minutes per game for his freshman season. Before March 23 that is.
True, there is no way to know what White will do in the rest of his Tar Heel career, so we cannot safely say that his most memorable moment will be in the 2012 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, but really, can anything top the last two weeks for White?
White was a virtual non-factor on North Carolina’s championship-contending team. If he had sat in the opposing student section and heckled Tar Heels players instead of sitting silently on the bench, would anyone really have noticed?
But all of a sudden, point guard Kendall Marshall broke his wrist, and North Carolina found itself with no backup plan whatsoever.
Can you imagine Roy Williams after hearing about Marshall’s injury, wracking his brain for what to do next. Play White? Really?
But give the kid some credit. He did a pretty impressive job given the circumstances.
White had more turnovers in the five minutes he played in a second-round game against the Creighton Bluejays (one) than he did in his first two starts as a Tar Heel (zero in both games combined).
Sure, the vaunted North Carolina offense looked more like a sputtering jalopy than the well-oiled machine it was mere games ago, but a plus-13 assist-to-turnover ratio is not bad for a freshman’s first two starts. Especially in the NCAA tournament.
White still has his entire college career ahead of him, so I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, but it’s hard to imagine a bigger media frenzy surrounding the baby-faced player than the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Seriously, the Ohio Bobcats made this list twice? Oh, that they did.
Not only did Ohio upset the Michigan Wolverines in the first round, it advanced to the Sweet 16 and came within a free throw of beating the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels.
The star of that game was D.J. Cooper’s backcourt-mate, Walter Offutt.
Offutt scored 26 points to go along with four rebounds and two assists and did just about everything he could to will his team to one more upset.
Offutt went 10-of-18 from the field and scored 18 of his points by shooting 60 percent from deep.
The one blemish on an otherwise perfect game for Offutt was a missed free throw with just seconds left in regulation that would have put Ohio up one.
It’s hard to fault him after that performance, though.
The Tar Heels were without point guard Kendall Marshall, and Offutt took advantage of that from the beginning. He drove to the lane, taking on Tyler Zeller and John Henson, and pulled back to hit threes over Harrison Barnes.
The Bobcats were definitely the surprise of this year’s NCAA tournament. It certainly helps to have a star like Offutt leading the way.
I know what you're thinking. You could swear Fab Melo didn’t even play in this year’s NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
And you would be right! But has any player gotten more media attention for sitting out a tournament than Melo?
Simply looking at his statistics—7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game—gives no indication of the impact he can have on a game. Or not have, more accurately.
If someone had said before this basketball season began that the biggest story going into March Madness would be that some center who averages less than eight points a game can’t play in the tournament, people would have laughed.
But for the Syracuse Orange, it was not a laughing matter.
The first game the team had to play without Melo, back in January, was (not coincidentally) Syracuse’s first loss of the season.
Jim Boeheim is a great coach, and he will undoubtedly make Melo into a very solid player. But will Melo every be remembered for anything more than potentially costing the Orange a national championship?
The team was very nearly upset in the first round and would have made history by being the first one-seed to lose to a 16-seed.
Despite advancing to the Elite Eight, Syracuse never truly resembled the team that many pegged as a championship favorite late in the season.
Maybe the Orange had faced one bump in the road too many. Maybe a tough season in the Big East finally took its toll. Or maybe Melo was just that important to Syracuse.
Either way, this season will end with more “what ifs” than answers for both Melo and his team.