NCAA Tournament 2014: Most Dazzling Images of March Madness

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2014

NCAA Tournament 2014: Most Dazzling Images of March Madness

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    The 2014 NCAA tournament was one of the best ever. There were fantastic finishes, a ton of thrilling upsets and even a great championship game to wrap it up.

    Other than some pesky butting in by referees at what always seemed like the wrong time (except, thankfully, during the Final Four), it was perfect.

    But now it's over, and all we're left with are the memories. What follows are 18 of the most memorable images from the 2014 tourney.

Aaron Craft's Final Fall

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    No offense to the First Four games held earlier in Dayton, Ohio, but the 2014 NCAA tournament really got started just after 12 p.m. ET on March 20 in Buffalo when Ohio State and Dayton squared off.

    It was a great game from start to finish, with the upstart Flyers showing early they had upset on their minds. Vee Sanford put No. 11 seed Dayton up 60-59 on a runner with 3.8 seconds left, but that was more than enough time for OSU senior point guard Aaron Craft to pull out another miracle.

    Instead, Craft's length-of-the-court drive ended with a miss on a 10-foot jumper as time expired.

    As Dayton's players ran to cheer with their benchmates, Craft dropped to the floor, put his hands behind his head and began to let the fact that his college career was over settle in.

    He also gave us a heck of a pictureone that instantly became a viral sensation thanks to Twitter.

Cameron Ridley's Putback Winner

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    For as great as this year's NCAA tournament was, there was amazingly only one true buzzer-beating shot.

    That came late on the first day of the second round, when Texas and Arizona State traded blows and leads for nearly 40 minutes before the Longhorns held for a final shot.

    Texas' Jonathan Holmes didn't take the best of game-winning attempts, but his way-off three-pointer just happened to smack off the backboard and into the hands of teammate Cameron Ridley.

    He quickly went back up and finished over the outstretched arms of ASU shot-blocker Jordan Bachynski as the clock expired for the 87-85 victory.

Dance Like Everyone's Watching

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    While the later rounds of the NCAA tournament are mostly reserved for traditional powers, the first two days belong to the little guys.

    Every year gives us a few schools that the casual basketball fan has never heard of and couldn't name where they're from if his life depended on it. All that can be solved with a simple Google search, of which there were plenty during No. 14 Mercer's upset of third-seeded Duke in the second round.

    The tiny school in Macon, Ga., became a national sensation this March, and not just for the win over the Blue Devils. There was also coach Bob Hoffman referring to himself as a "psycho," per USA Today's Nina Mandell, and reserve guard Kevin Canevari reintroducing the world to the "NaeNae."

The Great Unwashed

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    Saul Phillips referred to himself and his North Dakota State basketball team as the "great unwashed," via's Dennis Dodda group devoid of flash or beauty that just wanted to play well and win. Which the Bison did, knocking off Oklahoma in overtime for a second-round upset.

    Phillips was the stereotypical overly animated coach on the sidelines, waving his hands in the air and jumping up and down. That continued after the win, with him running over to the NDSU fans and throwing up a double "Go Bison" hand sign.

Dayton Keeps Flying

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    Dayton was among the handful of teams to pull off an upset in its first game, but the Flyers weren't content with just one such victory. Nor were they intimidated by facing yet another high-profile power, matching up against No. 3 Syracuse just two days after downing sixth-seeded Ohio State.

    Playing not far from Syracuse's campus in Buffalo, Dayton pulled out a 55-53 victory after Tyler Ennis' potential game-winner fell short at the buzzer.

    While the Orange shuffled off the court in disgust, seeing a season that began with a 25-0 start end too soon, the Flyers showed off how much they were...well, flying high.

Father-Son Moment of the Year

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    Doug McDermott won pretty much every award imaginable this season, and they were all deserved. The Creighton senior was the top scorer in the country and finished his career fifth on the NCAA all-time scoring list with 3,150 points.

    But it was the way McDermott's illustrious college career came to an end that will stick with us. The third-seeded Bluejays were getting blown out by Baylor in the third round in San Antonio, and no amount of Dougie McBuckets magic was going to change that.

    McDermott eventually came out of the game with a few minutes left, and the first person to greet him with a great big hug was his father (and his head coach), Greg McDermott.

The Agony of Defeat

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    Every game has a winner and a loser, which means every contest ends with a bunch of ecstatic young men as well as a group of dejected souls.

    Both provide telling images of the emotions that come with the NCAA tournament, especially on the losing side, when players quickly realize their seasons (or careers) are over.

    Wichita State's 78-76 loss to Kentucky in the third round doesn't mean the end of Fred VanVleet's career, but as can be seen above, the impact of such a long and draining year coming to an end in disappointment made for a rough time for the sophomore during the postgame press conference.

    The Shockers finished the year 35-1.

Bright Lights, Brighter Uniforms

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    A Michigan-Tennessee matchup in the Sweet 16 wasn't something that many people would have predicted at the beginning of the 2014 NCAA tournament. After all, No. 11 seed Tennessee had to knock off No. 6 Massachusetts and what looked to be No. 3 Duke (but ended up being No. 14 Mercer).

    The pairing of two of the schools outfitted by Adidas meant a clash of teams whose uniforms veer toward the highlighter side of the color spectrum. Tennessee's bright orange and Michigan's near-neon yellow left a permanent mark on our retinas, soothed only by the fact it was an entertaining game.

Aaron Harrison's Late-Game Magic

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    Aaron Harrison had already hit a game-winner in the NCAA tournament, shooting a three-pointer late against Louisville to knock out the defending champs in the Sweet 16.

    The Wildcats' Elite Eight opponent, Michigan, was well aware of what the freshman sharpshooter could do from outside. So with the game tied at 72 in the final seconds, the Wolverines knew they had to guard Harrison close.

    They weren't close enough.

    With 2.3 seconds left, Harrison launched a three just above the outreached hand of Michigan's Caris LeVert. It found the bottom of the net and sent Kentucky into the Final Four.

Upon Further Review

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    The referees took center stage in the 2014 NCAA tournament.

    It seemed like not a game went by without at least one controversial call or a lengthy delay while three officials huddled around a courtside monitor to check out 27 angles showing a ball going out of bounds.

    The ability to use instant replay to check time and possession in late-game situations was championed as a great advance for college basketball, but most of the time it just bogged things down and sapped all of the energy and momentum from games.

Celebrity Superfans

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    The Final Four at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, gave us the largest crowd ever to watch a college basketball game at more than 79,000. There were fans from all four teams, media members and general college basketball junkies making up the audience in the giant building.

    And, as is the case with most high-profile sporting events, celebrities.

    Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and rapper Drake were spotted, while the luxury-suite grouping of former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was all the rage on social media.

A Dunk from Above

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    While teammate Shabazz Napier was the star of the NCAA tournament, Connecticut junior DeAndre Daniels broke out in a big way.

    A 12-point-per-game scorer during the regular season and AAC tournament, Daniels came alive in the Big Dance with 16 points per contest and a pair of double-doubles.

    He had 20 points, 10 rebounds and this picturesque dunk in the Huskies' upset of top overall seed Florida in the Final Four, and then the 6'9" forward had eight points, six rebounds and two blocks in the title game victory.

What Might Have Been

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    Florida had been the team to beat since mid-February, when it moved to No. 1 in The Associated Press poll and brought a lengthy win streak into the NCAA tournament.

    The top overall seed cruised through the first four rounds to extend that perfect stretch to a school-record 30 games, but then it ran into an even hotter team in Connecticut in the national semifinals.

    The Gators lost 63-53, which meant that seniors like Patric Young and Scottie Wilbekin—who had their previous three seasons end in heartbreak in the Elite Eight—once again had to walk off the court as part of the losing team.

    Prior to going on their 30-game streak, the Gators lost to UConn at Storrs on a Shabazz Napier buzzer-beater.

Deja Vu

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    Didn't we see this before?

    With the clock ticking down and Kentucky in a tight game, the ball ended up in freshman Aaron Harrison's hands.

    From the corner, twin brother Andrew Harrison passed the ball to Aaron, who, despite being far beyond even NBA three-point-line distance, launched a shot over Wisconsin's Josh Gasser for the game-winner.

    As Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg notes, Aaron was clutch throughout the tournament:

    Aaron Harrison's thunderbolt of a 3-pointer was his third game-winning shot in Kentucky's last three NCAA tournament victories. He sank a corner 3-pointer to give the Wildcats the lead in the final minute against fourth-seeded Louisville in the Midwest regional semifinals and then beat second-seeded Michigan two nights later with a dagger in the final seconds from behind the arc.

    Nothing but net, and Kentucky was on to the championship with a 74-73 victory.

Cat Pile!

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    Aaron Harrison's shot with just over five seconds left put Kentucky ahead in the national semifinals against Wisconsin, but there was still the matter of stopping the Badgers from nailing their own game-winning shot.

    Once Wisconsin's Traevon Jackson missed on a jumper right before the buzzer, it was celebration time. And when you're dealing with a team full of freshmen, what better way is there to do that than with a big impromptu pileup on the court?

A Grown-Man Dunk

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    Kentucky fell behind early in the national championship game against Connecticut, struggling to make baskets on offense and having trouble stopping Huskies guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier on the other end.

    But the Wildcats had been down before—they trailed at the half in three of the five games prior—so there was no panic to be seen in the young, talented team. And though it never led throughout the contest, that didn't mean Kentucky didn't make some huge plays.

    The most photogenic of those was this monster dunk by James Young, who drove through and over Terrence Samuel and 7-footer Amida Brimah. It was the kind of move NBA superstars make.

Most Outstanding Player

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    Shabazz Napier was one of three members of Connecticut's 2011 national title team still around this season (Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander were the other two).

    He saw how junior Kemba Walker took over in March and led the Huskies to the championship.

    This time it was Napier's turn.

    The senior was overwhelmingly the best player in the 2014 NCAA tournament, winning the Most Outstanding Player award after averaging 21.2 points and becoming just the fourth player (Kemba Walker, Derrick Rose and Larry Bird being the others) with at least 125 points, 25 rebounds and 25 assists in one tourney, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

    In the championship game, Napier finished with a game-high 22 points, making four three-pointers.

And the Winner Is...

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    There were thousands of pictures taken right after the buzzer sounded, signaling the end of Connecticut's 60-54 win over Kentucky for its fourth national title since 1999.

    But the one above takes in so much of what was going on at that point, including:

    • Ryan Boatright, taking a knee and having a quick private moment amid the chaos, before joining his teammates in celebration.
    • Shabazz Napier, popping out his jersey to make sure everyone knows who just won.
    • The Huskies massed together in exultation as UConn's mascot heads over to partake in the festivities.

    Add in a bunch of streamers and a massive crowd, and you've got yourself a memorable end-of-season picture.


    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.