Ranking College Basketball's Most Memorable Moments in the Past Decade
Where were you when ... ?
It's something that gets said about major events and occurrences in popular culture, happenings that are so memorable you can't help but remember what you were doing when they happened. In college basketball, though, the answer is easy for most big fans:
We were watching.
Over the past 10 years, there have been plenty of great moments in college basketball, and not just during the always-exciting NCAA tournament. We've picked out 10 of the most memorable to help you take a trip back in time over the past decade, and by the time you're done traveling down memory lane you'll be even more excited for the next season to arrive.
10. Paul Millsap Controls the Boards
Paul Millsap has had a productive NBA career, averaging 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game over eight seasons with Utah and Atlanta. He's coming off of arguably his best year, when he scored 17.9 points with 8.5 rebounds per contest to help the Hawks reach the NBA playoffs.
No one will ever confuse Millsap with being a star in the pros, but you can't fault his effort. It's the same way he worked through three wildly productive seasons in college, when he became the first (and only) player in NCAA history to lead the nation in rebounding in three consecutive seasons.
Millsap averaged 12.5 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2003-04, then 12.4 per game in 2004-05. As a junior, he was tops at 13.3 per contest, and while also averaging 19.6 points and shooting 57 percent, he parlayed his knack for cleaning up the glass—hence his nickname in college, Mr. Clean—into an early NBA departure and a second-round draft selection in 2006.
Only one player has led Division I in rebounding twice since Millsap, as Siena's O.D. Anosike did it in 2011-12 and 2012-13 before graduating. And with so many top performers leaving early, it's unlikely it will ever happen again, meaning Millsap may just have an unbreakable record.
9. The Big East's Fondness for Neverending Games
Year: 2009, 2013
The Big East, as we know it, doesn't really exist anymore. After the so-called "Catholic 7" broke away to form a new league before the 2013-14 season, arguably the greatest conference in college basketball history went away. That group retained the old name, while those left behind became the American Athletic Conference, but neither league has the same stature as the one that seemed to provide nonstop highlights and memories.
Including a fondness for games that seemed like they'd never end.
In just the last five years of the old Big East, we got to witness not only two of the longest games in NCAA history but also two of the most exciting: the 2013 five-overtime thriller between Louisville and Notre Dame and the six-OT dynamo between Connecticut and Syracuse in the 2009 Big East tournament.
While each game had its own individual moments, the one thing they had in common was their uncanny ability to make each overtime end with the make or miss that was necessary to extend the contest another five minutes. Just like most of us were rooting for.
8. The Court-Storming Trend Reaches Critical Mass
Storming the court used to be a rare event, reserved for the biggest of upsets and usually only done by fans of downtrodden programs who had never had such a big win before.
But in 2013-14, it seemed like storming the court had become as popular as The Harlem Shake, though without the hope that it would fade quickly like most modern fads. There were court stormings involving schools like Indiana and North Carolina, but instead of it being on the road and by the opposing teams' fans, it was the followers of those storied programs doing so on their own home court.
Clemson's fans stormed the court after a win over Belmont. In the NIT. Nothing more needs to be said about that to realize how silly that seems.
The trend continued even after one of the ugliest and scariest scenes you could ever expect following a postgame celebration: an on-court brawl. That's what happened after Utah Valley beat New Mexico State in overtime, with fans pouring onto the court at UVU just as NMSU's K.C. Ross-Miller decided to chuck a basketball at an opponent in frustration at the final buzzer.
7. Gators Repeat
There have been eight schools to repeat as NCAA champions, including UCLA's epic run of seven consecutive titles from 1966-73 (after winning two in a row in 1963-64). But after Duke won back-to-back championships in 1991-92, the repeat trend disappeared.
Until Billy Donovan's Florida program took off 15 years later.
The Gators won the school's first men's basketball title in 2006 with a 73-57 victory over UCLA, then with the same starting lineup as the year before, they took down the 2007 crown by beating Ohio State 84-75. Florida's football team also won the national championship following the 2007 season (also beating OSU), marking the first time one school claimed both titles in the same year.
6. Wichita State's Near-Perfection
The last Division I college basketball team to go undefeated was Indiana, in 1976. That Hoosiers team doesn't get together and celebrate annually when every other program loses for the first time, such as the surviving members of the 1972 NFL Miami Dolphins do, but maybe they should.
If they did, then this past season would have required those Indiana alums to delay their celebration later than any other time in the past 20 years thanks to the magical run that Wichita State went on during the 2013-14 campaign. The Shockers, a Cinderella the year before by reaching the Final Four as a No. 8 seed, were perfect through the regular season and after the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, marking the first time a team made it into the NCAA field without a loss since 1991.
WSU received a mixed bag of criticism and praise for starting 34-0, with the proponents citing the difficulty of winning every game despite increased attention and scrutiny, while the opponents panned the Shockers' weak conference and so-so early-season schedule.
The Shockers made it to 35-0 after a second-round win over Cal Poly, but then saw their fate sealed at the hands of eventual national runner-up Kentucky. In one of the best games of the 2014 tournament, WSU fell 78-76 to the Wildcats in the third round.
5. Krzyzewski Tops Knight
Great moments don't have to always be singular, or instantaneous. Sometimes they're done cumulatively, showing how persistence and consistency can produce great results.
That's the perfect way to describe Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, the all-time Division I leader in victories. After the 2013-14 season, his win total stands at 983, including more than 900 with the Blue Devils since 1980.
Krzyzewski has won four national titles and produced numerous pro players (as well as college head coaches, both from his rosters and assistant coaches), and all of that came to a head in November 2011 when he passed Bobby Knight for the NCAA wins record at 903.
"I don't know what it means yet,'' Krzyzewski said during a postgame celebration. "I coach every game the same way. Maybe when it's all over, I'll be able to comprehend it all.''
At 67 years old, Krzyzewski doesn't appear like he'll be slowing down anytime soon. He'll pass 1,000 wins during the 2014-15 season, a milestone currently achieved by only two lower-division coaches.
4. The Butler Did It (Twice)
No one tends to remember the runner-up. Unless they're not supposed to be the runner-up; then they're almost as memorable as the winner.
After Butler made a surprise run to the 2010 NCAA title game (losing by two points to Duke), the Bulldogs entered the following season with a lot of hype and the kind of expectations you wouldn't put on a mid-major program. Butler's nonconference scheduled included Duke, Louisville, Stanford and Xavier, a slate that rivaled those of even the most confident power teams.
And not surprisingly, Butler struggled. Besides going 1-3 in the above-mentioned games, the Bulldogs also lost at home to Evansville. They looked even shakier come Horizon League play, starting 6-5 despite being overwhelming favorites to not only win the conference but also run away with the regular-season title. Butler won its last seven league games but ended up in a three-way tie for first, and after taking the Horizon conference title, it went into the 2011 NCAA tourney as a No. 8 seed.
Three weeks later, the Bulldogs were back in the title game. They lost 53-41 to Connecticut, but still completed one of the most memorable two-year runs of any mid-major in NCAA history and used that success to move first to the Atlantic 10 and then to the Big East.
3. UConn's March Through March
Connecticut is the defending NCAA champion, having turned on a new gear in the tournament that wasn't seen during the regular season. In some ways, it was a similar formula that was used by the Huskies to win their previous title in 2011, complete with a nearly unstoppable player leading the charge.
The biggest difference, though, was that the 2013-14 team didn't have Kemba Walker.
UConn finished in ninth place in the Big East Conference in the regular season, a second consecutive poor showing after ending the previous season in 11th in the power league. Because of their seed, the Huskies would need to do the unthinkable to win the Big East tournament and win five games in as many days.
That's when Walker, a 6'1" junior point guard, formed the foundation of his legend. Over the next five days, Walker would score 130 points, with the last four victories coming against ranked opponents (including top-seeded and third-ranked Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals) en route to the title.
That hot streak was good enough to earn UConn a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tourney, when another run by the Huskies and Walker started. It ended with UConn claiming its third national title, as Walker led the way throughout. And that team featured a freshman backup point guard named Shabazz Napier, who would do his best Kemba Walker impression to help UConn to its fourth championship three years later.
2. Chalmers Forces OT
The NCAA tournament is synonymous with many memorable moments, a good percentage of which involve buzzer-beaters. Whether it's to tie or win a game, players ranging from superstars to (before then) total unknowns have hit some of the biggest shots of their life at or just before the final buzzer sounds.
Mario Chalmers is on that list, but his last-second basket rises above most others because of when and where it happened: at the end of regulation in the 2008 NCAA title game.
Kansas was down nine points with 2:12 remaining, but poor foul shooting by Memphis enabled the Jayhawks to stay in the game. Derrick Rose had just made a free throw (after missing the first) with 10.8 seconds left to put Memphis ahead 63-60, giving Kansas a chance to tie it.
Sherron Collins brought the ball up the court, then used a ball screen to get it to Chalmers as he raced toward the top of the key. Chalmers launched the shot almost instantly, and it sunk through the net without touching the rim with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Kansas would go on to win the game in overtime, 75-68, giving the Jayhawks their first NCAA title in 20 years. And for John Calipari, who eventually moved on to Kentucky, where he won a title, that game probably is the one he's most apt to lose sleep over thinking about.
1. Kevin Ware's Injury
Memories aren't always pleasant, and sometimes the worst images are the ones that stay with us forever. Kevin Ware's horrific leg injury during the Elite Eight of the 2013 NCAA tournament fits that description to a tee, and as a result, it is the most memorable college basketball moment of the last decade.
Louisville and Duke were in a close game with 6:33 left in the first half when Duke's Tyler Thornton attempted a three-pointer from the right wing. Ware ran out to contest the shot, leaping in the air but coming up short on the block, and when he landed, his right leg broke halfway between his knee and ankle.
Ware crumpled to the ground, his bone sticking out of the leg, and with the court at Lucas Oil Stadium raised off of the ground, it meant Ware's Cardinals teammates were at eye level to the gruesome scene. Medical officials raced to Ware's side, and after a lengthy delay, he was carried off the court and into the locker room.
Louisville struggled in the moments immediately after the injury but led Duke 35-32 at the half. Fortified by Ware's encouragement—"I don't think we could have gathered ourselves ... if Kevin didn't say over and over again, 'Just go win the game'" Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward—the Cardinals blew Duke out in the second half and won 85-63.
Louisville went on to win the NCAA title, and Ware was part of the post-championship celebration, even cutting down a piece of the net after it had been lowered to him.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.