Ranking the Most Memorable Moments from the 2015-16 College Basketball Season
The final 10 seconds of the 2016 NCAA championship game produced the two biggest moments we'll remember this college basketball season for, but there were quite a few other unforgettable sights along the way.
There were multiple buzzer-beating, game-winning shots in the NCAA tournament, as well as one incredible, game-extending heave during championship week. There were also injuries, collapses, comebacks and a handful of Grayson Allen controversies.
But here, we're looking for the biggest moments of the season, not the most impressive performances.
Brice Johnson's game with 39 points and 23 rebounds against Florida State was downright ridiculous, as was the 44-point game Santa Clara's Jared Brownridge had against Arizona back in November. However, they didn't even come close to cracking the list—though we did find a way to make an exception for some Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield love.
The Definition of a Rebound
A handful of these memorable moments didn't occur during games, but they were unforgettable all the same. That was the case for Baylor's Taurean Prince, who responded to a foolish question about how Yale out-rebounded Baylor during the first round of the NCAA tournament with a very literal explanation for what a rebound is.
"You go up and grab the ball off the rim when it comes off, and then you grab it with two hands and you come down with it," Prince said. "And that's considered a rebound. So they got more of those than we did."
The only thing missing was a mic drop.
Louisville Self-Imposes Postseason Ban
Four days after a season-defining win over North Carolina, Louisville redefined its season as one that did not matter by self-imposing a one-year ban from postseason play as fallout from the recruiting/prostitution scandal that surfaced a month before the season began.
There's a zero percent chance we've heard the end of that story, but that's when it really started to affect the program—particularly seniors Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, who transferred to Louisville with the intent of playing in the NCAA tournament for the first time in their respective careers.
Amile Jefferson's Broken Foot
Had we known right away that Amile Jefferson would miss the rest of the season because of a broken bone in his right foot, this might have been a top-five moment. Instead, it was less of a moment and more of a developing story that simply wouldn't go away. After about a month and five Duke losses, it began to become apparent that Jefferson might not be coming back.
At the time of the injury, he was arguably Duke's most important player. Maybe Marshall Plumlee, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard wouldn't have elevated their play as much as they did if Jefferson had been healthy, but there's no question the Blue Devils would have had a better shot at back-to-back national championships if their senior power forward had been out there.
Western Illinois Upsets Wisconsin
Everywhere you looked during the 2015-16 regular season, there were major upsets. Top 10 teams lost to unranked teams on a seemingly nightly basis. But this was the one that started them all.
On the first night of the season, the No. 17 Wisconsin Badgers lost a home game to Western Illinois—a team that only won one other game all season against the RPI Top 190. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig both played well, but it didn't matter, because the Leathernecks shot 77.8 percent from three-point range.
SMU's "Perfect" Season Ends
The bandwagon hadn't quite left the station, but plenty of people were on board. SMU was 18-0 and just 12 wins away from the most imperfect undefeated season imaginable. With each win, we were getting more excited about the inevitably awkward interview with NCAA brass about whether it officially counts as an undefeated season when the team is ineligible for postseason play.
But on Jan. 24, Temple shot 14-of-29 from three-point range and all but ensured that we would never mention SMU again this season.
Northern Iowa's Collapse
When you blow a 12-point lead in 44 seconds, people tend to remember. In fact, prior to the conclusion of the national championship game, the end of regulation between Northern Iowa and Texas A&M seemed destined to be the most memorable thing about the 2016 NCAA tournament.
However, it wasn't a single moment. Rather, it was a sequence of bizarre moments that combined to produce the most unthinkable meltdown in college basketball history. But don't worry, Northern Iowa fans. There's a better moment for your memory bank in the top five.
10. Denzel Valentine's 10th Rebound (Nov. 17)
Since we're focusing exclusively on moments rather than games, performances or stories, it made this one a little bit tricky.
There was nothing magical about the individual rebound that Denzel Valentine grabbed with 3:38 remaining against Kansas in the Champions Classic, but that final piece of the triple-double puzzle was the moment we began to realize the type of senior year Valentine was about to have.
"It was one of the best single-game performances we've ever seen at the Champions Classic, which has featured some of the best talent in the NBA," wrote B/R's C.J. Moore. "Valentine, who is a borderline pro, put himself out front with Providence's Kris Dunn in the way-too-early National Player of the Year race."
Valentine single-handedly brought the Spartans back from an 11-point deficit in the final 10 minutes against one of the favorites to win the national championship. The 2015-16 season wasn't even a week old, and we already had one half of our dynamic senior duo.
9. Buddy Hield's Standing Ovation at the Phog (Jan. 4)
Some fanbases are much more aware of their surroundings than others, and credit to the fans at Phog Allen Fieldhouse who were able to both recognize and appreciate greatness in early January.
Perhaps they wouldn't have enjoyed Buddy Hield's 46-point game quite so much if Oklahoma had beaten the Jayhawks, but they stuck around through three overtimes and some postgame interviews to give Hield the standing ovation he deserved.
Hield was already emerging as the new favorite for the Wooden Award with Denzel Valentine missing Michigan State's last three games after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee, but this game took his legend to a new level.
In early December, B/R's Jonathan Wasserman had Hield projected for the No. 26 overall pick. Two weeks after Hield's 46-point masterpiece, Wasserman had him at No. 7. That one game wasn't singularly responsible for his meteoric rise, but with the difference in guaranteed money between picks No. 26 and No. 7 on the NBA rookie salary scale, Hield could take the entire city of Lawrence out for a drink.
8. Pick a Grayson Allen Controversy (Feb. 8, Feb. 13, Feb. 25)
It was already obvious by the end of last season that Grayson Allen was going to be one of the most polarizing players in the country this year. Brash Blue Devils tend to have that affect on the college basketball population, and many were already sick of him by the time he started making headlines in February.
"We have to be good enough for people to hate him," Mike Krzyzewski said early in the season, according to ESPN's Dana O'Neil. "I hope we can be. I hope we can get good enough that people hate him."
O'Neil published that quote after Allen's first tripping incident against Louisville. The outrage was swift and fierce, and it only grew louder when he appeared to trip a Florida State player less than three weeks later. And it didn't help matters that he was at the center of another controversy in between those incidents when he clearly traveled on the game-winning shot against Virginia.
Granted, the best players at the best programs will always be the most heavily scrutinized, but it's crazy how much time we spent in February arguing about how the officials and coaches handled situations involving Allen.
7. Bo Ryan's Abrupt Retirement (Dec. 15)
We had Wisconsin's shocking opening-day loss to Western Illinois as an honorable mention, but it indirectly led to an even more surprising moment: Bo Ryan suddenly retiring after an otherwise nondescript Tuesday night game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Dec. 15.
Now, it's not surprising that it was Ryan's final season at Wisconsin. He said back in June that this would be his last and that he thought about retiring after the loss to Duke in the 2015 national championship game. The way that it happened was the real shock.
In addition to the loss to WIU, the Badgers lost home games to Marquette and Milwaukee, but they also had wins over VCU, Syracuse and Temple and ended up being the only team before the Big 12 tournament to hold Buddy Hield to fewer than 16 points in a game. As exhibited by their turnaround with Greg Gard at the helm, all was not lost on the Badgers' season, even though they had already suffered more losses through 12 games than they did in 40 games last year.
But Ryan was finished and he wanted to give his longtime assistant a proper shot at earning the job—which proved to be a successful ploy, as Gard signed a five-year deal last month.
After back-to-back Final Four appearances and 17 (now 18) consecutive trips to the Big Dance, though, those first two months of the season were downright bizarre for Wisconsin.
6. The "Bench Mob" Becomes a Thing (Nov. 26)
Long before Monmouth could become the most griped-about exclusion from the NCAA tournament, it had to become a program that people outside of New Jersey had actually, you know, heard of or seen play a game. And even though the Hawks were an excellent basketball team this season, that never happens without the Bench Mob.
Monmouth got onto the fringe of the national radar with an opening-night upset of UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, but few people cared about watching that game and fewer still even had the option to watch it on the Pac-12 Network. It wasn't until the Hawks beat Notre Dame in a nationally televised game in the opening round of the AdvoCare Invitational that the Bench Mob took off.
By the time the Hawks finished off their payback win over USC three days later, the fun story had blossomed into a full-blown phenomenon. Everyone was weighing in on the Bench Mob. There were T-shirts, Twitter accounts and mashup videos dedicated solely to the bench of a minor-conference team that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2006.
The Hawks were everywhere, and as a result, everyone was rooting for them. At least one night of the Bench Mob was about the only thing missing from an incredible tournament that produced four of our five remaining most memorable moments.
5. Bronson Koenig's Corner Three (March 20)
It's hard to believe Wisconsin got two of the top 10 moments after spending 97 percent of the season outside of the AP Top 25, but we couldn't possibly leave Bronson Koenig's buzzer-beater off the list.
What's funny about this is Koenig played miserably in Wisconsin's other two tournament games. In 73 minutes against Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, he shot a combined 4-of-20 from the field, tallying two assists and two turnovers. He made a grand total of one three-pointer in those games.
But he had a pair of three-point daggers in the final 12 seconds against Xavier. The first one tied the game at 63, and the second one secured the upset in regulation, as he disappeared into a mob of teammates on the bench before the fadeaway jumper even hit the bottom of the net.
From the watching-at-home, flipping-back-and-forth-between-channels perspective, the drama of that moment was made even more incredible by the fact that it took place while Northern Iowa was simultaneously blowing its late lead against Texas A&M. One upset-minded team was doing everything in its power not to win, while Wisconsin pulled off its upset in backbreaking fashion.
4. The Jalen Adams Heave (March 11)
This was a tough one to rank, even though it was a moment that made me lose my mind as much as the top three moments combined. Seriously, when Jalen Adams' three-quarter-court heave went in, I jumped up out of my chair and ran out of the room with my hands on my head, screaming in disbelief. And I couldn't care less about Connecticut or Cincinnati.
Here's the problem, though: The shot didn't win the game for Connecticut, and it wasn't an NCAA tournament game.
However, if you believe anything that bracketologists say, it might as well have been a play-in game for Connecticut, because the Huskies probably weren't making the tournament without beating Cincinnati. Getting a No. 9 seed after beating Cincinnati, Temple and Memphis to win the AAC auto bid confirms they were squarely on the bubble.
So, it was an important game, it was already in its third overtime, and it was a shot from at least 60 feet away.
And perhaps the best part of the whole thing was Adams and Daniel Hamilton arguing over who should inbound the ball, because they both wanted to be the one to take that shot. The freshman was the more stubborn of the two, which UConn certainly wound up not minding one bit.
3. Paul Jesperson's Half-Court Winner (March 18)
With 10 seconds remaining in the 2015-16 season, this was going to be our No. 1 moment. Unfortunately for Paul Jesperson's spot on our list, the end of the national championship was all sorts of insanely memorable.
There have been substantially more dramatic buzzer-beaters in NCAA tournament history—see: Christian Laettner, Lorenzo Charles, Tyus Edney, Bryce Drew and Richard Hamilton, for starters—but when was the last time you saw a tournament game won on a last-second half-court shot?
Butler's Gordon Hayward almost did it against Duke in the 2010 national championship game, but you need to go back to Arkansas' U.S. Reed in 1981 to find the last time a 47-foot prayer was answered.
Or, at least that was the case until Northern Iowa's win over Texas in this year's first round.
The Panthers led by as many as 16 points in the first half, but they needed Jesperson's heroics to advance to the second round. It's just too bad they used up all of their magic in that moment and couldn't save something for the end of regulation against Texas A&M.
2. Marcus Paige's Circus Shot (April 4)
Some shots are memorable because of the gravity of the situation.
Others are memorable because of the level of difficulty.
Then there's what Marcus Paige did in the waning seconds of the national championship game.
With 13.5 seconds left and the Tar Heels down by three, you just knew Paige was taking the shot. It didn't matter that Joel Berry II was 4-of-4 from downtown in the game; North Carolina was drawing up that play to get Paige the ball—and Villanova knew it, too.
Daniel Ochefu dove to try to break up the pass, and once it connected, Mikal Bridges and Ryan Arcidiacono completely abandoned their guys to make sure that Paige did not get an open look. If you pause the video at the eight-second mark, Ochefu is laying on the ground at midcourt, and two guys are charging at Paige. If he dumps it back to Berry, UNC has a four-on-two "power play" to try to get a bucket.
Didn't matter. Paige wasn't letting anyone else decide whether his college career lasted another five minutes. He double-clutched and hit one of the most incredible circus shots of all time. And with 4.7 seconds remaining, it looked as though we might be treated to the first national championship overtime game since 2008.
1. Kris Jenkins for All the Marbles (April 4)
As one of the primary color commentators for Fox Sports 1's college basketball broadcasts, Bill Raftery has seen his fair share of Villanova games over the past few years. And he couldn't contain himself when Kris Jenkins hit the shot that gave Villanova its first national championship since 1985, exploding in the most Raftery way possible: "How 'bout those onions?! Double order! Sauteed!"
For the next 24 hours, videos of people celebrating the most dramatic finish to a title game since at least 1987 went viral left and right.
We're going to need a few days or weeks to mitigate the effect of the recency bias, but it certainly felt like the best national championship game of all time. Among Phil Booth's first-half buzzer-beater, the aforementioned Marcus Paige circus shot, the Jenkins winner and the intense back-and-forth action throughout, we can at least agree it was a better affair than the last title game played in Houston. (Connecticut 53, Butler 41 in 2011.)
What can Jenkins possibly do for an encore? He still has one year of eligibility remaining and figures to be one of the primary cogs in a Villanova machine that may well repeat as national champs in 2017.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.