Ranking the Most Memorable Moments from the 2016-17 College Basketball Season

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2017

Ranking the Most Memorable Moments from the 2016-17 College Basketball Season

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Another college basketball campaign has come and gone, but we'll always have special memories of the 2016-17 season.

    From on-court incidents to off-court accidents and amazing individual performances to last-second finishes, it was another great year to follow the sport.

    North Carolina wrapped up the 2017 NCAA tournament with a 71-65 victory over Gonzaga on Monday night, winning its sixth national championship and giving coach Roy Williams his third.

    The following list is ordered subjectively, but there's a pretty good chance your personal rankings would include many of the same moments.

Honorable Mentions

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    Wisconsin Eliminates the Defending Champs

    After a frustrating six-year stretch that included five first-weekend exits and one losing season, Villanova won the national championship in 2016.

    Perhaps that was only an outlier in the trend. Jay Wright's club couldn't survive a second-round matchup with Wisconsin this year. The Badgers' Nigel Hayes made a go-ahead layup, and two shotless possessions later, the Wildcats lost 65-62.

    For the 10th straight year, there would be no repeat champion.


    Northwestern All but Seals Tourney Bid with Buzzer-Beater

    Northwestern had not reached any of the first 77 NCAA tournaments. This year's team started 18-4, but five losses in seven February games perched the Wildcats precariously on the bubble.

    But on March 1, Northwestern leapt off the bubble.

    With 1.7 seconds remaining, Nathan Taphorn channeled Grant Hill. His full-court pass found Dererk Pardon, whose buzzer-beating layup effectively secured the Wildcats' place as an at-large qualifier for the Big Dance.


    Duke's Unprecedented Conference Tournament Run

    No Atlantic Coast Conference team had ever prevailed four times in four days to win the conference tournament championship, but Duke accomplished the unique feat this season.

    The Blue Devils held off Clemson before clipping Louisville, then secured a 10-point victory over top-seeded North Carolina and topped Notre Dame in the title tilt.

    "My team has taken me on this journey this week that you could not plan," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said, per Tyler Greenawalt of Yahoo Sports. "It's a journey that's kind of hard to describe."


    No. 11-Seeded Xavier Reaches Elite Eight

    For only the seventh time since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 in 1985, a No. 11 seed advanced to the Elite Eight.

    Xavier's first-round victory wasn't a surprise, considering No. 6-seeded Maryland struggled so mightily at the end of the regular season. And though No. 3-seeded Florida State wasn't great away from Tallahassee, the 'Noles were still 7.5-point favorites in the round of 32, according to OddsShark, so the Musketeers' 25-point smashing certainly wasn't expected.

    Xavier then upset No. 2-seeded Arizona thanks to Sean O'Mara's last-minute layup before bowing out to top-seeded Gonzaga.


    Dillon Brooks Beats Undefeated UCLA

    Three months before Dillon Brooks and Oregon appeared in the Final Four, he kicked off the Pac-12 season in thrilling fashion.

    UCLA entered the showdown 13-0 and ranked No. 2 nationally. But Brooks drilled a three-pointer over freshman sensation Lonzo Ball to give the Ducks an 89-87 lead with 0.8 seconds remaining and hand the Bruins their first loss.

    Brooks, who eight weeks later drained a last-second triple to edge Cal, was a key cog on the program's first Final Four team in 78 years.


    Fort Wayne Upsets Indiana

    Had this been a normal season for Indiana, Fort Wayne's thrilling overtime upset would've been even more memorable.

    Though the Hoosiers struggled in 2016-17, this was still a terrific victory for the little guy. The Allen County War Memorial Coliseum crowd was heavily pro-Indiana, but that didn't phase the Mastadons, who surged from the opening tip and scored just enough while playing excellent defense to win 71-68.

    The triumph over the then-No. 3 Hoosiers was so thrilling for Fort Wayne coach Jon Coffman that he spoke to reporters for 10-15 minutes on either side of a SportsCenter interview.


    Indiana Fires Tom Crean as NCAA Tourney Tips Off

    What a timely news dump. Minutes after Princeton and Notre Dame opened the NCAA tournament, Indiana fired Tom Crean.

    Some might argue the loss at Fort Wayne was a precursor to what followed, but that wouldn't be fair given what the Hoosiers accomplished when healthy: They knocked off both Kansas and North Carolina in November.

    Nevertheless, that didn't save Crean. He finished his nine-year tenure with a 166-135 record, four NCAA tournament appearances and three Sweet 16 losses.

12. Purdue Snaps Big Ten Title Drought

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    Purdue is a proud basketball program, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has excelled on a regular basis.

    Not since the 1995-96 season had the Boilermakers celebrated an outright Big Ten regular-season championship. They did so again this year with a 14-4 conference record, besting Wisconsin and Maryland by a comfortable two-game margin.

    "You never want to share it with anybody, so it's pretty special," junior guard Dakota Mathias said, according to Jeff Washburn of the Journal Gazette.

    Caleb Swanigan and Co.'s Big Ten success didn't translate to a long NCAA tournament journey, but Purdue reached the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2010.

11. Kansas' 14-Point Comeback on West Virginia

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    Down 14 points with less than three minutes remaining in its second matchup with West Virginia, Kansas' odds for a victory were slim. Comebacks of that magnitude usually don't happen.


    The Jayhawks ripped off a 21-7 run to close regulation and force overtime, and Devonte' Graham buried a pair of triples in the extra frame to help Kansas claim an improbable 84-80 triumph.

    "I think it's the most remarkable win I've ever been a part of, and we've had some great ones here," coach Bill Self said, per Gary Bedore of the Kansas City Star.

10. Matt Farrell's Military Surprise

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    Question: Do military homecomings ever get old?

    Answer: Definitely not.

    Following a Dec. 19 victory over Colgate, Matt Farrell and his Notre Dame teammates watched a video on the scoreboard. Farrell's brother Bo, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, wished the Fighting Irish a Merry Christmas and congratulated them on their win.

    But Bo wasn't in Afghanistan. Rather, the camera zoomed out to show 1st Lt. Farrell inside the Notre Dame locker room.

    "I was getting chills," coach Mike Brey said, according to Laken Litman of the Indy Star. "Tearing up."

9. BYU Ends Gonzaga's Perfect Season

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    Gonzaga nearly completed a perfect regular season. Mark Few's team entered its finale as a 20.5-point favorite, per OddsShark.

    BYU decided to spoil the party.

    Eric Mika tallied 29 points and 11 rebounds and netted the game-winning points during an 8-0 run in the final 66 seconds that lifted the Cougars to a 79-71 victory.

    "BYU deserves a lot of credit," Few said after the game, according to Jim Meehan of the Spokesman-Review. "They played us tough, played us physical, made some big shots and big plays down the stretch, and we didn't."

    The Bulldogs bounced back and won the West Coast Conference tournament before making their first-ever Final Four, so the loss didn't shatter them. Still, they were so close to regular-season perfection—until BYU snapped their 29-game winning streak.

8. Grayson Allen Keeps Tripping People

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    For whatever reason, Grayson Allen sometimes trips people. Being competitive is great, but tripping is a bizarre—and dumb—habit.

    The saga began in February 2016 when Allen felled Louisville's Ray Spalding. It was revived when he brought down Xavier Rathan-Mayes of Florida State two-and-a-half weeks later. The Duke guard didn't leave things there, though.

    On Dec. 21, Elon guard Steven Santa Ana tumbled to the floor when Allen threw up his right leg. As a result, Duke suspended Allen indefinitely—though the ban lasted just one game.

    It didn't help that Allen also weirdly kicked at Boston College's Connar Tava, who screened him during a January game, and that Allen possibly shoved a Florida State coach while running into him just three days after that.

    Were those outbursts intentional, too? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Allen couldn't stop drawing attention to himself when critical eyes were locked in his direction.

7. Malik Monk Scores 47, Hits Game-Winner vs. UNC

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    Of the impressive one-and-done group that includes Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Jayson Tatum, Kentucky's Malik Monk assembled the best individual performance.

    Against North Carolina on Dec. 17, he torched the Tar Heels for a program freshman-record 47 points. Monk finished 18-of-28 from the floor and hit 8-of-12 three-pointers.

    To cap the stellar showing in the 103-100 win, Monk nailed the game-winning triple with 16.7 seconds remaining.

    Monk stumbled through the teams' Elite Eight rematch before burying a pair of clutch threes in the final 40 seconds, though the Wildcats still fell short. The 6'3", 200-pound guard averaged 19.8 points per game in his lone college season.

6. Vanderbilt Fouls While Leading in Last Minute

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    The arena was rocking. Northwestern, seeking a victory in its NCAA tournament debut, was trying to push the ball. Matthew Fisher-Davis was confused.

    And that's why it's called March Madness.

    After Riley LaChance hit an acrobatic layup to give Vanderbilt a 66-65 edge with 17.8 seconds remaining, Fisher-Davis lost track of the score. He saw coach Bryce Drew pointing at Bryant McIntosh and misinterpreted the gesture as a plea to intentionally foul.

    "I saw him point at [McIntosh], but he was just telling me to pick him up [and guard him]," the junior guard-forward said, according to Adam Sparks of the Tennessean. "And then I committed a dumb foul. You gotta be smarter than that in that situation."

    Instead, McIntosh knocked down two free throws, and Vandy missed the mark on a three-pointer at the other end.

    Fisher-Davis led the Commodores in scoring as they became the first 15-loss team to claim an at-large bid to the Big Dance. But this mistake overshadowed those feats.

5. Michigan Wins Big Ten Tournament After Plane Skids off Runway

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    Major-conference programs fly dozens of times throughout the season, and very rarely do we hear something went wrong. But as Michigan readied for the Big Ten tournament, a pilot aborted a takeoff. The plane slid down the runway, off the tarmac and stopped just short of a ravine.

    A question emerged: Would the March Madness-bound team board another jet the following day?

    "We have two choices, and I'm with you either way," coach John Beilein told the Wolverines, according to Brendan F. Quinn of MLive.

    The players decided to make the trip, and practice jersey-wearing Michigan thumped Illinois. Then beat Purdue in overtime. And defeated Minnesota. And finally bested Wisconsin for the championship.

    The Wolverines could have lost focus and bowed out early. Instead, Derrick Walton Jr. and Co. put together a sensational story.

4. Florida's Buzzer-Beater Clips Wisconsin

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    The opening two rounds of March Madness were plenty compelling and featured several game-winning shots, but none included the magic of a buzzer-beater.

    Florida ended that drought in the Sweet 16.

    After Hayes netted two free throws to push Wisconsin's lead to 83-81 with four seconds remaining in overtime, Chris Chiozza blazed down the court, scooted past Hayes and tossed up a one-handed three-point floater on the run. The buzzer sounded. The net snapped. The Gators celebrated.

    Though South Carolina ended Florida's run in the Elite Eight, Chiozza entered buzzer-beating highlight-reel history.

3. Luke Maye Sends UNC to Final Four

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    As the clock ticked under one minute in an Elite Eight contest, North Carolina held a five-point advantage over Kentucky. Then, two free throws by Theo Pinson made it 71-64.

    No way the Wildcats could come back, right? Wrong.

    De'Aaron Fox sank a three-pointer. The 'Cats forced a five-second call on the ensuing inbounds play, and Monk followed with a trifecta. Suddenly, the Tar Heels were up by just one.

    Justin Jackson broke away and stopped on a dime before converting a layup for a three-point lead, but he missed a one-and-one following a Kentucky turnover that kept the Wildcats alive. The ball then found Monk, who buried a three between Jackson and Luke Maye to even the score.

    It was a sensational comeback, and overtime was just 7.2 seconds away. Destiny, however, had a different idea.

    Kentucky had Pinson covered as he drove the lane, but the junior forward-guard wisely dished to an unmarked Maye. Splash.

2. South Carolina's Final Four Run

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    From now on, South Carolina will be among the first teams mentioned in discussions about unexpected Final Four qualifiers.

    During their last eight regular-season games plus the SEC tournament, the Gamecocks were just 3-6 with a pair of rough losses to Alabama and another bad one to Ole Miss.

    And that team recovered to do this?

    South Carolina showed off a feisty defense that held Marquette, Duke, Baylor and Florida to a combined 39.9 percent shooting. The unit also forced an impressive 65 turnovers, while Sindarius Thornwell carried the offense with 25.8 points per game.

    Gonzaga eliminated the upstart bunch in the national semifinals, but the Zags had to overcome a furious second-half rally and last-minute pressure by the seventh-seeded Gamecocks.

    "What these kids have done is pretty special," coach Frank Martin said, via the State.

1. UNC Edges Gonzaga in Ugly Championship

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    Fortunately for North Carolina, winning pretty is not a requirement to secure the national championship.

    Between an abysmal 4-of-27 night from three-point range and a foul-filled second half, the Tar Heels gave Gonzaga every opportunity to win its first title.

    UNC, however, recorded an 8-0 run during the final 100 seconds to claim a 71-65 victory. One year after losing to Villanova in agonizing fashion, the Tar Heels redeemed themselves.

    "I know one thing," Williams said after the game, according to Inside Carolina. "We're putting up a nice banner in the Smith Center that's hard to get."


    Follow David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.