In the days immediately following the end of any NCAA tournament, it’s always a little difficult to take a step back and try to digest everything that just went down. The excitement (or the disappointment) is always still a little too fresh.
Time will ultimately determine how the 2017 Big Dance is viewed in terms of its place in college hoops history. Will it be remembered for Gonzaga’s run to the title game? For South Carolina’s trek to the Final Four? For the questionable officiating late in several close games? It’s hard to say with any degree of certainty at the moment.
What we can do is take a few steps backward and look at all the best and worst that the 2017 installment of March Madness gave to us.
1. (4) Florida 84, (8) Wisconsin 83 (OT) (Sweet 16)
The second night of Sweet 16 play was supposed to belong to Kentucky-UCLA, but that all changed in the 45 minutes or so following the Wildcats’ 11-point victory over the Bruins. The sports world then flipped over to TBS to watch Florida and Wisconsin play the best game of not just Friday, but of the entire tournament.
Despite trailing by 11 in the first half, Florida led by two at halftime and seemed to be in total control of the game for nearly the entirety of the second half. That changed in the final minute when Wisconsin once again proved to be nearly impossible to get rid of in March. A few clutch shots by the Badgers, a missed layup from Kasey Hill, and a couple of ill-advised Florida turnovers all led to Bucky having one last shot to hit a three and extend the game. That’s when Zak Showalter did this:
Overtime was a total reversal of the end of regulation. Wisconsin now seemed to be the team in control, but missed free throws and some ill-advised fouls allowed Florida to make it a one-possession game in the final minute. With the Badgers clinging to a two-point lead, Khalil Iverson seemed to have broken free for an uncontested layup that would double his team’s lead. Canyon Barry was having none of that:
Both teams would add two points to their totals, leaving Florida down two with only 4.5 seconds to go. Chris Chiozza then became a March immortal:
The first weekend of the tournament came and went without a single memorable last-second shot or buzzer-beater. Florida and Wisconsin gave us two within minutes of one another. Thanks for the entertainment, fellas.
(1) North Carolina 75, (2) Kentucky 73 (Elite Eight)
(11) Xavier 73, (2) Arizona 71 (Sweet 16)
(7) South Carolina 88, (2) Duke 81 (Second Round)
It seems a little less shocking now that we know South Carolina would go on to crash the Final Four and push Gonzaga to the brink in the first national semifinal. At the time, though, neither Duke nor the Gamecocks had given us any inclination to believe that this was result was even remotely possible.
Duke, the near unanimous preseason No. 1 team, appeared to have finally hit its stride. The Blue Devils had just become the first team in ACC history to capture the league’s postseason tournament by winning four games in four days, and had experienced little pushback in their first-round triumph over Troy.
South Carolina, meanwhile, had been widely panned as one of the most over-seeded teams in the tournament on Selection Sunday. The Gamecocks had lost five of their last seven games heading into the Big Dance, and had never shown any signs of having an offense capable of spearheading a deep run in March.
Then this happened. For 40 minutes, South Carolina was just flat-out better than Duke. Sindarius Thornwell was the best player on the court, and the Blue Devils never adjusted to slow him or backcourt mate PJ Dozier down.
With no massive upsets from double-digit seeds this year, this still stands up as the most surprising result of the tournament.
(11) Xavier 73, (2) Arizona 71 (Sweet 16)
(8) Wisconsin 65, (1) Villanova 62 (Second Round)
Postgame water celebrations
Dousing one another with water in the locker room after a big win isn’t exactly a revolutionary trend, but it did seem to play a larger role in this year’s tournament than in any other. Creativity bonus points to Michigan’s John Beilein for having a prop ready for his big moment.
Celebrity fans (Bill Murray, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Aaron Rodgers)
Michigan’s magical March
Seriously, just about every day of the tournament gave us four or five embarrassing butcherings of uncontested dunk attempts.
You can see almost all of them here.
The lack of major opening weekend upsets
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Even though he wasn’t great in the Final Four and played one fewer game than the guys on Gonzaga and North Carolina, Thornwell still deserves the nod here. His 15-point effort in his team’s loss to the Zags was the only time in the tournament he scored fewer than 24. No player was consistently better or more instrumental to his team’s success than Thornwell this March.
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Semi Ojeleye, SMU
We talked about all the missed dunks earlier, but no successful cram was more vicious than this Semi Ojeleye put-back in SMU’s first-round loss to USC.
Calvin Hermanson, Saint Mary’s
Deng Adel, Louisville
The fact that this is an image of a buzzer-beating three-pointer that went in and won a game will never cease to amaze me when I look at it.
“First of all, I don’t know that I have a monkey on my back. I don’t wake up with one or walk around with one. I don’t think these guys think I have one, I don’t think my wife thinks I have one, or anybody in my family. Close friends. Fishing buddies never talk about it. So those are the only people that really matter to me. It would be phenomenal to get these guys, this team that I love deeply, the experience to go to a Final Four. It would be phenomenal to give that satisfaction to all the players I’ve been lucky enough to coach, and to give it to a university that has treated me so incredibly well. And to Spokane, which has been such an unbelievable community for us to have our program. But it’s not about me and my monkeys and my dogs and my cats. It’s about them.”
— Gonzaga coach Mark Few when asked about “getting the monkey off his back” and making a Final Four.