By Chris Molicki
Every year, it seems like everyone says it’s been the craziest March Madness of all time. And every year, I dismiss that notion. Sure, the NCAA Tournament is always wild, but recency bias can cloud our judgment, and when you look back later on, you’ll realize there was some overreaction.
However, I have no problem saying the 2016 NCAA Tournament was the craziest tournament I’ve ever seen.
There were insane comebacks, mind-boggling upsets, half-court buzzer beaters, and it was all capped off by the greatest national championship game of all time.
Sure, there might be some recency bias here. But I think it’s warranted. Let’s take a look back at the top-10 moments from the greatest tournament ever.
- Cincinnati’s dunk that wasn’t a dunk: We’ll start off with the best play that never came to be. Down 2, Isaiah Miles of Saint Joseph’s drilled a cold-blooded three with 7.3 seconds remaining to give the Hawks a one-point lead. Troy Caupain of Cincinnati got the ball down the floor and dished it to Octavius Ellis, who threw down a two-handed jam as time expired. However, the dunk was waived off as the ball did not leave the hands of Ellis in time. If he had tried a simple layup, the Bearcats might have advanced. That’s true heartbreak for the senior and his squad.
- Providence somehow squeaks by USC: This game was a back and forth battle that had so many riveting momentum shifts, it was hard to keep track. Providence had control early on, while it seemed like the Trojans were the better team as the game matured. Down one, and with everyone thinking either Kris Dunn or Ben Bentil would get the last shot, the Friars went a different direction. On an inbounds under the basket, Rodney Bullock snuck through and put in a layup with 1.5 seconds left, giving Providence a one-point lead. That would prove to be the winner and the finish to one of the most competitive games in the tournament.
- Little Rock comes all the way back: I was in Vegas for the first round of the tournament, and the Purdue/Arkansas-Little Rock game seemed like the perfect time to take a nap. The Trojans were down big, and there was time between that game and the next one. Luckily for me, I woke up just in time. After the Boilermakers hit two free throws to extend their lead to three, Josh Hagins pulled up for a parking-lot three to send the game into overtime. Hagins helped UALR claw their way through two overtimes to pull off the upset of the day over mighty Purdue.
- The luck of the Irish, not once, but twice: Notre Dame might have been the most fortunate team in the tournament in late-game situations, which is fitting for the Irish. Their first thrilling triumph came in the round of 32, when they were seriously tested by Stephen F. Austin. The Irish were down one, and while their first two winning attempts fell short, Rex Pflueger tipped in a rebound with 1.5 seconds to go for the go-ahead bucket.
But the luck didn’t stop there. In the Sweet Sixteen round against Wisconsin, Notre Dame pulled another rabbit out of their hat. The Irish were down one with less than 30 seconds left, which means they were going to have to foul. But instead, Mike Brey’s press worked out when Demetrius Jackson stole the ball and hit a layup to give ND the lead. Then a couple plays later, with the Irish up three, the Badgers never got a shot off, as Jackson logged another steal to seal the game. Maybe it was more determination than luck.
- Big Shot Bronson: Before the Badgers were eliminated, they sent Xavier packing. With Wisconsin down three, Bronson Koenig nailed a three to tie the game with 11.7 seconds left. Then after an offensive foul called on the Musketeers, Koenig did it again, knocking down a corner three as time expired, a true buzzer beater.
- More magic for Northern Iowa: The Panthers of Northern Iowa are no strangers to madness in March. Just ask Ali Farokhmanesh. But this year they took it to another level. After Texas hit a game-tying shot with 2.7 seconds left, Paul Jesperson banked in a halfcourt buzzer beater for the win. Those kinds of desperation heaves are truly the more unimaginable ones, and it’s only fitting we got one in this NCAA Tournament.
- Texas A&M pulls of an impossible comeback: I’ve been watching basketball for a while. I’ve seen highlights from the years that I missed. And I’ve combed through just about every major comeback in history. But what Texas A&M did to the aforementioned Panthers was borderline impossible. The Aggies were down by 12 points with less than 35 seconds left, yet they managed to eliminate that deficit and force overtime (and later win). I used to think if a team came back from being down 10 points in two minutes was crazy, but this comeback really raises the bar. Watch the video and see for yourself.
- Middle Tennessee State completes an all-time stunner: Some may argue with Middle Tennessee State’s win being this high in the rankings, but the fact of the matter is that it was the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history, no questions asked. Why’s that? Think about it. A No. 1 seed over a No. 16 seed would be a bigger upset, but that’s never happened. There’s been a few No. 15 seeds to upset No. 2 seeds, but never has it happened to a team that was considered the favorite to win the whole tournament. That’s what Michigan St. was, and the Blue Raiders defeated Goliath by making pretty much all of their shots.
- Marcus Paige, ice in the veins: There may be some argument as to whether this shot should be as high as No. 2, but I think it deserves to be there. In any other world, Paige’s ridiculous, off-balance, double-clutch, game-tying three would have been the shot of the tournament. The Tar Heels had taken over the game, and they would’ve likely won in overtime. That’s not how it happened, but the shot can’t be discredited, especially given the national championship stakes.
- The greatest shot of all time: It’s a no-brainer. With the game tied and 4.7 seconds left on the clock, Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled up the court and dumped the ball off to Kris Jenkins, who hit a championship-winning three as time expired. The shot perfectly encapsulated Villanova as a team that truly played as one; Arcidiacono could’ve played hero ball and forced up a contested heave, but he looked for the best possible shot, something more teams should do (including in the NBA).
In my opinion, this has to be the greatest college basketball shot of all time in the greatest college basketball game of all time. The stakes couldn’t be higher with the national championship on the line. Two phenomenal teams were playing each other in a back-and-forth competitive game. Hell, the shot that immediately preceded this one is second on this list. People will argue Lorenzo Charles of N.C. State in 1983 was better. And if you want to blame me for recency bias, go ahead. But I know what I saw. And I’m going to keep watching this clip until next season–and probably forever.