The 2017-18 season has produced its fair share of memorable moments. From the sudden announcement in June that Ohio State’s Thad Matta was stepping down and being replaced by Chris Holtmann. The September release of an FBI report on their investigation that listed over 20 schools and roughly 30 athletes. The vindication of The University of North Carolina from their lengthy NCAA academic cheating scandal that lasted over 7 years. The unanimous vote from Louisville to fire Rick Pitino amid an FBI investigation regarding the paying of top recruit Brian Bowen. The UCLA/China shoplifting saga that saw three players arrested and detained. The Nassar verdict that rocked the sports landscape at Michigan State and Internationally. The removal of Louisville’s 2013 National Championship victory over Michigan. To the FBI wiretaps that allegedly caught Sean Miller brokering a 6 figure deal to land Deandre Ayton. Those events brought a loud roar during the season and helped cast a cloud over collegiate sports. Through all of the allegations, investigations and verdicts, basketball was actually still played this season.
We witnessed the sensational Freshman Trae Young light up scoreboards around the country as he channeled his inner Steph Curry. We watched top 5 ranked teams lose week after week to perceived beatable opponents. We cringed in pain with Michael Porter Jr. went down 2 minutes into his college career. We stood in amazement as Collin Sexton played 3 on 5 against Minnesota and scored 40. We watched from the press box as Markus Howard dropped 52 points on Providence in January. We stood along the sidelines as Virginia took over as kings of the ACC while Kansas remained the top dogs in the Big 12. All of these moments helped shape the season and prepare us for the chaos that was ahead in the NCAA Tournament.
Day 1 of the tournament started with an epic buzzer beater by Loyola-Chicago in their win over Miami. That one shot would go on to serve as a precursor for the rest of the tournament. On day 2, the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history occurred when The University of Maryland Baltimore County defeated Number 1 overall seed Virginia 74-54. UMBC immediately became the tournament darlings as the spotlight was placed on their heads. Day 3 again brought the improbable as Jordan Poole nailed a buzzer beater to help Michigan defeat Houston. Day 4 was the day of comebacks and beatdowns as Nevada and Florida State came back from huge deficits and Texas A&M crushed the defending champions North Carolina by 21. The Sweet 16 results produced the first 9 vs 11 Elite 8 game in history. The Sweet 16 results also produced the only 1 vs 2 match-up of the entire tournament. After the dust settled and the Elite 8 was over, Loyola-Chicago, Michigan, Kansas and Villanova were the Final Four left standing.
The first match-up placed Loyola-Chicago versus Michigan in a back and forth battle that saw both teams take double digit leads. For the first 30 minutes of the game, Loyola controlled the tempo and scoreboard but that’s when everything changed. Michigan changed their defense and began to force uncharacteristic turnovers and went on a run that would lead to their victory. In the second match-up we witnessed a battle of the heavyweights or so we thought. Both teams were ranked as number 1 seeds but this game showed that all number 1 seeds are not the same. Villanova flexed their muscle on Kansas in the first 4 minutes and never looked back. They stamped their ticket to the title game versus Michigan early and left no doubt that they were the best team remaining.
The National Championship game between Michigan and Villanova stood as the conclusion to one wild and amazing season. This game placed the hottest team in college basketball versus the best team in college basketball. Michigan started the game on fire and took a commanding lead. They were feeding the ball in the post and forcing their will against Villanova. To stop the run, Villanova made a few substitutions and inserted Donte Divincenzo into the lineup. This is when the game changed and Villanova took over and never looked back. Although Villanova had the College Basketball Player of the Year on their roster he wasn’t needed in this game.
This night and moment belonged solely to Divicenzo as he put the basketball landscape on notice. He dazzled the crowd as he scored 31 points and added some amazing blocks on dunk attempts. Villanova came into the season as a favorite and on the biggest stage they left no doubt that they were worth the hype. They collected 2nd title in 3 years by dominating every team they played during the tournament. This season was one for the ages and created a lot of story lines but in the end it came down to the play on the court. Great close to the college basketball season and lets begin the countdown for the 2018-19 season.