Tom Keegan: NCAA tournament a memorable one in 2018

Villanova players celebrate with the trophy after beating Michigan, 79-62, in the championship game of the Final Four NCAA Tournament on Monday, April 2, 2018, in San Antonio.

Kansas had a remarkable run, all right, all the way to the Final Four.

Devonte’ Graham’s upbeat leadership. Malik Newman’s killer shooting. Udoka Azubuike’s battle back from a knee injury. Svi Mykhailiuk’s 3-point shot and Newman’s defensive stop that forced the game into overtime, where Kansas beat Duke. It all made for such an amazing March that we might be guilty of having overlooked other stars who shined so brightly during a magnificent March Madness tournament.

A look at eight gigantic non-KU stories from the tournament, in chronological order:

Buffalo 89, Arizona 68: ESPN reported that an FBI telephone wiretap caught Sean Miller discussing a $100,000 payment that would lock up the recruitment of DeAndre Ayton. Other outlets disputed the timeline reported by ESPN, which led to a correction and put the report in doubt. So Miller, who had taken a one-game leave of absence, returned to work and Ayton never missed a game because of it. The NCAA’s worst fear: Arizona would win the tournament. No. 13 seed Buffalo rode to the NCAA’s rescue and shocked the world when guards Wes Clark, Jeremy Harris and C.J. Massinburg combined for 67 points, just one shy of Arizona’s total, in a first-round blowout.

K.J. Maura and the Retrievers: Fictitiously listed at 5-foot-8, the shorter-than-that Maura, a UMBC point guard from Puerto Rico, had the contagious spirit to turn the entire team into believing that giants are to be slain, not feared. UMBC not only became the first No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1, the Retrievers destroyed Virginia, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, 74-54. Jairus Lyles made 9 of 11 shots and the degree of difficulty on some of them was outrageous. The Retrievers had lost to Albany, 83-39, on Jan. 21. Who knew that Albany was 64 points better than Virginia?

I had a chance to chat with always-entertaining and insightful Bill Raftery, who was the color commentator for the UMBC upset.

“It’s funny how every year some special things happen. I would have said going into that game I'd be happy if we could get four minutes, eight minutes, a half (of competitive basketball) because of the way Virginia was playing,” Raftery said. “These kids, they thought they were good, and they were going to prove it. Nobody gets to the basket against Virginia, and they got whatever they wanted. And all the sudden, there was that uncomfortable feeling, you could see sort of panic, and Virginia was gone. It was just amazing to see it at that level.”

Early in UMBC’s loss to Kansas State, Wildcats center Makol Mawien, a muscular 6-9 center, guarded Maura, who had just made a couple of spectacular plays, on a switch. It led to what was the best line I heard from a broadcaster all year.

“If he dunks on him, I’m going home,” Raftery said.

Tony Bennett’s interview with Tracy Wolfson: Interviewing the losing coach on live TV can’t be an easy task under the best of circumstances. Wolfson, so professional and pleasant, is ideally suited to the task, but still, interviewing the losing coach after the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history, what a challenge.

Bennett made it look easy by showing so much class.

“I told our guys, we had a historic season, historic season in terms of most wins in the ACC,” Bennett said. “A week ago, we’re cutting down the nets and the confetti’s falling. And then we make history by being the first 1 seed to lose. … And it stings. But I try to tell the guys in there, this is life, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you’ve got to be able to take the bad times.”

Perfect message.

Jordan Poole’s buzzer miracle: Legs splayed, freshman Jordan Poole hit a guarded, deep 3-pointer to barely beat the buzzer and lift Michigan past Houston, 64-63, the difference between bowing out in the second round and making it all the way to the national-title game.

Poole had not scored a point the entire second half.

“The guy has got an overdose of swag,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.

Poole sprinted a lap around the edge of the entire court, running too fast for teammates to catch him.

Barry Brown’s bucket: Injured Kansas State star Dean Wade played eight first-half minutes. His foot stress fracture prevented him from playing beyond that and still K-State knocked off Kentucky to advance to the Final Four. As if jet-propelled, Barry Brown took off down the left side of the lane and scored the winning bucket amid a forest of much taller McDonald’s All-Americans. Great shot and a great performance by Kansas State.

Nevada’s comeback: Led by identical twins Cody and Caleb Martin, Nevada made it all the way to the Sweet 16, rallying from a 22-point deficit in the final 11 minutes against Cincinnati to get there.

Sister Jean and the Ramblers: Sister Jean, Loyola of Chicago’s team chaplain and scout, showed that age is just a number the way that K.J. Maura showed the same about height. At 98, Sister Jean drew a huge crowd for her very own Final Four press conference, and felt right at home watching her beloved Ramblers win three close games and then score a rout against Kansas State to advance to San Antonio.

Donte’s Inferno: Villanova was such a terrific team that Donte DiVincenzo, the high-flying, sharp-shooting 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore, came off the bench. He torched Michigan for 31 points in the title game, 18 in the first half, and made 5 of 7 3-pointers, to go with a very memorable pass and dunk.

Villanova left no argument as to the best college basketball team in 2018.

Comments

Tony Bandle

2018 NCAA Tournament's Memorable Moments:

1] The fact that due to the number of programmed commercial breaks, if no one was eliminated with a foul limit, every team could put out it's five best players and have each of them play 40 minutes every game.

2] Any time Charles Barkley opened his mouth.

3] Seeing Dok's mom in the stands.

4] Having Grayson Allen be the goat by missing the potential game winning shot against Kansas...all of America cheered!!!

5] The Spike, Charles and Samuel L. commercials. by the way, what were they selling?

6] Bill Rafferty's commentary.......NNNOOOTTT!!!!!

3 weeks, 2 days ago

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Tony Bandle

ADDENDUM:

7] Seeing Ashley Judd's botox'd face crumble in despair as UK lost to KSU playing without their best player.

3 weeks, 2 days ago

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Bryce Landon

If I was UVA's athletic director, I would have fired Tony Bennett after that loss to UMBC. That's a loss that will take UVA a generation to recover from.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Absolutely no chance of Tony Bennett losing his job after a 31-3 season and winning the ACC Conference. Virginia wasn't even ranked when the season began. Firing Bennett would definitely set Virginia back a decade as who would want the job?

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Bryce Landon

Losing to a 16-seed already sets the program back a decade if not longer. Perhaps as long as the NCAA Death Penalty set back SMU football.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

I'm glad you're not prone to overreactions :-)

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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['']

We can now move on to football season now. There are only so many articles we can write about basketball. It's over. It's over.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

What are you talking about? Basketball season is never really over at Kansas. I'm sure Coach Self and his assistant coaches are already well into recruiting for the 2019 and 2020 recruiting classes.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Bryce Landon

Why would you want to move on to the (bleep)-show that is Kansas football? Are you some kind of a masochist or something?

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Brad Watson

FAVORITE MOMENTS?....Sister Jean... of course......who saw that coming and evolving????.....Buffalo beating Arizona...sweet!....the look on Coach Bennetts' face as he had no answer for U M B C ....our win over Duke...always special beating those folks....and then of course...DONTES' INFERNO....off the charts....December 15th ...THE INFERNO... comes to Allen Field House...that is a game.... I will not miss and am very much looking forward to in a big way.....and Jerod Haase and his team come into Lawrence on December 1st...so next season is already on my mind.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Harlan Hobbs

Great article! Obviously, the items cited are all lasting memories.

Another, somewhat obscure, thing about the Final Four stuck out for me. Prior to the KU-Villanova game, Villanova was late coming out for pre-game warmups. I saw it as a bit of gamesmanship. Nothing wrong about that in my opinion, but it may have been sending a message to KU that Villanova was going to control things.

Also, congratulations certainly to Villanova who totally dominated the Final Four. It is a tribute to their program and outstanding coach, Jay Wright, that they have won two of the last three titles. We should greet them "warmly" when they come to Allen Field House in December. They deserve our respect.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Marius Rowlanski

Jay Wright has been at Villanova 2 years longer than Coach Self has been at Kansas and yet trails in total wins and at a much higher percentage.

Both coaches started their head coach careers within a year of each other (Wright in 94 and Self in 93) but Self has over 100 more career victories. They have both reached the Final 4 on three occasions with Wright winning twice and Self winning once.

But there's been seasons when Villanova didn't even make it to the NIT or bailed out early while Self has been a consistent winner and a much better recruiter.

Villanova had a great season. One of the most dominant NCAA tournaments performances of all time. When Villanova makes it to Lawrence next year, KU will have the opportunity to pay Villanova back with a much deeper and more talented team.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Bryce Landon

I liked Villanova a lot better when they were just a cute Cinderella story from 1985 and when that was the only national title they'd won. Now they have as many titles as we do, including two since we won our last one, and both at our expense. I BLEEPING HATE VILLANOVA! >:(

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Titus Canby

Favorite moment outside of KU moments:

In the first round Thursday, everyone in the bar erupting when Loyola made the buzzer beater to win their first game. I thought I was back in Chicago for a minute. Turns out I wasn't the only one to luckily pick that one in my bracket.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Joe Baker

Really? Nova NC pic on a kusports page. Take it down please.

3 weeks, 1 day ago

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Tony Bandle

I thought the hat backwards thing had become the ultimate "dork indicator"

3 weeks ago

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John Strayer

I must have missed this tournament...where did it happen?

"...still K-State knocked off Kentucky to advance to the Final Four."

I think the final four teams were Loyola, Michigan, Villanova and Kansas.

3 weeks ago

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