With March Madness upon us, writers from PopGates look back at some of their favorite NCAA Tournament memories.
Noah Perkins: All Nolan needed was Big Nasty
I’ve always been a sucker for Corliss Williamson.
An undersized 6’5” power forward at the University of Arkansas in the early 90s, they called him “Big Nasty.” As a five-year old, I didn’t know what a Big Nasty was, but it sounded about as cool as Corliss looked: A bald head most likely hand-shaven with a large bowie knife; a thin line of facial hair above his lip; arms that lacked in-your-face definition, but looked as powerful as any at the pro level.
Big Nasty played with controlled rage.
He scratched, mauled and boxed his way under the basket, getting the better of guys who would go on to long pro careers.
Don’t get me wrong, Corliss was a solid NBA player: he won the 1998 Most Improved Player award, as well as the 2002 NBA Sixth Man of the Year. He was an NBA champion, but, if we are being completely honest, his 12-year professional career is largely forgotten: a footnote to the 2004 Pistons team – name an NBA player who won an AAU, NCAA and NBA Championship? How many people at trivia night are going to guess Big Nasty?
His zenith was during the 1993-1994 season, when he led Arkansas to an NCAA championship victory over villainous Duke while earning tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. Duke had prep school kids with money; all Nolan Richardson needed was Big Nasty, the Pride of Russellville of Arkansas. Amazingly, Corliss broke his wrist during the Championship game and played through, as if in his world a broken wrist was no more an issue than a torn finger nail.
Corliss’s best came a year later in a Final Four win over UNC. Matched up across from Rasheed Wallace, Big Nasty dropped 21 and grabbed 10 boards – five offensive. ‘Sheed, Jerry Stackhouse and Jeff McInnis weren’t enough to hold Big Nasty down.
Wallace only managed 10 points on six shots.
Corliss lowered his shoulder into Sheed on what seemed like every possession; he hit baby-hooks, an up-and-under. It was as if Kevin McHale took over his body with some kind of demonic possession.
My favorite moment of the game came in the second half on the defensive end. A missed jump shot resulted in a Jerry Stackhouse offensive rebound. Stackhouse leaped towards the hoop, Big Nasty, out of nowhere, punched the layup with such force that the ball went into the stands like a line drive off a baseball bat. Stackhouse hit the ground almost as hard. A foul was called, but Big Nasty made his point nonetheless.
People talk about the greatness of the 2017 draft class – their isn’t a low post force to be found in the lot.
Put a 21-year old Big Nasty on Lonzo Ball, you best believe Corliss would eat.
Jonah Hall: The Little Spike that could
If you can draw a blond-mop on a stick-figure body, with baggy neon-yellow shorts, a too-large neon yellow jersey with navy blue letters spelling M-i-c-h-i-g-a-n, give me a shout.
The book’s title: The Little Spike That Could: The Spike Albrecht Story. or The Golden Spike: Spike Albrecht and the Second Foul. The book would be dedicated to Spike’s grandfather, apparently one of his biggest fans, who passed away back in little Crown Point, Indiana, about fifty miles south of Chicago, just before the 2012-13 season started. In 2013’s riveting national championship game between Michigan and Louisville, the national consensus player of the year, Trey Burke was whistled for his second foul with 13 minutes to go in the first half. By then, Albrecht had swished his first two wide-open threes.
The memorable second foul on Burke prompted Michigan coach John Beilein to thrust his diminutive backup point guard into a more prominent role, as ball-handler and leader of his Wolverines. By the end of the first half, Steve Kerr believed Albrecht was having an “out of body” experience. The Michigan fans had turned into an early 1990’s mosh-pit, screaming themselves hoarse, and Albrecht was pumping his fists with every swish, as if he’d embedded the corny “Rise to the Occasion” team t-shirt logo into his psyche and would not be denied.
The rest of the first half will forever be known as Spike Albrecht’s entrance onto the big stage. Out of the estimated 23.4 million average viewers who watched the majority of the 2013 men’s college basketball final, how many of them sat there in slack-jawed amazement as a 5’11” 170 lb, spark-plug whizzed his way around the court, knocking down open 3-pointers at first, and then buzzing his way into the paint and finishing scoop lay-ups among the trees? Albrecht finished the half with 17 points in 15 minutes of play, swishing all four of this three-pointers, two layups, and missing only a free-throw. Only when time stopped was Albrecht forced back into reality. The free-throw line is reality. The rest was just flow and momentum.
Sometimes it’s all about that first shot. A shooter feels good in warm-ups, then sits on the bench biding his time. Then he enters the game, races down the sidelines, finding an opening in transition, catches a pass, raises up and releases, and absolutely swishes the first one, and suddenly, the rim is as open as the ocean. Spike Albrecht and all of those fans of the underdog, the too-small shooting guard, or simply people who watch, hoping to glimpse the rare and unpredictable moments of unreality that wash onto the sporting landscape every so often, we all wished that first-half would never end. That Spike’s moment could extend through the rest of the game.
But reality isn’t concerned with our wishes. Spike’s moment ended with the first half buzzer. And you’ve probably never heard his name again.
Taylor Griffin: RJ Hunter’s Shot that Put His Dad on the Floor
What makes March Madness so enjoyable? For me, it is the composition of two things; upsets, and clutch moments. Combine the two into one game or moment, and you capture an incredible moment that sticks with you forever. That’s what happened for me while watching 14th-seeded Georgia State upset third-seed Baylor in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
After Baylor missed a free-throw, Georgia State secured the rebound and took off down the court with 12 seconds remaining, down two points. Sophomore Guard RJ Hunter got the ball at the top of the circle, and fired off a three-pointer from about 28 feet. Bang. The crowd goes wild. Georgia St. head coach, Ron Hunter (RJ’s father) jumps in excitement, falling from his rolly-chair that he’s using because of a torn achilles. No one on the court or on the bench really knows how to react. “Do I celebrate?” “What is coach doing on the floor?” “Do I help him up?” What is going on?” I’m sure these were some of the thoughts going through Georgia State players’ and coaches’ minds. Amidst all the excitement, there is still time remaining on the clock, so Ron Hunter waives everyone back to the bench from the spot on the floor where he lies with a huge grin on his face
“I saw him cannonball off his chair,” RJ said in a post-game interview. “I told him, they’ve got to get him a chair with a back or something because that wasn’t going to work.”
You can’t make this stuff up. For this reason, this moment is forever etched in my mind. These are the moments that you watch March Madness to witness. There seems to be a few every year. RJ Hunter’s shot and watching his father hit the deck is one moment I will always remember. I will never forget just laughing as I watched this moment unfold, and truly appreciating the glory of March Madness, and one of my favorite sporting moments ever.
Austin Murphy: A love for clutch shots
What most people tend to forget about March Madness is that it pertains not only to the NCAA Tournament but also to the individual conference tournaments. The upsets and bracket busters we see towards the end of the month are previewed and prepped by Cinderella runs as smaller schools like Davidson and Northwestern clinch their births in the larger tournament by winning earlier in March.
Some of my most memorable moments of March Madness came in the form of conference tournaments. Whether it was Kemba Walker’s crossover game-winner to take down Pittsburgh or Evan Turner’s 37-footer to beat Michigan or Gerry McNamara carrying Syracuse to four unlikely wins in four days, the conference tournaments never disappoint (and boy do I miss the annual bloodbath known as the Big East Tournament).
Aside from these notable wins in conference tournaments, some of my favorite memories of March Madness came, of course, from the Big Dance. The contagious spirit of the month manifests itself most plainly by acting as the ultimate equalizer. No team is safe, and no team is invincible. Whether you finished the season ranked #1 in the nation or punched your ticket to the Dance by winning the tournament for Conference Big Rednecks ‘R’ Us, the parity of the college basketball postseason means anyone can win on a given night. There are no certainties.
For me, the glorious upsets – while memorable – don’t make me jump for joy because they usually mean my bracket is busted beyond repair. And the more annoying fact is that I once had a college housemate win ESPN’s bracket challenge despite knowing nothing about basketball or the teams playing. There’s simply no way to come out on top when there are (now) 68 seeds at stake. My fondest memories typically come when I correctly call at least two of the Final Four teams. And, of course, every real basketball fan remembers the championship games.
There are two that I can remember that hold a special spot for me, the first of which was in 2010 with Duke defeating Butler. The Blue Devils’ two-point margin of victory is still the closest win since 1989’s Michigan vs. Seton Hall game, and the significance goes beyond Gordon Hayward’s near-miracle heave at the buzzer that almost banked home. That year, Duke’s starting five was Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, and Brian Zoubek. For comparison, the Kentucky Wildcats that year boasted three future NBA stars in John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, and DeMarcus Cousins and still lost in the Elite 8. The fact that the Blue Devils were able to win a championship that year without a single future NBA star (or real rotation player) speaks volumes.
The second game I cherish is 2008: Kansas over Memphis. This one really just comes down to a love for clutch shots. Granted, Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater last year won the game, but Mario Chalmers’ game-tying three helped the Jayhawks take down a freshman phenom Derrick Rose who cheated on the SAT and overall is just a shitty human being. Justice was served that year, and it was wearing red and blue and chanting “Rock Chalk.”