Backdoor Cuts: Vol. V

Posted by nvr1983 on December 30th, 2009


Backdoor Cuts is a college basketball discussion between RTC correspondents Dave Zeitlin, Steve Moore and Mike Walsh. This week they each pick their favorite moment of the decade — and their answers may surprise you.

DAVE ZEITLIN: Guys, in life I only have two rules: 1) Don’t commit murder; and 2) When a decade is coming to an end, I need to categorize everything in “best of” formats. Seriously, I eat that stuff up like I’m Rick Majerus at a buffet table. I’ve already listed the top 10 Penn basketball moments of the decade for my new Penn sports blog (yes, that’s a plug — now click on the link before I consider breaking rule No. 1) and I’ve read countless more of these types of lists. Who knows why? I guess I’m just a sucker for moments — glorious, spine-tingling, remember-where-you-were-when-you-see-them moments that shed a little light on why I devote way too much of my pathetic life to sports.

College basketball, to be sure, had plenty of great moments this decade. For a good walk down memory lane, be sure to check out a nice recap from Seth Davis. From Syracuse’s national championship in 2003 (Hakim Warrick’s block!) to George Mason’s truly amazing run to Adam Morrison crying on the floor, there are so many moments I remember vividly.

But this is a column where we get stuff done. So our goal is to pick out the truly best moment of the decade. Of course, this can mean a lot of things. For me,it’s hard to pick just one from the NCAA tournament, which features a handful of memorable games and plays every year. So after further consideration, I’ve decided my favorite moment of the 2000s happened this year. It wasn’t a do-or-die game for either team and many people didn’t even watch the end. But Syracuse’s six-overtime win over UConn in last season’s Big East tournament was truly epic — and my No. 1 choice.

I won’t recap the game for you. That would take up too much space, and I don’t even think I remember much of it. Here’s what I do remember: placing a friendly wager with my sports editor about the game (I picked ‘Cuse!), leaving work after the first overtime, listening to one or two  overtimes in my car ride home, coming home and chatting with anyone who was online (was that you, Steve?) through the next couple of overtimes, and then pacing around my apartment and muttering like a crazy person during the final two overtimes. How many overtimes is that? I don’t even know. That game made me forget how to count.

Seriously, I didn’t know what to do during the last hour of that game. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run around the city and find people to talk to about the 2-3 zone. I wanted to drive to Syracuse, find the walk-on that played the final overtime because everyone else fouled out and hug him. I wanted to write the words “March Madness” on a piece of paper and then make out with it. It was that good.

Was it the most important moment of the decade? Definitely not. But it was my favorite. And now I’m eager to know — what are yours? There are no rules, no restrictions. Mike, this is your chance to pen a poem on why St. Joe’s was the best sports story in Philadelphia in 2004 other than a horse. And Steve, you can, um, write about how BU’s only trip to the tourney was spoiled by Bob Huggins being mean. I’ll be anxiously waiting — it’s just too bad there won’t be any six-overtime games to keep me entertained in the meantime.

A polarizing figure for our columnists

STEVE MOORE: First of all, that 2002 tournament game still gives me nightmares. Did Steve Logan really need to go back in the game when Cincinnati had a bazillion-point lead? Bob Huggins thought so. Bob Huggins also hates puppies. So there’s that. Also, what does a list of Top 10 Penn Basketball moments of the decade look like, exactly?

#1: Penn opens 2001 season with great GPA.
#2: Penn opens 2002 season with great GPA.
#3: No one from Penn leaves early for NBA Draft in 2003.
#4: You get the idea…

As for moment of the decade, the Syracuse-UConn game is a fine choice. It was an incredible game that I’ll always remember. It would definitely be on my short list, along with these other candidates:

  • Saint Joseph’s amazing 2004 season
  • Mario Chalmers’ 3-pointer in the 2008 final (although I was on my honeymoon at the time and didn’t know who won for 2 days)
  • Adam Morrison vs. J.J. Redick (not so much a moment, but a great season-long battle)

But the winner has gotta be George Mason’s stunner over UConn in the 2006 Regional Final. It took the one thing I (and any warm-blooded American) loves about the NCAA Tournament, and amplified it to the max. Prior to that, we all thought a 10-seed reaching the Sweet 16 was a huge upset. Or a 15 seed keeping it close with a #2. But for a #11 seed to stun a team chock-full of NBA talent and actually reach the Final Four? Well, that was a miracle. And as if I needed any more reinforcement on my decision, that game aired Monday on ESPN Classic (which is recycling some of the decade’s top events). I watched the entire second half, and forgot that Mason was pretty much left for dead after halftime. Usually, a surprising halftime lead is the first step in the upset formula. But UConn actually held a comfortable lead at halftime, only to watch the Patriots play with more poise and control down the stretch.

I believe that no double-digit seed will ever reach the Final Four again in my lifetime. Not with so many one-and-dones flocking to big-time schools to create a handful of incredibly talented teams each year. But here’s to hoping, right?

MIKE WALSH: I’m going to shock both of you guys here. I’m NOT going to pick St. Joe’s undefeated season, although I don’t think anyone in their right mind could blame me if I did. What Jameer Nelson and the rest of the boys in Crimson and Gray did that season made me wish I was stupid enough (or maybe smart enough) to fail a class or two so I could be on campus to be a part of it, instead of graduating the year before like a sucker.

No, my favorite moment of the past decade is a singular play that, for me, lifted the 2005 March Madness to another level and completely encapsulates everything I love about college basketball. For my money, it doesn’t get much better than Kentucky’s Patrick Sparks three-pointer against Michigan State to send their Elite Eight slugfest to overtime. It’s not a particularly important play; in fact, the Wildcats didn’t even win the game. But something about those last few seconds resonates with me.

I remember watching this game at my cousin’s house. Neither one of us had any allegiances to Kentucky or Michigan State. Then Sparks hit the shot as time expired, the ball ricocheting off every square inch of the iron before passing through the net. In the seven-minute review that ensued, I was absolutely, 100%, bet-my-first-born sure that Sparks’ foot was behind the line. For those seven or so minutes I bled Kentucky blue (believe me, I never thought I would utter those words either). Meanwhile, my cousin Sparty the Spartan couldn’t believe they were even reviewing the play. According to him, Sparks’ foot was so far over the line, it might as well have been a layup. For seven minutes, we went back and forth, watching every angle, in slow-mo, super slow-mo, CSI: Lexington slow-mo …. you get the idea, we watched it a lot.

The shot was good. I went nuts. Sparty was shocked.

And that’s what I love about college basketball. No other sporting event can leave me as breathless – especially when I have no vested interest in either team. After that game, I didn’t become BFFs with Ashley Judd, and Sparty didn’t go on to paint his house MSU green, but for those seven minutes we were bitter rivals … it’s madness.

DAVE ZEITLIN: Mike, that’s a good pull. But I can’t believe you wrote about Patrick Sparks without mentioning him sticking it to your No. 1 enemy, Billy Packer, right after he made the shot. Remember, this was only a year after Packer ridiculed St. Joe’s for getting a No. 1 seed when he clearly thought it deserved a 10 seed at best. I’m surprised you didn’t change your name to “Patrick Sparks” after that shot, or something a little more conventional like “I Award Billy Packer No Points and May God Have Mercy on His Soul Walsh.” But yeah, that shot and the ensuing review were indeed memorable. Was it Saul Smith in the stands on his cell phone trying to ask people if Sparks was behind the line?

Steve, your pick probably is the best moment of the decade for mid-major fans like us, so I’ll give you a pass on making fun of the same Penn teams that earned No. 11 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Besides, I feel like we should stop talking about Penn since no one who reads this blog cares. I’ll make it my New Year’s Resolution — at least until next week.

But I disagree with you that George Mason will be the last of its kind to make the final four. I definitely think it will happen again. Remember, this is a sport where you need only one or two stars, a couple of guys who know their roles and a prepared coach to field a good team. I know it was only an exhibition, but nationally ranked Syracuse losing to Division II Le Moyne shows the kind of parity that can exist in college basketball. So here’s my prediction for the next decade: Not only will another George Mason make the final four but a No. 16 seed will finally win a game. Both will happen. In the next 10 years. Book it. And If I’m wrong, I’ll expect Patrick Sparks to yell at me.

nvr1983 (1397 Posts)

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3 responses to “Backdoor Cuts: Vol. V”

  1. Andrew says:

    Wow. That Sparks three was awesome, I forgot about that.

    And for some reason, that made me flash back to the UAB upset of Kentucky, the last game of the second round of the tournament in 2004 (even though going back and researching it real quick, I don’t remember Mo Finley, the guy who hit the game winner, even a little)…

    And, the UCLA/Gonzaga game has gotta be right there for me as well.

    How about that kid from Memphis (washington?) missing the two FTs at the end of the CUSA final back in ’05, after dominating the last stretch of the game to get Memphis in the position to win… Foreshadowing later Memphis teams?

    One last one: that Illinois comeback against Zona in ’05. Okay, I lied. One last one: OSU knocking off the Illini in the last regular season game to hand Illinois their first loss.

  2. Howard says:

    Does your fiancee know about your desire to make out with a piece of paper?

  3. rtmsf says:

    Although it still pains me, the Wake-WVU game in the second round in 2005 was a classic as well. Thinking further back, what about the Gonzaga-Arizona game from 2003 or 2004 in the NCAA second round also?

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