RTC’s Top 10 Moments of 2010Posted by nvr1983 on January 6th, 2011
Ok. Maybe this is a little bit later than most of the 2010 retrospectives that you have seen over the past month or so, but just consider our countdown very thoroughly reviewed. We decided to focus on the defining moments of the past year. These weren’t necessarily the most exciting moments, but the ones that made us hold our breath, run around our respective RTC-funded mansions, bury our head in our hands, or reflect on the sport. Even though we think we did a good job of reviewing the biggest moments of the year and ranking them appropriately it is possible that you may disagree with us on either the ranking or inclusion/exclusion of certain moments. If you feel that way, leave a comment and we will respond to you. If you have a strong enough argument we may even update the post.
#10. Izzo Sticks at Michigan State: In the universe of potential train-wreck decisions, Tom Izzo’s summer dalliance with the Cleveland Cavaliers ranks alongside Justin Bieber’s hair and Sarah Palin’s Alaska as near-misses of epic proportions. (Wha? you mean they actually exist? ughhhhh…) With his six Final Four appearances and a national title in the last twelve seasons, Izzo is already one of the best coaches in the game; by turning down the additional millions to coach Boobie Gibson and Mo Williams to twenty-five wins for the next several seasons, he has a great chance to cement himself as one of the greatest of all-time. Frankly, it was surprising to most that the fiery Michigander so strongly considered leaving East Lansing without a promise from LeBron James that he would stick around, but in the end, we believe Izzo’s choice to remain in the college game was the right one. After all, few coaches make the transition from college to pro successfully, and even among those who do (Larry Brown) there is a lingering sense that true greatness was never achieved in either domain. As for us, we’re happy to see Izzo stalking the sidelines in the college game again, and we’re quite certain that Michigan State fans are too.
#9. Hummel tears ACL and breaks Boilermaker Hearts…Again: Wasn’t it bad enough the first time? It’s not like Purdue fans had totally climbed out from under the fate-dropped anvil that landed on them on February 24th last season, 27 games into the schedule, ranked third and the holy month of March merely DAYS away, when Robbie Hummel‘s right ACL tendered its resignation and removed the Boilermakers from any discussion of likely title contenders. I mean, that’s just cruel, right? Sure, bad luck sometimes befalls even the best kids and eventually finds all teams. But there was always the NEXT year, because there’s no way that something else could happen that would ruin the 2010-11 squad, right? Um…sure. Even to basketball fans neutral toward the Purdue program, the news was hard to fathom on the Saturday morning after this year’s Midnight Madness night (or whatever) when it was announced that Hummel had torn the same damn ligament AGAIN. The very serious and justified championship talk had returned to West Lafayette as fall settled in. At least it was there was up until the morning of October 16th. By noon, it was all gone. That’s one season-changing moment.
#8. Pearls of Untruth: A lie, by definition, is not accidental. At some point, whether it’s a week or a millisecond before it happens, there is a decision point. There is that moment where you make the call to tell the truth or — usually because of something you stand to gain or lose — to deceive. Bruce Pearl was already under suspicion for his telephoning and party-hosting skills, which is what put him in the position to lie to NCAA investigators back in June while they were investigating his program. We don’t know when his decision point was, and it really doesn’t matter. When he deceived the NCAA, at that very moment he violated the trust of a huge sports-loving fan base, not to mention that of every player who hoped he could teach them something about being a being a better basketball player and a better man. Some people want to give Pearl a pass because he went back later and told the truth. But that’s like the moment in the outstanding film Quiz Show when, after Charles Van Doren confesses to the Senate that he lied to America and he receives kudos from various Senators for his courageous statement, the Senator from New York tells him that a grown man does not deserve praise for finally telling the truth. We are not saying Pearl is a bad person — just that he made some bad decisions here. We all do that, just as we all lie. And we all know that after the lie, there is usually punishment and a chance to learn from it. The hole Bruce Pearl has dug for himself only tells us a small something about him. It is whether or not he climbs out of it in the years to come that will tell us what we really need to know about this man.
#7. John Feinstein vs. Greg Shaheen: In retrospect, we would like to believe that John Feinstein’s kneading, grilling, and souffleing of NCAA VP Greg Shaheen in the week before the Final Four was in fact the most important moment of the year. But that is a fiction that fits nicely into a narrative that supposes that the pressure exerted by nearly every fan and member of the media on the NCAA to NOT expand The Greatest Show in Sports to 96 teams actually worked. The truth is that the NCAA bean-counters huddled away in the bowels of their Indianapolis headquarters to run some fancy cost-benefit analyses that ultimately concluded that an expansion of the dance card by three to 68 entrants was the preferred strategy – remember, it is always about the Benjamins. Nevertheless, the verbal acrobatics that Feinstein put Shaheen through with respect to the Q&A about scheduling logistics of a 96-team field was borderline Abbott & Costello in its absurdity. The curmudgeonly Dookie went all Matlock on us as Shaheen dodged and weaved in front of an astonished audience of media, ultimately stating that Feinstein was not understanding the “nuance” of his points. What isn’t nuanced is the reality that the NCAA is beholden to corporate interests just like every other slice of Americana these days, ready and willing to feed us statements we know are untrue in the hopes that we won’t dig deeper, so we should thank Mr. Feinstein and consider ourselves lucky that a 68-team Tournament is where the NCAA settled.
#6. Kyrie Irving injures his toe: The one moment on this list that nobody saw coming and almost nobody noticed when it happened. I think the most effective way I can state how innocuous the injury appeared to be at the time was that the ESPN game summary did not even mention Irving getting injured. We are struggling to even find footage or an article describing the play that he was injured on in the 2nd half of the Duke-Butler rematch in December. It wasn’t until a few days later that Duke announced that Kyrie’s toe injury was more severe than any of us had imagined. As we look back on it, even though this appeared to be the most insignificant of any moment on the list at the time it happened, it may end up being the second most significant moment on the list in terms of determining the NCAA championship (you can probably guess which upcoming moment beats it). The injury deprived us of being able to watch the most dynamic young point guard that college basketball has seen since Chris Paul and one who was still early in his college career although we are having a hard time seeing any holes in Kyrie’s game that he could fix outside of stuff that he has not had a chance to show us yet, like toughness and ability to perform in crunch time. It also meant that the potential of this Duke team has dropped from being one of the great teams of all-time to merely being the national title favorites.
#5. A Thursday to Remember: The first day of the NCAA Tournament is a de facto national holiday as everyone from coast to coast beams with excitement over the possibility of a pristine bracket and hopeful for America’s greatest sporting event to return. The 2010 Tourney started with a bang, as all three early afternoon games went to the wire with BYU outlasting Florida in overtime, Old Dominion nipping Notre Dame by a point, and #15 seed Robert Morris giving #2 seed Villanova all it could handle in an overtime loss. After those three scintillating games where CBS truly tested the abilities of their production folks with constant switchbacks, we were further treated with a Danero Thomas buzzer-beater in Murray State’s upset win over Vanderbilt. The evening session continued the madness, as plucky Ohio drained just about everything in upsetting Georgetown and Washington’s Quincy Pondexter floating leaner downed Marquette, followed by another tremendous nightcap overtime game between Texas and Wake Forest. All in all, there were eight games on the first day of the Dance that came down to the final possession in regulation, and it made the chalky day of Friday seem rather boring in comparison. It’s a rare day that you can say that the NCAA Tournament outdid itself, but Thursday, March 18, was one such day.
#4. Evan Turner at the buzzer: For quite a bit of last season there was a debate about who should be the national player of the year, with John Wall taking the early lead after Evan Turner missed a little over six games after literally breaking his back. After taking a a game to shake off the rust, Turner proceeded to treat us to one of the most impressive individual displays we have ever seen as he literally did everything for Ohio State, routinely putting up double-doubles while acting as their primary ball-handler. By the time the Big Ten tournament rolled around Turner had emerged as the favorite, but lacked the singular highlight to define his season. With time winding down in the Big Ten semifinals, we got that moment. After having an “off game” (for him) for the first 39 minutes and 57.8 seconds, Turner found his Buckeyes trailing Michigan by two with 2.2 seconds on the clock. What followed propelled the Buckeyes to the Big Ten Tournament title and essentially ended the national player of the year discussion.
#3. Ali Farokmanesh’s Onions: It was the prototypical ”No! No! No! Yes!!!” shot. Leading #1 seed Kansas in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament by one point with 40 seconds left, Northern Iowa inbounded the ball into the backcourt while facing some full-court pressure from a Jayhawk team that had just scored six straight points in less than 30 seconds. Everybody in the country was wondering if this mid-major had the cajones to come up with a big play down the stretch to knock off the traditional powerhouse. Well, we got our answer in a big way and the nation learned how to spell Farokhmanesh (or at least was able to have Google auto-correct it for them). As our first sentence indicates, we thought it was the single dumbest play in the first few days of the 2010 NCAA Tournament when we saw the ball leave his hands. It seemed like the kind of shot that would shock everybody for a few minutes then everybody would forget after Kansas rebounded the miss, scored, and advanced to the Sweet 16. But when the shot went in, the college basketball nation was turned upside down and we had another name to add to the growing list of March legends.
#2. A Nation of Cynics Loses a Shining Beacon of Hope: On June 4th, the game of college basketball and American sports in general lost one of its shining beacons of hope. On that day, the Wizard of Westwood, John Robert Wooden, died at the age of 99 years young in Los Angeles from natural causes. Even in the middle of the college basketball off-season, a pall fell over the sports world as players, coaches and fans from all walks of life stepped forward to relate how Wooden, through his Pyramid of Success, Seven Point Creed, another maxim or simply an inspiring word, impacted their lives. His greatness as a coach is measured in wins, national championships and All-Americans, but his greatness as a person comes in the form of grandfatherly wisdom that probably seem a little old-fashioned and hokey to a modern and all-too-cynical populace. The lessons he imparted, though (our fav: failing to prepare is preparing to fail), still ring true no matter the decade. We dare say that most readers of this site never saw Wooden coach a single minute of basketball, and to that we can only say: You may not realize it, but you’re seeing it in the attention to detail that the modern giants of the game – Coach K, Izzo, Calhoun, Donovan, Roy, et al – embrace. He will be missed. RIP, Coach.
#1. As If You Didn’t Know What #1 Would Be: Gordon Hayward‘s half-court heave that almost won a national championship has been romanticized and rhapsodied to such a degree over the last nine months that, a few years from now, we wouldn’t be surprised to hear someone tell us a version in which the thing actually goes in. It doesn’t matter, though, whether Hayward’s shot was launched from just behind the three point line or from half court. What matters is that there was a shot. For all of this to happen, a few things were needed. In this case, it took a coach whose youthful visage (and dancing ability) and homespun elegance cause(d) everyone to label him as the Next Big Thing, while his actual knowledge of the game and artful coaching tell us that he’s a Current Big Thing. It took a freckle-faced kid who looks like he should be worried about completing his paper route or hanging out with Linus and Snoopy, not taking you to the hole or banging fade-aways over you with apparent nonchalance — and certainly not winning national championships. Most of all, it took a group of role players and “secondary” recruits who believed in their coach and his system and willingly forgot themselves in order to make it work. Forget that the most famous missed shot in the history of Our Game did not go in. That Butler even had a shot in the air to win a national title shows us all again that somewhere inside this sport, that answer exists — that combination, that solution, that formula which, when it is realized, can overcome any opponent, no matter how big they are or how small you are. The shot represents the best and biggest thing that the NCAA Tournament is all about, the reason that people who don’t watch another college basketball game all year are transfixed during the Tournament — hope.
[Ed. Note: This moment was so big that we are going to give it to you from 3 different angles.]