Paul Jordan of Wildcat Blue Blog is the RTC correspondent for the Southeastern Conference.
South Carolina 6-2
Mississippi State 5-2
Anyone doubting the SEC’s resurgence this season had to be pouring themselves a big glass of “hater-ade” after taking a look at the weekly Top 25 polls. The SEC, which sent only three teams to the NCAA Tourney last season now has three teams perched in the Top 10 and four teams are among the Top 25 in the nation.
Kentucky used a win over North Carolina to leapfrog Purdue into the #4 spot in the AP Top 25 and now have that spot in both polls. Tennessee only had one game last week, but moved to #9 in both polls due to other teams’ misfortunes, and the resurgent Florida Gators now occupy the #10 spot in the AP Top 25 and the 11th spot in the ESPN/USA Today Poll. Mississippi debuted in the AP Poll at #25 and fell just outside the top 25 at #29 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. In contrast to that, Vanderbilt was #24th in the ESPN poll and #28 in the AP Poll.
RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory, something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today. Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month. We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
An NCAA victory over Duke tastes a little sweeter, and a loss to the Devils hurts a little more. Nobody gets passions as high as Coach K’s Dookies, and we received two submissions that perfectly illustrate that range of emotions.
“Just when people say you can’t, UCan. And UConn has won the national championship.” – Jim Nantz
I’ll never forget those words. It was just three days before my 14th birthday. Growing up in Connecticut, we never really had a pro sports team, so we latched on to Jim Calhoun‘s UConn Huskies. Despite being a team of national relevance for a number of years, Calhoun had never gotten his team to the Final Four. He finally broke through in 1999, barely hanging on against 10 seed Gonzaga in the Elite 8 before beating Ohio State for what many thought to be the right to lose to a talented Duke squad in the Finals.
Duke came in riding a 32-game winning streak (their only loss was the Cincinnati in the Great Alaska Shootout, don’t ask me why I know such things) with a roster loaded with NBA draft picks – William Avery, Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier, Elton Brand, Corey Maggette.
But the Huskies hung with Duke the whole game, trailing by just two at the half, thanks in large part to 13 points from defensive specialist Ricky Moore. The second half became the Rip Hamilton Show, as the junior with the silky smooth jumper finished his last collegiate game with 27 points.
The game ended in unbelievable fashion. With UConn up 75-74, everyone’s favorite pudge-ball Khalid El-Amin drove baseline and threw up an airball, which Trajan Langdan collected with around 15 seconds left. He brought the ball up court and tried to go one-on-one against Moore. Moore forced him into a travel. El-Amin would rattle home two free throws, setting up the finish. Langdon would once again take the inbounds and dribble into a double team before turning the ball over.
And that was it. So what is my memory?
Seeing Khalid El-Amin screaming “WE SHOCKED THE WORLD” before jumping into Jake Voskuhl’s arms.
Verne Lundquist Just Had an Aneurysm (submitted by Patrick Marshall of Bluejay Basketball)
Being a big Kentucky fan most of my life, no one can forget the 1992 East Regional Final of Kentucky vs. Duke. The game was spectacular but what made the Kentucky team so special were the players that were affectionately known as “The Unforgettables.” Kentucky’s basketball program had been dragged through the mud four years before in a major scandal involving academic fraud and improper payments to recruits. However, Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, John Pelphrey and Sean Woods chose to stay with the program and as seniors in their first eligible appearance, they made a surprising run in the NCAA tournament that year to the regional finals against Duke. The three-point shot has been one of the most exciting innovations in college basketball and the Cats’ love of the three-point shot is what established my love for these Wildcats. As the Wildcats drove deeper into March, I just had to watch that game.
Back in the day I had this black and white portable tv and I remember taking it to high school musical practice so I could still watch the game while we had rehearsal. I seem to remember that Kentucky was down somewhat big (12 pts), but some key threes got them back into the game and eventually sent the game into overtime. As they battled in overtime it was down to what appeared to be one play. Sean Woods drove to the basket and made an awkward bank-shot with 2.1 seconds left. I was jumping around the room like mad and thought there was no way Duke would be able to get off a good shot – Kentucky has made it back to the Final Four. However, it was not to be. Duke inbounded the ball length of the court and Christian Laettner hit the storied shot that is now shown every year at tournament time. Laettner finished his 10-10 shooting and 31 point night with a storybook ending as Duke went on the next week to gain back-to-back NCAA championships. I just said to myself over and over, “How did John Pelphrey not react fast enough to stop a 2/3 court pass to Laettner at the free throw line. Not only that, but he just stood there and watched him shoot it.” Oh, I so hate Duke and oh what could have been.
The game had all the drama you could ask for with the lead changing five times in the final 31 seconds of the game and both teams combining to shoot 63% in the second half and overtime. But that final shot is what is the most recognizable and memorable part of that game. This season Kentucky fans not only have to watch the shot again, but have to re-live the whole drama and feel the punch in the stomach again with a new commercial including Laettner and now turncoat Rick Pitino. But in the end, this game is considered by many to be the greatest college basketball game of all time. I know I will never forget it.
Arizona recruit Brandon Jennings (and the #1 player in the 2008 class, according to some experts) is considering playing in Europe next season if he cannot qualify in Tucson. Actually, according to Gary Parrish, Jennings may play Euroball next year even if he does get a passing SAT score.
We all knew that the Class of 2007 was a sick class filled with talented players, but did you know we could see as many as twelve freshmen selected in the first round of the NBA Draft on Thursday night? Incredible. Oh, and the party is over with respect to fantastic freshmen (thanks, Seth).