By Brad Thompson–
As I struggled to watch a Butler-UConn national championship game completely devoid of made baskets, I thought what a shame it is that a historic, drama-filled NCAA tournament would end this way.
This year’s tournament didn’t feature the best basketball ever, but it did provide some jubilant moments. Here’s my list of the five best moments of the tournament (yesterday’s blog featured the five worst moments).
1. When CBS Sports announced they would broadcast every tournament game in its entirety
How much better was it to watch any game you wanted on TV this year? I have no idea why it took CBS so long to do this, but it really improved the tournament. CBS’ coverage of the tournament took a gigantic step forward by partnering with Turner Sports and using four networks to broadcast every minute of March Madness. No more regional coverage or live look-ins to catch the final seconds of a game you wanted to watch from the start. I realize that all the games have been available online in past years, but having all the games on TV allowed fans to utilize DVR. This decision tops the list because it not only impacted fans’ viewing pleasure this year, but for future tournaments as well.
2. Hearing the late Luther Vandross’ voice during “One Shining Moment”
“One Shining Moment” has always been a highlight of the tournament for me and the return of Vandross was a welcomed bright spot after a brutally agonizing championship game. Jennifer Hudson replaced Vandross last season and it just wasn’t the same. Hudson is a tremendous singer, but “One Shining Moment” just seems right with Vandross’ vocals. “One Shining Moment” serves as a wonderful recap of the tournament. It shows the passion and emotion of players, coaches and fans that typifies March Madness. And if you don’t like it or think it’s corny, you don’t have to watch it because it airs long after the game has concluded.
3. VCU’s tournament bid
Initially this didn’t seem like a very significant moment to the overall tournament, but we now know it was monumental. This moment makes the list for two reasons. The first and obvious one, is because it was the start of an unprecedented tournament run for the Rams. The second reason is because it stirred so much animosity toward the selection committee and, in the end, experts, analysts and sports writers across the country had to eat crow.
The backlash from commentators, most notable Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale, was harsh. Bilas questioned whether the selection committee knew if the ball was round. VCU’s run from the First Four to the Final Four provided a great story about achieving against long odds, but watching experts eat their words round after round as VCU advanced made it truly “Awesome Baby.”
4. Matt Howard’s buzzer-beater against Old Dominion
Just before the clock expired, Matt Howard’s game-winning putback gave Butler a 60-58 victory over ODU in the first round of the tournament. When it happened it seemed like just another buzzer-beater on the first day of the tournament, but by the time the tournament ended that shot proved to be the catalyst for a run to the national championship game. Brad Stevens and Butler rewrote tournament history and who knows if it would have been possible without that basket.
5. Brandon Knight’s game-winner over Princeton
This was a tough decision. I originally had Demonte Harper’s last-second 3-pointer that advanced No. 13 seed Morehead State past No. 4 seed Louisville as the last moment on this list, but Kentucky’s run to the Final Four makes Knight’s moment more significant.
After not scoring a single point the entire game, Brandon Knight sank Princeton with a game-winning jumper. It was Knight’s first ever tournament game and was as improbable as they come. How does John Calipari trust a freshman with last shot when said freshman had not scored a point all game? Knight finished off the Tigers and repeated his act against Ohio State in the Sweet 16. Knight’s bucket against Princeton provided the young Wildcats with the confidence they needed to make a deep tournament run. Kentucky’s trip to the Final Four returned its powerhouse program back to glory and it started with a jumper against Princeton.
So those are what I consider the best moments of the 2011 tournament. Feel free to share your own top five and let me know what I left off the list.
Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.
Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.