What began as college basketball’s annual march toward crowning a champion became something much more in 2013. We met a new Cinderella, who brought with it a swagger, a nickname (Dunk City!) and former model in the stands. We met another Cinderella, this one with a more Shocking bravado, which carried it all the way to the Final Four. And we learned that a champion’s road is never easy, and that its most important player doesn’t have to be playing at all. Sprinkle in some last-second heroics, controversy off the court and one of the great title games of all time, and this was a tournament worthy of one last look back. Here are the best moments from this year’s NCAA tournament.
Not everything happened in Bracketville
It was hard to focus on the tournament and avoid the carnage outside of it. Two incidents in particular made headlines — and made us all again question the concept of amateur athletics. First, a videotape surfaced showing Rutgers coach Mike Rice (far left), suspended three games in December, verbally and physically abusing players at practice, including shoving players, throwing balls at players, and screaming homophobic slurs at them. The next day, Rice was fired. Also out were an assistant coach and athletic director Tim Pernetti, criticized for his handling of the situation. One positive thing did come of the situation: this epic 'SNL' spoof. On the West Coast, the Pac-12 became embroiled in controversy when it was learned head of officiating Ed Rush had offered officials money and a Mexican vacation if they assessed Arizona coach Sean Miller a technical foul during the Pac-12 tournament. It happened, and thus the controversy erupted. Ultimately, Rush was out of a job, too.
Two for the money
Ohio State fell one game short of the Final Four, losing to Wichita State in the regional final in Los Angeles. But one could argue the 2-seed Buckeyes should have been gone two games before that. But they were the ones with LaQuinton Ross and Aaron Craft on their team. Ross hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with two seconds left to propel Ohio State over Arizona in the Elite Eight in LA. Of course, that would not have been possible had it not been for Craft, whose 3-pointer with a half-second left beat Iowa State in the third round, 78-75.
America, welcome to Nerd City
They were not the most famous Cinderella of the tournament, but the Harvard Crimson were the first. On the first night of the second round, Tommy Amaker's 14th-seeded team took down 3-seed New Mexico, 68-62. It was Harvard's third trip to the tournament, and its first win. For the Lobos, the loss came a day after the school rewarded coach Steve Alford with a 10-year contract — and then he bolted to UCLA. On the winning side, Harvard's most famous hoops playing alum wasn't afraid to tweet to the world that his guys made him Linsane.
A classic matchup
When Mike Krzyzewski brought his Duke Blue Devils to Lucas Oil Stadium to face Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals on Easter Sunday, we knew we were in for a treat. After all, these two guys gave us perhaps college basketball's greatest moment, Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater to send Duke to the Final Four and Pitino back to Kentucky (he was the Wildcats' coach back then) in 1989. And for much of the 2013 rematch — their first meeting in the tournament since the epic — we looked like we had another classic. But the Cardinals proved to be too much and pulled away for an 85-63 win.
Trey's trey saves the day
With Michigan's season on the line and in the midst of one of his worst performances, Trey Burke showed Kansas — and the world — why he was the player of the year. After going scoreless in the first half, and with his team trailing by 14 with less than 7 minutes to play, Burke started finding his stroke. He finished with 23 points in the second half and overtime, but none were bigger than the three he scored at the end of regulation. That bomb tied the Sweet Sixteen game and ultimately led to an 87-85 win over the No. 1 seed in the South Region.
What a weekend!
Sure, winning an NCAA championship is great. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for Rick Pitino. Check out what else went down with the Louisville coach over Final Four weekend: He became the first coach in Division I history to win national championships at multiple schools With the championship game win, he tied John Wooden of all people on the career wins list with No. 664 On the day of final, he learned he had been voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame His son Richard was named the new head coach at Minnesota A horse which he co-owns, Goldencents, won the Santa Anita Derby and is now among the Kentucky Derby favorites And to think, the guy's 60.
They Shocked us all
Wichita State entered the tournament a 9-seed sporting five new starters. They left it the latest mid-major to announce its arrival. First, the Shockers beat 8-seed Pittsburgh in the second round. A nice win, but nothing earth-shattering. Two days later, Wichita State took down Gonzaga and gave us the first No. 1 seed sent home. As Cinderellas like Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle finally went down (OK, the Shockers beat the Explorers, too), Wichita State just kept shocking. The Shockers even took eventual champ Louisville to the 40th minute in the Final Four before midnight finally found them. Even though they lost, the Shockers may have given us further evidence that the college basketball world has permanently changed.
America, welcome to Dunk City
When it comes to Cinderellas, it's hard to top Florida Gulf Coast, a university in Fort Myers that opened in 1997 and with an enrollment of 12,000. In just their second season in Div. 1 and in their first NCAA tournament, the 15-seeded Eagles took down mighty 2-seed Georgetown, 78-68, in the second round. What's more, FGCU showed it can fly as high as the big boys, with Chase Fieler's amazing slam serving as the dunk of the tournament. A third-round win over San Diego State made history, giving us our first-ever 15-seed in the Sweet 16. A media whirlwind followed, making head coach Andy Enfield and his former cover model wife household faces. FGCU lost its next game to Florida, then lost its coach to USC.
A game for the ages!
To most observers, this tournament was, let's just say, not the most exciting one we have seen. Even the finalists' stars, like Trey Burke and Peyton Siva, were coming off subpar performances in the semifinals. So leave it to a couple of reserves to save the day — and the tournament — on Monday night. Michigan's Spike Albrecht (No. 2) took over for Burke when the player of the year got into foul trouble. And all the freshman did was hit all of his 3-pointers and score 17 points — before halftime. Then he hit on Kate Upton after the game. On the other end of the floor, Louisville's Luke Hancock followed up on his stellar Final Four game by leading the Cardinals back from an early deficit and sparking them in the second half. The back-and-forth game came down to the closing seconds, with Louisville ultimately winning it all, 82-76, and Hancock being named Final Four Most Outstanding Player — with his ailing dad in attendance.
'I'll be fine; we've gotta win the game'
And with that line, a team's internal fire was lit, a champion discovered its destiny, and a legend was born. One shocking, horrifying moment that started as perhaps the most agonizing moment in tournament history ultimately became its most inspiring. As Kevin Ware lay on the court, tended to by medical personnel after breaking his leg in the regional final against Duke, he repeated that phrase to coach Rick Pitino as Pitino, assistant coaches and players tried to regain their composure. The team rallied around their fallen teammate, pulled away from Duke and won two more games to bring Louisville its third championship. At the Final Four, 'Win It For Ware' became a rallying cry for Cardinal Nation as the guard made the trip to Atlanta. And fittingly, it was Ware who cut down the net and wore it home.