The NCAA Tournament is something we all take for granted as one of the undisputed top two or three events in all of sports each year, and never was that more evident than in 2020 when The Big Dance was canceled.
As pandemic pandemonium set in, we were not only deprived of many of the little things in life we take for granted, we were also deprived of Championship Week, Selection Sunday, upsets, bracket pools, buzzer beaters, cheerleaders, legendary coaches, student sections, Bill Raftery, the CBS studio crew, Charles Barkley and Kenny “The Jet” Smith moonlighting as college analysts, and so many of the other little things that make the NCAA Tournament so great.
With this year’s biggest games getting set to tip off across the nation, Nick Meyer and Wade Peery of Forgotten Sports Heroes sat down to talk a little roundball prior to the coming month’s action, focusing on everything from favorite NCAA tournament moments to Players to Watch in this year’s tourney and everything in-between.
NM: First things first, Wade: What are you most looking forward to seeing in this year’s tournament?
WP: Really looking forward to see who wins it to be honest. I’m also super pumped to see the teams that are going to bust some brackets in rounds one and two – a couple that I have my popcorn buttered for are the Liberty Flames and the Winthrop Eagles.
Both teams are dangerous and scream giant killers to me.
I’m very excited to see the Final Four this year as well – it’s been awesome watching Baylor, Michigan, and Gonzaga destroy teams the way they have all year long.
Those three sit atop college basketball in a league of their own if you ask me. I love the way Michigan and Baylor share the basketball and Gonzaga is STACKED.
So it should be a good tournament.
Also – the replacement teams if COVID-19 knocks a team out should be interesting!
I really love seeing all of the different mascots in the tournament as well and the buzzer beaters, etc.
The passion in March Madness is unrivaled!!!
Another player I am really looking forward to seeing is Oklahoma State sensation Cade Cunningham. I hope the NCAA lets the Cowboys play in the tournament (editor’s note: they will be in as long as their one-year ban appeals process is still ongoing as expected).
I’m not sure what the status on his ankle is yet–but we need him in the tournament.
NM: Thankfully, it looks like the COVID threat is starting to fall by the wayside, but you never know. It could be like a WWE tag team situation.
I personally am looking forward to seeing if the Big Ten lives up to the regular season hype this time around. The league has had a ton of great teams since Michigan State last won it all in 2000, but a lot of “close but no cigar” type moments.
I’m looking also looking forward to seeing Jalen Suggs and Gonzaga on the big stage because I think they have to be the odds-on favorite at this point.
As a Michigan fan I wish I could say we’re the favorite, but we haven’t been tested in close games enough to my liking.
WP: Hunter Dickinson has been an incredible player. The one time he got really manhandled was by the Illinois big man (Kofi Cockburn). That guy dominated him – I was surprised by that score.
NM: If you to had to name three players and three teams to watch in this year’s dance, who would they be?
WP: Three Teams and Three Players. We’ll go with Michigan – Hunter Dickinson. The PG from Illinois (Ayo Dosunmu). That kid is a beast. Illinois has been on a roll lately and are playing like a one seed.
Darius McGee from Liberty and the Liberty Flames. Those boys D up – Ritchie McKay was an assistant under Tony Bennett at Virginia and runs the pack-line defense there.
McGhee is listed at 5-foot-9, 155 pounds but his game speaks for itself.
They are going to be a tough out. McGee has an insane vertical leap (watch him throw it down here). Popcorn ready type player.
NM: For me I’ll start with Gonzaga. They’re the best team right now and it would be a monumental achievement for a “mid major” type team from the WAC to win it all.
Also, Illinois, they can run anybody out of the gym with the talent they have at guard and the breakneck pace at which they play.
And finally, Michigan. This may be a warm-up for Juwan Howard’s program with the number one class coming in next year, but they have pro caliber athletes across the board and are a lot of fun to watch night in and night out.
WP: Sam Hauser from Virginia is a sharpshooter to watch. He was absolutely lethal in their game against Louisville and could not be stopped. One of the purest shooters in the country.
Macio Teague of Baylor is fun to watch too. That whole team is fun to watch. He recently hit 10 threes in one game. That’s absurd.
NM: For me, Ayo Dosunmu. He’s got a lot of D’Aaron Fox in his game and the look to match. Plus he’s got this Phantom of the Opera thing going on right now with the black mask. He could steal the show.
Evan Mobley of USC, who is battling to be a top three pick in the NBA Draft.
And Isaiah Livers of Michigan, who I think could be a steal in the draft as a 3-and-D guy and a team leader. His blocks, steals and a dunks are a thing to behold for fans of old school defense-first basketball. He seems to bait opposing players into layups and practically hovers at the rim before swatting them off the backboard and fueling Michigan’s transition game.
Michigan’s had a lot of entertaining guys over the past decade and he might be number one on that list along with Trey Burke (remember that dagger against Kansas?) and Nik Stauskas.
NM: Speaking of clutch moments, if you had to name the ones that stick out in your mind the most over the past five years, what would you say?
WP: Clutch moments — Kyle Guy’s free throws against Auburn really stick out when he got fouled in the corner against the Auburn Tigers in the Final Four back in 2019. Also – De’Andre Hunter’s three from the corner to tie it. That game was an all-time classic of back-and-forth.
A lot of people expected that game to be low-scoring but it was anything but.
NM: As a fellow basketball purist and long-time John Beilein supporter, I must say I’m a big fan of the way Tony Bennett’s teams play basketball. I would never count them out in any tournament as long as he’s at the helm.
For me, the Kris Jenkins shot against North Carolina to win the title is an all-time great moment not just for March Madness but also in the history of sports to be frank about it. Jenkins channeled his inner Steph Curry, let it fly, and pandemonium ensued.
I’ll never forget that night.
WP: It wasn’t five years ago but Kemba Walker’s run with the UConn Huskies was one of my all-time favorite moments.
Kris Jenkins shot was incredible I loved that guy so much. God he was amazing.
NM: Also, the Jordan Poole shot for Michigan against Houston and just the sheer jubilation that Michigan fans got from that moment and Jordan’s ensuing moment. Absolute pandemonium in Wichita, Kansas.
Something about that state and Michigan buzzer beaters.
WP: One of the best contested shooters in college basketball history — Kris Jenkins. Too bad he’s been a bust in the pros. Huge bust.
That Villanova team was a lot of fun to watch. They were bombing threes everywhere. Insane three point display every single game. It was unreal to watch.
NM: As far as all-time historical moments, Hakim Warrick’s block in the 2003 title game for Syracuse still stands out to me all these years later.
That guy covered a lot of ground and really became the prototype for the next generation shot blocking extraordinaire power forward looking back on it now. Everybody talks about Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara but Hakim was nails for that Syracuse team on defense and in the paint.
WP: The Syracuse team was a lot of fun to watch, for sure. It was fun we got to watch Melo in the tourney.
Mario Chalmers’ three against Memphis was one of my all-time favorite moments as well.
What an epic comeback.
NM: Another one that sticks out to me: TJ Sorrentine for Vermont in 2005 against that same Syracuse program. “Sorrentine from the parking lot!”
If I remember correctly there weren’t a whole lot of guys pulling up from the distance he did in that game before that moment.
Syracuse really lost their mojo when they changed from the Orangemen to the “Orange.”
And then, the last team that sticks out to me is the George Mason Patriots. Something about the future NFL free agent signee Jai Lewis punishing people in the post that made me love watching that team and their historical run.
He was listed at 6’7, 275 but the New York Giants penciled him in at 6’5, 292 pounds when he made at run at being an offensive tackle in the league.
One of the best parts about March Madness for me is seeing the types of guys you could find at a YMCA somewhere, of all shapes, sizes and walks of life, becoming a hero on basketball’s biggest stage.
Jai Lewis and Kevin Pittsnogle are just two names that come to mind out of a cast of thousands.
Always love seeing the “undersized” power forwards getting their day to shine. Somewhere, Corliss Williamson is smiling.
WP: I’ll never forget when UNC-Wilmington beat USC, and this guy from UNCW tried to pipe on Sam Clancy.
Clancy was having none of it and blocked it with two hands like a volleyball.
The UNCW guy tried to “send it in” on him. UNCW won because of Brett Blizzard – but I’ve never forgotten the block from Sam Clancy.
I was so upset when Iowa State went down to Hampton too, in the 2-15 upset. Every time they show that coach getting picked up it’s hard to stomach. My bracket went up in flames.
Marcus Fizer, Jamaal Tinsley, that team was absolutely stacked. It really stung to see them go down.
NM: I remember that upset like it was yesterday…Tough loss for what was an incredible ISU team.
That UNCW-USC game reminds me…I think I’ll always remember the upsets I picked on my bracket over the years. I had UNC-Wilmington in that game. All Hail Brett Blizzard.
WP: Adam Morrison crying when they went down. That was awful. I still haven’t forgiven him for that.
Me and my brother were yelling at him to suck it up and worry about the game, which wasn’t even over yet.
He fell down on the floor in tears before the game was over and down went our brackets. Awful.
NM: As a big Adam Morrison fan, that one still stings, but at least we got an all-time great Gus Johnson call out of it.
WP: I agree I loved watching Morrison play.
He was an incredible college player that year but man did he choke. Crying before the game was over — unforgivable offense.
P.S. Gus Johnson is the very best at what he does!
WP: Which tournament matchups are you most looking forward to this year?
NM: I’m always a big fan of the good old fashioned 5-12 games. Also the 1-16 games…The gap has been narrowing lately. But I don’t see any one seeds losing this year.
WP: Yeah I love the 12-5 matchups and honestly I like the 13-4s as well.
They are all good in March because anything can happen. All it takes is a team to get hot from three and BOOM. Your whole season is done.
It’s the beauty of the tournament but it’s a cure and a curse. In my opinion they should reward one seeds even more for dominating throughout the season.
Maybe a double-bye to the Sweet 16. Something like that.
NM: With all due respect Wade, I’m going to have to disagree on that one.
If ain’t broke, don’t fix it is my philosophy.
There’s nothing like March Madness and I think it should stay exactly the way it is for the foreseeable future.
Let the games begin!