The second week of March is upon us, which means bring on the madness! College basketball just might have the most parity that we have ever seen as conference tournaments tip-off. In 2022, you cannot automatically put the UConn women into the Final Four, or assume the Gonzaga men’s team will have an easy waltz into the final weekend. For college hoops lovers—and heck, even neutrals—this should get you excited. And as an appetizer before we get the delicious, month-long main course of bracket mania, we take a look back on some of the most exciting players, teams and memories of the past 15 years.
Yep, starting things off with a dope name drop. Kevin Pittsnogle played four years at West Virginia University, and in my humble opinion, if the song “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was a person, it was this dude circa 2005-06. Pittsnogle was a stud for the Mountaineers from day one, earning Big East All Rookie Team in 2003. He was a key member of WVU men’s teams that reached consecutive regional semifinals in The Big Dance in 2005 and 2006.
My favorite memory of Pittsnogle is the men’s Sweet 16 matchup against Texas in 2006, when he suffered a bad bloody nose late in the second half… only to come back and hit the game-tying three with five seconds left. Overtime looked likely until Kenton Paulino answered back with a three at the buzzer. One of the more underrated tournament games in recent memory.
Kevin Pittsnogle finished his Mountaineer career sixth all-time in points with 1,708, and is second all-time in three-point shooting percentage with 41.1 percent. Pretty awesome stats considering WVU has produced some ballers… like, you know, Jerry West.
Raise your hand if you could tell me what state Davidson College is located in before the 2008 edition of March Madness? My hand is shamefully not raised, but North Carolina is your answer. This small liberal arts school is where the world was introduced to a guy named *checks notes* Wardell Stephen Curry. You might better know this man as NBA superstar Steph Curry, who holds the NBA record for most career three pointers (3,101). Wild. Also wild is that for many of us, Steph literally put Davidson on the map.
As integral as Curry was to the success of the Davidson team in 2008, the squad as a whole was really damn good. For perspective, they lost a regular season game in December to in-state foe North Carolina State to drop to 4-6. Their seventh loss did not come until the end of March against eventual men’s NCAA champions, Kansas in the Elite 8. On their way to reaching Cinderella status, the Wildcats defeated three Top-25 teams along the way (Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin) thus recording their first tournament win since the 1969 season.
Hitting one game-winner in an NCAA tournament would be a life highlight for any hooper. But what if you hit two dagger, buzzer beater shots in back-to-back tournament games to win a natty? Arike Ogunbowale can say that she has. In 2018, the Women’s Final Four consisted of all four No. 1 seeds: Louisville, Notre Dame, Mississippi State, and the heavily favored, all-time ridiculously talented UConn Huskies. This had all the makings of an insanely entertaining weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
Both national semi-final games went into overtime with the Mississippi State Bulldogs knocking off the Louisville Cardinals 73-69. As amazing as that game was, nothing throughout the entire tournament was as incredible, shocking, and jaw-dropping as the game between the Fighting Irish and the Huskies.
UConn came into this game on a 36-game winning streak. The previous year, their 111-game winning streak (yep, that is not a typo) came to an end against Mississippi State on a buzzer-beater in the Final Four. Needless to say, this UConn team was historically stacked with talent. However, Ogunbowale and Notre Dame were ready to stun the sporting world… and that they did. With just 38 seconds left in overtime, and Notre Dame clinging to an 89-86 lead, Ogunbowale missed a free throw that would have stretched the Irish advantage to two possessions. And in typical UConn fashion, they hit a three to tie the game with 26 seconds left. Not to be detoured, Ogunbowale hit a cold-blooded step back jumper from the right wing with one second left to cement her team’s spot in the national championship game.
…and imagine that only being the second coolest thing she did that weekend!
The national title game rolled around on that Monday night, and Ogunbowale repeated the same heroics against Mississippi State. With three seconds left, she received the inbounds pass, turned, and hit a fadeaway three from the right baseline as time expired to give the Fighting Irish their second national title in program history. Talk about a memorable three days.
Northern Iowa plays its basketball in the Missouri Valley Conference, and in the 2009-10 season, they did the double by winning the regular season and conference tournament championships. Not a small feat considering this conference has teams like Wichita State, Bradley, and Illinois State. Quality, high level basketball is played consistently throughout the MVC.
With the Panthers representing the conference as the automatic bid, they earned a 9 seed in The Big Dance. Predicting the winner of those 8/9 games is usually your “throw a dart the wall” sort of randomness, but UNI beat the Running Rebels of UNLV to advance. In the second round, they faced the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament—the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas head coach Bill Self was loaded with talent yet again in Lawrence. Twins Markieff and Marcus Morris lead the frontcourt with second team All-American Cole Aldrich. Sherron Collins was a consensus All-American that spearheaded the backcourt… crazy stacked team.
The two teams battled from the tip, and UNI held a 63-56 with 75 seconds left. However, they struggled trying to break down the full court pressure that Kansas established, turning the ball over on consecutive possessions. Kansas scored six quick points to trim the lead to 63-62 with 42 seconds left. Northern Iowa, still struggling to inbound the ball, was able to get it past half court into Farokhmanesh’s hands. Now, typically when you are up by one point with 30 seconds left on the shot clock and 35 seconds left on the game clock, stats and schematics would suggest holding the ball and letting the other team foul you. Welp, Ali Farokhmanesh had other ideas, and hit a stone-cold dagger three from the right wing after a brief moment of hesitation. UNI would go on to win the game 69-67 to bust brackets all over the world.
These are only four stories from decades of March Madness… madness. As the month kicks off, conference tournaments are right around the corner, and I hope this trip down memory lane gets you hyped for the mayhem that is surely to come.