College basketball: Highlights and lowlights of the decade
December 16, 2009
PLAYER OF THE DECADE: Tyler Hansbrough, North CarolinaHe was not the most talented player this decade, and if some other players had stayed in college for four years, they would have likely earned this honor. Hansbrough, however, kept giving it the old college try, thrice turning down the chance to be a first-round draft pick and compiling one of the most storied careers in history. By the time he left Chapel Hill in the spring of 2009, he was the leading scorer in ACC history, the only league player to be named first team All-America four times, a Naismith and Wooden Award winner as the national player of the year, and of course an NCAA champion. Last but not least, he was a college graduate. That's a pretty good four years.
BEST COACH: Roy Williams, North CarolinaBesides leading North Carolina to the NCAA championship in 2005 and 2009, Williams took three other teams to the Final Four: Kansas in '02 and '03, and UNC in '08.
Click here for Grant Wahl's All-Decade team
BEST SCHOOL: Michigan StateIt's hard to go against North Carolina, which went to four Final Fours and won two titles, or Florida, which in 2006-07 became college basketball's first repeat champion in 15 years. But while the Spartans only won a single championship (in 2000), they also went to four Final Fours. Moreover, unlike the other two candidates, the Spartans made the NCAA tournament every year this decade. That is a remarkable achievement in an era when the best teams so frequently lose young players to the pros.
BEST SINGLE-SEASON TEAM: Saint Joseph's, 2004St. Joe's didn't quite pull off a championship (losing to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight), but the Hawks, led by incandescent point guard Jameer Nelson, became the first team to complete a perfect regular season since UNLV in 1991.
LEAST SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM: New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT)NJIT didn't reach full Division I status until 2008-09, but during its three years as a provisional Division I team, the Highlanders set a benchmark for futility. In those three seasons they went 6-83, at one point losing 51 straight and failed to win a single game in 2007-08.
WORST SINGLE-SEASON TEAM: See above.
BEST REGULAR-SEASON GAME:Gonzaga 109, Michigan State 103, 3 OT; Nov. 22, 2005It was just an early-season game in the quarterfinals of the Maui Invitational, but it was a classic nonetheless. Led by Adam Morrison's 43 points, Gonzaga outlasted the Spartans in a marathon that featured 13 lead changes in the final seven and half minutes of regulation, including four in the final 1:14.
BEST POSTSEASON GAME: Syracuse 127, UConn 117, 6 OT; March 12, 2009Coming in the quarterfinals of the 2009 Big East tournament, this was the second-longest game in Division I basketball history, taking 3 hours, 46 minutes to play and ending at 1:22 a.m. The star of the night was Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn, who played all but three minutes, but the game will be most remembered for the 30-foot shot that SU guard Eric Devendorf appeared to have made at the end of regulation to win the game, only to have the referees determine after a lengthy replay review that it had come after the buzzer. Perhaps most remarkable of all, Syracuse never led this game in any of the extra sessions until early in the sixth OT.
Click here for a gallery of the top 10 games of the decade
BEST YEAR FOR NCAA TOURNAMENT: 2005It's hard to go against 2006, when George Mason reached the Final Four, but the better tourney actually came the year before, when three of the four regional finals went to overtime. The tournament was capped by the second-best championship game of the decade (next to Kansas-Memphis in '08), when North Carolina eclipsed one-loss Illinois 75-70.
BEST RECRUITING CLASS: Florida, 2004When Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer and Taurean Green all signed with Florida, nobody heralded this quartet as the Fab anything. Yet, by the end of their junior year, they had led the Gators to back-to-back national championships. All except Green had the opportunity to be first-round draft picks as sophomores, but they came back for the chance to make history -- and that's exactly what they did. They were known as the Oh-Fours.
BIGGEST RECRUITING BUST: Shavlik Randolph, DukeAs a senior at Broughton High in Raleigh, N.C., the 6-10 forward scored 70 points in a game to break a school record held by Pete Maravich. He was a two-time Parade and McDonald's All-American who was the 12th ranked prospect in the Class of 2002 by Scout.com. However, in three injury- and illness-plagued seasons in Durham, Randolph averaged just 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while starting less than half of Duke's games. After his junior season, he declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. He went undrafted and is currently playing 11.5 minutes per game for the Miami Heat, his third NBA team in five seasons.
SIGNATURE PLAY: Mario Chalmers' game-tying shot, 2008 NCAA finalYou can't have a better shining moment than to sink a three-pointer as time is expiring in the national championship to send the game into overtime. That's what Kansas' Chalmers did -- following Memphis guard Derrick Rose's missed free throw -- in his final appearance as a Jayhawk. Kansas won 75-68 in OT.
BIGGEST CONTROVERSY: Tragedy at BaylorHe was a little-known player from a school that had made nary a peep in college basketball, but during the summer of 2003, Baylor forward Patrick Dennehy became a household name after he was murdered by his teammate Carlton Dotson. That tragedy led to revelations that Dennehy's coach, Dave Bliss, had set him up with a car and apartment in violation of NCAA rules and then asked his assistant coach to spread the rumor that Dennehy paid for those things by selling drugs. The assistant secretly taped those conversations, and when the tapes were made public, Bliss lost his job, Baylor was hit hard by NCAA sanctions and the sport suffered a major black eye.
BIGGEST CINDERELLA: George MasonThe Patriots captured the heart of America when they stunned top-seeded Connecticut in overtime to advance to the 2006 Final Four. They were the first mid-major team to reach the Final Four since 1979.
Click here for a gallery of the 10 biggest upsets of the decade
MOST OUTSTANDING SINGLE-GAME PERFORMANCE: Dwyane Wade's triple-double vs. Kentucky; March 29, 2003Few casual basketball fans had heard the name Dwyane Wade (much less learned how to spell it) before the 2003 Midwest regional final in Minneapolis, but the 6-5 junior guard from Marquette made quite a name for himself that day. Wade had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in the Golden Eagles' 83-69 upset of top-seeded Kentucky. The runner-up in this category goes to Syracuse freshman Carmelo Anthony for his 20-point, 10-rebound, seven-assist performance in the Orange's victory over Kansas in that season's NCAA championship game.
BIGGEST VILLAIN: The NBA agentThink of it this way: Agents are to college basketball what steroids are to baseball. The problem is, if a player or his relative gets improper help from an agent, it doesn't show up in a urine test. Simply put, agents and their runners are everywhere, filtering money and influence through summertime AAU programs and vying for influence over impressionable and often disadvantaged young teenagers. If the NCAA, in conjunction with the NBA and its players' association, don't step in and do something about it, college basketball could be consumed by an agent-related scandal from which it might not recover.
BEST TEAM RIVALRY: Duke vs. North CarolinaIn college basketball, this is always going to be the answer. No rivalry in all of sports consistently delivers such memorable, intense, meaningful contests.
BEST INDIVIDUAL RIVALRY: J.J. Redick vs. Adam MorrisonTheir teams never played each other, but Duke's Redick and Gonzaga's Morrison waged a scintillating battle from opposite coasts during the 2005-06 season. Morrison edged out Redick for the national scoring title (28.4 ppg to Redick's 27.4), but Redick walked away with the Naismith and Wooden awards. Alas, neither player got what he wanted, which was a chance to play for a national championship. Both of their teams lost in the Sweet 16.
BEST COACHING RIVALRY: John Calipari vs. Bruce PearlCalipari has been at loggerheads with lots of coaches over the years, from Lou Carnesecca to John Chaney to Jim Calhoun to his current doppelganger at Louisville, Rick Pitino. But the state of Tennessee was truly not big enough for both Pearl and Calipari, whose constant jabs at each other in the media, on the recruiting trail and on the court made for great theater. The rivalry crested on Feb. 23, 2008, when Pearl's Vols, who were ranked No. 2 in the country, edged top-ranked and undefeated Memphis 66-62.
OUTSIZED PERSONALITY: Dick VitaleLove him or hate him, but ESPN's Vitale is undoubtedly the definitive voice of college basketball. His effort to enlist anyone and everyone to campaign for him to get into the Hall of Fame was unseemly, but he deserved to be enshrined.
BEST NEW ARENA: John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, Va.The University of Virginia spent $140 million to build John Paul Jones Arena, which opened in 2006. The arena is a perfect size (capacity 14,593), includes state-of-the-art practice, training and academic facilities, and it blends perfectly into UVA's stately campus.
BEST SMALL-SCHOOL STORY: GonzagaGonzaga has the third-highest winning percentage of the decade, trailing only Duke and Kansas. The Zags have won their conference all nine years, going undefeated three times and have made 11 consecutive NCAA tournaments, reaching the Sweet 16 five times and the Elite Eight once. Almost any power-conference school would be proud of that profile, but the little team from Spokane, Wash., trumps all the big boys. Normally, when a mid-major makes a run in the NCAA tournament, it crashes back to earth and has to wait a few years before getting back. Even the most prestigious schools have their down years. Not these Zags, who under coach Mark Few have built one of the most remarkable stories in all of sports.
BEST INNOVATION: Dribble-drive motion offenseNobody noticed that a little-known coach at Fresno (Calif.) City College college named Vance Wahlberg had been deploying a lethal, exciting attack. Calipari got wind of it and implemented it at Memphis. From there, the DDM became a national craze. Incidentally, as Calipari was using the offense to help Memphis reach the 2008 NCAA title game, Wahlberg lost his job at Pepperdine with six weeks remaining in the regular season.
WORST INNOVATION: Social networkingRemember the sickening feeling you had when you handed your kid the keys to the car for the first time? That's how parents and coaches should feel whenever their son/player sits in front of a computer. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter et al. give youngsters a high-profile, unfettered forum to air controversial views, confess to immature behavior and reveal their unsightly spelling and grammar skills. Players also use the sites (and video sites like ustream) to manipulate the recruiting process and maximize attention. Moreover, the networking sites (along with the advent of text messaging) introduce potential for NCAA violations as well as legal-but-non-kosher avenues for agents to approach prospective clients. Is it too late to go back to the dark ages of snail mail and landline phones?
BIGGEST NEAR-MISS: Memphis in the 2008 NCAA finalA month after Kansas defeated Memphis for the 2008 title, the standardized test score of Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose was invalidated because of suspicions that somebody else took it for him. A year later, the NCAA ordered the Tigers' entire 2007-08 season to be vacated. Had Chalmers missed his three-point attempt at the end of regulation in the 2008 final, the NCAA would have had to vacate a national championship for the first time.
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