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The Slipper Still Fits Series – Part 3: The Star

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So I was planning on intro’ing this Part 3 with a nod to the 2017 Cinderellas who advanced to the second weekend as these next 2 regions mostly feature teams that did just that. Unfortunately, there were none in the 2017 edition:

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Alas, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and remember the better times, when Cinderella was still dancing at the ball.

Here’s a quick reminder on how this region was determined:

These teams had one truly spectacular player that fueled their amazing upsets and runs deep into March. Whether it was an unforgettable game or string of games, these superstars willed their underdog, often unheard of, college to live another day.

The Star Region:

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(1) #10 Davidson comes up just short of the Final 4, 2008 – Stephen Curry; David(son) takes down Goliath

Before he was back-to-back NBA MVP Steph Curry, he was Dell Curry’s son, Stephen, from tiny Davidson college. And before he took us on a magical ride with the Warriors, I submit he took us on an even wilder ride during the ’08 NCAA tournament.

The year before, Curry and Davidson proclaimed themselves to the national stage by nearly knocking off #4 seed Maryland when Steph had 30 points and they had an 8 point lead in the second half.  With a lack of experience though the Wildcats couldn’t hold on. Going into the 2007-08 season coach Bob McKillop wasn’t going to let inexperience be his team’s kryptonite. He aggressively scheduled North Carolina, Duke, UCLA & NC State and while Davidson didn’t pull any out, they hung around until the end and gained understanding for what it would take to survive and advance in March.

Early on against Gonzaga in the first round it seemed as if Steph’s top scoring average in the country would be for naught. He only dropped 10 in the first half as Davidson fell into a sizable hole. As we’ve become accustomed to seeing in recent years though, Curry caught fire in the second half scoring 30 out of his 40 and ended up 8/10 from long distance. This was only the start of the legend.

Next, against the #2 seeded Georgetown Hoyas Steph continued his second half fireworks. Down 17 Steph turned on the magic scoring 25 out of his 30 points while hitting 6 of his last 9. After 70 points in the first 2 rounds, Steph and Davidson looked like a typical Cinderella that would slow down after the Sweet 16 layoff. But this is where Steph showed us the truly special player he was and would become by putting on a show in front of LeBron in the Sweet 16 matchup against Wisconsin. Curry put up another 30 points (100 points in 3 games?!?!) with an array of step back 3s and acrobatic layups that seemed impossible for a man of his slight stature.

And while the magical run would end in the Elite 8 (barely) against Kansas, Steph was just preparing the world for a transcendent talent; one we usually don’t see at a 3,000 student enrollment liberal arts school.

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(4) #15 Lehigh def. #2 Duke, 2012 – C.J. McCollum

Oh baby, how much more fun is this to write now that Duke has again taken an early trip back down Tobacco Road!

In 2012, C.J. McCollum and Lehigh sent Duke packing a round earlier than this year. The #15 seed Mountain Hawks went into Greensboro, North Carolina (just 55 miles from the Duke campus) and led nearly wire to wire. Now an NBA scoring machine, C.J. McCollum was an unknown (to the casual fan) from a mid-major school that had never before tasted March success. Even though he had relative anonymity playing in the Patriot league, C.J. was the 5th leading scorer in the country and he instantly demonstrated to fans everywhere that he was no small school fluke (what up Mikey Daum).

From the opening tip McCollum was all over the court, and displayed his trademark handles over and over again to the point that Coach K ran out of overmatched defenders to throw his way. C.J. dazzled his way into college basketball fans’ hearts everywhere to the tune of 30 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in a 75-70 defeat of the Dookies where the final score was closer than the game actually was. The Carolina fans in attendance (they also were playing in Greensboro) turned the place into a mad house in one of the most memorable tournament days in history (that same Friday #15 Norfolk State defeated Missouri and #13 Ohio beat Michigan).

I’ll leave you with this quote from McCollum that showed me this kid was not someone to be trifled with once he made it into the League:

“I told my teammates all year whenever in doubt get me the ball and I’ll make a play for us.”

Verdict:

I think you all can predict this one. Chef Curry moves on to the next round. While McCollum put up a great one game performance (he put up a 14 point clunker in round 2), Curry scintillated for 2 weeks and gave us all a sneak peek to the transcendent force he would become.

(2) #10 Miami (Ohio) goes to the Sweet 16, 1999 – Wally Szczerbiak; Wally’s World

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I scoured the internet to try to find a video of Wally World’s legendary 1999 performance, but it is no where to be found. The best I could do was one lay up in the ‘One Shining Moment’ montage, which doesn’t do Wally justice for one of the most incredible one-man performances in tournament history.

Playing in New Orleans, Wally put on a show that may even rival Mardi Gras. In the first round against #7 seed Washington, Szczerbiak accounted for an unbelievable 75% of his teams points scoring 43 out of the teams’ 59. 75%?! 43 out of 59?!?! Only 2 other players on the Red Hawks scored in the game, and Miami of Ohio needed every single one of those points to pull off this upset 59-58. Wait, I just found some grainy footage on Wally putting the team on his back doh:

After one of his very few misses with 26 seconds left, Wally solidified the win with something that was sorely lacking in his NBA career; defense (Wally had a game saving block to move Miami to the 2nd round).

Wally followed up this shooting display with another 24 points in the 2nd round in downing the #2 seed Utah Utes starring Andre Miller. The Red Hawks danced their way into the Sweet 16 and Wally’s World was born.

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(3) #7 UCONN wins it all, 2014 – Shabazz Napier; Hero Ball

When Kemba Walker took the Huskies to the 2011 national championship pretty much by him damn self, at least we saw it coming. The week before the tournament Kemba took those Huskies on a 5 game wild ride through the Big East tournament that got them a #3 seed in the Big Dance.

Those 2011 Huskies had a Freshman PG impress on that championship run, and by 2014 Shabazz Napier was the leader of Kevin Ollie’s squad. However, the ’14 UCONN team was much different than their ’11 counterparts. After surging to a 9-0 start and looking very much like a title contender, including a win over a Florida team they would play again in the Final 4, the Huskies went just 17-8 the rest of the way and never won more than 4 games in a row (that 4 game run was UCF, USF, Cincy & Rutgers, not exactly a murderers’ row).

After losing handily to Louisville in the AAC tournament championship, many pundits thought Langston Galloway  and St. Joe’s would upset the Huskies in the first round. Napier wouldn’t let that happen though and scored 9 of his team high 24 points in the overtime session in what ended up becoming UCONN’s closest call on the road to an indelible championship run.

Shabazz moved to the second weekend with a 21 point (out of 25 total) second half destruction of #2 seed Villanova, which included 2 30 footers to put the game out of reach. At this point Napier had already established himself as a UCONN hero, but he wanted to be on the RIP Hamilton and Kemba Walker pantheon of greats. UCONN went up BIG on #3 seed Iowa St. in the Sweet 16 and Napier held off a furious charge by the Cyclones in scoring 19 points, 5 boards and 5 assists. Finally, Napier moved to the Final 4 by beating the regional favorite, Michigan State. Even though Sparty was only a #4 seed most people were buying the Izzo March magic. But Shabazz, the second half magician, scored 17 of his 25 after the intermission and took down the Denzel Valentine – Adrien Payne dynamic duo.

Verdict: 

This was one of the toughest decisions of the bracket. Wally’s astounding 43 out of 59 point performance is something out of a video game. Furthermore, Miami (Ohio) seems like a true mid-major whereas UCONN is historically a college basketball powerhouse. But I can’t ignore Napier’s cold blooded showing that was the most shocking title run of my lifetime. Shabazz moves on.

Elite 8:

(1) #10 Davidson comes up just short of the Final 4, 2008 – Stephen Curry; David(son) takes down Goliath

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(3) #7 UCONN wins it all, 2014 – Shabazz Napier; Hero Ball

This was tougher than I thought it would be.

Shabazz moved on to the Final 4 where he faced the #1 overall seed Florida. Florida was 36-2 and 18-0 in SEC play going into the game. They boasted the senior trio of Patric Young, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin. But Napier was undeterred and led UCONN to the title game against another SEC squad teeming with talent, Kentucky. While Kentucky sleep-walked through the regular season, they were on a “team of destiny” march through the tournament and it seems like future pros Julius Randle, James Young and the Harrison twins would finally be the ones to stop Shabazz. But with another 22 point performance Shabazz cemented his legacy and won a ring in coach Ollie’s 2nd season (his first where they were eligible to play).

With ALL THAT SAID, I can’t take this away from Curry. I’ll never forget that magical run where Curry had everyone from your mom to LeBron wondering just who in the fuck this little 12 year old on Davidson was. More than that, he pretty much singlehandedly moved Davidson from the depths of the Southern Conference to the highly respected Atlantic 10. Steph changed the entire trajectory of the program and for that, him and Davidson move on to the Final 4.

Hit it Steph:

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Tags : Slipper Series

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