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The Slipper Still Fits Series – Part 1: The Shot

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The best part of March Madness is the sheer unpredictability of the tournament. The first and second weekends ALWAYS lead to huge upsets and memorable moments, but not every upset is created equal. Which are the best of the best? I’m going to try to determine the most memorable (not necessarily the greatest) Cinderella by creating a Sweet 16 tournament style bracket, with the teams split up into 4 regions:

The Shot:

These upsets were punctuated by a singular unbelievable shot. This shot always ends up in the ‘One Shining Moment’ reel at the end of the tournament, but most importantly it will be recalled in tournament highlight films 10 and even 20 years down the road. Most of these are also accompanied by a legendary call.

The Moment or Moniker:

These Cinderellas may not have a signature shot or player, but they stand out for more miscellaneous reasons. They may have had a nickname or style of play that was especially fun, or had a memorable moment which wasn’t directly tied to the on court product; usually tied to the celebration.

The Star:

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, to live another day.

The Deep Run:

These squads were no one and done flash in the pan. While many were not as high seeds as some of the other categories, they made up for the low-ish seed by making a deep run in the tournament. Elite 8 is an absolute must in this category, and the final 4 is the ideal landing spot. These teams remain in the public consciousness not because of  a singular shot, player, or moment, but because they slayed Goliath over and over and over again.

The Shot Region:

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(1) 1st round – #13 Valparaiso def. #4 Ole Miss, 1998 – Bryce Drew’s hook and ladder:

Every coach’s dream is to see a play executed to perfection. That being said, Valparaiso coach Homer Drew could not have expected his end of game Hail Mary play “Pacer” work like it did in his dreams. Luckily, Drew had his All-American son Bryce as the leader of the team and they needed his ice cold veins to cement what arguably became the biggest upset shot in NCAA Tournament history.

However, most people don’t remember that before the shot, down 69-67, Bryce had missed a 3 pointer with 5 seconds left that looked to seal the win for the Rebels. Mississippi missed the first free throw which led coach Drew to call his final timeout. The coach called a play Valpo had worked on all year but hadn’t been attempted up to that point; a ‘hook-and-ladder’ prayer that more resembled the Boise St. ’06 Fiesta Bowl play than anything I’ve ever seen on a basketball court. Ole Miss went on to miss the second free throw as well, but the ball was knocked out of bounds at the far end of the court.

Needing to travel the length of the floor, Valpo performed “Pacer” flawlessly which led to Drew knocking down one of the most memorable shots of all time.

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(4) 1st round – #11 Northern Iowa def. #6 Texas, 2016 – The half court heave:

While this is probably the least “true” upset in the bracket, the sheer difficulty of the shot gets it onto the list. Northern Iowa was a trendy upset pick to beat Shaka Smart’s (more on him later) 1st year Texas squad, but the manner in which they won was as dramatic as it was surprising.

The 2015 UNI squad was unquestionably better than the 2016 version, and was a 5 seed that made it to the second round of the tournament. With high expectations, the 2016 team sputtered to a 11-7 Missouri Valley record and absolutely needed to win the conference tournament to go dancing. UNI did just that and with a 12-2 finish down the stretch, including 2 wins over MVC powerhouse Witchita State, and were given an excellent chance to upset the Longhorns.

UNI went up BIG early taking a 16 point lead deep into the first half. However, as we’re apt to see in March, Texas stormed back taking the lead just four minutes into the second half. From there, it was a back and forth affair with UNI eventually taking a 2 point lead with 11 seconds left. When Isaiah Taylor made a tough driving leaner with 2.7 seconds left we seemed poised for overtime. Senior leader Paul Jesperson would have none of it though, and with coach Ben Jacobson leaving a timeout in his pocket, Jesperson rewarded his coach’s trust with an improbable shot for the history books.

This was undoubtably a massive shot, but what may be even crazier is that UNI’s 2016 tournament will likely be more remembered for the astonishing collapse in the second round against Texas A&M (14-2 run with under a minute to play to force overtime)!

Verdict:

While Jesperson’s shot was incredible, UNI was not that big of an underdog and there was as much luck as skill involved. Bryce Drew’s shot was an impeccably drawn up and executed play, and with Bryce returning to the tourney as a coach we’ve seen it more and more in recent years. Bryce, Homer & Scott move on to the next round.

(2) 1st round – #14 Northwestern State def. #3 Iowa, 2006 – The corner prayer:

Many prognosticators thought Iowa was an over seeded #3 and had a chance to get knocked off in the second round by Kevin Pittsnogle’s 6th seeded West Virginia Mountaineers. However, almost no one (save your boy) predicted Northwestern State making just their second NCAA tournament appearance to be up to the task.

Early on it seemed if Iowa would cruise. The Hawkeyes took a 18-4 early lead, which the Demons mostly erased, and then fell behind again 54-37 with just 8 and 1/2 minutes left in the contest. Northwestern State’s best player, Clifton Lee, wouldn’t let the Demons go quietly into the night and hit 4 three pointers down the stretch while flaunting a terrific afro:

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It was role player Jermaine Wallace though who hit a step back corner three with 0.5 seconds remaining to complete one of the more improbable comebacks of my lifetime. This was eerily similar to Chris Lofton’s 3 to send #2 Tennessee past #15 Winthrop that same year, but that’s supposed to happen to the SEC player of the year on a #2 seed. It is not supposed to happen for a role player on some school named Northwestern State.

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(3) 2nd Round – #9 Northern Iowa def. #1 Kansas, 2010 – Ali Farokhmanesh’s huge balls:

Ali Farokhmanesh, a name that will live in March Madness lore. Northern Iowa’s second appearance in this region is the shot that put the school from Cedar Falls on the college basketball map. Going into the 2010 NCAA Tournament UNI only had 1 win in their program history, which had come 20 years earlier (another buzzer beater upset of Missouri). That being said Greg McDermott had laid the groundwork for the program in leading them to three straight tourney appearances before Ben Jacobson took the reigns in 2005. Including the 2010 appearance, UNI had gone dancing in 5 of the previous 7 seasons with their previous 4 losses coming by 5 points each.

This set up UNI for their best season in program history, going 30-5 and grabbing a #9 seed, the highest in their existence. In the first round, senior leader Farokhmanesh was the hero burying a deep 3 with 5 seconds left to break a 66-66 tie and lead the Panthers to the 2nd round.

Waiting there was EASILY the best team in college basketball that season. Kansas was an absolute powerhouse as the preseason #1 and carrying that ranking for nearly the entire season. The Jayhawks entered the matchup 33-2, the overall #1 seed, and boasting incredible talent such as: Senior captains Cole Aldrich & Sherron Collins, the Morris twins, freshman phenoms Xavier Henry & Elijah Johnson, and steady presences Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar & Jeff Withey.

The Panthers grabbed the early lead, and even led by 12 with 12 minutes left in the game. Kansas made one of their patented runs though, and with 42 seconds left and up 1 with the ball everyone expected UNI to crumble and Kansas to squeak one out. Farokhmanesh flipped that narrative on its head sinking a deep 3 with 30 seconds left on the shot clock and cementing his nads on the Sam Cassell all stars:

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Verdict:

The Northwestern State shot was undoubtably more difficult, but amazingly the UNI upset was somehow even bigger than a #14 over #3. That’s how good Kansas was that year and a Final 4 run was expected, much less a Sweet 16 appearance. Farokhmanesh and the Panthers move on.

Elite 8:

(1) 1st round – #13 Valparaiso def. #4 Ole Miss, 1998 – Bryce Drew’s hook and ladder:

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(3) 2nd Round – #9 Northern Iowa def. #1 Kansas, 2010 – Ali Farokhmanesh’s huge balls:

For the right to move to the Final 4, this decision isn’t particularly difficult for me. While Farokhmanesh’s shot capped a crazy upset, the Valpo play will be replayed every year for as long as this tournament is played. Moreover, advancing to the Sweet 16 certainly gave Northern Iowa cache, but Bryce Drew and the Crusaders matched that feat beating Florida State in overtime after defeating Ole Miss.

Farokhmanesh will always live in our hearts, but Bryce Drew is a goddamn legend.

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Tags : Slipper Series

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