The NCAA tournament brings stunning upsets, thrilling buzzer-beaters, and a plethora of unforgettable moments that could only be created in a single-elimination tournament featuring a bunch of college players. So who shined the most in this weekend’s semifinals? Let’s dive into a special edition of Winners and Losers.
Winner: Supernova Villanova
Villanova will play for the 2018 national championship Monday, but when the Wildcats play like they did Saturday night against Kansas, it feels like they should be playing for the 2118 national championship. Nobody can do what the Wildcats do offensively, and nobody should try.
Through one half, Villanova had already tied the Final Four record for 3s in a game (13) while attempting just seven 2-pointers and zero free throws. The Wildcats abandoned even the pretense of attempting to score inside the arc, and why not? By the time the game was over, the Wildcats had set the record for most 3s in a college basketball season—454 and counting.
Down 22-7, Kansas scored on five straight possessions—a tip-in, three layups, and a pair of free throws—and came out from it down 34-17, having given up four 3s. Kansas scored on every possession and still came out behind, because three is bigger than two. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks tried any strategy they could to keep up, all of them failing. At one point, Kansas tried to run a zone, which predictably did not work against a team raining hot fire from downtown.
We’ve seen Villanova do this before: Two years ago, the Wildcats shot 59 percent from 3 in the Final Four and national championship game. (With their two Final Four performances, the Wildcats are basically single-handedly killing the premise that it is difficult to shoot jump shots in domed buildings.) They hit 19 3s in that two-game stretch—and 18 Saturday night.
This is the best offense in college basketball—perhaps the best in college basketball history. They’ll need just one more strong shooting night to win their second national championship in three years. Or maybe they don’t even need that! I thought an off night might kill them, but the Wildcats shot 4-for-24 from 3 against Texas Tech and still won by 12, tied for their closest win of the tournament thus far. They’re just operating on another level.
Loser: The Owner of a 1997 Toyota Whose Horn Was Taken to Supply the Alamodome’s Buzzer
Apparently, somewhere along the line, the people who run America’s basketball arenas got together and decided they’d use the same provider, so now every arena’s buzzer makes that same nasally BAAAAAAAAAAA we always made in the driveway pretending to hit game-winners.
The Director of Noises from the Alamodome must have missed that meeting. To be fair, the Alamodome doesn’t regularly host basketball—so far as I can tell, the building hadn’t hosted a college basketball game since the 2011 Southwest regional NCAA tournament—so the Director of Noises had to scramble. The first step was probably calling up the Spurs, who unfortunately need their horn on a regular basis. The second was probably just holding an airhorn in front of a microphone, but that felt too much like somebody’s new single was dropping.
So the Director of Noises went into the parking lot and snagged a horn from some unsuspecting driver. It was irritating for viewers, who tuned into watch a basketball game and had to relive the feeling of being stuck in a traffic jam every time the clock hit zero, but I feel worse for the driver. The poor guy’s gonna be stuck behind somebody driving 40 in a 55 when he realizes a football stadium without a football team is using his horn for hoops.
Winner: Moe Wagner
Loyola and Michigan played the type of game that could’ve gotten a team from the Missouri Valley Conference to the championship game. The two teams combined to shoot 8-for-38 from 3. (The Villanova Supernova exists in a different galaxy.) Two of Michigan’s starting guards, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Zavier Simpson, combined to go 2-for-17 from the field. It was ugly, and teams operating at a talent disadvantage can win ugly games.
But Moritz Wagner, a uniquely talented big man who has carried the Wolverines in tournaments past, won Michigan a spot in the national title game with a 24-point, 15-rebound game. Only two previous players have put up 20 points with 15 rebounds in a Final Four game: Hakeem Olajuwon (back when his name was Akeem) and Larry Bird. Decent company! It was a career high in rebounds, and just three points off Wagner’s career high in scoring.
Michigan is typically a weak offensive rebounding team—they grab just 25.6 percent of their misses, 270th in college basketball—but with the shots clanging, the Ramblers couldn’t keep Wagner off the boards, as he had eight points off of putbacks in the first half alone.
Mo Wagner just about the only thing going right for Michigan.— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 31, 2018
11 Pts, 9 Reb for the Wolverines stud. pic.twitter.com/Xu5VynEmXz
Wagner said his goal was to avoid getting “emotionally drunk,” and in March Madness, I tend to fail at that. I really wanted to see Loyola advance to the title game. But you want Cinderella to stay at the dance because she somehow inherently deserves it—she works hard, and her ugly stepsisters are trash. Saturday night, it was clear who the most talented player on the floor was, and unfortunately, he was on the team we expected.
Wagner didn’t just shatter Loyola’s hopes Saturday night: He also shattered Bill Raftery’s glasses:
Bill Raftery's gonna struggle to see the lingerie on the deck pic.twitter.com/kwL0qwjaDv— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 1, 2018
(Perhaps the most impressive moment of Wagner’s evening: Managing to avoid injury after leaping off the Alamodome’s raised court.)
It was an immediately viral moment, something TBS’s producers flagged and forced Jim Nantz to talk about on air. Unfortunately, Jim Nantz did not know how to pronounce the word “meme.”
Nantz’s mispronunciation was hardly the worst offense to memedom of the night. You see, Loyola lost, ending the last Cinderella story of the tournament. And Loyola has a 98-year-old nun with significantly better name recognition than any of its players or coaches. We all knew well ahead of time that when Loyola lost, somebody would photoshop the face of the sad basketball player onto the nun. And of course, it happened. I thought the Crying Jordan was dead, but alas, meme has risen. Happy Easter, Sister Jean.
It is objectively funny to witness Weeping Sister Jordan, but that’s beside the point. Memes/mimis at their best are an ode to the internet’s creativity; Saturday night, a man whose preferred food is burnt toast identified a meme even though he could not pronounce the word, and thousands of retweet-seekers launched the most obvious meme combination in sports history in search of viral fame. It was a bad night for jokes.
Winner: The Women’s Final Four
The most entertaining night of basketball in March was Friday, as the Final Four of the women’s tournament featured two overtime games between four top-seeded teams.
In the first game of the night, Mississippi State drained a game-tying 3 to match Louisville with a few seconds left. We were barely able to breathe before there was an even more thrilling moment, a frenzied end-to-end scramble as the Cardinals attempted to win in regulation:
The Bulldogs prevailed in overtime to advance to their second-straight national championship game. But that was just the second-best game of the night.
The nightcap saw Notre Dame try to hand 36-0 UConn its first loss of the season. But just when the Irish seemed set to ice the game away, the Huskies stole the ball and scored to force OT.
But that was just the second-best moment of the best game of the night! In overtime, Notre Dame’s Arike Ogunbowale hit a cold-blooded step-back game-winning jumper:
Somehow, this is the second-straight year that UConn took a 36-0 record into the Final Four, but lost on a well-defended midrange jumper in overtime. Some say that women’s basketball doesn’t have enough parity, but the Final Four showed that a chalky bracket isn’t always the worst thing—when four 1-seeds play, you get some pretty dope basketball.
Too much discussion of women’s sports—UConn basketball in particular—is framed around whether a certain event is “good for women’s sports.” Well, Friday night was great for sports in general, because women’s sports are, in fact, sports, and Friday night featured some of the most exciting sports of the year.