By JIM O’CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
HOUSTON (AP) – The NCAA Tournament started on March 15 with Florida Gulf Coast handing Fairleigh Dickinson a 96-65 beatdown.
It ended three weeks later with a game that will be talked about for decades – Villanova’s 77-74 victory over North Carolina on Kris Jenkins’ 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Exactly 33 years after North Carolina State beat overwhelming favorite Houston on Lorenzo Charles’ dunk at the buzzer, Jenkins came up with his shot for the ages. As many times as we’ve seen North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano run around the court in The Pit in Albuquerque looking for someone to hug, we’ll see the Wildcats rolling on the court, covered in confetti as they celebrated what will go down as the most important 3-pointer since they put the line down on the court.
North Carolina State’s game-winner was a broken play with Dereck Whittenburg taking a 35-foot shot that missed everything and Charles was there for the rebound dunk. To this day, Whittenburg swears it was a pass and not an airball but that doesn’t matter, the Wolfpack won the game.
Villanova’s was a set play called in the Wildcats’ final timeout of the season.
"We do practice that," coach Jay Wright said. "We have certain plays with less than four seconds, from four to seven seconds. Every coach has this. Zero to four, four to seven, seven to 12. We have plays. So we know what it is. We practice it every day.
"I didn’t have to say anything in the huddle. We have a name for it, that’s what we’re going to do. Just put everybody in their spots."
Both plays won national titles and earned their place in college basketball history.
From that opening-round game in Dayton, Ohio on March 15 to Villanova taking the title on April 4, there were blowouts, a halfcourt game-winner, one of the great meltdowns in basketball history, some incredible dunks, gut-wrenching losses and incredible wins.
Here’s a quick look back at some of the moments that make the NCAA Tournament one of sports’ great events:
Are you kidding? There will be no nominations other than Jenkins’ 3 that sent a shock wave through NRG Stadium. Marcus Paige of the Tar Heels had hit an off-balance 3 to tie the game with 4.7 seconds to go. That was definitely in the discussion for best shot until Jenkins touched off a celebration that could be going on Pennsylvania for some time.
"The last play, we were just calm in the huddle honestly," said Ryan Arcidiacono, who made the pass to Jenkins. "We knew what we were going to do and we just executed."
Yale’s 79-75 victory over Baylor in the first round. An Ivy League school making its first tournament appearance since 1962 knocks off a national power from the Big 12 and does it by being tougher on the boards.
Middle Tennessee State, a 15 seed, beat second-seeded Michigan State 90-81 in a game that busted brackets around the country. Many thought the Spartans should have been a No. 1 seed. There was little talk of the Blue Raiders being any higher than a 15.
The Atlantic Coast Conference had seven teams in the field of 68 and a record six of them made it to the Sweet 16. Two – North Carolina and Syracuse – made it to the Final Four.
The Pac-12 also had seven teams in the field but five didn’t make it out of the first round. Oregon, a No. 1 seed, reached the regional final but lost to Oklahoma.
HIGH AND LOW
This will be a tournament Northern Iowa will never forget, going from as high as a team can get to as low as no team had before.
The Panthers beat Texas 75-72 in the first round on a halfcourt buzzer-beater by Paul Jesperson. Two days later Northern Iowa set an NCAA Tournament record by blowing a 12-point lead in the final 44 seconds of regulation against Texas A&M. The Aggies went on to win 92-88 in double overtime capping Northern Iowa’s up-and-down first two rounds.
Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield was the big scorer of the first four rounds with his 37-point effort against Oregon in the regional final his best performance. In the Final Four Hield and the Sooners just couldn’t figure out Villanova’s defense and he was held to nine points as the Wildcats won by 44 points.
The 2016-17 season will start in early November and it will finish in Glendale, Arizona, in April. The only sure thing will be that the NCAA Tournament will be full of great plays and great games.
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