Sports fanatics thrive off moments, players, and teams, even to tears in the scarily extreme cases, yet we remain hungry for more. Having just turned the corner on the first decade of the 21st millennia it seems necessary that we take a look back on what a great ten years of college basketball we have just experienced.
The game appears to have evolved more so in this last decade than any other era but fortunately there is always one constant, the debate over who was the best. There has been no shortage of excellence and milestones and here is this one man panel’s assessment of the best. Please comment or offer your own insights.
When judging on overall excellence the Jayhawks leave little to nitpick about. Under Williams and then Self the program simply maintained quality and never dipped, unless you count two first round tourney losses. They have one national title, three final fours, second in wins for the decade, seven conference titles, and unlike UNC and Florida they danced every March, never experiencing a down year.
It is hard to make a case against this program and the success they have seen, especially after they brought their own Williams back to right the ship. They have two national titles, four final fours, and five ACC titles. If it was not for the Doherty Disaster that occurred early on they could have taken the honor. Finishing 8-20 is too much of a black eye to overcome.
They took the first national title of the decade and have not had a hiccup since. They also have four final fours and three conference championships to add to the resume. The Spartans can also boast while they may have had a few off years they managed to make the tourney every year.
‘Ol Roy Boy – KU and UNC
By far the easiest call here. This coach lead five teams to final fours and two titles between the two programs. While exuding excellence behind the reigns at KU he was finally able to take it to the next level at UNC. While he inherited an immensely talented team at UNC he was also able to start recruiting east of the Mississippi, something that never happened at KU for some reason. It is hard to argue that another coach is better able to recruit, develop, and plan for games than Ol’ Roy. No need to look further than how quickly he rebuilt the Tar Heels. He also gets style points for coaching such a fun and up tempo game.
The Izzone – MSU
The man reached four final fours and won one national title game. Ever a model of consistency he made the tourney every year and spread his final four appearances out enough so anyone who wore green danced at least three weekends in their career. He also moved MSU from a good program to elite status in relatively short order.
The Few, The Proud – The Zags
Probably the most underappreciated coach in the game is Mark Few. He has consistently lead the Zags to the tourney throughout the decade and is every coaches nightmare of a possible early match up come March. Americans love an underdog and no teams resembles Cinderella better than the Zags, in no small part as a result of their coach.
Self – Tulsa, Illini, and KU
It was tough to peg Self over Coach K but my differentiator comes down to, “what have you done for me lately?” Duke was brilliant the first half but has fallen off and under achieved the second half. Self has lead three teams to elite eights. In four years he moved Tulsa from a bottom feeder to 32 wins and nearly a final four in 2000. The Illini program he left Bruce Dub nearly won a title. Now he has reinvented KU bringing a title back to Larryville and currently has them as a near unanimous numero uno in the polls.
Psycho T – UNC 2005-9
Not much room to debate here, just look at his decorations. The only four time first team All-American ever he also lead the Tar Heels to a national title. He also happens to be the ACC all time leading scorer. You will also be hard pressed to find any weaknesses in his game. He was a great on the ball and team defender. On offense he was a great scorer whether in iso or taking feeds, and he could also pass like few big men can. He probably had the best motor leading his great teams by example.
JJ Redick – Duke 2002-6
I am not sure there was a player who was more hated (I have to plead guilty here) than this kid. For some unfortunate reason both opposing fans and players absolutely tormented him on any road stop. The guy could hit the trifecta from anywhere on the court. If there was a harder worker than Hansbrough it would have to be Redick. Defenses built entire game plans to stop him and failed miserably.
Jay Will – Duke 1999-2002
One of the best offensive players we have ever seen. At times he was absolutely unguardable. He was brilliant in iso and off the screen. He was also a phenomenal distributor when running the point and rarely turned the ball over. JW played sound and fundamental basketball and was also a premier defender in the ACC. Unrelated he also graduated in three years with a 4.0.
Steph Curry – Davidson 2006-9
Who really heard of Davidson before he put the school on his shoulders and was a shot away from making the ‘08 final four? There was not another player who willed his team to victory this decade like Curry. I will never forget the day that I played hooky and got to watch him push past the Zags that special Friday afternoon with his mom crying in the stands during their second half comeback. That elite eight run will go down as one of the most memorable we have ever seen.
KU 75, Memphis 68 in OT – 2008 National Title Game
This may be the most difficult to defend when strictly talking about an individual game but what put this into elite status was that it was for all the marbles, plus it was arguably the greatest championship game ever played. Who really saw the drama unfolding the way it did with KU down nine and two minutes left in regulation? Sherronotron Collins picking stud of the night Roses’ pocket and draining the trinity to cut it to three with twenty seconds left? Then there was the new “shot heard ‘round the world” when Sherronotron handed the ball off to Super Mario Chalmers who drained the game tying trey with two seconds left which pushed the game to OT. KU was in the driver seat from there and clipped the nets at the Alamo taking home its first national championship in twenty years.
‘Cuse 127, UConn 117 in 6 OT – 2009 Big East Tourney
Not sure whether to call this basketball at its greatest it has ever been or just a freak show but it left me dragging at work the next day staying up hours past my bedtime. If I was exhausted I can only imagine how the kids who played in this game felt. 244 points scored in what looked like eight suspense filled halves. Those that saw should still have this fresh in their memory and will not soon forget the performances of Flynn, Price, and Devendorf.
Zags 109, MSU 106 in 3 OT – 2005 Maui Invitational
Not sure whether to call this an epic game or simply a slugfest but another I was fortunate enough to watch. I don’t recall ever watching a player, let alone three in Morrison, Ager, and Downtown Brown play at such a ridiculously high level during fall semester. Watching these teams match shot for shot over the final twenty minutes felt like neither team lost, just the Zags got credit for the win.
Okey St 105, Texas 103 – 2002 Conference Play
This game was as good as it gets for a conference rivalry match. This game was not at the same level as the others above but was an absolute pleasure to watch because two players put their team on their shoulders and refused to fall in this game of chicken. Sr. Boggan made a case that experience can trump raw ability when he made the game winning three in the third OT taking down the most talented frosh of the decade in Durant and the Longhorns.