We’re 48 games in, folks. That’s 76% of the 2019 NCAA tournament in the books. So often, we look ahead to what is next. Most of my articles focus on what is ahead because that is how money is made in this game.
Sports need to stay fun, however. Anything, even sports, will eventually wear a person out if time is not taken to enjoy the special moments. That is exactly what my goal is today – to help us all sit back and revel in the best of the best from the tournament’s first weekend.
No betting advice this time. No game previews. Purely highlights. Here are my top 3 plays from this year’s First and Second rounds.
#3 – Tremont Waters’ Layup to Beat Maryland
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 23, 2019
Not a true buzzer beater, but with 1.6 seconds remaining, this layup was a walk-off winner. Few moments in sports rival the thrill of game-winning shots in tournament basketball games.
Take a ball into your local gym and try to eurostep in the same spot Waters did, put the same spin on the ball off the backboard, and make the shot. I guarantee it is harder than it looks.
Now run full speed, add some 6’8 defenders, and do it in a sold out gym with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. Truly a special moment.
#2 – Ja Morant’s Dunk vs Marquette
JA MORANT WITH THE SLAM. 🔥pic.twitter.com/VlOZd0z8zk
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) March 21, 2019
Already up 11, this thunderous dunk by Morant broke the spirit of the Golden Eagles and paved the way for Murray State to throttle 5-seed Marquette by 19 points.
I remember watching this one live. I would consider myself a Ja fan. I have watched him play and am familiar with his highlights, but even I was not expecting that kind of finish. College guards don’t dunk like that. They just don’t. There is a reason this man will be a top-3 pick in the NBA Draft.
Astute fans will really appreciate how Morant set this play up. Acting almost as if he was going to take the play off, Morant lulled his defender, freshman Brendan Bailey, into no man’s land. Bailey was sort of denying Ja but also not in any position to take away a cut to the hoop.
Like a good chess player, Morant recognized this opportunity before most of us could. As soon as the pass was headed toward the Racers’ big man in the middle, Ja cut to the rack, received a great feed, and let his athleticism take over. I could watch this play 100 times and not get sick of it.
The only reason this play is not #1 is that it wasn’t a clutch game-winner.
#1 – Zion’s And-One Finish Through Tacko
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 24, 2019
I have to specify that Zion’s finish was through Tacko and not over him. No one finishes over a 7’6 defender. Watching this highlight cold is impressive, but understanding the context behind it makes it all the more gutsy and miraculous.
#1 overall Duke was in trouble. Zion Williamson, despite not being an exceptional 3-point shooter, kept Duke in the game with a huge triple just a few moments earlier. This was the tale of the tape for Duke. The Devils were forced to shoot from the outside all night because 7’6 Tacko Fall was patrolling the paint for UCF in their zone defense.
The fact that Zion even attempted to drive at Tacko is amazing. Being down 3 and obviously in love with the 3-point shot, everyone in the building thought a 3-point attempt was coming.
Zion caught the ball on the wing and began to size up his defender. Duke fans around the world held their collective breath, believing Williamson was about to rise up for a fateful jumper … but then he drove.
Zion had 4 fouls and driving hard to the hoop is an easy way to pick up a 5th. Not only that, but getting only 2 points on that trip would mean Duke would need yet another score to win the game. As it was happening, I’m sure that many were questioning the freshman’s decision to challenge the tallest basketball player in the world with the game on the line.
Williamson’s path to the basketball was soon impeded as Tacko stepped up to defend the drive. Zion knew he had to use his strength to his advantage. If would have gone up soft, Tacko would’ve swatted the ball into the 15th row … or worse, just catch it and seal the win for UCF.
Taking a major gamble, Zion threw himself into the body of Tacko Fall, was strong enough to get a clean shot off, and got the benefit of a 50/50 call from the ref … and-one!
Did driving directly at Tacko Fall give Duke their best chance to win this game? Absolutely not. But it worked … and that’s what March Madness is all about.
Looking forward to even bigger moments from the Sweet 16 and beyond. Happy basketball watching, boppers!