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Check the Replay: Volume II

Welcome back to Check the Replay, the replay that is actually cool, as we continue to dive into old March Madness games as we struggle to cope with a world without sports. CBS has made the great decision to show games for most of the day on CBS Sports Network and on CBS on the weekends, and March Madness has released full games on its YouTube channel, providing access to even more great games. 

This week, I went back to watch Virginia’s redemption story in 2019 when they bounced back from being the first team to ever lose to a 16-seed in 2018 to win the national title one year later. Their games against Purdue, Auburn and Texas Tech are instant classics. I also went back to 2013 to watch Louisville’s run to the title where they faced Trey Burke and a Michigan team that had a flair for the dramatic in an upset win over Kansas.

1.     Last second shots and overtimes. Several of the games featured late game-tying or game-winning baskets, and big shots are part of the recipe for a great March Madness game. I always assume the team who hit a game-tying three used the momentum to dominate in overtime, but that is actually rarely the case. They almost always have to fight through more adversity in OT. Virginia had two game-tying shots at the end of regulation against Purdue and Texas Tech, but they did not take the lead for good against Purdue until DeAndre Hunter’s driving layup with 26.8 seconds left. The same was true for Michigan in 2013. Burke hit a huge shot to tie the game in regulation vs. Kansas, but they never led by more than a point until 1:04 in OT. Nobody just rolls over in March, it is always a battle until the very end.

2.     Trey Burke, from the left wing. Burke was the national player of the year in 2013, and he solidified his case in the tournament when he hit big shot after big shot, including several deep threes. He almost single-handedly led a magical comeback vs. Kansas that is electric. His best spot is from the left wing, dribbling off a screen. And he hit shots from deeeeep.

3.     Team of destiny. To win a championship, you need to have a good team. Perhaps even more important, you need a bit of luck. It helps to have a storyline that gives the team extra motivation to win. Virginia’s story was one of redemption; after their humiliation in 2018, they came back late in the Elite Eight, Final Four and national championship. Louisville played for something more after Kevin Ware broke his leg in gruesome fashion in the Elite Eight against Duke. Sometimes it is just “the year” for a team to win, and the team gets all the right bounces, a couple lucky calls and hit the big shots.

4.     Speaking of destiny, it is often the role players who are the most important. Kyler Edwards and Brandon Francis, Tim Henderson, Luke Hancock and Spike Albrecht. Recognize any of these names? Probably not, but they were some of the most important players in the Final Four despite not starting and rarely playing in some cases. Edwards and Francis led Texas Tech’s offense in the 2019 title game while star Jarrett Culver struggled. Tim Henderson averaged 0.8 points per game but came off the bench to spark Louisville’s come back in the Final Four vs. Wichita State, and Hancock was the Most Outstanding Player in the Final Four despite not being a starter. Spike Albrecht filled in for Trey Burke in foul trouble to score 17 points and hit four threes to lead Michigan in the championship. (He made more threes in the tournament than he did all season.) Teams are led by stars, but they cannot win without the contributions from role players.

5.     Luke Hancock vs. Spike Albrecht. This is the matchup that nobody could have foreseen going into the 2013 championship. They didn’t just contribute to the team; they completely carried their teams. Albrecht had been turned away by a security guard who didn’t think he was actually on the team, but he was the best player in the first half, hands down. Hancock hit four straight threes in 1:30 at the end of the first half to cut a 12-point Michigan lead to a one-point lead, keeping them in the game; he followed it up with a dagger three in the second half.

6.     Spike Albrecht, one more time. Big fan of the cut-away going to a commercial where they show a player who is having an out-of-body experience. “Let’s f****** go,” Spike.  (at the 30 second mark)

7.     Never do anything fun with friends. I missed the Virginia-Purdue game when it happened because I did something fun with friends. I deeply regret my choice. The second half of this game was one of the most incredible games I have seen, even when I knew what happened. In particular, the stretch from 15:45 to 11:36 was one of the most electric four-minute stretches of basketball in my recent memory. Inject Carsen Edwards pulling from 30 feet into my veins.

8.     The announcer jinx is so real. Jim Nantz as Jared Harper shoots free throws for Auburn, up 61-60 with 7.4 seconds left: “He has made his last 17 during the tournament from the line.” Auburn lost 63-62 to Virginia. Jinxed!

9.     Steve Kerr as an announcer. He is so good on the call, and it is clear how he became such a great coach at Golden State a few years later. He perfectly wondered about leaving Albrecht in too long in the second half and getting diminishing returns from him, and he also nailed it when he criticized Beilein for leaving Trey Burke in with four fouls when they had to foul, losing 20-30 valuable seconds at the end of the championship.10.Bring back Rick Pitino! Watching him going crazy on the sideline makes me excited to watch Iona this year, strictly because Pitino was just hired as their coach. Go Gaels!