“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” – William Shakespeare (Hamlet 2.2 line 205)
Nothing like a Shakespeare quote to begin a March Madness top 5! What follows are my personal top five March Madness moments, but there are a couple of stipulations. These are moments that have happened in my lifetime, and more importantly, moments I can remember. So you will not find here NC State’s 1983 run or Villanova’s 1985 championship or Christian Laettner’s buzzer beater or even Chris Webber’s timeout. And too, these moments must have personal significance for me. In all of these, I either learned something that transcended basketball or experienced that visceral “You have GOT to be kidding me.” Let’s relive this.
5) West Virginia vs. Wake Forest 2005 – This was only a round of 32 game, but for some reason I remember it well. WVU had players named Pittsnogle, Herber (pronounced Hair-bare), and Beilein (pronounced Bee-line), and it was just hilarious. The game went into double overtime, featured a ridiculous game saving block at the end of the first overtime, and, again, included a player named Kevin Pittsnogle. Who was good. You’ll see in the highlight a three he makes near the end of the game. I remember going berzerk—15 year-old Brad running around the room screaming, “Pittsnogle! Pittsnogle!”
4) George Mason’s Final Four run 2006 – I loved everything about this team: the green and yellow uniforms, the fearlessness, the upset of Michigan State, the inside-outside play. When they beat UConn in this Elite Eight game, I wished I were a true George Mason diehard. The lowest seed to ever play in a Final Four. Madness.
3) Dunk City 2013 – And really, this dunk. That play wholly encapsulates March Madness: the Cindarella story, the carefree and nearly irresponsible play, the catharsis. Ali Farokhmanesh’s three against Kansas in 2010 fits here too; they are plays so dangerous and unrestrained that they inspire. If you notice, the commentators on both plays are stunned—on the Florida Gulf Coast dunk, one of them chuckles. They can muster only a gleeful yell. It is, of course, happy madness, but also reminiscent of Whitman’s barbaric yawp: instinctual, raw, uninhibited.
2a) Spike Albrecht’s first half 2013 – I am a Michigan fan. Until last year, I had never seen the maize and blue get past the second round of the NCAA tournament. So you could understand my excitement when Spike Albrecht went nuts in the first half of last year’s championship game. I mean, the guy simply took over. People talk about height disadvantages and mismatches often in basketball, sometimes to the point where they’re overemphasized (see Allen Iverson). But Spike’s floater over Gorgui Dieng is unbelievable. Dieng’s arms are taller than Spike. Like, by a lot. And Dick Vitale cannot believe it.
2b) – Trey Burke’s bomb vs. Kansas 2013 – Our family was driving down to Florida. Right before this game started we stopped at a small and mostly empty Mexican restaurant to watch, even though we were an hour and a half away from our hotel. Michigan actually played poorly for most of the contest, and I’ll admit my spirits were low. And to be honest, when he released the shot I thought there was no way it was going in. Burke was 30 feet (at least) away from the basket, and some glitch on the TV screen made the shot look strange when it left his hand. But suddenly it went through the hoop, and our traveling band of 7 almost turned that small Mexican restaurant inside out. We hugged and high-fived, our chips and salsa strewn across the table like championship confetti. (You can watch the whole game here. I have, many times)
1) Bob Huggins and Da’Sean Butler 2010 – I will seriously never forget this. Some context: Da’Sean Butler was a senior in 2010, and the video is from the Final Four game against Duke, his very last game. Still to this day, Butler has played the most basketball games in a West Virginia University jersey. Here, he makes a hard drive to the basket, tries to stop on a dime, destroys his knee, and drops. You can hear him screaming. His coach, Bob Huggins, bends down and holds the head of his star player. He comforts Butler, mourns with him. It is an image of compassion forever seared onto my brain. Coach and player, mentor and mentee, human being and human being. It reminds me that sports, in the end, do not matter. But also that they do.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.