Mark Turgeon and Chris Mack had the kind of college basketball jobs at Maryland and Louisville, respectively, that you don’t walk away from. Yet both made the rare move of leaving Power 5 conference men’s basketball jobs in season.
Jay Wright, who lead Villanova to two of the past six national titles, announced his retirement still at the peak of his career at the age of 60.
Those examples come on the heels of Hall of Famers in North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski stepping down in consecutive seasons as well as longtime Davidson coach Bob McKillop.
There’s a changing landscape coaching in college basketball induced by a perfect storm of the pandemic, name image and likeness (NIL) and the transfer portal.
“There’s no question, you can’t deny that it’s as much change as we’ve probably ever had,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “And it’s kind of been all at once.”
Bennett said some coaches could have felt it was “time” but added coaches face a different kind of crucible now.
Williams noted throughout his final season at UNC in 2020-21 that keeping his team isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the constant testing and the uncertainty that often surrounded games was one of the most difficult seasons he’d endured in a coaching career that covered five decades.
It took a toll on coaches in every sport, especially those like basketball that had its championship canceled in the spring of 2020. But N.C. State coach Kevin Keatts said it appeared to hit basketball harder with the accompanying changes to the sport.
“Coming out of pandemic, you’d think you would get back to normal, but then you added some different pieces too that weren’t there in the past,” Keatts said. “And so I think it’s up to us as coaches to adapt to the situation. You’re gonna have to adapt, or you’re gonna have to get out. Because I don’t think it’s going back.”
Florida Atlantic coach Dusty Mays said he’s spoken to several coaching colleagues in their 50s who indicated they were leaning toward leaving the profession because it no longer coincides with how they envisioned coaching.
The transfer portal has changed the way most coaches view roster management and recruiting. Because roster sizes are limited to 13 scholarship players, any defection can have a much bigger impact than it does say for a football team.
It has led many coaches to abandon how they approached building a team and to no longer have an emphasis on recruiting high school players. They look to the portal first.
NIL is still new, but the uneven application of it that varies from state-to-state has many coaches worried where it is going. Concerns about its impact in the locker room appear to be largely unfounded, but there have been many coach complaints about potential recruits asking for deals upfront.
“Now the task is kind of starting to trump the mission,” Charlotte coach Ron Sanchez said. “And I think for all of us who really value what we do, we’re educators first. We’re coaching young men, not coaches of just basketball. And I think that’s what you’re starting to see is that the shift is happening; it seems like it’s not as important now to make sure young guys are graduating.”
Sanchez called it a “monsoon of change” and said the key was learning, “how to reinvent how you’ve been doing things.”
That’s not all bad according to Arkansas coach Eric Musselman.
Musselman speaks as a coach with an NBA background who decided to get into college coaching. In the NBA, he said changes were constant, be it free agency or trades altering rosters or rule changes like of playing zones and defensive three seconds.
Musselman doesn’t have the angst of a college basketball coaching lifer accustomed to one or two transfers in four years.
“Everything’s evolving.” Musselman said. “College basketball was just so stagnant in so many different ways for so many years.”
Evolve appears to be the buzz word now.
Marquette coach Shaka Smart said the coaching profession is “evolving faster than it ever has.” But he doesn’t know if the impact of the past three years can truly be processed now.
“Really, it won’t be until like, I don’t know five-10 years from now and everyone looks back and says, ‘Wow, like that was different,’ ” Smart said. “There’s certain challenges that are there now that weren’t there before. But you know what, it’s still a ton of fun. And the great thing about it is when that ball goes up in the air November 7, then all of a sudden coaching becomes the same as it always was, trying to get a group to play as one.”
The 25 worst moments in NCAA Tournament history
Webber calls timeout
One of the most frustrating March Madness moments of all time is also what Bleacher Report dubbed “one of the biggest sports blunders ever.” In the 1993 national championship game between Michigan and North Carolina, the Wolverines were down by two points with 20 seconds left. Michigan star Chris Webber nabbed an offensive rebound then dribbled into a trap in the corner and tried to call a timeout. Except Michigan didn’t have any left. This resulted in a technical foul that gave the Tar Heels free throws and possession, stopping any epic comeback attempt dead in its tracks. UNC ultimately won the game 77–71, and Webber, who went on to play in the NBA, hasn’t discussed the moment with any media outlet since.
The dullest title game
The 2011 tournament was the “worst March Madness” of all time, according to SB Nation, and that had a lot to do with the title game between UConn and Butler. The score was an extremely low 22-19 at halftime, and CBS analyst Greg Anthony declared, "This is the worst half of basketball I've ever seen in a national championship game." Things didn’t get better in the second half. Butler shot only 18.8% from the field, the lowest ever in a championship game. And the final score of 53-41 was the fewest points in a championship game since 1949.
‘The worst call in NCAA tournament history’
In 1989, N.C. State’s Chris Corchiani was whistled for a penalty so egregious, sportscaster Billy Packer commented on-air that it was “the worst call in NCAA Tournament history.” The Wolfpack was facing Georgetown in a Sweet 16 game and were down three points with 1:47 left. Corchiani drove into the lane, scoring and seemingly drawing the foul for a 3-point play that would tie the game. However, referee Rick Hartzell ruled that Corchiani traveled. The Hoyas went on to win 69-61, and Hartzell later admitted he “blew it” with that call.
Runnin’ Rebs reign ends
In 1990’s title game, UNLV utterly demolished Duke 103-73, setting a record for the largest margin of victory ever in the title game. The Runnin’ Rebels’ performance was legendary, with Bleacher Report naming that year’s UNLV team the second-best college basketball squad of all time. Unfortunately for the Rebs, Duke used their humiliation as fuel to dethrone UNLV. The teams met again in 1991, this time in the Final Four. UNLV was on a 45-game winning streak and led at halftime, but the Blue Devils stayed on their tails, ultimately turning the tides and winning 79-77. Duke’s victory led to the school’s first championship, launching a new basketball dynasty under coach Mike Krzyzewski. The Rebs went on a divergent path, with the program suffering NCAA sanctions and coach Jerry Tarkanian resigning.
Butler’s knee injury
Injuries can ruin a team’s trajectory in the tournament and can be absolutely heartbreaking to witness. In the second half of a 2010 Final Four matchup between West Virginia and Duke, the Mountaineers star forward Da'Sean Butler fell to the floor writhing in pain and clutching his knee after a defensive play. Spectators and viewers held their breath as coach Bob Huggins came onto the court and held Butler in his arms until he could be helped off the court. Butler suffered a torn ACL, and Duke ran away with the game, winning 78-57.
Injury derails the Bearcats
Injuries such as Kenyon Martin’s in 2000 will always be among the tournament’s greatest “what if” scenarios. In their last game before the NCAA Tournament, Martin, who many considered the best college player that season, and the Cincinnati Bearcats, then the top-ranked team in the country, were upset by St. Louis in the Conference USA quarterfinal after Martin broke his leg and tore several ligaments while attempting to set a screen. After losing the game and Martin, who never played another college game, Cincinnati only nabbed a No. 2 seed in the tournament and wasn’t able to play at their full potential, falling to Tulsa in the Sweet 16.
Title game turns into a foul fest
Many fans and pundits were disappointed in 2017’s title game between UNC and Gonzaga. The matchup’s major storyline became about the game’s whopping 44 foul calls, 22 on both teams, which ground the game’s pace to a crawl. Both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James chimed in on Twitter, both echoing the sentiment, “Let these kids play.”
Hayward misses half-court shot
Everyone rooting for an underdog groaned in disappointment at the buzzer of the 2010 championship game. The fifth-seeded Butler Bulldogs, who were in their first finals appearance, were within reach of top-seeded Duke. The Bulldogs almost pulled off a comeback, sneaking to within one point of Duke’s lead. With three seconds left, Gordon Hayward launched a half-court shot that bounced off the backboard and rim at the buzzer. Making that shot could have won the title for Butler. According to Sports Illustrated, this is “one of the greatest what-if moments not just in college basketball, but all sports.”
Houston doesn’t box out
In the final seconds of the 1983 title game between Houston and N.C. State, the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg hurled up a 30-foot desperation shot that fell short as time was expiring with the score tied 52-52. But Lorenzo Charles jumped up and alley-ooped the ball in to put N.C. State ahead right as the clock hit zero. That play was possible because Houston’s famed “Phi Slama Jama” squad were caught flat-footed as the shot went up and Charles dunked it in. This game was the beginning of the end for Phi Slama Jama, and Houston was never able to claim a national title despite reaching three straight Final Fours.
UNC-Asheville loses after botched call
In 2018, UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to ever upset a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s DI basketball tournament. However, No. 16 seed UNC-Asheville almost did so first against top-seeded Syracuse in 2012. Unfortunately, a clearly missed call derailed their chance making history. With Syracuse up by three and less than a minute left, an out-of-bounds ball that was last touched by a Syracuse player was mistakenly called out off of the Bulldogs. As the play was not reviewable, the epic upset attempt was stopped dead in its tracks, and Syracuse went on to win 72-65.
Kevin Ware’s gruesome broken leg
Perhaps the most graphic injury in tournament history, if not sports history, happened during a 2013 Elite Eight matchup between Duke and Louisville. The Cardinals’ backup point guard Kevin Ware jumped up to try to block a shot, and when he came down in front of his team’s bench, his right leg splintered, leaving his tibia bone jutting out of his leg. Some of his teammates were almost sick, coach Rick Pitino was in tears, and spectators were left somber and speechless. After Ware was wheeled off court and taken to the hospital, Louisville managed to gain composure and used Ware’s injury to motivate themselves to an 85-63 victory and eventually the 2013 national title.
Louisville’s national title is vacated
Louisville’s impressive 2013 national championship run has since been wiped from the record books. That’s because the team was forced to vacate all its wins during the 2011-12 through 2014-15 seasons, including its 2013 NCAA Tournament title. In 2017, the NCAA Committee on Infractions ruled that Louisville staffers had paid for strippers and sex workers for players and recruits. Along with the vacation of wins, the punishment also included scholarship reductions and recruiting restrictions as well as paying back tournament earnings to the tune of about $600,000, according to Sports Illustrated. Louisville became the first basketball team to lose an NCAA national title to sanctions, and 2013 was officially left champion-less.
Controversial foul stops Seton Hall
The closest New Jersey’s Seton Hall has gotten to winning the Big Dance was in 1989 when it faced Michigan in the title game. Seton Hall successfully climbed back from a deficit to force overtime, and with three seconds left, the Pirates were up by one. The course of basketball history changed, though, when Seton Hall’s Gerald Greene was whistled for a foul off a slight bump by referee John Clougherty. Wolverines guard Rumeal Robinson was awarded two free throws, which he made to give Michigan the win, its first national championship. Clougherty told Sports Illustrated in 2014, "I've had to answer for that call for 25 years."
Questionable charge call decides game
An infamous 2014 Elite 8 matchup between No. 1 Arizona and No. 2 Wisconsin came down to a debated foul call and free throws. The call was an offensive foul on the Wildcats’ Nick Johnson, who drove to the basket with 3.2 seconds left in overtime and the ‘Cats down one point. The whistle blared when Johnson made contact with a Badgers defender, and he ended up getting called for the push-off foul. Many fans and commentators believed that the ref should’ve swallowed the whistle since the contact was too close to call. Wisconsin ended up winning 64-63.
Vols rally falls short
One of the most exciting comebacks in tournament history was also thwarted by a controversial call. Tennessee hit a hot streak and climbed back from 15 points behind Michigan in a 2014 Sweet 16 game, the same year as Arizona’s contentious offensive foul call. Just one point behind with six seconds to play, Vols forward Jarnell Stokes was whistled for a charge after Jordan Morgan flew backward, seemingly emphasizing the contact. Many spectators and Vols fans agreed there should have been no call at all. Michigan held on 73-71 to advance.
Tar Heels steamroll the competition
The NCAA Tournament is so entertaining because of the drama, the sense that anything could happen. Unfortunately, the tournament also sees its fair share of blowouts where predictable favorites easily take out the competition. This was the case with the North Carolina Tar Heels’ entire run in the 2009 tournament. Roy Williams’ squad won every game of March Madness by at least a dozen points, topping Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 by 21 and trouncing Michigan State in the final game by 17 points. Of all their 240 minutes of play throughout the tournament, the Heels led for all but eight and a half minutes.
Tigers choke on free throws
Sputtering on free throws is a sad way to fall short of a national championship, but that’s exactly what happened to Memphis in the 2008 title match against Kansas. Future NBA star Derrick Rose and John Calipari’s Tigers were up nine with two minutes left, but Kansas was able to stage a comeback as Memphis shot 1-for-5 from the free-throw line. Rose missed one of his two free throws in the final 10 seconds, allowing Kansas to send the game to overtime after hitting a 3. In OT, the Jayhawks emerged victorious 75-68, a triumph for the Jayhawks but an embarrassment for the Tigers, who fell short of claiming the school’s first national title.
Northern Iowa falls apart
Not every Cinderella story gets a fairy-tale ending. But the most disappointing of all might have been Northern Iowa’s 2016 implosion against Texas A&M in the second round. The Panthers were up 12 points with 35 seconds left and statistically had a 99.99% chance at winning the game, according to FiveThirtyEight. But in a comedy of errors, UNI managed to screw it up, giving up four turnovers and allowing A&M to stage the biggest last-minute comeback in college basketball history. A&M eventually took the W in double overtime. The nation’s reaction to this failure was brutal, with LeBron James even commenting, "I would quit basketball. If I was on Northern Iowa, I would quit.”
Senseless fouls shake No. 1 seed
On their way to appearing in the 2011 championship game, No. 8 seed Butler barely took down top-seeded Pittsburgh 71-70 in the third round. Pitt managed to tie the game with less than 2 seconds left after Butler committed an unnecessary sideline foul and Gilbert Brown made his first free throw. Poor decision-making was contagious that night, because after Brown missed his potentially game-winning second free throw with 1.4 seconds left, Nasir Robinson fouled Matt Howard on the rebound to give Butler two more shots to win. Announcer Verne Lundquist was appalled by the way things played out, commenting, "I don't know that I've ever seen a game end like this in the NCAA Tournament and I've been doing this for 16 straight years.”
Ray’s phantom travel
In 2005 during a Sweet 16 matchup between Villanova and UNC, after rallying within three of the top-seeded Tar Heels in the final 10 seconds, Villanova’s Allan Ray had a chance to tie the game when he drove into the lane, made the bucket and seemingly drew a foul. Instead, Ray was whistled for traveling despite taking only two steps. The Heels narrowly escaped Nova by one point thanks to the “phantom travel” call and went on to win the whole shebang.
Fife almost fouls it up
Indiana guard Dane Fife sent Hoosier fans into a panic during a 2002 Sweet 16 game against No. 1 seed Duke. The fifth-seeded Hoosiers were on their way to an upset, up four in the final 11 seconds, when Fife fouled Duke's Jason Williams as he ripped off a desperation 3-pointer. The shot was good, giving Williams the chance to tie the game with his remaining foul shot, or for Duke to win if they rebounded his miss and scored. Hoosiers fans and Duke haters alike held their breath as Williams missed and Indiana was able to hold on and narrowly upset Duke. Though it was stressful, the ending did make the win all the more legendary.
Anderson beats the clock?
Before the use of instant replay, the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets managed to scrape by top-seeded Michigan Spartans in the Sweet 16 in 1990. Michigan State was leading 75-73 with six seconds left until Tech launched a buzzer-beater that sent the contest to overtime. Refs debated whether the shot was a 2- or 3-pointer, but they agreed that Kenny Anderson got the shot off in time. Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote later lamented that the shot shouldn’t have counted, saying, "We won the game in regulation but lost the game in overtime."
Gonzaga gets away with goaltending
It took 77 years for the Northwestern Wildcats to make it to their first NCAA tournament. After winning their first-ever March Madness game in 2017, the ‘Cats’ historic run was ended by a missed goaltending call. After being down by as much as 22 against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, Northwestern clawed back to within five. Dererk Pardon was about to cut that gap to three when Gonzaga’s Zach Collins reached up through the net to swat away the shot. The referees missed this, and when NU coach Chris Collins reacted, he was given a technical. The NCAA later admitted the refs were wrong, prompting a sarcastic shocked reaction from Collins at the postgame conference.
Tar Heels travel
Another infamous missed call took place when No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 8 seed Arkansas met in the Round of 32 in 2017. In what could’ve been a major upset, UNC was only up by one with possession of the ball and less than a minute to play. Tar Heels point guard Joel Berry drove to the basket with the shot clock about to expire and took more than two steps while plowing into an Arkansas defender. No whistle stopped the action on what was either a charge, foul or travel. Instead, Berry was able to fling the ball away to Kennedy Meeks, who tipped the ball in for two points. Carolina coach Roy Williams admitted afterward, “We were awfully lucky.”
March Madness gets canceled
One of the most disappointing moments in March Madness history for players and fans across the country was the cancellation of the 2020 tournament due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus. This was the first time in its history that the tournament was canceled since it was first held in 1939. This cost host city Atlanta millions of dollars, making it one of the costliest canceled events due to coronavirus.