It can be argued quite successfully that the best weekend of the college basketball season is already behind us.
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament often brings the biggest upsets, where teams and players you have never or hardly heard of rocket to national prominence overnight.
The one that stuck in my mind the most vividly was in 1998 when Valparaiso’s Bryce Drew drilled a flying 3-pointer from the right wing to sink Mississippi in a first round game. Unless you’re too young to remember it, if you follow “the tournament” regularly no further explanation was necessary. On a personal note it was all the more interesting because I had covered Drew as a high school player – also in Valparaiso, Ind. – at one of my first newspaper jobs.
While Drew’s shot will always be etched in my memory and millions of other fans, it could also be argued quite successfully he has been surpassed by Ali Faokmanesh.
Unless you are a follower of Northern Iowa basketball or a member of Farokmanesh’s extended family, you probably had never heard of him before last Saturday either. Northern Iowa came in as a nice story, a solid team from a mid-major conference, the Missouri Valley. Spectacular, no, but capable of winning a game or even two in the tournament? Perhaps.
That “perhaps” turned into “fat chance” when the brackets pitted Northern Iowa against top seed Kansas in the second round. But even with double-digit seeds St. Mary’s and Cornell advancing, Farokmanesh wears the glass slipper.
In the unlikely event you haven’t seen it – and honestly if you’ve read this far you’re probably a college basketball fan, too – Farokmanesh was given an incredible opportunity. Northern Iowa had played nearly a flawless game in leading the mighty Jayhawks by at or near double digits most of the game. But it in the final minutes, sloppy turnovers and missed shots started pointing toward Kansas pulling it out or forcing an overtime that Northern Iowa would likely be out of gas for.
Instead, Farokmanesh was given the chance of a basketball lifetime when with eight second left an outlet pass found him wide open for a 3-pointer with the game tied and KU defender Tyrel Reed peeled off. With the calmness of plucking a ball off a rack in practice, the 6-0 guard pushed the ball and Kansas’ season down the drain.
Without a doubt I’m looking forward to the tournament restarting tomorrow as the Sweet 16 gets underway. Is it possible Northern Iowa, St. Mary’s or Cornell could advance to the Final Four? Sure. Is it likely? No.
Even if the most exciting weekend of the year is over, the clutch shot has a new identity.