The college basketball year will be remembered for messy coaching situations at perennial powers. It will be remembered for the men's wins leader stepping down. And it will be remembered for an inordinate number of freshman stars heading to the NBA after just one season.
But it also will be remembered for some breathtaking action on the court: an underdog team's shocking run to a conference tournament title, overcoming having to play two games in one day; a small school outside of Charlotte almost muscling its way onto the nation's biggest stage, thanks to the heroics of a sort of basketball Superman; and an epic comeback – or an epic collapse, depending on your viewpoint – in the national final.
Here's a look at the year that was in college basketball.
10. Four on the floor: For the first time since the NCAA began seeding the field in 1979, all four No. 1 seeds made it through to the Final Four. Once he got there, Kansas coach Bill Self made sure more history was made: He won the title in his first trip to the Final Four.
North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough shoots over Rutgers’ JR Inman on December 28.
( Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
9. All hail the Tar Heels: North Carolina fell short in its 2008 national title run, but every key player returned to make a run at the title in the 2008-2009 season. In the preseason coaches' poll, the Tar Heels were the first consensus No. 1 in history. They're the biggest favorites to win it all since UCLA's heyday in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
8. 'Are you guys here again?': Led by freshman big man Kevin Love, UCLA advanced to a third consecutive Final Four. Love – whose dad Stan played in the NBA and whose uncle Mike was the lead singer of the Beach Boys – was a highly hyped high school player. However, he exceeded expectations with the Bruins. Love was fundamentally sound and did all the little things extremely well. He also did a lot of big things well, like score and rebound. Alas, the Bruins again came up short at the Final Four, losing to eventual runner-up Memphis in the semifinals in '08. UCLA lost in the national final to Florida in 2006 and in the semifinals to Florida in '07.
7. Georgia's miracle run: Georgia finished last in the SEC East in the 2007-08 season, and the Bulldogs went to the SEC tournament in Atlanta amid much talk that coach Dennis Felton would be fired as soon as the season ended – as in, the day after the Bulldogs lost their first SEC tourney game. Instead, the Bulldogs rose up and won the tournament in incredible fashion. Because of a tornado that ravaged downtown Atlanta, the tourney had to be moved from the Georgia Dome to Georgia Tech's campus – and Georgia had to play two games on one day to just get into the final. The Bulldogs survived a Saturday doubleheader, then whipped Arkansas in the final. Oh, did we mention that the Bulldogs' first two games were overtime affairs, including the first game on that fateful Saturday? The Bulldogs lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but who remembers that?
6. Bob Knight says goodbye: Shortly after becoming the first men's coach to reach the 900-win plateau, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight surprisingly resigned on Feb. 4. He left with 902 victories. He is serving as an ESPN analyst this season but hasn't ruled out a return to the sideline.
5. One and done: How good was the 2007-08 freshman class? Four of the top seven picks in the 2008 NBA draft were freshmen, including each of the top three picks. The No. 1 pick was Memphis guard Derrick Rose; without him, the Tigers wouldn't have made it to the Final Four. The No. 2 pick was Michael Beasley; without him, the Wildcats wouldn't have made the NCAA tournament. The other precocious youngsters: USC's O.J. Mayo, UCLA's Love and Indiana's Eric Gordon.
4. Davidson becomes everybody's darling: Davidson was a national power in the late 1960s, when Lefty Driesell roamed the Wildcats' sideline. The Wildcats had been a frequent visitor to the NCAA tournament in the years since, but they hadn't made near as big of a splash as they did during the 2008 NCAA tournament. Led by baby-faced guard Stephen Curry, Davidson advanced to the Elite Eight, where it fell by two points to eventual national champion Kansas when the Wildcats' last-second 3-pointer was off the mark. Curry was a revelation, handling the media attention and all the double teams he saw with aplomb. On the court, he seemed unstoppable at times, hitting big shot after big shot after big shot – including some seemingly fired up from the stands. Amid all the tumult and din that is the NCAA tournament, it was refreshing to see a small school known for its academics hang tough with the big guys and not flinch.
Mario Chalmers #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots and makes a three-pointer to tie the game to send it into overtime against the Memphis Tigers during the 2008 NCAA Men's National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 7.
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
3. As the World Turns (Tucson): The soap opera that was Arizona basketball spun out of control. Longtime coach Lute Olson sat out the 2007-08 season for personal reasons and newly hired assistant Kevin O'Neill was given the reins. Before the season, it was announced that O'Neill eventually would take over when Olson resigned. But Olson said in April 2008 that O'Neill would not take over and, in fact, had been fired. Later, on Oct. 21, Olson attended Arizona's annual basketball media day and talked about this season. The next day, he skipped practice. Then, on Oct. 23, it was announced that Olson was retiring – effective immediately. The interim job for the season was offered to assistant Mike Dunlap, who turned it down. The job then went to Russ Pennell, who had been hired in May. Last season, Pennell was the analyst on archrival Arizona State's radio broadcasts.
2. As the World Turns (Bloomington): Kelvin Sampson stepped down as coach on Feb. 22, a week after the NCAA alleged that Indiana committed serious rules violations during his tenure. The NCAA said Sampson committed five "major" violations himself. At the time he left, Indiana was 22-4 and considered a national title contender. But the Hoosiers unraveled, going 3-4 the rest of the way, including a loss to Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament. After a rocky coaching search, the Hoosiers hired Marquette's Tom Crean as its new coach on April 1. It was ugly for anybody but especially for IU, which prides itself on playing by the rules.
1. Kansas' miracle rally: KU's most recent national title had come in 1988, when a group led by gifted forward Danny Manning shocked Oklahoma to win the title. That group of Jayhawks became known as "Danny and the Miracles." Fast forward to April 7, 2008, when another sort of miracle played out for Kansas. The Jayhawks were nine points down to Memphis with 2:12 left before storming back, aided by some awful Memphis free throw shooting. The comeback wasn't complete, though, until Mario Chalmers drained a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to send the game into overtime tied at 63. The Jayhawks then scored the first six points of the overtime period on their way to a memorable 75-68 victory.