You can't have a great story without great characters. And the first four days of the NCAA Tournament were perhaps the best opening weekend ever, filled with upsets, buzzer-beaters and incredible characters.
As we head into the Sweet 16, here are the sixteen most memorable characters from a memorable first weekend.
16. Bob McKillop, Davidson head coach
College basketball coaches don't often look like they are enjoying being college basketball coaches. In fact, during most games, lots of them look like they are flat-out miserable: Angry at everyone, overly emotional, just not the type of person you want to be around. I want to be around Davidson head coach Bob McKillop. His team lost to Kentucky, but McKillop was a picture of joy on the sideline through the entire game, smiling, sprinting back and forth, enjoying every minute. I'd love a bit more of that in my sports.
This is not for McQuaid's overall play per se, because his Michigan State team did get upset by First Four team Syracuse on Sunday with a miserable shooting performance. But this is for the McLovin lookalike hitting the most ridiculous degree-of-difficulty shot I've ever seen. Just before halftime, McQuaid fired up a three. It was blocked, and McQuaid jumped in the air and in one motion fired the ball back toward the rim. The buzzer sounded the moment the ball left his hand. It banked off the glass and in.
At that moment, if you didn't think a national title was Michigan State's destiny, then you don't believe in destiny.
14. Jim Justice, West Virginia governor
West Virginia's governor was in the stands Sunday night when West Virginia played Marshall, a public university in Huntington, West Virginia, that's about 200 miles from WVU. You would think he would pick a side, and you would think the side he would pick would be Marshall, seeing that that's where he went to school, and his wife, and his daughter. But Justice threaded a neat political needle when he showed up with a sportcoat and a tie that were split evenly with WVU colors and Marshall colors.
You can't upset your constituents. In a television interview during the game, Justice said it was a great night for the state of West Virginia. But it was not a great night for the reputation of West Virginia as a fashion capital.
What has this Kentucky team been all season other than an enigma? They're talented, sure – all John Calipari teams are talented – but they're so young, they seemed to lack an identity, they seemed to lack cohesion, and most of all, they seemed to lack a go-to guy. Kentucky had a lot of dudes, but nobody who seemed like That Dude. But over the past couple months, Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the least-heralded recruits of Calipari's most recent one-and-done-heavy class, became That Dude. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 19 points – along with eight rebounds, seven assists and five steals – in Kentucky's first-round win over Davidson. And then he balled out with 27 points, six rebounds and six assists in Kentucky's second-round win over Buffalo. Kentucky looks as good now as it has all year, and it's in a region where Kentucky is the only one of the top six seeds remaining in the Sweet Sixteen. Gilgeous-Alexander is the reason.
More of a lifetime achievement award for the UNC senior, a bright and joyful personality who exemplifies the best of college basketball. Pinson was an elite, five-star recruit when he came to North Carolina (along with teammate and fellow 2014 recruit Joel Berry). Some thought that a failure. Pinson scoffs at that: He enjoyed every moment of his collegiate run, which included a national title game appearance two years ago, a national title last year, and a whole bunch of college fun (like nighttime Krispy Kreme runs when he gets the urge) in between. Pinson, whose versatile, tough-to-define game reminds me of a mini-Draymond Green, certainly could have given pro ball a shot. But he stayed at UNC, and he loved it.
Purdue's massive 7-foot-2 senior broke his elbow -- his elbow! -- toward the end of Purdue's first-round win. The school quickly announced he was out for the tournament. But the next day, he practiced, and up until an hour or so before Purdue's second-round game against Butler, Haas was trying to play. (The NCAA ruled his elbow brace as against the rules, which is probably for the best, because Haas couldn't shoot with his shooting hand in warmups.)
All through the Butler game, I kept daydreaming of Haas checking in and pulling a Willis Reed. That didn't happen. But he was the happiest man on the court when his teammates of the past four seasons advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Specifically: Matt Haarms' hair. The 7-3 freshman, who played 29 solid minutes in Haas' absence, is a ridiculously talented shot-blocker and a ridiculously intense presence on the floor. (I remember his teammates telling me earlier this season they were worried Haarms would pop them in the mouth with one of his wild fist pumps after a basket.) But perhaps the most noticeable part of Haarms? How he can't help but make an adjustment to his hair after every pause in play.
To be fair, it's excellent hair.
And just as much as the UMBC point guard is his dad, Melvin. All though UMBC's historic win Friday night, Melvin Maura kept popping up on the TV screen, showing a giant cardboard cutout of his son's face. It was nearly as awesome as K.J.'s wicked headband game, and the fact that one of the best announcers there has ever been, Bill Raftery, described Maura this way: "110 pounds and the rest is heart." For the record, Maura is listed at 5-8, 140 pounds, but count me as skeptical.
What? The guy who set the worst kind of history on Friday night by becoming the first No. seed to bow out to a No. 16 seed? Yep, that guy. Not because he coached a great game in Virginia's blowout loss to UMBC. Obviously he didn't; Virginia seemed to stay married to a slow-it-down system even when it was in their best interest to speed things up and get some points. But Bennett's postgame remarks to Tracy Wolfson and showed us all some much-needed perspective on sports. "This is life," he said. "It can't define you. You enjoy the good times, and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena ... the consequences can be historic losses ... and you have to deal with it." Every parent in America should want those words to come out of the mouths of their son's or daughter's coach after a crushing loss.
7. Charles Barkley, CBS Sports/Turner analyst
I've loved Sir Charles since I was a kid, so a bit of a homer pick from this guy who spent a chunk of his childhood in Philadelphia. But I find Sir Charles to be an awesome, pro-focused addition to these collegiate broadcasts. (Yes, I know his bracket wasn't great this year, but neither was yours.) More than that, though, are his Capitol One March Madness commercials with Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee. By the time this first weekend is over, I feel like I've memorized almost every commercial that's been airing, and I'm sick of most of them. I never get sick of Sir Charles' commercials.
Just how they teach it? The Michigan freshman guard had one shot to attain March hero status. With 3.6 seconds left, Michigan was down two to Houston, inbounding the ball under its own basket. Poole's teammate, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, rifled him a pass, which he caught with 1.4 seconds left about 28 feet from the basket. Poole put up a prayer, his legs going spread eagle as he released the shot – and right after the buzzer sounded, it went in. Poole went all Jim Valvano, sprinting around the court like a madman as his teammates chased him. Later, a video surfaced of Poole hitting .
Virginia's sophomore guard was among many Virginia players to struggle shooting in the No. 1 overall seed's historic first-round loss (though he did score a team-leading 15 points). But I'm not talking about Jerome's game. I'm talking about his postgame press conference, when a dolt of a reporter asked him whether he was aware that a No. 16 seed had never won an NCAA Tournament game before.
"I think everyone's aware of that," Jerome said. "Thanks for bringing that up again." It's painful to watch, actually, because Jerome is aware that he and his teammates will carry this loss for a long, long time. But his deadpan reaction to the dumbest question of the NCAA Tournament was priceless.
Is that a "man-bun" or a "top knot"? I don't know how to describe the hairstyle of Houston's senior point guard, but I know how to describe his game. Unfortunately, I don't know how to type (fire emoji) on my laptop. (Editor's note: 🔥) Gray was absurd in the first weekend, scoring 39 in a wild win over San Diego State and then 23 in a wilder loss against Michigan. I felt awful for Gray especially when Michigan did the improbable with its buzzer-beater. But his game and his hair will go down in the annals of March.
The maniacal, awesome evada head coach gave the Postgame Interview of the Century to CBS Sports' Jamie Erdahl.
Cincinnati was up by 22 halfway through the second half, with a 92 percent chance of winning, according to 538. Then Nevada went on a 32-8 run in the final 10:49. It was the second-largest comeback in NCAA tournament history, and Musselman seemed as shocked as anyone. "NOTHING FEELS BETTER THAN THIS! NOTHING!" he shouted to Erdahl, then pointed at the camera: "SWEET 16!" Before he dashed off the court he added this: "I don't even know what to say, I'm so happy." By the time he got to his team's locker room, Musselman was already shirtless.
Coach Musselman rolled into the locker room with his shirt off because March. pic.twitter.com/o1cEA8wQm2— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 19, 2018
The dude knows how to celebrate a big win.
A 98-year-old nun who has been a part of oyola-Chicago's basketball program for decades. If you don't think her pregame prayers had something to do with the Ramblers advancing to the Sweet 16, then you don't believe in March Miracles. The only reason the good sister isn't No. 1? She only picked her Ramblers to make it as far as the . Oh, she of little faith.
Who? Well, you would have asked the same question about Seidel's place of employment just a few days ago.was straight fire from the tip of UMBC's upset victory over No. 1 overall seed Virginia. The Twitter account went from 5,000 followers to 110,000 followers in 48 hours. While measuring someone's impact from his social media following is a shallow 21st-century phenomenon, Seidel was able to accomplish this through humor and authenticity.
He's the son of two UMBC grads who grew up eight miles from campus, and who interned for the school as a high-schooler, when he bored witness to UMBC's first NCAA tournament appearance. From that moment on, he was hooked. You could see his love for his school all through his live-tweeting of the historic game: "Second Half about to start," Seidel tweeted. "No matter what happens we just want you all to remember......we are conveniently located just outside of Baltimore and have stellar academics." And at the end of his team's loss on Sunday night, Seidel tweeted the heartfelt truth: "Well, it was fun y'all. KState may have won (50-43), but we hope to have won your hearts." You did, Zach. You did.