The March Madness Championship Belt
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A retroactive diary of which Final Four players stole the show at the Elite Eight
Florida. UConn. Wisconsin. Kentucky. This year’s Final Four is an eclectic group of teams and players that almost nobody would have predicted to get this far.
Even with the wonderful team performances, there was a small group of players who rose above the rest and willed their teams to the final rounds in Dallas.
In order to properly honor these players, we are going to bestow upon them the March Madness Championship Belt, the college basketball version of fake wrestling’s highest achievement. Taking a look back at the Elite Eight, we’ll determine which players could claim the name of best college player in the world.
Saturday, 3:45 p.m.—Scottie Wilbekin
Scottie Wilbekin started the night with the title belt against a Dayton team that was too close for comfort for the tournament’s top rated team, Florida.
With under four minutes left in the half, the Gators had a slim one-point lead on the heavy underdog Dayton Flyers, and an upset looked plausible. Wilbekin put the team on his back for the next few minutes, like any Championship Belt holder should, and lead the Gators on a 14-1 run.
It all started with a Wilbekin jump shot, followed by a steal and layup, an assist to an open Michael Frazier for three, a couple of free throws, and finally, a buzzer-beating three to close out the half.
Saturday, 6:53 p.m.—Frank Kaminsky
After Wilbekin had finished off Dayton, Frank Kaminsky decided to take the spotlight. Wisconsin’s 7-footer scored almost half of the Badgers’ points with a cool 28, but really stole the show during the second half.
Facing a deficit to No.1 seed Arizona at half-time, Kaminsky caught fire to give the Badgers their first lead of the game.
The big man did it all—back-to-back layups over the formidable defense of Caleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon, a three-pointer to stretch the defense out, and then another driving layup to the hoop.
This hot stretch would carry over to overtime, where Kaminsky scored seven of Wisconsin’s ten points, and sealed a place in the Final Four. Kaminsky’s hot stretch gave him the title of best college basketball player in the world for the rest of the night, but Sunday’s games proved that even the best players can’t hold onto the Championship Belt forever.
Sunday 1:10 p.m.—Shabazz Napier
Whenever UConn fans are making comparisons to the hallowed Huskie legend Kemba Walker, you know someone is making a Championship Belt run. Shabazz Napier has scored or assisted on 45 percent of UConn’s points this tournament, something that hasn’t been done since Walker’s incredible March Madness run.
Napier’s stretch during the second half of Sunday’s game in Madison Square Garden proved his will to win, as his furious 8-minute scoring spell proved all comparisons to be sensible. Napier fought his way through the Spartan’s vaunted defense to get to the line three different times, and paired that with a couple three-pointers from the from the New York suburbs.
Napier continues to wow fans (as well as every play-by-play announcer) with his stupendous play, and looks to keep willing his team to victories in the Final Four.
Sunday 4:02 p.m.—Aaron Harrison
Sometimes wearing the March Madness Championship Belt is not so much about being the best player, but about having the audacity to believe you are.
Going into the final eight minutes of Kentucky’s game against Michigan, Aaron Harrison hadn’t scored a point all game. He didn’t let that get him down, and he wound up turning in one of the most clutch late-game performances in Elite Eight history.
With the game tied at 55, Harrison drilled a three to give Kentucky the lead, and he never looked back. After nailing two more threes in the next few minutes (assisted by his twin Andrew), Aaron Harrison put Wildcat fans into a frenzy.
His last shot, a game-winning three with almost no time left, put Kentucky into the Final Four, and propelled himself into history. The incredible shooting comeback left Michigan fans stunned, and the Kentucky team on a flight to Dallas for the Final Four.
Despite Aaron’s unbelievable performance, we can be sure someone else will rise to the occasion and challenge his reign as best college basketball player in the country. The only guaranteed aspect of the March Madness Championship Belt is that no player can hold on to it forever, and that someone new will be waiting to seize their title. Be sure to tune in Saturday and Monday to find out who will win the whole the whole tournament, and more importantly, who will hold The Belt until next season’s March Madness.