Clips Nation is still in the March Madness spirit (don’t forget to check out our bracket), and it seemed like a good time to relive this current roster’s best NCAA Tournament moments.
Given that there are 15 players on the team right now (yes Joakim Noah, we see you), this exercise is going to be split over two days. Today, we’ll look at the players whose NCAA Tournament appearances never got past the Sweet 16.
First off, a quick nod to Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac, who will not be featuring here, because neither of them played college basketball. Also, apologies to Paul George, who never made the Big Dance while at Fresno State.
In 2010, a freshman Kawhi Leonard and the San Diego State Aztecs (where his jersey has recently been retired) advanced to the NCAA Tournament, but lost in the first round as the 11-seed to no. 6 Tennessee. The Aztecs had the ball down three with 7.4 seconds left, but Leonard missed a contested 3-pointer that would have tied the game, leaving San Diego State winless in Tournament history.
That losing streak wouldn’t last much longer, however, as the Aztecs earned a 2 seed during Leonard’s sophomore season and beat Northern Colorado in their first-round game. Surprisingly, Leonard wasn’t deployed as the defensive stopper on the Bears’ Devon Beitzel, affectionately dubbed “Little Jimmer”, but his outstanding perimeter defense helped win the game in the second round against Temple.
Leonard hit two free throws to put San Diego State up five with just over 30 seconds to play in double overtime. He then stole the ball on the ensuing possession and went coast-to-coast for a dunk to seal the game, giving the world a preview of what his game would look like at the next level.
Unfortunately, the Aztecs ran into a peaking Connecticut Huskies team in the next round, led by Kemba Walker, who would be drafted six spots ahead of Leonard that June. Leonard had 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists in his final collegiate game, but Walker’s 36 points combined with Jeremy Lamb’s 24 proved too much to overcome.
Patrick Beverley made the NCAA Tournament twice while at Arkansas. In 2007, his Razorbacks lost as the 12 seed to a USC team featuring two future pros, including Nick Young and Taj Gibson. Beverley’s 15 points led Arkansas in the 17-point loss, but he wasn’t yet the outside shooter he is today, as he missed all five of his 3-point attempts.
The Razorbacks fared better the next season, earning a no. 9 seed and upsetting Indiana in the first round, led by star one-and-done freshman Eric Gordon. Beverley scored 12 points, and he helped limit Gordon to 8 points on 3-of-15 shooting for the Hoosiers. He also delivered a delightful postgame quote about his teammate Sonny Weems, who scored 31 points on 14 shot attempts and went on to appear in 183 NBA games.
“Sunny days when Sonny Weems plays the way he plays,” Beverley said postgame.
Arkansas ran into North Carolina in the next round, a Tar Heel team that made the Final Four that season. Beverley had a nice offensive game (14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists) to end his NCAA career.
Amir Coffey’s Minnesota team was victim to a 5-12 upset in his freshman season, though Coffey was the leading scorer and played all 40 minutes against Middle Tennessee, and the Gophers didn’t make the Tournament when he was a sophomore. The highlight of Coffey’s postseason career came as a junior in 2019, when Minnesota beat Louisville in the first round.
Coffey was a real iron man. 40 minutes against Louisville, and then another 39 two days later in a loss to Michigan State, which ended up advancing to the Final Four.
JaMychal Green only got one chance to play in the Tournament at Alabama. It happened during his senior year in 2012, when the Crimson Tide faced off against a Doug McDermott-led Creighton team in a back-and-forth 8-9 battle. Alabama had the ball down one with a chance to win at the end, but the team couldn’t get a good shot off.
Like Green, Reggie Jackson only had one shot in the Tournament, but his came during his freshman year in 2009. His Boston College team was the no. 7 seed against a stacked USC team that had underachieved during the regular season, but earned an automatic bid to the NCAAs by winning the conference tournament.
Jackson came off the bench and only scored four points; two of those came on a jumper to put the Eagles up 44-41 early in the second half. From that point onward, the Trojans went on a 11-0 run and ended up winning by 17. Taj Gibson was perfect from the field on ten shot attempts, tying a Tournament record, and DeMar DeRozan added 18 points and 9 rebounds.
Unfortunately for Johnathan Motley, his NCAA Tournament is defined by the epic upsets that he took part in. In 2015, as a freshman, his Baylor team lost to Georgia State in the first round on RJ Hunter’s iconic game-winner that sent his father flying off his chair. The next year, Motley’s Bears lost to Yale in another stunner, and he is best remembered for sitting next to Taurean Prince as Prince defined rebounding for the media.
Baylor got to the sweet 16 the next year when Motley was a junior. He averaged 17.3 points and 9.7 rebounds in 29.3 minutes over the three Tournament games, as the Bears beat New Mexico State and USC before losing to Final Four-bound South Carolina. It’s at this point that he starts to look like the Motley of the Agua Caliente Clippers, just getting buckets.
Landry Shamet had to wait for his first NCAA Tournament appearance, as he missed most of his freshman year with an injury. During his sophomore season in 2017, Shamet’s 10-seeded Wichita State upset Dayton in the first round, and he was the leading scorer with 13 points. That gave the Shockers 16 wins in a row heading into the second round against Kentucky.
Wichita State battled a Wildcats team with three future pros down to the wire, and Shamet showed out against De’Aaron Fox. He just didn’t have quite enough help, and the Shockers couldn’t get Shamet the ball when they were down one; they had to foul, going down three, and Shamet’s last-second 3-pointer was blocked by Bam Adebayo.
That was the high point in the Big Dance for Shamet, as Wichita State was upset the next season in the 4-13 first-round matchup by Marshall. Shamet was 0-of-7 from three in the loss.
Come back tomorrow for a look at some of the deeper NCAA Tournament runs by the 2019-20 LA Clippers.