Joakim Noah hasn’t yet suited up as a Clipper, but his NCAA resume is peerless among his teammates. After only playing two minutes in the 2005 NCAA Tournament, Noah led the Florida Gators to the 2006 national title. He was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and averaged 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game during the Tournament. The Gators won every game by double digits except for one, a four-point Sweet 16 victory over Georgetown, giving Noah the perfect springboard to declare for the 2006 NBA Draft.
Except he didn’t.
Noah and the rest of the Florida starting lineup (Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, and Lee Humphrey) decided to return for the following season to try to repeat as national champions. Their attempt was successful, and they became the first — and only — back-to-back champs since the 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils. Florida wasn’t quite as dominant in its second go-round, winning four games by single digits, but the Gators got the job done, including beating the heavily-hyped Greg Oden and Ohio State in the title game. After winning a second crown, the entire team went pro and Noah, Brewer, and Horford were all top-10 picks.
Noah also got to show off his dance moves on the national stage.
The other national champion in the Clippers locker room is Montrezl Harrell, who won a title with Louisville in 2013 as a freshman. Harrell didn’t start any games during the Big Dance, but he was a key frontcourt reserve (sound familiar?) and had his best game during the Final Four, when the bench sparked a run to help Louisville beat Wichita State. Looking back, Trezz is almost unrecognizable without the dreads.
Terance Mann and Mfiondu Kabengele
Mann and Kabengele played together for two years at Florida State, making it past the first weekend of the Tournament both seasons. In 2018, they had a preview of their NBA futures, as their regional brought them to Staples Center. The Seminoles beat Gonzaga in essentially a road game to earn a trip to the Elite Eight, when they lost by four to Michigan.
The 2019 Tournament also sent Florida State out west, this time to the Honda Center in Anaheim, where Gonzaga got revenge and beat them in the Sweet 16.
Mann had one foray into the Big Dance before Kabengele joined him in Tallahassee. His Seminoles won a mostly forgettable first-round matchup against Florida Gulf Coast (née Dunk City) before losing to Xavier in the second round.
For Mann and Kabengele, their most memorable March moment came not in the NCAA Tournament, but in the ACC Tournament, when they beat Virginia in the conference semis and became the only non-Zion team to beat the Cavaliers all season.
Patrick Patterson played in the NCAA Tournament once on an absolutely stacked Kentucky team that had John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Darius Miller, and DeMarcus Cousins as the other starters. All four are active NBA players. Patterson was the veteran on the team to help guide the super freshmen, and he averaged 11 points and 8.5 rebounds in 31 minutes per game during that postseason.
The Wildcats were upset in the Elite Eight by West Virginia, and head coach John Calipari hilariously tried to explain the defeat by saying his team was so excited to face Duke in the Final Four that they overlooked their present opponent. Duke, by the way, had not yet played their regional final when Kentucky lost.
Marcus Morris Sr.
Marcus Morris played for another blue blood, Kansas, during his college career. Alas, like Patterson, Morris never got further than the Elite Eight. He was also victim to two of the wilder upsets in Tournament history.
In 2010, the Jayhawks lost as the no. 1 overall seed in the second round to Northern Iowa, punctuated by an unconscious shot from Ali Faroukmanesh (who “recreated” it 10 years later). Steve Kerr gives an all-time great call here.
The following year, Kansas was a no. 1 seed again but lost to no. 11 VCU in the Elite Eight. VCU was such an upstart they had to win the play-in game just to get into the Big Dance; they also spent the previous year in the College Basketball Invitational, one notch below the NIT. Morris had 20 points and 16 rebounds in a losing effort.
Morris still has three Big 12 titles, two Big 12 tournament titles, a Big 12 player of the year award, and his jersey hanging in Allen Fieldhouse. He did alright at Kansas.
Rodney McGruder made the NCAA Tournament during all four of his seasons at Kansas State, going 5-4 overall. The Wildcats got to the Elite Eight during his freshman year and then never advanced beyond the first weekend.
However, in 2010, McGruder and Kansas State took part in one of my all-time favorite NCAA Tournament games, one that became an instant classic. It has been slightly lost in the annals of history, because Butler made the Final Four out of that region and was the enduring storyline of that season. Nevertheless, Kansas State vs. Xavier in the Sweet 16 was everything we want March Madness to be. Multiple lead changes, clutch shots, Gus Johnson going full Gus, and mid-major athletes becoming cult heroes.
A first-year McGruder barely got to play in that game, but he is the lone NBA player surviving from that matchup. Although he dramatically improved throughout his college career, the stakes of his later NCAA appearances never quite reached the peak of that first one. Here’s the entire second half. It does not disappoint.
Let’s not forget the head coach of the Clippers, who did some dancing of his own in 1982 and 1983. His Marquette team won a first-round game against Evansville when Rivers was a junior in 1982. It’s a treat to check out the New York Times game story from that day highlighting Glenn Rivers’ clutch free throws and a 7-foot-center mistakenly referred to as “Akeen” Olajuwon who starred for Houston in the other matchup.
Unfortunately, this isn’t from the NCAA Tournament, but it is a chance to watch Rivers in his college glory days. The man had hops.