- Peter Keating, ESPN Senior Writer
It's a privilege and an honor to be trusted with this responsibility. No, we're not talking about heart surgery with Don Draper, but about choosing the fourth annual All-Giant Killers Team. This year, after we opened the floor to nominations for players who contributed the most to deep underdogs in the NCAA tournament, we got more -- and more intense -- responses than ever before.
So we want to start with a heartfelt thanks for all of your feedback. We are proud that Giant Killers has loyal readers. We are including the best of the GK Mailbag here, with the 2013 All-GK Team. And we're happy to incorporate your suggestions as we keep improving our statistical model.
Now, longtime readers may remember that in 2011, we awarded naming rights to this crew. No, not in exchange for cash, but to honor the first Killers to knock off Giants in consecutive years: the UAB Blazers, who slayed Kentucky in a 9-1 matchup in 2004, then came back as an 11-seed and beat LSU, a No. 6, in 2005. (VCU in 2011 and 2012 is the only other Killer with victories over Giants in back-to-back seasons.)
Coached by Mike Anderson (now at Arkansas) and led by twins named Donell and Ronell Taylor (who now play in Italy and Belgium, respectively), those UAB squads had a crucial element of the GK formula down cold: there was a massive gap of nearly 10 percentage points between how often they forced and committed turnovers. Here they are in action, with Ronell grabbing a steal and hurling a two-handed, overhead and, oh yeah, backward pass to Donell. Just like Brenner to Keating.
Hence, the 2013 Donell and Ronell All-Giant Killers Team:
All he did was deliver an inspirational pre-game speech, drop 24 points on Georgetown while hitting 3-of-6 from downtown and adding 9 rebounds, shake hands with the CBS broadcast crew, celebrate with cheerleaders -- and then rinsed and repeated against San Diego State. Signature player on a memorable underdog.
Reader comment, from TheChewmiester: "[Brett] Comer and Brown from FGCU should be at the top of the GK team. If they are not, the list will be invalid."
Our response: We appreciate it any time someone's willing to pick a fight over the All-GK team. But there are a lot of possibilities this year, and we're trying to limit programs to a maximum of one representative. Apologies to Comer -- and to Bernard Thompson.
He helped validate stathead claims that Minnesota was actually the better team in their 11-6 matchup against UCLA by scoring 28 points against the Bruins. Then he added 25 against Florida, including three 3-pointers in an 11-2 run that almost, but not quite, brought the Gophers back against the Gators.
Reader Comment, from Ssilvi84: "I gotta give a nod to Dre Hollins of Minnesota. He torched UCLA and was the catalyst in bringing MN back from down 23 to . He picked up a horribly ticky-tack foul, his fourth, and the Gophers went ice-cold while he was on the bench. He stays in the game, we might not be talking about Tubby Smith being fired."
Grabbed 38 rebounds in the tournament, including 14 off the offensive glass and came off the bench to key the Shockers' dramatic upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Of course, we could name Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State's leader, here, or
Carl Hall, whose shot blocking was the Shockers' secret weapon, or even Fred VanVleet, whose increased playing time helped elevate the team's play to another level as Wichita State made one of the all-time great Giant-Killing runs.
Reader comment, from ashatton: "Armstead ... Tough call over teammates Early and Hall, but ultimately he's their go-to guy."
Our response: Yes, but Armstead shot 31.9 percent in the tournament (22 of 69), and Early shot 50 percent (30 of 60). Giant Killers are supposed to be efficient.
How do you beat a team seeded seven spots higher when shoot just 39 percent and turn the ball over more than your opponent? You need lots of extra possessions, and Kazemi had more offensive rebounds than the entire Oklahoma State team in their Round of 64 matchup. Then he had more than twice as many as St. Louis, combined, in the Round of 32. And 11 points (on 5-for-6 shooting), 12 boards and no turnovers against Louisville to cap his college career was pretty good, too.
In a season without Wichita State or FGCU, we'd all be marveling over La Salle, a smart, efficient 13-seed that found two key ways to eke out three tournament wins, including a killing of vulnerable Giant Kansas State. They protected the ball (turnovers on just 15.7 percent of possessions in the Big Dance) and hit bombs (34-of-80 on 3-point attempts, or 42.5 percent).
And after Garland scorched Boise State, Jerrell Wright stepped up against K-State and Ramon Galloway had a monster game against Ole Miss. So consider this a team pick, which we're giving to Garland because of his game-winning shot against Mississippi -- the Southwest Philly Floater that launched a legend, not to mention a frenzy of local news stories and t-shirts.
Rivard's 17 points (on 5-for-9 3-point shooting), 5 rebounds and 2 steals in 40 minutes not only helped Harvard upend New Mexico, they earned Rivard the first-ever support for an Ivy League player in all-GK balloting. How big was the Crimson's win over the Lobos, the first ever in the NCAA tournament for Harvard? It was covered on PBS. And how cool is Rivard, a native of Quebec and a computer science major? So cool he can make up his own mysterious gesture on the court.
Although we have to note: This Harvard Crimson profile says that as a sophomore, Rivard was living in Cabot House, a former Radcliffe dorm in the nether reaches of campus, while his university bio places him at Eliot House, a bastion of old-money privilege. Is Rivard already selling out? Say it ain't so, Laurent!
Last year we instituted this award for the top Giant Killer-killer. After all, if Killers are akin to snakes, sneaking around, waiting to strike down Giants, players who can stomp them out are like the mongoose. This time around, the prize goes to Victor Oladipo.
After Temple outplayed Indiana for about 58 minutes in the second round, Oladipo grabbed a rebound and hit a free throw to give the Hoosiers a 53-52 lead. After another rebound, he then sank a 3-point bomb with 15 seconds left in the game, killing the Owls' dreams of an upset -- and Khalif Wyatt's chances of making the All-GK team.
Finally, we'll conclude with a comment from reader Kingofboggle: "Your all-time GK team needs to include Ohio's D.J. Cooper. Led OU as a No. 14 seed over Georgetown in 2010. And then led the Bobcats to the Sweet 16 in 2012 as a No. 13, winning over Michigan and South Florida before falling to UNC in OT. He embodies the guard play that all GKs have to have. And he did it twice."
Well put, King -- which is why we loved Cooper, put him on the All-Giant Killers team last year and gave him an honorable mention in 2010. But honestly, until you brought it up, we hadn't ever thought about an all-time All-GK team.
We just got ourselves some homework for the summer.
Peter Keating provides his list of the All-Giant Killers team. Florida Gulf Coast's Sherwood Brown is among the recipients, having been an integral member of the Eagles' Sweet 16 team.