10 people who defined March Madness in 2024

Another NCAA Tournament is in the books with the annual event once again providing incredible drama over a three-week span.

When the dust cleared, it was once again UConn standing tall to become the first back-to-back champion since 2007.

While the Huskies are bringing home the hardware, there are plenty of stars that shone brightly throughout the tournament. Here are 10 people who defined March Madness this time around.

Dan Hurley

UConn continued its reign atop the college basketball world, defeating Purdue in the championship game to secure its second straight national title and sixth overall in program history. The Huskies’ latest triumph puts Hurley in some exclusive company as he joins Mike Krzyzewski and Billy Donovan as the only head coaches to guide their schools to back-to-back championships since the NCAA Tournament expanded in 1985.

UConn’s dominance under Hurley over the past two postseasons can’t be understated. Prior to last season, no team had won all of their NCAA Tournament games by at least 13 points, per statistician Jared Berson. The Huskies have now done it two years in a row, and their latest title run included a record point differential of +140.

Zach Edey

The 7-foot-4 behemoth rarely comes up short, but that’s exactly how Edey’s unbelievable 2023-24 campaign came to an end. However, the Canadian’s historic play was one of the more notable parts of this year’s Big Dance. He averaged 29.5 points and 14.5 rebounds per game, putting the cherry on top of a two-year National Player of the Year streak.

You could fill a book with how many records and all-time stat lists Edey summited throughout the tournament, but his performance in Monday’s defeat was arguably the most staggering. Not only were his 37 points the most ever in a title game’s losing effort, but his tally was the fourth highest in the final and the most in 46 years. We may never see a player like Edey in the college game again, and he somehow saved some of his best for last.

Jack Gohlke

One player always seems to come out of nowhere to deliver a signature moment in the Big Dance. This year’s first breakout performance came courtesy of Gohlke as the Oakland guard shot the lights out in the Golden Grizzlies’ opening-round stunner of Kentucky. Gohlke hadn’t played a minute of Division I basketball before this season. In his first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the sixth-year player outplayed a Wildcats squad loaded with NBA prospects, drilling 10 triples off the bench to knock out the blue-blood program. Gohlke may not be heading to the Association, but for a few nights, he was the main attraction of the tournament.

John Calipari

No, Calipari’s not here because of another early-round upset loss – although that certainly contributed heavily to what eventually happened. Vultures were circling the longtime Kentucky bench boss after the setback to Oakland, but a $33-million buyout appeared to be his safety net keeping him in Lexington.

That changed late Sunday when he shocked the world by deciding to jump to in-conference rival Arkansas as its new head coach. Calipari won 410 of 533 games at Kentucky and brought home the program’s eighth national title. However, with the amount of talent coming through the door, it’s fair to say he underachieved with Big Blue Nation.

DJ Burns

Joe Sargent / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The breakout star of March Madness had a simple mindset to help turn NC State from a mid-pack ACC team into a Final Four participant.

“Nobody cares about a loser. That’s why I decided to be a winner,” Burns told CJ Moore of the Athletic.

The 6-foot-9, 275-pounder won a whole lot in March as he led NC State on an improbable run to both the ACC tourney title and the national semifinal. It wasn’t just his 16.2-point average during the tourney that grabbed America’s attention, but more so how he operated. Burns utilized an old-school game with a wide array of post moves that’ll have him killing rec league games for decades. His combo of size and athleticism even had multiple NFL scouts inquiring about a possible football career.

Jamal Shead

In the case of Shead, it’s more about what could’ve been versus what was. His No. 1 seed Houston squad was up seven in the Sweet 16 against Duke when he suffered a severely sprained ankle. The Big 12’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year wasn’t able to return to the contest, which the Cougars ended up dropping. Who knows what could’ve happened if Shead didn’t get knocked out. No. 11 NC State would’ve awaited in the Elite Eight, and Houston could’ve very well been the team to win this year’s title.

Grant Nelson

Though it’ll never compare to March legend Doug Edert’s mustache, Nelson’s alone gives him selling power on this list. In all seriousness though, Grant going Full Nelson on UNC in the second half of its Sweet 16 clash is a large reason why Alabama made a Final Four run. The forward became the first player in tournament history to put up 20 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and two threes in that masterful performance. He saved one of his greatest moments for last, too, a nasty dunk on defensive dynamo Donovan Clingan.

Shrieking Grand Canyon fan

It certainly wasn’t the best game of March Madness, but the second-round matchup between No. 4 Alabama and No. 12 Grand Canyon was absolutely the most chaotic. Helping to set that tone was a rabid Antelopes fan who spent the entire contest shrieking non-stop beside the television microphone.

It’s safe to say Grand Canyon games should come with a “mute” warning going forward.

Ian Eagle

Let’s quickly pay the legend Jim Nantz the respect he deserves. However, the first March Madness without the 64-year-old since 1991 has been highly entertaining thanks to the spectacular Eagle. Sports fans in both football and basketball are very familiar with the 55-year-old and his work, but that high bar has been raised even further in his first NCAA Tournament as CBS’ lead broadcaster.

Whether it be punctuating Grant Nelson’s epic dunk over 7-foot-2 Donovan Clingan with the perfect “Full Nelson” line, or explaining who Skee-lo is to 80-year-old partner Bill Raftery, Eagle has risen to the occasion all tournament long.

Mark Sears’ mom

Sears’ mother, Lameka, wasn’t sinking buckets on the court like her son, but she quickly became a viral sensation on the sidelines. Lameka caught the camera’s attention when she mimicked the Alabama star’s free-throw routine while sporting shiny, custom-made school attire.

It’s a tradition they’ve had dating back to Mark’s days playing rec league basketball, and it became a mainstay on the broadcast during the Crimson Tide’s Final Four run. Each year, the NCAA Tournament shines a light on the family members who have supported the players throughout their basketball journey. It was great to see the Sears family have that moment together.