When we think about the NCAA tournament, we think about one of the most spectacularly unpredictable events in all of sports. We imagine buzzer beaters and upsets, showmanship and Cinderella stories. We anticipate “Madness” — and we love it. However, before a worthy team climbs the ladder and cuts down the nets, others must fall. And sometimes, we’re not just talking about on the scoreboard.
It doesn’t matter what sport you play, injuries are always a possibility. Unfortunately, not even an invitation to the big dance is enough to prevent them. With this year’s tournament in sight, we can only hope that players are able to remain healthy. We’d hate to see anyone suffer the same fate as these three individuals.
3. Georges Niang’s season-ending foot injury
In a 2015–16 season where parity in college basketball has somehow become the new normal, the Iowa State Cyclones (20-9, No. 17 AP) have as good a chance to cut down the nets as any team in the country. Especially with senior — and Top 20 finalist for the Wooden Award — Georges Niang (19.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 3.2 APG) leading the way.
Unfortunately, we’d be lying if we said we believed that year was the Cyclones’ best opportunity to take home the championship. This particular occasion was derailed because of an injury to the player listed above.
Despite entering the 2014 NCAA tournament as the No. 3 seed in the East Regional, the Cyclones suffered a monumental setback during their 93-75 second-round victory over North Carolina Central as Niang — then a sophomore averaging 16.7 points per game — fractured his right foot and was ruled out for the rest of the tournament. For a team riding a bit of a high after winning the Big 12 tournament title, this blow proved to be too much to overcome. Iowa State ended up losing to Connecticut 81-76 in the regional semifinal.
2. Da’Sean Butler’s major knee injury
After toppling a giant — in the form of the No. 1-seeded Kentucky Wildcats — in the East Regional final, the 2009-10 West Virginia Mountaineers had every reason to feel confident entering their Final Four showdown with the Duke Blue Devils. Yet, with just over nine minutes left in the second half, the Mountaineers found themselves in a 63-48 hole.
Sadly, things were about to get a whole lot worse. While driving to the bucket, not only did West Virginia senior leader Da’Sean Butler (17.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 3.1 APG) collide with Duke’s Brian Zoubek and get called for the charge, but his left knee buckled in the process.
As Butler lay on the floor in pain and agony, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins, in one of the most heartfelt moments we’ve ever witnessed on a basketball court, got down on the floor with Butler and attempted to console his distraught player. Although losing the game by a score of 78-57 would be painful for West Virginia, it was clear that the loss of Butler to a torn ACL hurt just as much — if not more.
3. Kevin Ware’s horrific leg injury
The leg injury that Louisville’s Kevin Ware suffered against Duke in the Midwest regional final of the 2013 NCAA tournament was beyond disturbing. It was ugly, it was graphic, and it was incredibly hard to watch. To this day, we still feel the same way. That’s how bad it really was, which is why we did not link to it here.
While trying to contest a three-point shot by Duke’s Tyler Thornton, Ware landed awkwardly on his right leg, breaking his tibia. But it was more than that. The compound fracture was so vicious that it actually left the bone sticking out of his leg. The game was briefly stopped, Cardinals players were in tears, and fans in attendance — and watching at home — were absolutely horrified.
In the end, this injury inspired the Cardinals to win the game and, eventually, the national championship. But as far as injuries in the NCAA tournament are concerned, we can’t think of any more serious than the one that Kevin Ware sustained.
Statistics courtesy of SR/College Basketball.