For the first time since its inaugural tournament in 1939, the NCAA’s annual Men’s and Women’s Basketball tournaments have been cancelled due to Coronavirus concerns. Let’s take a look back at Denver Nuggets in this tournament.
Following the announcement that Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the widespread disease known as COVID-19, after an odd event in Oklahoma City before their scheduled game with the Jazz, and in the middle of a game between Dallas and the Denver Nuggets, the NBA suspended their season until further notice, with the NCAA and college basketball conferences around the country following suit just one day later.
The months of March and April are some of the most enjoyable months out of the whole year for sports fans. The NBA and NHL transition from the regular season to the postseason and fans get to witness the league’s best talents duel it out in grueling, seven-game series only to crown a champion later in June. The NFL free agency period begins and the NFL draft happens later in April, and the MLB begins their season as well.
Perhaps the most entertaining sporting event though, when the best college basketball teams square off in the NCAA’s annual tournament known to many as March Madness.
March Madness is the pinnacle of the college basketball season. With mid-major schools upsetting Power Five conference champions, ferocious dunks, and unbelievable buzzer-beaters, March Madness can feel like a movie more than reality at times.
Unfortunately, this season should be dubbed as March Sadness, because for the first time in 81 years, there will be no tournament played.
With all that being said, let’s use this time to be nostalgic and look back on some of the most memorable college seasons from the members of this year’s Denver Nuggets squad.
Mason Plumlee, 2013, Duke
Season Averages: 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.0 steals, 59% FG%, 68% FT%
Season Accolades: Consensus All-American Second Team, Pete Newell Big Man Award, All-ACC First Team
Season Record: 30-6, Lost in the Elite Eight
Mason Plumlee did win a national championship with Duke during his freshman in 2010, but that was when he was playing just 14.1 minutes per game and started only one game all season. Plumlee’s senior season was when he really grasped the attention of the nation.
Plumlee was a 6-foot-10, 235-pound, floor-running, high-flying forward who energized the “Cameron Crazies” with his powerful putbacks and aviating alley-oops.
Plumlee also showcased a nice repertoire of post moves, a soft touch around the basket and thunderous blocks all season long that eventually led Duke to the second-best record in the ACC and a two seed in the NCAA tournament.
In Duke’s four games during the tournament, Plumlee averaged 16.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals on 67% shooting from the field and 80% shooting from the free-throw line.
Plumlee’s final game as a Blue Devil was against the top-seeded Louisville Cardinals, (who would eventually go on to win the tournament that year), but although Plumlee finished the game with 17 points and 12 rebounds, his performance was out shadowed by Louisville’s Kevin Ware and his horrific leg injury that took place during the first half of the game.
After graduating, Plumlee went on to become a first-round pick for the Brooklyn Nets in 2013. He spent two years in Brooklyn and then was traded to the Portland Trailblazers in 2015 and eventually made his way to the Denver Nuggets in 2017, where he has spent the last four seasons of his career.
Gary Harris, Michigan State, 2014
Season Averages: 16.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.8 steals, 43% FG%, 35% 3PT%, 81% FT%
Season Accolades: All-Big Ten First Team, All-Big Ten Defensive Team, Honorable Mention AP All-American
Season Record: 29-9 , Lost in the Elite Eight
Gary Harris and the Michigan State Spartans actually lost to Plumee’s Blue Devils during the 2013 NCAA tournament, but Harris’ sophomore year was when he really started to make a name for himself.
Harris was a prototypical “3-and-D” player during his time at Michigan State, and Spartans head coach Tom Izzo said he loved Harris’ toughness and credits that to his high school football career.
Harris was a phenomenal spot-up shooter for the Spartans. Harris loved to run off screens from former first-round pick Adreian Payne and knock down countless threes all game long.
Defensively, Harris was an excellent on-ball defender. It was rare to see Harris get beat off-the-dribble, which was an incredible feat considering the Big Ten conference had players like Nik Stauskas, Yogi Ferrell, Caris LeVert, Sam Dekker and Tim Frazier competing on a nightly basis that season.
In the tournament, Michigan State was awarded a fourth seed in the East region and made light work of 13th-seeded Delaware, 12th-seeded Harvard and the first-seeded Virginia Cavaliers.
In the Regional Final game, despite a 22-point performance from Harris, the Spartans fell to the eventual champion UConn Huskies.
Harris was selected 19th overall by the Nuggets in 2014 and has spent the entirety of his NBA career in a Denver Nuggets uniform
Jamal Murray, Kentucky, 2016
Season Averages: 20.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 45% FG%, 41% 3PT%, 78% FT%
Season Accolades: All-SEC First Team, SEC All-Freshman Team, Third-Team All-American
Season Record: 27-9, Lost in the Second Round
Jamal Murray is the lone “one-and-done” prospect of this bunch, but that doesn’t mean he did not have a successful college career.
In his one season as a Wildcat, Murray showcased his tremendous knack for scoring on a loaded Kentucky roster that had seven future NBA players.
At just 18 years old, Murray knocked down more threes than anyone in the SEC that season, and was third in the conference in scoring. Murray was a crafty finisher around the rim and really was the epitome of a “shot-creator” at the college level.
One knock against Murray in college was his passing ability. Murray did not play much point guard at Kentucky, as he played alongside Tyler Ulis and Isaiah Briscoe nearly every game, but his improvement in that department has been remarkable during his four seasons in Denver. Murray has upped his assist average every season since putting on a Nuggets’ uniform.
Kentucky did win the SEC tournament that year, but the NCAA tournament was a whole different animal for the Wildcats. Although they garnered a four-seed in the East Region, Kentucky fell in just the second round to the fifth-seeded Indiana Hoosiers.
Murray averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 41% from the field and 19% from deep in the Wildcats’ two tournament games that year.
Murray declared for the draft following his freshman season and was taken seventh overall by the Denver Nuggets where he has spent his entire career thus far.