We will never have a 2020 NCAA Tournament to look back on. There will forever be a gap in the record books, and understandably so.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought on a new world, but hopefully 2021 will bring back the NCAA Tournament as we’ve always known it.
Today, April 6, was supposed to be the day of the 2020 national title game. So in absence of that, and with time to spare, an opportunity arises to reflect on the brilliance and illustriousness of the most reliably dramatic sporting event in the world. The NCAA Tournament has existed since 1939, but it changed forever for the better when it upgraded to a 64-team template in 1985. That is when it truly became The Tournament.
Its appeal and majesty have only grown more irresistible and indelible in the years since. The big bracket manifests classics annually. There have been 2,251 NCAA Tournament games played since 1985. Objective analysis finds at least 500 of those games — better than 22%! — have been very-good-to-great. In fact, 117 games since ’85 (that’s 5.2% or: one in every 20 games) have been decided by one point. There have been 147 more decided by two points and another 139 decided by three, which also include the gobs of games that have required overtime(s).
Truth be told, I wanted to fit about 155 outcomes into 101 spots (because I couldn’t bear to have it at 100). If you scan and notice that a competitive game you’re fond of isn’t on the list, I can practically assure you it was under consideration before being cut. Also, I wanted to home in on the games that were truly great, highly contested or featured a significant comeback/collapse factor. That’s why meaningful outcomes — such as UMBC’s 20-point win over Virginia in 2018, UNLV destroying Duke in 1990 or Florida Gulf Coast’s electrifying Sweet 16 run as a No. 15 seed — didn’t make the cut. Those are memorable but not great, or at least great under the terms I invoked.
Another thing I wanted to make sure to do was represent every tournament with at least one game. Lastly, this is not a 101-down-to-1 ranking. It’s an overall offering of the most exciting battles in the modern era. If you’d like to rank at home, feel free! Here is a chronological voyage through the best the Big Dance has given us since it grew to its perfect form of 64 teams in 1985, then 65 beginning in 2001 and 68 in 2011.
1. Midwest second round: No. 2 Memphis State 67, No. 7 UAB 66 (OT)
We begin in Houston, where two teams with a ton of talent from the greater Memphis area square off and help introduce just how special the opening weekend of a 64-team tournament could be. The Tigers’ Andre Turner hits a jumper with six seconds left — it’s still jarring to see a tournament game in the modern era without a 3-point line — and then UAB coach Gene Bartow chases an official after the game ends with a “no -foul” call on the Blazers’ last shot. Memphis State great Keith Lee has 28 in this one, but Turner gives the Tigers the W. He’ll go on to hit another winner in the Sweet 16 to beat Boston College.
2. Midwest Sweet 16: No. 1 Oklahoma 86, No. 5 Louisiana Tech 84 (OT)
Oklahoma and Wayman Tisdale can’t put away Louisiana Tech and Karl Malone (20 points and 16 boards) in regulation. These were the two highest-scoring teams of this tournament. OU gives up big cushions at multiple points, creating an urgency to this Sweet 16 affair. Tisdale’s winning shot in the closing seconds of OT bounces on the rim five times before falling true. Here’s how the Chicago Tribune’s Bob Sakamoto opened his story that night: “The basketball seemed to have a mind of its own, but couldn’t decide what to do. Wayman Tisdale’s soft left-handed push shot hit the rim, bounced up, started to bounce out, bounced back and then hung on the rim as a capacity crowd of 17,007 sat in suspense.”
3. Final Four: No. 8 Villanova 66, No. 1 Georgetown 64
If our list were to be agonizingly whittled down to the 10 biggest games in tournament history, this would still make that cut. How interesting that the first 64-team team tournament produced the lowest-seeded team in history to win a national title. Eighth-seeded Villanova overcomes gargantuan Georgetown, preventing Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas from winning back-to-back championships. VU famously shoots 78.6% (22 for 28), which is still a record for any game in the Final Four or national championship. Villanova senior Ed Pinckney is named the Most Outstanding Player. It’s always felt a little overblown in terms of being an upset — the Wildcats lost by nine points total in two losses to Georgetown earlier in the season — but it is nonetheless one of the most memorable moments in college basketball history and the second-highest rated in game ever in the sport (behind MSU-Indiana State in ’79).
4. East first round: No. 14 Cleveland State 83, No. 3 Indiana 79
Being that this is just the second year of a 64-team bracket, Cleveland State becomes the first true Cinderella of the modern era. Behind the heroics of Ken “Mouse” McFadden, the Vikings are the first small-conference team to make the Sweet 16, and of course the lowest-seeded to do it as well. This game is also the first time a Bob Knight-coached team loses in the first round. Oh by the way, the ’86 tourney had two No. 14-over-No. 3 seeds: Arkansas-Little Rock over Notre Dame was the other.
5. Southeast first round: No. 11 LSU 94, No. 6 Purdue 87 (2OT)
There’s a dual legacy for the ’86 LSU team. First was being a No. 11 seed making the Final Four, a record which it holds alone until George Mason and VCU match it in 2006 and 2011, respectively. But the other unavoidable plot point with that run is the fact LSU gets to play the first weekend on its home court. A rule was put in place soon thereafter that prevented any such advantage again in the men’s tournament. For LSU, Anthony Wilson’s 25-point showing proves huge. There are 21 points scored in overtime, fourth most in tournament history. LSU winds up playing another great one against Memphis in the second round, then wins a tight game to beat Kentucky 59-57 in the Elite Eight.
6. East Sweet 16: No. 7 Navy 71, No. 14 Cleveland State 70
Imagine if the NCAA Tournament delivered Navy vs. Cleveland State in today’s age? Great as this bracket has remained for decades, that just doesn’t seem possible anymore. Of course, Navy made it so far because it had a unique star: David Robinson. Here he scores 22 points — including the winner with four seconds to go — grabs 14 rebounds and blocks nine shots (second best in tournament history) in one of the all-time Cinderella Sweet 16 matchups, which was hosted by New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena. Robinson boasts tournament-bests — 27.5 points and 11.8 rebounds on average — but Duke’s Johnny Dawkins (26.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg) wins the East’s MOP.
7. Southeast second round: No. 6 Providence 90, No. 14 Austin Peay 87 (OT)
There were 19 steals in this game, a tournament record, with seven of them from Friar Delray Brooks. If Austin Peay pulls out the win, how does change the trajectory of Rick Pitino’s career? The Friars go on to make the ’87 Final Four thanks in good portion to Billy Donovan, who scores 25 and plays 40 of the game’s 45 minutes, rallying PC from a 10-point deficit with less than six minutes remaining. Austin Peay’s Lawrence Mitchell doesn’t sit for a second and has a game-high 27. APSU’s Bob Thomas has a chance to win it at the line with :02 on the clock in regulation but misses the foul shot. Maddeningly, Austin Peay cannot/does not foul while down two (and no shot clock) until three seconds remain.
8. Southeast Elite Eight: No. 1 Indiana 77, No. 10 LSU 76
LSU made the Final Four as a No. 11 seed in ’86, then came two points away from doing it as a 10 the next year. IU’s Ricky Calloway catches Daryl Thomas’ airball and puts the orange into the hoop with six seconds to go to send Bobby Knight to what will ultimately be the penultimate Final Four of his career. LSU fails to advance after Nikita Wilson’s short jumper clangs the front end of the iron. Indiana rallies from a nine-point deficit with five minutes to go, turning over LSU four times in its final seven possessions. Steve Alford gets 20 points. Knight is doled a T because he “pounded the table in front of NCAA selection committee member Gene Corrigan, kicked a chair and berated official Tom Fraim for the better part of five minutes.”
9. Championship: No. 1 Indiana 74, No. 2 Syracuse 73
Hey, remember Rony Seikaly? He looked 31 while he was in college and he played for this Cuse squad. The Orange win this game if not for a mini parade of missed foul shots down the stretch. Jim Boeheim, in his first Final Four, helplessly watches as his team goes 11-of-20 from the stripe. Keith Smart’s winner with four seconds left is one of the 10 most famous shots in tournament history, but he also hits a big one with 32 seconds to go to put the Hoosiers within one. A total of eight future NBA players are on the court in this game, and Alford’s seven made 3-pointers are still tied for the most by one player in a Final Four.
10. Southeast first round: No. 4 BYU 98, No. 13 UNC-Charlotte 92 (OT)
The game takes place at The Omni in Atlanta. In this one all five Brigham Young starters hit double figures, led by Michael Smith’s 29 points. BYU extends its season and dodges the upset thanks to 59.6% shooting from 2-point range. The 49ers have Byron Dinkins and Cedric Ball, two men who will go on to play in the NBA. Dinkins fouls out on a greedy steal attempt with UNCC down one late in the second half, then a backcourt violation against BYU gives the 49ers a chance to tie it — and they do with two seconds left. Jeff West hits a leaning 3-pointer from the corner. BYU pulls away in the bonus session. By this point the infectiousness of the first round of the tournament has captured the country’s imagination.
11. West first round: No. 10 Loyola Marymount 119, No. 7 Wyoming 115
This is the only LMU game on the list. The 149 points vs. Michigan in 1990 is an unforgettable game because it’s the highest-scoring game in tournament history, but the game itself is not a “great” one. It’s a track meet and a powerful reminder of how revelatory Paul Westhead’s scheme was. This game, two years prior, is a legitimately sweet on — and at 234 points is the second-highest scoring game in Big Dance history. What’s forgotten: when this game was played, both LMU (15th) and Wyoming (13th) were ranked in the AP poll released earlier that week. This game was the 23rd and final time that season the Lions hit 100 points; they fall 123-97 to UNC two days later in Salt Lake City. Wyoming legend Fennis Dembo only has 14 points and fouls out with three minutes left, which crushes the Cowboys’ chances of winning. Bo Kimble scores 25 and Hank Gathers gets 19. YouTube video below picks up with this game.
12. Southeast first round: No. 1 Oklahoma 72, No. 16 East Tennessee State 71
Some controversy here, perhaps, but this is the better game than the other No. 16-over-No. 1 scare from this tournament. Georgetown 50, Princeton 49 happened on the same day (and that game was my very last cut on this list). For the Sooners, future NBA standouts Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock. For ETSU, its second tournament appearance in school history. ETSU was a fourth-place team in the SoCon standings. This tilt took place at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym, and Oklahoma ekes by thanks to a deflected near-half-court shot with a second to go. ETSU can’t hold on after leading for the game’s first 38 minutes.
13. East second round: No. 5 NC State 102, No. 4 Iowa 96 (2OT)
For NC State fans bummed about the 1985 cutoff, well here’s another big win for ya — and given the double-overtime factor, I wound up selecting this one just barely over UNLV’s 68-67 Sweet 16 win against Arizona in ’89, which was a beaut. With Jim Valvano still at the helm, the Wolfpack get a 40-burger from Rodney Monroe. Ed Horton has 32 for Iowa’s side, and oh yeah, future Chicago Bull B.J. Armstrong scores 20. Impressive: a 50-minute game features just 22 turnovers. It will be the last time NC State wins two straight NCAA Tournament games for 16 years.
14. Championship: No. 3 Michigan 80, No. 3 Seton Hall 79 (OT)
This was the 1,500th game in NCAA Tournament history. Rumeal Robinson, who goes on to have a hell of a story later in life, makes two foul shots with three seconds left in overtime to give Michigan a surprising national title. Steve Fisher, an interim coach who got the job only weeks earlier after AD Bo Schembechler fired Bill Freider in advance of Frieder accepting the Arizona State job, becomes the first coach to win a national title in his first trip to the NCAAs since Cincinnati’s Ed Jucker in 1961. Glen Rice scores 31 points, capping his tournament run with 184 total, a standing record (as are his 75 field goals). Seton Hall gets 35 from John Morton, one of the strongest scoring efforts in a loss in title game history.
15. Southeast first round: No. 1 Michigan State 75, No. 16 Murray State 71 (OT)
It’s the only No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchup to ever require overtime. Feels weirdly forgotten about all these years later. MSU escapes, but is nearly obliterated thanks to Popeye Jones dropping 37 points and 11 rebounds on Jud Heathcote’s team, which features Steve Smith and current Spartans assistant Dwayne Stephens. Murray State ties the game — played at Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena — on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Greg Coble. Smith goes for 22 points, six of which come in overtime and help MSU get a pivotal edge. Twenty-eight years into the future, UMBC is going to ensure that we don’t fully appreciate the handful of real scares No. 1 seeds got in the first 15 years of this wondrous tournament.
16. Southeast Sweet 16: No. 4 Georgia Tech 81, No. 1 Michigan State 80 (OT)
Among the 50 greatest games in NCAA Tournament history, the Yellow Jackets’ extra-session win was not without controversy. Dennis Scott’s shot with seven seconds left in overtime gives the game its final score, but the end of regulation also has its dramatics. Kenny Anderson’s buzzer-beater ties the game at 75 but the shot brings about questions on if he got it off in time, and if so, if it was a 3-pointer or a 2-pointer. Officials ultimately determine that it’s a 2-pointer — but the basket is good. Overtime by default, essentially. After the game, MSU coach Jud Heathcote proclaims, “We won the game in regulation but lost the game in overtime.” Heathcote’s case being that the clock operator failed to start the clock in time earlier on the prior possession. Smith scores 32 in the loss. Many MSU fans can’t get past the loss until their team wins a national title a decade later, with Heathcote’s assistant at the helm. Some guy named Tom Izzo.
17. East Sweet 16: No. 1 Connecticut 71, No. 5 Clemson 70
The first indelible moment in UConn basketball history. But did you know: Tate George actually had an opportunity to win the game on the Huskies’ prior possession before hitting the memorable winner two possessions later? First, David Young hits a beautiful shot from the left side, about 18 feet out, that gives Clemson its first lead since the game was 5-4. Then, after George’s shot with four seconds remaining falls wrong, Clemson’s Sean Tyson misses the front end of a one-and-one, opening UConn’s chance. The execution is even more impressive than Christian Laettner in ’92. Less time, tougher play (future NBAer Elden Campbell guarding the inbounder), tougher shot. George buries it from near-baseline to send the Huskies to their first Elite Eight. What I love about this video: Hubie Brown doing color commentary, Dick Stockton on play-by-play.
18. East Elite Eight: No. 3 Duke 79, No. 1 Connecticut 78 (OT)
If Duke-over-Kentucky in ’92 never happens, then this is the buzzer-beater Laettner is most known for. UConn’s swing from the win over Clemson to the loss against Duke is a microcosm of the power and drama and glory and heartbreak of this tournament. Laettner, a sophomore, hits a 15-footer at the buzzer of OT to win it in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Alaa Abdelnaby scores a game-high 27 for Coach K’s squad. The Blue Devils make the Final Four for the fourth time in a five-year span. Duke and UConn have met five times in the NCAA Tournament, and as you’ll continue to read, they’ve provided some epics.
19. East first round: No. 15 Richmond 73, No. 2 Syracuse 69
Landmark result. The NCAA Tournament sees its most stunning upset, seed-gap wise, in history to this point. The Spiders are the first No. 15 seed to win a game, getting past the then-Orangemen thanks to Curtis Blair’s 18 points and six assists. Syracuse never leads; Michael Edwards misses a trey in the closing seconds that would have tied it up. Jim Boeheim is 15 years into his head-coaching career by now.
20. West second round: No. 4 Utah 85, No. 5 Michigan State 84 (2OT)
Utah, in its first full season under Rick Majerus, gets out with a win despite clanking 18 foul shots. The game takes place at Arizona’s joint, the McKale Center, and sees Utah’s Josh Grant go for a game-high 29. It’s the final game of Steve Smith’s MSU career; Smith finishes with 28 points. The Spartans are lucky to get to overtime. Smith is fouled on a play that also provides a layup by MSU’s Matt Steigenga. Then, before Utah can salt away the game in OT, Spartans small forward Jon Zulauf, who plays only six minutes, gets an offensive rebound off a missed foul shot to push it to another session. Utah then outscores Michigan State 10-9 to make the final 16 for the 11th time in school history.
21. Final Four: No. 2 Duke 79, No. 1 UNLV 77
A game that changed the trajectory of college basketball. UNLV is 34-0 and is regarded as a lock-of-locks given the 30-point destruction of Duke in the 1990 championship; those Runnin’ Rebels are still the only team to hit the century mark in the final game of the season in tournament history. But in ’91, a different story. Christian Laettner gets 20 points in the first half alone. Anderson Hunt is the star for UNLV with 29, while ever-valuable point guard Greg Anthony (19 points) fouls out late, which complicates things. Jerry Tarkanian is soaked through his dress shirt midway through the second half. In the closing seconds, Larry Johnson passes up on a 3-pointer, then Hunt’s 3-pointer goes long, smashing off the glass and rim, and Vegas runs out of chances. It’s regarded as one of the most surprising upsets ever — and Duke is a No. 2 seed! The Blue Devils shoot 52% to survive, and end the fourth-longest win streak in men’s D-I history at 45 games.
22. East first round: No. 4 Seton Hall 78, No. 13 La Salle 76
Terry Dehere redeems himself after missing a would-be winner in the Big East Tournament vs. Syracuse less than a week prior. The opportunistic guard hits a long 2 with three seconds left to lift SHU over La Salle inside Greensboro Coliseum. Dehere finishes with 24 points. Seton Hall winds up making 10 of its final 12 shots. At this point in time, La Salle is a member of the MAAC. The Explorers waste an eight-point lead with four minutes remaining. It’s a stinger for La Salle, which averaged 9.5 3-pointers, best in the country, yet fails to get off a shot in the closing seconds.
23. Midwest second round: No. 7 Georgia Tech 79, No. 2 USC 78
One of the 10-12 most famous buzzer-beaters in NCAA Tournament history. This Trojan team is way too overlooked for how good it was that season. Let’s go to the videotape. Al McGuire, you are so dearly missed. “HOLY MACKEREL!”
And how about this: James Forrest’s winning 3-pointer is his only made trey of the season.
24. East Elite Eight: No. 1 Duke 104, No. 2 Kentucky 103 (OT)
Not sure much of a recap is necessary here, because if you’re reading this far down you know your hoops. It’s the greatest college basketball game of all time and just about everyone who has watched or covered college basketball for an extended period of time acknowledges that. The outcome serves as a testament to the return of Kentucky’s program after heavy sanctions in the 1980s, and it propels Duke, and solidifies the bona fides of Mike Krzyzewski, regardless of whatever the rest of his career will bring. Christian Laettner’s perfect game (10 for 10 from the field, 10 for 10 from the foul line), along with the most replayed winning shot in college basketball history, cements his status as one of the five greatest college basketball players ever.
25. West first round: No. 15 Santa Clara 64, No. 2 Arizona 61
A freshman by the name of Steve Nash guides Santa Clara to an upset that, while surprising, is no outright stunner due to Arizona’s stumbles in recent seasons as a highly seeded team. Remarkably, Arizona only scores once in the final 15 minutes. How about some love for a gent named Pete Eisenrich, who drops 19 on Arizona’s head. Nash misses two foul shots with 7.3 seconds left, then Santa Clara gets the board and Kevin Dunne misses two foul shots … but Damon Stoudamire can’t hit a long 3-pointer as time expires. What’s forgotten about this game: Arizona at one point screams out a 25-0 run. A No. 2 seed — a 20-point betting favorite at tip — goes on a 25-0 run and loses to a No. 15 seed? It’s a classic result. This was the 1,700th result in NCAA Tournament history.
26. West second round: No. 1 Michigan 86, No. 9 UCLA 84 (OT)
The Wolverines overcome a 19-point deficit on their way to eventually making the 1993 title game. Jalen Rose misses the would-be winner in OT, but Jimmy King gets the rebound and drops a bunny with two seconds left. UCLA coach Jim Harrick goes into a rage, insisting that Rose’s shot did not hit rim and therefore it’s a shot-clock violation and UCLA should have the ball. Officials convene for five minutes and rule Rose’s shot did tap iron. Ed O’Bannon’s last shot misses. Chris Webber finishes with 27 and 14 for UM.
27. Final Four: No. 1 Michigan 81, No. 1 Kentucky 78 (OT)
The ’93 title game is more remembered for Chris Webber’s timeout blunder, but the best game played in 1993 in New Orleans was between the Wolverines and Wildcats. Kentucky, Michigan and North Carolina all making the national semis as 1 seeds marks the first time three No. 1s get to a Final Four. Here, nine lead changes in the second half made for big drama in New Orleans. Behind the power of the Fab Five — Chris Webber scores 27, grabs 13 — Michigan scores the game’s final six points in OT. Kentucky’s season dies when Gimel Martinez misses a 3-pointer on UK’s final possession. A UK team dependent on 3-point reliability shoots only 7-of-21 from deep, while Michigan wins despite not making any 3-pointers in 45 minutes. Dale Brown’s shoulder injury late in the second half hampers Rick Pitino’s team. It’s the final game of Jamal Mashburn’s Kentucky career; he scores 26 but fouls out in overtime.
28. Championship: No. 1 North Carolina 77, No. 1 Michigan 71
Michigan vs. UNC is a rematch from earlier in the season that saw UM win 79-78 on a Jalen Rose buzzer-beater. Prior to Webber’s timeout blunder, Michigan holds a 67-63 lead with 4:32 to go, and then Carolina peels of a 9-0 run that gets the game to 72-67 in favor of the Heels with 58 ticks left. It’s after a Ray Jackson made jump shot (foot is just inside the 3-point line) that Michigan takes its last timeout with 46 seconds to go at 72-69. Carolina’s Brian Reese steps out of bounds while receiving the inbounds pass on the next possession, and then Webber scores on an offensive board after a Jalen Rose miss. From there, you certainly know the story. But here’s the final 20 seconds.
29. East second round: No. 9 Boston College 75, No. 1 North Carolina 72
Big, big upset. Boston College used to be good at college hoops once upon a when, kiddos. This upset stopped UNC from making the Sweet 16 for a 14th straight tournament. Crazy. Eagles guard Gerrod Abram scores 21 points, making six 3-pointers. BC, coached by Jim O’Brien, gets on thanks to starting four seniors. Bill Curley gets 10 of the Eagles’ final 11 points. At the time, it’s the biggest win in program history. UNC loses despite having a ferociously talented freshmen Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. It’s Wallace who is duped into a bad 3-point shot on Carolina’s ultimate possession. In the postgame, Dean Smith laments poor officiating, as does Stackhouse, who tells reporters afterward: “We expected them to play physical, but there was also a lot of cheap shots.”
30. Championship: No. 1 Arkansas 76, No. 2 Duke 72
A relatively tame tournament that’s mostly remembered for this game. Thanks to a 10-point rally in the second half by the Hogs, Duke is stopped from winning a third title in four seasons. Nolan Richardson becomes the second African-American coach to win the NCAA Tournament. Richardson also becomes the first coach to win an NCAA, NIT and junior college national championship. The great college hoops scribe Malcolm Moran, writing for The New York Times, provides a nice lede: “At long, long last, Nolan Richardson and his Arkansas Razorbacks earned their 40 minutes of heaven.” This is the final game of Grant Hill’s Duke career. The most memorable highlight from the game is Scotty Thurman’s parabolic late 3-pointer. Arkansas native Bill Clinton becomes the first sitting U.S. President to attend a Final Four.
31. East first round: No. 14 Old Dominion 89, No. 3 Villanova 81 (3OT)
Only triple-overtime game since the tournament expanded. (VU played in the most recent one before this, in 1982 against Northeastern.) Ten years into the expanded field, the notion of No. 14 and No. 15 seeds winning is still uncommon enough to bring about nationwide buzz when those upsets happen. That said, it’s the second of two No 14-over-No. 3 seeds that night: Weber State picks off Michigan State in Tallahassee, Florida, while this one’s in Albany, New York. ODU’s Petey Sessoms drops a career-best 35 points. The loss is a hammer to the nose for Nova, which was coming off an uplifting Big East Tournament championship. Kerry Kittles gets 22, while teammate Jason Lawson has 18 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks.
32. West second round: No. 1 UCLA 75, No. 8 Missouri 74
The Tyus Edney ending. The Bruins would have zero championships since the John Wooden era if not for Edney’s coast-to-coast saving layup in Boise, Idho, in 1995. And how would that alter our collective view of the program? Plenty rests on that ’95 title. Six dribbles, one of them behind the back, which is crucial in how the Missouri defense breaks down and allows for just enough of an opening for Edney to get off the winner. Give Boise a subregional every year for all I care.
33. Midwest Sweet 16: No. 2 Arkansas 96, No. 6 Memphis 91 (OT)
The Razorbacks get to consecutive Final Fours, needing overtime in back-to-back games (they alo beat Syracuse in the second round) to get there. Here, the Sweet 16 in Kansas City. Like so many games, it’s listed because of a comeback. Arkansas trails 79-67 with 7:23 remaining. A controversial foul against Memphis with 11.5 seconds showing sends Arkansas’ Corey Beck to the foul line. He makes one of two, ties the game, and it goes to OT at 83-all. Tigers coach Larry Finch says the following in the postgame presser: “It makes me mad — (11.5) seconds left on the doggone clock — and you call a doggone touch foul down there when (we’ve) been mugged all night. That’s ridiculous. I can see why guys go off when they get on this podium. It’s ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous! This is the national basketball tournament. This is ridiculous.” The Hogs eventually make it to the title game and lose to UCLA, but their 60 3-pointers set a record (easily topped since) for most in one Dance.
34. West first round: No. 1 Purdue 73, No. 16 Western Carolina 71
Some still believe this No. 1 vs. No, 16 seed game is truly the closest shave ever for any No. 1 seed to survive the first round. A Thursday night affair, and a close game throughout. The Catamounts, down by two, get two chances in the waning seconds to make history. Up two, Purdue’s Brad Miller misses the front end of a one-and-one with 11.6 seconds remaining. WCU’s Joel Fleming chucks up a 3-pointer, then Joe Stafford gets the board and misses a jumper at the horn. Western Carolina coach Phil Hopkins has a young assistant on his staff by the name of Thad Matta; Hopkins will be fired in 2000 and out of college basketball altogether a decade later. The Catamounts haven’t been back to the NCAAs since. Purdue loses in the next round to Georgia, which enables this next game to be possible.
35. West Sweet 16: No. 4 Syracuse 83, No. 8 Georgia 81 (OT)
One of the five or six best Sweet 16 games in history. The Orangemen win thanks to a 20-footer by John Wallace with less than three seconds to go in OT. Georgia, coached by Tubby Smith, blows it in regulation and in the bonus session, too. SU gets it to free hoop thanks to Jason Cipolla’s shot in the final second. After the game, Smith says, “I lost a seven-overtime game in high school. That was tougher, but this is close.” The final sequence is NCAA Tournament frenzy at its best. Wallace, who avoids fouling out despite having four fouls for final 17 minutes, puts up a beast of a game: 30 points, 15 boards. Pertha Robinson’s name is lost to history. Had his 3-pointer been the final bucket, who knows what becomes of Georgia? Syracuse, after all, makes it all the way to the title game. Enjoy this picture-in-picture. Anyone reading this born after 1994 doesn’t even KNOW.
36. Midwest Sweet 16: No. 1 Minnesota 90, No. 4 Clemson 84 (2OT)
A battle of streaks and stalls, Clemson overcomes a 15-point deficit and finagles a tie at the end of regulation after trailing by four with 20 seconds left. Tony Christie’s layup at the buzzer extends the game. The MVP here goes to Minnesota’s Bobby Jackson (personal-best 36 points), while teammate Sam Jacobson puts up 29. Clemson is coached by a young Rick Barnes, and one of his better players is a young man, Merl Code, who will becomeClemson blows a six-point lead in the final minute and a half, enabling a second OT. This regional also had UCLA 74-73 in OT over Iowa State, Cameron Dollar’s layup in the closing seconds pushing UCLA along to the Elite Eight.
37. Southeast Sweet 16: No. 4 Arizona 85, No. 1 Kansas 82
Arizona winning the ’97 championship has somewhat muted the shock factor of this upset. The 1996-97 Jayhawks team, led by Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz, easily tracks as a top-five KU club in school history and maybe the best non-Final Four team ever? The idea that fourth-seeded Arizona would upset this one-loss Kansas squad is loony. Arizona avenges its ’96 NCAA Tournament loss to Kansas, but it’s a skin-of-their-teeth win. KU storms back from down 10 late, then fails to get it to overtime after three missed 3-pointers. The game takes place in Birmingham, Alabama. Mike Bibby scores a team-best 21 for U of A. The Wildcats take 14 more foul shots than KU. This game is followed up by a Zona double-OT win over Providence in Elite Eight, the 2,000th game in NCAA Tournament history, and one that nearly made this list.
38. Championship: No. 4 Arizona 84, No. 1 Kentucky 79 (OT)
With the spread of coronavirus ceasing the 2020 NCAA Tournament, replays of past games have led to rediscovery of tournament classics. Perhaps no game has been given a more generous appraisal than this one, the sixth of eight title games to ever require overtime. Arizona features a team with five future NBA players (Miles Simon, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Michael Dickerson, A.J. Bramlett). They will win this game, then all return to school in the fall. Anthony Epps’ up-and-under 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds to go ties the game and induces overtime. In retrospect, it’s a shot not given enough love. In the bonus session, Arizona wins despite not making a field goal; all its points come via foul shots. This is the final game at Kentucky for Epps, Ron Mercer and Rick Pitino. Arizona is still the only team to beat three No. 1 seeds in the same NCAA Tournament — and it’s still the most recent champion from the Pac-12.
39. Midwest first round: No. 13 Valparaiso 70, No. 4 Mississippi 69
There is no need to embed the video of Bryce Drew’s winner because you can already cue it up in your mind’s eye. Shouts to Ted Robinson, who makes the “Drew! For the win! Gooood!!” call. Since that highlight is so prevalent every mid-March, it’s key to remember the context that made it possible. First off, Drew misses a 3-point attempt with five seconds left. Then Ole Miss’ Ansu Sesay (did you know: the ’98 SEC Player of the Year) misses a foul shot. Valpo takes its last timeout, then Sesay proceeds to miss his second. Valpo is saved because the ball is deflected out of bounds on the miss. With 2.5 to go, “Pacer” is called and a play design for the ages is revealed. Initially, Bill Jenkins gets on the baseline to inbound the ball. Then Jamie Sykes — a former baseball player — is instructed to handle the toss. Jenkins — a former volleyball player — winds up catching Sykes’ inbounds pass, deftly gets it to Drew immediately and history in Oklahoma City happens.
40. East Sweet 16: No. 2 Connecticut 75, No. 11 Washington 74
Best remembered for Sean McDonough’s “Hamilton … HAMILTON AT THE BUZZER!” call, as Richard Hamilton drops in to receive a loose-ball flare — off Jake Voskuhl’s miss — then he misses a would-be winner, only to discover the offensive rebound’s popped into the air. Hamilton snares it with his left hand with two seconds to go, then releases the clincher in a be-quick-but-don’t-hurry fashion. Cool nerves, cool winner. It’s the first buzzer-beater of Hamilton’s life, his shot just arcing over the right arm of 7-footer Patrick Femerling.
41. Final Four: No. 2 Kentucky 86, No. 3 Stanford 85 (OT)
This is among the most overlooked fantastic national semis of the past 30 years. Once upon a time, Stanford was a year-over-year national power, a top-10 program in the country. That was a generation ago. On this night, Tubby Smith-coached Kentucky gets on but not before falling behind for the first 30 minutes; it doesn’t lead until the game is 54-53. Jamaal Magloire’s late block on Arthur Lee proves pivotal, as does the possession arrow being in Kentucky’s favor after a jump-ball is called in the closing seconds. Jeff Sheppard scores 27, more than he’d ever done in a Wildcats uniform. Foul trouble limits Nazr Mohammed to four minutes in the first half. In beating Stanford, UK’s the first team since UCLA in 1973 to make the title game three consecutive seasons.
42. West first round: No. 14 Weber State 76, No. 3 North Carolina 74
The shock value of this one maybe has worn away in the 21 years since, but a school like Weber State (with Harold “The Show” Arceneaux) giving the boot to a powerhouse like UNC was still not exceedingly common in terms of No. 14-over-No. 3 seed or No. 15-over-No. 2 upsets. UNC had a few dudes: Brendan Haywood, Ed Cota, Ronald Curry, Jason Capel. It was Arceneaux’s steal in the closing seconds to clinched the W. As I’ve detailed prior,.
43. Midwest first round: No. 10 Miami (Ohio) 59, No. 7 Washington 58
Senior power forward Wally Szczerbiak becomes an NCAA Tournament legend thanks to dropping a career-high 43 points — uh, hello: Miami-Ohio only totals 59 — plus 12 rebounds, then locks up the game with a block on UW’s Senque Carey. The game features five ties and five lead changes, with Szczerbiak playing 39 of 40 minutes. Donald Watts finishes with 28 for Washington, which suffers one-point defeats in back-to-back tournaments. It’s one of the 15-or-so best individual performances in tournament history. The RedHawks make it to the Sweet 16 and fall to third-seeded Kentucky.
44. West Sweet 16: No. 10 Gonzaga 73, No. 6 Florida 72
It is Dan Monson, not Mark Few, who is the coach when Gonzaga’s direction as a program changes forever. Florida’s Greg Stolt drills a 3-pointer with 45 seconds left to put the Gators up three. They won’t score again. Jeremy Eaton converts a layup to cut it to one with less than 25 seconds to go. A travel on UF’s Ben Wright gives it back to the Zags. Quentin Hall’s missed shot opens the opportunity for Casey Calvary, whose put-back gives the ’99 tournament a true sense of magic. This is the game that features Gus Johnson’s first famous call, “The slipper STILL FITS!” This is the game that made Gonzaga Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ run ends against the eventual champs two days later, but only by five points. After the season Monson leaves for Minnesota, Few gets promoted from within and the rest is history.
45. Championship: No. 1 Connecticut 77, No. 1 Duke 74
To my mind, one of the five most engrossing, can’t-turn-away national title games of the past 30 years. One-loss Duke is a 9.5-point favorite at tip against obviously under-appreciated Connecticut, which,oh by the way, was the only other team that season to be No. 1. (In 1999, a purveying thought is that this Duke team is so tacked, it’s second unit could win the title.) Richard Hamilton gets 27. Khalid El-Amin dekes Elton Brand and hits a tricky short shot to put UConn up three with 65 seconds to go. Ricky Moore has one of the strongest games of his career, made all the more interesting by the fact he Ds up William Avery — who he played high school basketball with — and helps keep contain on Duke’s most dangerous player, Trajan Langdon. Langdon’s college career ends with trip-ups: he travels on Duke’s penultimate possession, in which it could have won the game, and then can’t even get up a shot before time expires after El-Amin’s two foul shots give UConn a three-point cushion. In the postgame, Langdon refuses to insinuate a foul should have been called. For the ninth time that season, UConn wins after trailing at the half. Jim Calhoun, 27 years into his head-coaching career, gets to the top of the mountain.
46. Midwest first round: No. 5 Kentucky 85, No. 12 St. Bonaventure 80 (2OT)
You might see a few on this list that you’ve forgotten about, and maybe this one qualifies. (I’ll scoot in a quick mention of another 2000 first-rounder that received real consideration: Kansas over DePaul in an No. 8 vs. No. 9 that featured no lead bigger than five for either side.) This one was the first tip of that ’00 tournament. Kentucky loses this game if Tayshaun Prince (game-high 28 points in 48 minutes) isn’t on the roster. The Bonnies have the ball and a three-point lead with 25 seconds to go, but a missed 3-pointer by J.R. Bremer allows an opportunity for Prince, who hits a wing 3-pointer off a screen with seven seconds remaining. In OT, UK’s Marvin Stone fouls David Capers with 0.4 left, and Capers hits all three to get it to double OT. The great Kevin Harlan on the call.
47. East first round: No. 5 Florida 69, No. 12 Butler 68 (OT)
There are certain games that attach themselves to our memories because of where they were played. You say Wake Forest’s court, and I think about Florida and Mike Miller getting past Butler as much as I do any Demon Deacon game ever played in Winston-Salem. At the time of this one, Butler’s very much so the trendy No. 12-over-No. 5 pick. If you want to make the argument Florida didn’t deserve to win, you could build a solid case. But it’s an epic either way, and I’m glad that’s the case because the 2000 tournament on the whole is meek on compelling games.
48. West first round: No. 15 Hampton 58, No. 2 Iowa State 57
If 2000 was thin, then maybe the 2001 NCAA Tournament was the weakest one overall in terms of close games and memorable finishes. But if that’s the case, it is so with the exception of not just one game but one subregion. Hampton (17.5-point dogs) overcoming Iowa State is unforgettable, but that Boise, Idaho, site was probably the best single-day, four-game site in tournament history. Four games were decided by a total of seven points: No. 11 Georgia State 50, No. 6 Wisconsin 49; No. 3 Maryland 83, No. 14 George Mason 80; No. 10 Georgetown 63, No. 7 Arkansas 61; and the Hampton finish, which is sort of more amazing because of the fact it was the last game played that day in Boise and in fact the final tip on that opening Thursday. Something special that day in Idaho.
49. Midwest first round: No. 12 Creighton 83, No. 5 Florida 82 (2OT)
Creighton overcomes an eight-point deficit with 2:40 in regulation. Florida gives it up in part because of a five-second call with 29.4 seconds left. Brett Nelson’s would-be game-winner doesn’t fall. The United Center in Chicago is host to a No. 23-wearing, smooth-jump-shooting junior named Terrell Taylor, who hits a beautiful 3-pointer with 0.2 left in double OT. Taylor, who has a Michael Jordan tattoo, finishes with 28 points. Kyle Korver, who will go on to be one of the best shooters in the NBA, is not on the floor; he’s fouled out. Gators guard Justin Hamilton sums up the upset this way: “We accomplished none of our goals. To me, this season was all for nothing. To me, we lost every game the same way.”
50. South Sweet 16: No. 5 Indiana 74, No. 1 Duke 73
The final images of Jason Williams’ Duke career include him cursing to himself after he releases a foul shot an immediately recognizes it’s not going to go in. Inside Rupp Arena, Indiana does it. Duke (13-point favorites in a Sweet 16 game) blows a 17-point lead, as IU sophomore Jared Jeffries picks a beautiful time for one of his best games in crimson and cream: 24 points, 15 rebounds. Tom Coverdale’s performance gives hope to pudgy white boys across the country. (Redheads, too.) IU wins despite 23 turnovers. It’s the only true stunner of the ’02 tournament. IU is fueled by the win and makes it to the national title game, where it falls to Maryland, which had its previous tournament run end at the hands of … Duke.
51. South first round: No. 6 Maryland 75, No. 11 UNC Wilmington 73
A year after Maryland wins its first national championship, Juan Dixon, Lonnie Baxter, Byron Mouton and Chris Wilcox are gone. But Drew Nicholas is there. And Nicholas’ knee-pump, off-balance, drifting-right 3-pointer from the wing swishes. He hops and hops and skips out of the exposure of the arena and runs to the locker room. Forgotten record from this game: UNC Wilmington’s John Goldsberry goes 8 for 8 from 3-point land, the most made 3-pointer’s without a miss in tourney history.
52. West second round: No. 1 Arizona 96, No. 9 Gonzaga 95 (2OT)
There are many wonderful candidates, but I think this is the best second-round game I’ve ever seen. Crazy energy, and persistent doubt Arizona can escape Gonzaga. It goes down in Salt Lake City at the Huntsman Center on a Saturday night. Arizona is a powerhouse program, boasting the likes of Salim Stoudamire, Jason Gardner, Channing Frye (22 and 12) and Luke Walton (16 points, nine assists, three steals, two blocks). Walton’s bucket with 4.1 left in OT extends the game, but only because Blake Stepp just misses a 40-footer at the end of OT. Tony Skinner gets a career-best 25 points but can’t hit a shot in the closing seconds to pull an upset that would have bested anything prior in Gonzaga’s history. Stepp, who also scores 25, has the game’s final shot that just comes off wrong and smacks glass before rolling off the rim. Ironically, the game’s last points come via Stoudamire with 2:03 to go. The great Dick Enberg on the call here.
53. Midwest second round: No. 9 UAB 76, No. 1 Kentucky 75
One of the few great Kentucky teams to fail to make it to the Sweet 16. Kentucky is listed as the No. 1 overall seed in the inaugural year of the selection committee making that distinction. Mo Finley’s 17-footer with 12.2 seconds to go pushes the Blazers past the Wildcats; Gerald Fitch’s 3-pointer with 2.2 to go, and Chuck Hayes’ put-back, rolls wrong. It’s UAB’s first Sweet 16 appearance in 22 years and almost 23 years to the day since UAB beat Kentucky in the ’81 tourney. The tournament fails to get two of its No. 1 seeds to the second weekend; earlier in the day, Stanford falls to Alabama. The defining play is Ronell Taylor’s fast-break steal and instinctual/no-look over-the-head pass to his twin brother, Donell, whose dunk puts UAB up 10 midway through the second half.
54. East Elite Eight: No. 2 Oklahoma State 64, No. 1 Saint Joseph’s 62
If Saint Joe’s was going to have its season end before getting to the Final Four, it deserved this kind of game. A fantastic minute-long close to the game (no timeouts called) is capped by a John Lucas 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds to lift Oklahoma State to its sixth Final Four. The Hawks get their shot, and appropriately it’s Jameer Nelson who takes it, but it’s just to the right. Given the hubbub around SJU and its undefeated regular season — and the critical evaluation put forth by Billy Packer of Phil Martelli’s team; on Selection Sunday he said Oklahoma State should have been the No. 1 seed — this regional final becomes the most anticipated game of the first two weekends of the tournament.
55. Final Four: No. 2 Connecticut 79, No. 1 Duke 78
The Huskies pull the rug out from under the Blue Devils by scoring the game’s final 12 points. National Player of the Year Emeka Okafor — who missed most of the first half with foul trouble — puts on a defensive clinic in the closing four minutes to save his team’s season. Shelden Williams, Shavlik Randolph and Nick Horvath all foul out for Duke. Luol Deng and J.J. Redick, who misses a key late 3-pointer, are also on this team. Mike Krzyzewski is heard yelling, “You cheated us!” at official Ted Hillary late in the contest. The scare is a wakeup for UConn, which won its previous four games by 17 points on average. This one is also remembered for its bad-beat finish: Chris Duhon cashes a running 30-footer as time expires, allowing Duke to cover the 3-point spread.
56. East first round: No. 14 Bucknell 64, No. 3 Kansas 63
The first NCAA Tournament win in Bucknell — and Patriot League — history arrives thanks to Chris McNaughton pulling off a hook shot over the great Wayne Simien with 10.5 seconds to go. Simien (24 points, 10 rebounds) misses on the next possession, and Kansas loses in the first round for the first time since 1978. Bucknell’s band never even shows (the school is on spring break) so Northern Iowa’s pep band steps in. It’s the final college game for Simien, Aaron Miles and Keith Langford. This is a late tip on a Thursday night in Oklahoma City; Kansas a 13.5-point favorite. A couple of hours earlier, Vermont upsets Syracuse in Worcester, Massachusetts.
57. West second round: No. 7 West Virginia, No. 2 Wake Forest (2OT)
John Beilein-coached West Virginia trails by 13 at halftime but gets 19 points from Mike Gansey alone (29 in all) in two overtimes to pull off one of the most entertaining wins in second-round history. It’s somewhat forgotten how good this Wake Forest team was. Chris Paul was on this team, as was Justin Gray, Eric Williams and Taron Downey, whose 3-pointer with 13 seconds left ties the game in regulation. A second OT is needed after Williams blocks Johannes Herber’s layup. It’s 2005 and Wake Forest has the No. 1 offense in the country. WVU wins its sixth game in 11 days, doing so two days removed from barely getting by Creighton. The game is played on the beautifully hideous court of Cleveland State and the 34 points in both overtimes set an NCAA Tournament record.
58. South Elite Eight: No. 5 Michigan State 94, No. 2 Kentucky 88 (2OT)
This game is associated with Texas’ home floor and Patrick Sparks just barely stepping beyond the 3-point line and sinking a hit-the-rim-four-times 3-pointer to send the game to overtime. But the entire sequence is bonkers. Sparks has his first 3-point attempt nipped by Matt Trannon, then Kelenna Azubuike gets the board, puts up a fallaway 3-pointer but it hits just the right part of the front of the rim to carom back to Sparks for one more go-go-go 3-point attempt that drops. It’s brief redemption for Sparks, who missed a foul shot to tie the game on UK’s prior possession. But as these things sometimes go: Michigan State actually wins the game. Shannon Brown leads all scorers with 24.
59. Midwest Elite Eight: No. 1 Illinois 90, No. 2 Arizona 89 (OT)
On an epic weekend for the Elite Eight, this game is remembered above all others. Another joyfully loaded Arizona team (Channing Frye, Salim Stoudamire, Hassan Adams, Mustafa Shakur) gives up a 15-point lead with a quickness. Arizona leads 75-60 with 3:55 to go, then it chops from 77-68 — Arizona ball, with 1:30 remaining — to 80-77 only 45 seconds later. A classic not just because of the comeback, but because of the talent. The best Illinois team ever, led by the three-guard attack of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head. Williams’ 3-pointer, after a brutal Arizona turnover, ties the game at 80. The game features 23 steals, 23 3-pointers, and Arizona loses despite 85% foul shooting — and only 10 fouls committed. Illinois shoots better from 3-point range (45.7%) than 2 (45.1%). (Forgive me for not including Louisville’s 93-85 overtime Elite Eight win over West Virginia. The Cards come back from 20 down to beat the Mountaineers, and the ’05 Elite Eight is probably the best ever, but I can’t squeeze ’em all in.)
60. South first round: No. 14 Northwestern State 64, No. 3 Iowa 63
The No. 1-ranked defense in the country is upset when Jermaine Wallace buries a miraculous 3-pointer from the lower-left-hand corner of Oakland’s absolutely hideous home floor. Few winners in NCAA Tournament history are as unlikely as Wallace’s prayer. He tells reporters afterward that he saw the shot fall through by looking behind the backboard glass, due to where he landed. The upset comes as the crescendo of a 17-point rally in the final eight-plus minutes. It’s the seventh time Northwestern State wins after trailing by double digits that season. The Iowa loss leads to speculation that Steve Alford will leave for the newly vacant Indiana job.
61. South Sweet 16: No. 2 Texas 74, No. 6 West Virginia 71
It’s the second win that season for UT over WVU: The Longhorns won 76-75 in November. The final game of John Beilein’s West Virginia career ends with a semi-splayed-and-made 3-pointer by Texas’ Kenton Paulino, one of the best sharpshooters in program history. The shot comes after Kevin Pittsnogle’s 3-pointer with five seconds left ties the game at 71. WVU makes 15 3-pointers; Texas makes four. LaMarcus Aldridge scores a game-high 26. It’s also the final game at West Virginia for Pittsnogle and Mike Gansey. The ’06 bracket was quality.
62. West Sweet 16: No. 2 UCLA 73, No. 3 Gonzaga 71
One of the biggest choke jobs, as Gonzaga blows a nine-point lead with three minutes remaining (and a 17-point lead carried over from the first half). The enduring image of Adam Morrison folding over and crying, face down at midcourt in Oakland, defines the agony element of this tournament. Morrison’s GU career ends as frustratingly as maybe any National Player of the Year ever — and it happens on the same night J.J. Redick and Duke get done in by LSU. Credit to UCLA’s Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, whose layup with 10 seconds left gives the Bruins the lead, capping an 11-0 UCLA Run. Mbah a Moute’s steal on Derek Raivio is the arrow to the heart. “Batista with the CAA-AAATCH!!!” But J.P. Batista’s shot doesn’t even hit rim.
63. East Elite Eight: No. 11 George Mason 86, No. 1 Connecticut 84 (OT)
George Mason’s bus crashes into a parked car on the way to the arena. Undersized but big-hearted GMU outplays a UConn frontline that led the nation in blocks. It’s Washington, D.C., so there’s no shortage of Patriot fans (from nearby Fairfax, Virginia) in the building. It’s objectively a terrifically played game: 20 total turnovers, 49% shooting, no foul-outs. Huge plays, big blocks, mood swings every 60-100 seconds. Mason plays only its starters for the final 15:37 and overtime and runs the same play about 20 times. Denham Brown’s reverse layup with 0.2 seconds gets UConn to OT. It’s Brown who misses the final shot of the game. Years later, Jim Larranaga admits to me he was tempted, on a primal level, to steal the ball away from Brown on that play. George Mason becomes the first double-digit seed in 20 years to make the Final Four. Six players on UConn’s roster will play in the NBA. It’s a top-three Elite Eight game in tournament history. If you want to learn more about George Mason’s incredible run,.
64. South second round: No. 1 Ohio State State 78, No. 9 Xavier 71 (OT)
Don’t let the seven-point margin fool you. This was a beaut at Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. It’s the second meeting in 73 years between two schools separated by a two hour drive in Ohio. OSU would have been another No. 1-seed piece of prey had Ron Lewis not made a booming 3-pointer with two seconds remaining in regulation. Xavier can’t hold on to an 11-point lead with seven-plus minutes lingering, as Thad Matta beats his former team. Greg Oden fouls out with 2:54 remaining and OSU down nine. It seems done. Xavier, coached by Sean Miller, is going to the Sweet 16. But there’s this other star, Mike Conley Jr., who saves the day and takes over in OT. Justin Cage, who was recruited by Matta to play at Xavier, finishes with 25 points in the loss.
65. South Sweet 16: No. 1 Ohio State 85, No. 5 Tennessee 84
The Buckeyes survive back-to-back thrillers, needing double-digit comebacks in both games. Again, Oden can’t dodge foul trouble. Again, Lewis (25 points) has to help save hide, this time in San Antonio. OSU comes back from trailing by 20, eventually tying the game at 79 with 2:44, thanks to a 3-pointer by David Lighty. Conley Jr. hits the winning shot via the foul line, 6.5 seconds showing on the clock. Tennessee’s Ramar Smith grabs Conley’s miss on the second shot, worms his way up the floor then fails to convert on the last possession. It’s Oden flying in wait, swatting the attempt. SEC Player of the Year Chris Loften’s scores 24. The game also features Wayne Chism and his highly placed headband.
66. West first round: No. 12 Western Kentucky 101, No. 5 Drake 99
Start to finish, the best game of the 2008 tournament. Remember that one season where Drake was randomly ridiculously good? Drake got a NO. 5 SEED, PEOPLE! At the time this game sets the record for most made 3-pointers in a tournament game (30). Ty Rogers’ winning 3-pointer is the memorable moment. How about this: Rogers only scored 11 of WKU’s 101 points, and in fact his winning shot in OT was the only buzzer-beater of that tourney. Even wilder: it was the first game-winning shot in the NCAA Tournament at that point since Nicholas for Maryland in ’03. Tyrone Brazelton put up 33 for WKU and in fact decided to pass to Rogers, who was nonetheless draped by Drake. Cash. The 42 3-point attempts is second most in tournament history (Saint Joe’s-Boston College, 1997).
67. Midwest first round: No. 10 Davidson 82, No. 7 Gonzaga 76
Three nominees for Stephen Curry (he wasn’t Steph yet) in the ’08 Dance. This was the best of Davidson’s four games. (The Kansas one was close, but low-scoring, and KU had rickety control for most of that one.) Gonzaga in fact should have won here. Mark Few’s team led for the first 32-plus minutes. Gonzaga was consistent from deep, and then Curry dropped 30 of his 40 points in the final 20 minutes. This is the game that elevated Curry to oh-that-guy status, and then the Elite Eight run made him a household name.
68. Championship: No. 1 Kansas 75, No. 1 Memphis 68 (OT)
A fever-pitched game with incredible athletes: 11 players in this game will play in the NBA. Chalmers for the tie: YES! Mario Chalmers hits an angled 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds showing to cement Kansas’ nine-point comeback in the final 2:12 on Memphis, which would have won if not for key missed foul shots by Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose. Robert Dozier’s mid-court heave for the championship goes begging. Rose (18 points) plays all 45 minutes. KU’s Darrell Arthur is a stud, going for 20 and 10. In the extra session, Kansas scores the first six points, insurance it needs as Memphis sneaks closer but never overthrows. Afterward, Kansas coach Bill Self says of Chalmers’ 3-pointer, “It’ll probably be the biggest shot ever made in Kansas history.”
69. Midwest first round: No. 9 Siena 74, No. 8 Ohio State 72 (2OT)
Best known for Bill Raftery’s “Oh! Onions! Double order!” call after Ronald Moore’s 3-pointer helps Siena seal the game in the second overtime. A lot of drama in this one, a rare case in which a No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup has a Cinderella/underdog feel to it. How about a MAAC team getting a No. 9 seed? When are we going to see something like that again? This one was the final tip of the first round back in ’09 and had loads of lead changes to boot. Interesting Ohio State team: Evan Turner, Jon Diebler, William Buford among the starters. Siena grabs 21 offensive rebounds, giving the program its second straight first-round win.
70. East Elite Eight: No. 3 Villanova 78, No. 1 Pittsburgh 76
The Scottie Reynolds winner, and had Villanova not won titles in 2016 or 2018, Reynolds’ coast-to-coast scoot to the hoop would probably be the second-biggest moment in Nova history. But don’t let recent VU successes overshadow how big this win was and how titanic a matchup we had here. The Big East in 2009 was arguably the best conference in the country: UConn, Louisville and Pitt, all in the league then, all receive No. 1 seeds. Quality Pitt club (Sam Young, DeJuan Blair, Levance Fields) that Nova upends in Boston. And this was the best game of the ’09 bracket.
71. West first round: No. 7 BYU 99, No. 10 Florida 92 (2OT)
Strap in, because the 2010 tournament’s among the five best in history. (Eight double-digit seeds won in the first round.) This is prime Jimmer Fredette. He goes for 37 points, making two 3-pointers in double OT to get BYU past Chandler Parsons and the Gators. Parsons (20 points) is a March hero if either of his attempts at the end of regulation or OT fall. Kenny Boynton gets 27 points, carrying Florida from down 13 to taking the lead before OT. It’s Florida’s first tourney appearance since winning the 2007 title. BYU had lost seven straight first round games before this one.
72. Midwest second round: No. 9 Northern Iowa 69, No. 1 Kansas 67
The night “Farokhmanesh” became a verb — no, a lifestyle. The No. 1 overall seed is overthrown in Oklahoma City. This is the monumental upset of 2010. Kansas was a machine in 2009-10. Northern Iowa was no shrinking violet — getting a No. 9 seed out of the MVC is a signal of its ability — but this was nonetheless not predicted by anybody. Ali Farokhmanesh’s no-no-OH!! 3-pointer to put UNI up 66-62, with more than 30 seconds left on the shot clock, is “onions!” defined. You may not realize: Farokhmanesh hit a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds two days prior to get UNI past UNLV. Kansas’ loss is the first in six years by a No. 1 seed prior to the Sweet 16. It’s the Jayhawks’ third loss in six tournaments to a mid-major team in the opening weekend.
73. Midwest second round: No. 5 Michigan State 85, No. 4 Maryland 83
Very few instances where two of the top 100 games happened in the same region, same part of the bracket like this one happening right below UNI-Kansas (they were in different cities, though, due to podding). Here, a Sunday afternoon run in Spokane, Washington. Whiplash ending, interesting game. Michigan State controls most of the way despite losing Kalin Lucas in the first half to a torn Achilles. It also doesn’t have Chris Allen (foot) most of the game — and Durrell Summers is suddenly awesome (26 points). Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez (26 points) helps eradicate a 16-point deficit by hitting a crafty turn-and-shoot mid-range jumper with seven seconds to go, capping a spurt in which he scored nine of Maryland’s final 11. No timeout. Draymond Green brings the ball up the floor. Korie Lucious catches his eye to the right. Green fires a pass, but he doesn’t see teammate Delvon Roe, who goes Neo-in-the-Matrix and ducks to avoid the ball hitting his head. Lucious catches — and cashes. Buzzer. Game. Nobody realizes these teams will share the same conference in 15 months.
74. West Sweet 16: No. 2 Kansas State 101, No. 6 Xavier 96 (2OT)
The fifth OT game of the 2010 tourney. K-State holds three-point leads with less than 10 seconds to go at the end of regulation and OT but can’t clinch. First, Xavier’s Tu Holloway (who goes by Terrell at the time) hits three foul shots with five seconds remaining after K-State’s Denis Clemente fouls him prior to the field goal attempt ,but it’s not caught by the officials; the second is, as he’s shooting. In OT, X’s Jordan Crawford (career-high 32 points) sinks a 34-footer with the clock dying for five more minutes of free hoop. Jacob Pullen’s 3-pointers in the second overtime gets Kansas State to its first Elite Eight since 1988. Huge shots, amazing atmosphere, Gus Johnson on the call in Salt Lake City. Afterward, Xavier coach Chris Mack proclaims it’s “as good a game as I’ve ever coached or been a part of.” It’s the fourth game in as many seasons between these teams.
75. Championship: No. 1 Duke 61, No. 5 Butler 59
The most famous missed shot in NCAA Tournament history. Butler overcomes a two-point win against Murray State, a four-point win against Syracuse, a seven-point win vs. K-State and a two-point victory over Michigan State to meet with college hoops royalty. The head-to-head alone is meaningful. The title game is in Indianapolis, home city to Butler. Some players go to class that morning. The game is an anxious but physical affair; the lead never swells to more than six points. Butler has the ball with 13 seconds remaining. Gordon Hayward tries to make the play but misses a fallaway jumper, over Brian Zoubek, on the baseline. After Zoubek makes his first free throw, Mike Krzyzewski instructs him to intentionally miss his second foul shot to induce Butler — no timeouts — into a scramble play. That’s what makes the Greatest Miss in Tournament History possible.
76. Southeast second round: No. 8 Butler 71, No. 1 Pittsburgh 70
The final 7.1 seconds take more than 10 minutes to complete, due to reviews. All that transpires could inspire a masochistic novella. The game itself is a great one, but we’ll boil it down to the final tainted seconds. Pitt leads 69-68. Butler ball. Shawn Vanzant dishes over his head to Andrew Smith, who converts in traffic with 2.2 left. No timeouts for either team. Gilbert Brown takes an angle to accept a pass, is cut off by Shelvin Mack, and the officials call a foul. Brad Stevens is so mad he might run his hands through his hair. Brown makes his first free throw, but after he misses the second, Pitt’s Nasir Robinson fouls Matt Howard on the loose ball chase. Howard actually attempts to get off a shot 84 feet from the rim. It’s spaz-tastic. The clock slips from 1.4 to 0.8. Farcical. Howard makes the first and intentionally misses the second — calling an echo to Butler’s loss in the title game a season prior.
77. Southwest Sweet 16: No. 11 VCU 72, No. 10 Florida State 71 (OT)
VCU, which played in the First Four, needs five wins to make the Final Four. It’s fourth one is the most compelling. This is the first No. 10 vs. No. 11 matchup in NCAA Tournament history. The teams switch leads and runs, FSU never going up by more than four. Bradford Burgess’ layup with 7.1 in OT, and Rob Branderberg’s block on Derwin Kitchen, seal the deal. Burgess is outstanding, scoring 26 and making six 3-pointers. VCU relies on 3-pointers after being an average team from distance most of the season. Florida State’s Bernard James says afterward, “The game was decided in the first 30 minutes when we didn’t play defense.”
78. Southeast Elite Eight: No. 8 Butler 74, No. 2 Florida 71 (OT)
Butler’s run to a second straight Final Four includes an escape vs. Old Dominion, an unreal finish vs. Pitt and this wild ride over Florida in New Orleans. BU steams back from down 11 with 10 to go. Mack, who scores 27 on a tender left ankle, hits a 3-pointer with 81 seconds remaining in overtime that gives Butler a lead it won’t relinquish. Erving Walker’s final triple attempt goes begging. Remember how good Vernon Macklin was? He scores 25. The win is sweet for Butler fans, who saw their team get bumped out of the bracket by Florida in 2000 and 2007. Butler wins despite shooting 39.6%.
79. West | First Four: No. 14 BYU 78, No. 14 Iona 72
BYU pulls off the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history. The Cougars overcome a 25-point deficit to beat the highest-scoring offense in hoops. (Three years later, BYU will blow a 17-point lead in the First Four and lose to Ole Miss.) Noah Hartsock scores 23, Brandon Davies 18. BYU, weirdly placed as an at-large No. 14 seed, a practice/guideline which is soon abandoned by the selection committee, beats the previous deficit record of 22 (Duke over Maryland in the ’01 Final Four). Interestingly, the game that precedes this one — WKU over Mississippi Valley State, 59-58 — sets the tournament record for largest deficit overcome in the final five minutes (16). President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron are courtside for that one, but leave before BYU and Iona get going. The Gaels score 55 points in the game’s first 16 minutes then only seven in the next near-17 minutes. BYU takes its first lead on a Hartsock 3-pointer with 2:26 remaining. Iona, still, has never officially won an NCAA Tournament game (0-14).
80. West first round: No. 15 Norfolk State 86, No. 2 Missouri 84
By point spread, this is the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history. Missouri enters the game out in Omaha, Nebraska, favored by 21.5. Norfolk State, out of the MEAC, has never played in the NCAA Tournament. Then, in short order, Kyle O’Quinn becomes the face of the opening two days of the tournament after getting 26 points and 14 rebounds. His and-one in the final minute puts NSU ahead. Phil Pressey misses a 3-pointer to win it, and Mizzou is devastated. Quinn sings “One Shining Moment” off-key in his on-court postgame interview. Spartan players take glee over blowing up President Obama’s bracket; he picked Missouri to make the Final Four. The win comes hours before No. 15 Lehigh, led by 30 points from C.J. McCollum, beats Duke 75-70 (a late cut on this list) and provides the only example in tournament history that two No. 15 seeds win in the same year.
81. South Sweet 16: No. 4 Michigan 87, No. 1 Kansas 85 (OT)
Another top-seeded Jayhawks team that fails to make the Final Four. For about the first 37 minutes, KU controls the game. But it’s more comeback than a collapse. Trey Burke doesn’t get a point in the first half. Michigan’s down 68-54 with less than seven minutes remaining. Burke gets 23 in the second half and OT. His long-distance triple near the end of regulation saves Michigan’s season and will ultimately help the program make its first Final Four in 20 years. Five years after Kansas benefits from Memphis’ free-throw woes in the title game, the reverse happens here. In OT, the first and only game of this tourney with an extra session, there are five lead changes. Mitch McGary gives Michigan the go-ahead basket late in OT. Naadir Tharpe misses at the horn. The 2013 NCAA Tournament watches three No. 1 seeds fail to make the Elite Eight.
82. Midwest second round: No. 8 Kentucky 78, No. 1 Wichita State 76
The greatest compliment I can ever give to a truly epic game is to say each team brought out the best in the other. That happened here, and if this list was to be a top-20 of the greatest tournament games of all time, this tilt would still make the cut. Remember, Wichita State’s undefeated. It gets the No. 1 seed. There’s fuss and buzz over the fact a rocky-but-dangerous UK team is put in the same pod, setting up this potential matchup. Then St. Louis is witness to a stone-cold classic. The only thing this didn’t have: a buzzer-beater. Fred VanVleet’s shot goes just long and UK holds on, but before that: Cleanthony Early’s 3-pointer puts WSU up 69-64; UK goes on 6-0 run; Early takes the lead back on a tough jumper; a James Young 3-pointer with 1:37 left puts UK up 73-71; Ron Baker sinks an absurd bank-shot 3-pointer to make it 75-74 with 29 seconds to go; UK and Wichita State trade points once more before VanVleet’s 3-pointer misses. Early finishes with a season-high 31 points, while Andrew Harrison goes for 20. The teams combine to shoot 54.5%. Wichita State makes back-to-back Final Fours if it faces any other team besides Kentucky?
83. West Elite Eight: No. 2 Wisconsin 64, No. 1 Arizona 63 (OT)
The only regional final this tournament between a No. 1 and a No. 2 seed. No team leads by more than three in the final 18 minutes. Frank Kaminksy (28 and 11) vs. Aaron Gordon and Kaleb Tarczewski. Kaminsky’s just tremendous here while the rest of his team is skittish from the field. The Badgers win thanks to a timely tip from Frank the Tank with more than a minute remaining in OT. Jordin Mayes cuts the lead on the next possession and then the teams never score again. Arizona loses its fourth straight Elite Eight game dating back to 2005, those four Ls by a total of five points. WHAT? This game is the seventh overtime affair of the 2014 tourney, which ties a record at the time.
84. Final Four: No. 8 Kentucky 74, No. 2 Wisconsin 73
You’ll notice there aren’t a lot of national semifinal games on this list: the title game is historically more reliable for greatness than the semis despite having half the inventory. So with all due respect to Virginia vs. Auburn in 2019, the last great Final Four game we’ve had was this one. Wisconsin goes for 40 in the first half, and UK stays close thanks to Julius Randle. The Badgers set a Final Four record by making 95% (19 for 20) of their foul shots. The only miss comes from Traveon Jackson with 16.4 seconds remaining. Wisconsin makes eight 3-pointers, UK only two — but it’s Aaron Harrison again who saves the day in carbon copy-type fashion. Another game that came close to making the list — Kentucky over Michigan in the Elite Eight — ends almost the same way, and from the same spot, as this one. Harrison is a Wildcats legend for his back-to-back winners from the left wing.
85. West first round: No. 14 Georgia State 57, No. 3 Baylor 56
The video/image of Ron Hunter being detonated off his rolling stool after his son, R.J., hits a deeeeeep 3-pointer to win the game for Georgia State over Baylor is one of the most joyful, risible things this tournament has ever given us. R.J. Hunter’s 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left gives GSU the game’s final score and puts a bow on a 12-0 rally in the final 2:54. Ron Hunter is partially immobilized because of a torn Achilles that he suffered while celebrating his team’s auto-bid clinch in the Sun Belt Tournament championship. (This sport is the best.) This game is also the first tournament game for Kevin Ware, who gruesomely broke his leg in the Elite Eight at Louisville two years prior but returns as a member of Georgia State’s roster. Georgia State and UAB both win games on this Thursday as No. 14 seeds; ridiculously, the first 10 games of the 2015 tournament see underdogs cover, and the opening Thursday sets a record for games decided by one point (five).
86. Midwest Elite Eight: No. 1 Kentucky 68, No. 3 Notre Dame 66
Incontestably. Undefeated Kentucky, with the No. 1 defense, playing five-loss Notre Dame and the No. 2 offense. The game has 20 lead changes and 12 ties, the lead never swelling beyond six. Notre Dame’s a smaller team yet manages to score 40 points in the paint: exactly as many as Kentucky. Karl-Anthony Towns has a wonderful game (25 points) and doesn’t miss an attempt in the second half. Kentucky needs to make its final nine shots and four free throws to escape in the final 12:05. It does. UK keeps Notre Dame scoreless for the game’s final 2:35. Andrew Harrison’s two foul shots with six seconds remaining win it. But it’s 7-footer Wille Cauley-Stein’s ability to stay stride-for-stride for 85-or-so feet with Jerian Grant, before Harrison and Trey Lyles converge on him, that ends the evening’s events. It’s Notre Dame’s first Elite Eight game in 36 years. Kentucky is two wins away from being the first team in 39 years to run the table. Wisconsin kills the dream a week later in Indianapolis, but UK becomes just the third team ever to win 38 games in a season, joining Memphis in 2008 and Kentucky in 2012, which were also coached by John Calipari.
87. Midwest first round: No. 12 Little Rock 85, No. 5 Purdue 83 (2OT)
A year after Georgia State, the Sun Belt gets a first-round win in back-to-back seasons. Little Rock overcomes a 13-point deficit with 3:33 left to stay alive, punctuated by Josh Hagins cashing a super-deep 3-pointer to get the game to overtime. He hits another pretty shot, a bank, to push it to a second OT. Hagins scores 31 points, gets six assists and five steals. The game is played in Denver and finishes in that transitional 5 p.m. ET window but nonetheless is a highlight among highlights in a fantastic first weekend of ’16. The win leads Chris Beard — who coaches this game with a splint on his hand after he broke it punching a whiteboard days prior — to get the UNLV job, which he’ll leave days later to take over at Texas Tech.
88. East second round: No. 6 Notre Dame 76, No. 14 Stephen F. Austin 75
. Highly competitive, impressive basketball for 40 minutes, with under-seeded SFA trying to become just the third 14 seed to make the Sweet 16 in history. The lead never gets larger than seven points; the game has eight ties and nine lead changes. After Notre Dame misses three chances on a winner, Rex Pflueger’s put-back with 1.5 seconds to go gets it done. It’s his first made basket in two weeks. After the game, Mike Brey calls this win “a flat-out theft.” Stephen F. Austin star/2016 tourney cult hero Thomas Walkup closes his career with 21 points. SFA leads for most of the second half, but can’t hold on because Notre Dame shoots 67.6% from 2-point range. It’s the first loss for the Lumberjacks in 2016.
89. West second round: No. 3 Texas A&M 92, No. 11 Northern Iowa 88 (2OT)
Not sure any team has had a wilder swing of fates in any first weekend than 2016 Northern Iowa. This collapse comes less than 48 hours removed from UNI winning by half-court heave in the first round over Texas, courtesy of Paul Jesperson. And even that was one game removed from Wes Washpun sending UNI to the NCAAs on a bouncy shot to win the Valley tournament. What we have here is the largest comeback in the shortest amount of time in the history of college basketball. From 12 down with 40 seconds remaining to getting the game to OT — and another OT on top of it. The Panthers turn the ball over four times in 44 seconds. A&M in fact is down by 10 with less than 30 ticks to go. Admon Gilder’s steal-then-layup with 1.9 seconds left send it to overtime at 71-all. Northern Iowa wins the game in OT if not for Alex Caruso’s layup with 5.9 seconds remaining. Ironically, Jesperson loses his sense of place and time and releases a prayer beyond half court with more than four seconds remaining. Huge 3-pointer after huge 3-pointer dot the overtime sessions. Jeremy Morgan scores 36 for UNI, Caruso and Danuel House combine for 47.
90. Championship: No. 2 Villanova 77, No. 1 North Carolina 74
It has a claim as the best title game in tournament history. It’s the only one to end on a true buzzer-beater (whereas NC State in ’83 was just a tick before). And there’s Marcus Paige’s twisty, gravity-clinging 3-pointer the possession before Kris Jenkins becomes an all-time legend. The teams are tied for more than seven minutes of game time, with nine ties and nine lead changes in all. The Wildcats and Tar Heels make 51% of their shots and shoot an outlandish 61% from 3-pointer. Ryan Arcidiacono could have easily kept the ball for himself and tried to take the would-be winner. But a trailing Jenkins — yelling “Arch! Arch!” — receives the pass, steps in rhythm and releases. This is on the short list of greatest shots in college basketball history, made all the more memorable for Jay Wright blankly saying “bang.” to himself right before the trey drops and Nova wins its second title in school history.
91. Midwest first round: No. 7 Michigan 92, No. 10 Oklahoma State 91
Two of the five best offenses in college basketball square up and agree to a footrace. For the first time in 52 years, an NCAA Tournament game that features both teams getting to at least 90 points is decided by one. Indianapolis is witness to a 65-possession game that ends with 183 points! Oklahoma State loses despite shooting 58% from 2-point range, 44% from 3-point range and 88% from the foul line. It grabs 16 offensive rebounds — and loses. Michigan’s Derrick Walton Jr. gets 26 points and 11 assists, as Michigan makes a school-record 16 3-pointers, 11 of them in the second half. UM is guided to a win in part because it only turns the ball over four times. Oklahoma State averages 1.40 points per possession, Michigan 1.42. Let us not forget this first-round classic.
92. East Sweet 16: No. 4 Florida 84, No. 8 Wisconsin 83 (OT)
The only buzzer-beater of the 2017 tournament comes courtesy of Chris Chiozza in Madison Square Garden on a galloping 3-pointer that boots Bucky out of the bracket. It’s yet another indelible NCAA Tournament highlight made possible because Florida is required to go the full length of the court in order to get the shot off. Never change this rule, NCAA. It’s the most memorable game-winning shot in Florida history, eclipsing Mike Miller’s in 2000. It’s the stamp on the game after Wisconsin comes back from being down 12 with 4:20 remaining. Zak Showalter nails an impaired 3-pointer with 2.1 left in regulation — after Florida opts not to foul — and in overtime Wisconsin swells with momentum until a tremendous breakaway block by Canyon Barry with 36 seconds left puts the game on a pivot. It’s the final Wisconsin game for Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, whose foul shots give Wisconsin a two-point lead before Chiozza goes legend.
93. South Elite Eight: No. 1 North Carolina 75, No. 2 Kentucky 73
It’s asking a lot of the two winningest schools in NCAA Tournament history to meet expectations when they face off in a regional final — and when both are the top two seeds. But this game pulls it off, despite some iffy officiating. Emotional swings, as Memphis, Tennessee, is witness to an epic. Earlier in the season UK’s Malik Monk drops 47 points on UNC in Vegas. He has merely 12 here. Carolina reels away a 12-0 run in the final five minutes, then John Calipari’s team — led by Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayo — pushes back from a seven-point deficit with 50 seconds remaining. A Fox 3-pointer, then a pair of treys from Monk, the second while double-teamed atop the key, tie the game with 7.2 to go. Calipari and Roy Williams opt not to call timeouts in the final minute. Theo Pinson tosses to Luke Maye, who steps back for a long 2-pointer and hits, finishing the game with a then-career-high 17 points. It’s the shot that’s most remembered along UNC’s run to the 2017 national title.
94. South second round: No. 7 Nevada 75, No. 2 Cincinnati 73
Narrowing down the 2018 tournament was excruciating,. Two days after overcoming a 14-point hole against Texas, the Wolf Pack boom back from down 22 with 11 minutes to go to tie the second-biggest come-from-behind win in tournament history. Nevada takes its first lead of the game with 9.1 seconds left, when Josh Hall hits the put-back. Cody Martin’s line: 25 points, seven dimes, six boards. Nevada’s into the Sweet 16 for just the second time in its history. Making the outcome all the more stunning: Cincinnati’s defense is No. 2 in college basketball. Mick Cronin’s team can’t make a basket for the game’s final 5:45. Nevada ends the game on a 32-8 run. Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman eagerly takes off his shirt before barging into the locker room.
95. West second round: No. 3 Michigan 64, No. 6 Houston 63
Wolverines freshman Jordan Poole is the anti-Jim Valvano. His buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Wichita, Kansas, causes him to instinctively run away from his teammates because, as he admits afterward, he doesn’t want to get tackled and be on the bottom of a huge pile of bodies. The outcome is only possible because UH’s Devin Davis misses both his foul shots with 3.6 seconds showing. This superb first-rounder is a fervent affair thanks to 17 lead changes and 12 ties. Neither team is ever in control. Poole’s splayed 3-pointer is unforgettable, the latest huge win for a U-M team that’s gone 11 straight without an L.
96. South Sweet 16: No. 11 Loyola Chicago 63, No. 2 Nevada 62
When it came to some teams/years on this list and I couldn’t squeeze in multiple games from a single run, some coaches in essence did the picking for me. That’s the case here, as Loyola-Chicago’s victory over Tennessee wins out over its first round defeat of Miami and its Sweet 16 win against Nevada, both of which were tremendous. But this one’s played at an efficient level: the teams shoot better than 50% from 2-point range, 37% from 3-point range and commit 17 turnovers. The Ramblers knock off the SEC champs thanks to Clayton Custer’s star-kissed/winning shot, a save after they led by 10 with four minutes to go, only to let Tennessee all the way back and take its first lead of the second half with 20 seconds left. What’s more, this one capped off something that I believe is a one-time-only thing in tourney history: two final-seconds game-winners by an underdog/Cinderella in their first two games of a tournament.
97. Midwest Elite Eight: No. 1 Kansas 85, No. 2 Duke 81 (OT)
Do not sleep on this chef-d’œuvre. Malik Newman scores all 13 points for Kansas in overtime out in Omaha, finishing with a career-best 32 and ending one of the best games in tournament history to feature two bluebloods. With 18 lead changes and 11 ties, Bill Self and Mike Krzyzewski trade tactics and bring out the best in each other. It’s Kansas’ best rebounding performance (47) of the season. Svi Mykhailiuk hits a big 3-pointer with 25 seconds left, and the game almost ends on Grayson Allen’s bank shot attempt at the end of regulation. Marvin Bagley III gets 16 and 10, but it’s Trevon Duval whose 20 points lead Duke. This loss, like Duke’s 2019 Elite Eight ending against Michigan State, keeps Krzyzewski level with John Wooden for the most Final Four appearances (12). This is the last game of Allen’s Duke career.
98. East second round: No. 1 Duke 77, No. 9 UCF 76
The head-to-head matchup the world wanted to see: Zion Williams vs. 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall. And the game is totally enrapturing. Krzyzewski coaching against his former player, Johnny Dawkins. Williamson scores 32, but so does UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins, who picks a hell of a time to have the best game of his life. Duke trails by four in the final minute but gets the lead thanks to the will of Williamson, who gets a bucket by going right at Fall with 14.4 seconds remaining, fouling him out, and then when Williamson can’t make the foul shot, RJ Barrett gets the offensive board. UCF pulls off an all-time upset if either B.J. Taylor or Dawkins can make close-range shots on the game’s butt-clenching last possession. It doesn’t happen. Duke survives, and barely, and maybe doesn’t if Fall is in the game. Fall blocks Williamson three times on this night; Zion never dunks on the big man.
99. South Sweet 16: No. 3 Purdue 99, No. 2 Tennessee 94 (OT)
One of the three or four best Sweet 16 games of the past decade, if not longer. Tennessee swims back from an 18-point deficit. Carsen Edwards and Ryan Cline team up for 56 points and 12-of-24 shooting from 3-point range, with Cline out of his mind. After one of the more gripping second halves in recent memory — Admiral Schofield scoring 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting; Grant Williams putting Tennessee up with 8.8 seconds to go; Williams blocking Edwards and nearly ending the game then and there — Edwards is fouled on a corner 3-pointer by Lamonte Turner with 1.7 to go. Tennessee fans go ballistic.
Edwards then misses his first foul shot, hits the next two to get us to OT. Purdue finishes the game shooting 48.4% from 3-point range and 48.5% from the foul line. Matt Painter makes the first Elite Eight of his career. The win opens a portal for an even better game in Louisville two nights later.
100. South Elite Eight: No. 1 Virginia 80, No. 3 Purdue 75 (OT)
Purdue fans outnumber Virginia backers by about 7-to-1 inside the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Carsen Edwards puts up one of the best performances in a losing effort we’ll ever see. He scores 42 and makes 10 3-pointers, about four of which seem to rattle the universe. It’s so ridiculous, that at one point UVA coach Tony Bennett rips his play card apart in disbelief. Nevertheless, Virginia comes back from down 10. It’s an all-time escape. The highlight from this game that will live on forever: Purdue fouls up three. Ty Jerome misses the second one, a forceful back-tap by Mamadi Diakite into the backcourt. Kihei Clark chases it down, the clock vanishing, he has the wits and confidence to pass to Diakite, who calmly (HOW?) accepts and sinks the first buzzer-beater of the 2019 tournament.
It’s Diakite’s only made basket of the half. Kyle Guy scores a team-high 25, plus grabs a career-best 10 rebounds. Jerome gets 24. De’Andre Hunter gives Virginia its final lead in OT with 29 seconds left. Bennett takes Virginia to its first Final Four in 35 years. His father is on hand, andEdwards, appropriately, is named South Regional MOP despite not advancing. He makes 28 3-pointers in four games, a tournament record — beating Glen Rice’s mark of 27, in which he needed six to get that far. Edwards goes for 25-plus in five straight tournament games, dating back to 2018, which is also a record. His 139 points through four games is the most since 2000.
101. Championship: No. 1 Virginia 85, No. 3 Texas Tech 77 (OT)
Thenot just because of the UMBC loss from a year prior, but the road needed to get there in postseason play. Every game with the exception of Oregon in the Sweet 16 provides legitimate scares and doubts. Play out those sequences again a hundred times and Virginia likely loses at some point in the other 99. (“If I tell you what happens, it won’t happen.”) This is the first OT title game since 2008. On the final night of the 2018-19 season, Virginia goes up by 10 twice, entirely gives up those leads each time, and is only able to get it to overtime thanks to a 3-pointer by De’Andre Hunter with 12 seconds left. Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy combine for 67 of UVA’s 85 points, helping Virginia get 1.21 points per possession on the best college basketball defense in two decades. Hunter’s emergence is the story within the story because he doesn’t even get a bucket until a minute and a half remains in the first half — then he winds up with a career-high 27 points, including a 3-pointer to put UVA up 75-73 in OT and keep the Hoos ahead for good. Because both teams are elite defensively, the game is expected to be a grinder. Instead, the over of 118 is bested by 44 points — it’s the highest-scoring title game in 19 years — and the first championship game in history to have both teams make at least 10 3-pointers.