The 64 best NCAA Tournament games of all time (sort of)

Obviously, this sucks. It’s going to suck for a while, and it’s going to be much worse before it gets better. That said: if we are all going to be isolated from each other, we can still enjoy each other’s company digitally.

To cope with this from a basketball standpoint, I’ve decided to create my personal list of the 64 best NCAA Tournament games of all time. What this means is the following:

  • Each round, I’ll be showing off what I believe are the best games, split by seed line. For the Round of 64, that means there’s four 1 vs. 16 games, four 2 vs. 15s, four 3 vs. 14s, etc. Round of 32: two 1/16 vs. 8/9s, etc.
  • This will follow round-by-round. Starting in the Sweet Sixteen, there will be no seed limitations, as by then, there’s too many possibilities, but across the first two rounds, all games will be given out to seed lines to the best of my ability.
  • I can’t promise these are, uh, comprehensive. I’m 26 and the first NCAA Tournament I can remember watching in earnest is either 2001 (title game only) or 2002 (Sweet Sixteen onward). If you like a different game more than the one posted, tell me!
  • I based my selections on two criteria: was this game great and is the full version (or at least extended highlights) available on YouTube. That cut out some phenomenal games, but they were necessary sacrifices. We’ve got to use as much of this free time as possible.

As an introduction – and to get us to 64 games – here is the best First Four game ever: Western Kentucky-Mississippi Valley State, 2012.

Here’s the Round of 64. I hope you enjoy.

Round of 64

1 vs. 16

UMBC-Virginia, 2018.

I think this is a pretty obvious one, as it will now be the only 16-over-1 upset for another year.

Georgetown-Princeton, 1989.

For a long time, this held the standard as the preeminent Close Call. Princeton maybe/maybe didn’t get fouled on the final play of the game; watch and make the call.

Oklahoma-East Tennessee State, 1989. 

But this one is somehow forgotten. ETSU has a wild Tournament history; entering the 1989 Tournament at 20-11 and fourth in the SoCon only to lead 1 SEED OKLAHOMA BY 17 POINTS in the first half seems like it tops the list.

Gonzaga-Southern, 2012. 

There’s a very specific moment in this game – for me, when Southern cuts it to 54-52 – where I really did think I was about to see a 16 seed finally do it.

2 vs. 15

Duke-Lehigh, 2012.

It’s Duke. I can’t not put this on here, man.

Georgetown-Florida Gulf Coast, 2013.

Despite being a worse game, this one beat out both Hampton-Iowa State and Norfolk State-Missouri for mere shock value. It’s one thing when a 15 seed wins; it’s another when a 15 seed totally, systematically demolishes their opponent. I had never seen anything like it since I’d started watching the Tournament.

Robert Morris-Villanova, 2010. 

It sucked not getting this one, to be honest. Robert Morris led almost the entire way, led by eight points with nine minutes to play, and just couldn’t pull it off. Villanova would lose two days later, blunting the impact of this one down the road, but as a game, it beats the pants off of several of the actual upsets.

Tennessee-Winthrop, 2006.

Same with this one. It was a very good game made better by the presence of a buzzer-beater. Winthrop was coached by a dude named Gregg Marshall – heard of him? – and this was Bruce Pearl’s first year at Tennessee. Again, Tennessee lost two days later, but the tension of this game over the final five minutes is sky-high.

3 vs. 14

North Carolina-Weber State, 1999.

Harold Arceneaux is the exact type of small-school player every high seed fears in March.

Baylor-Georgia State, 2015.

For 37 minutes, this was a pretty boring game. However: the final three minutes are delirious.

Marquette-Davidson, 2013.

This one has sadly been lost to time in terms of a full game upload, but the ending is all you really need. 14 seed Davidson came out and owned the game for 39 minutes; unfortunately, you play 40.

Michigan-Pepperdine, 1994.

Not a ton to work with here; the number of great 3/14 games aren’t very high. But this one gets unfairly looked over. Minus Chris Webber, this is Fab Five-era Michigan needing overtime to get past a 14 seed. It’s worth a look.

4 vs. 13

UCLA-Princeton, 1996.

Had Belmont completed the backdoor play last March, it would’ve felt the exact same way as this did for basketball nerds in 1996.

Ole Miss-Valparaiso, 1998.

You see the final play every year, obviously. But did you know it was a four-point game at halftime and within five points for basically the entire second half? Tense!

Louisville-Morehead State, 2011.

Annoyingly, this is all that’s on YouTube…..but that shot is worth inclusion alone.

Syracuse-Vermont, 2005.

On any list of “Greatest Gus Johnson Exclamations in American History,” the part where he starts to say T.J. Sorrentine’s name and just goes “SssssssssssssOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH” is #1.

5 vs. 12

Florida-Creighton, 2002.

This game is secretly one of the five best of this first round.

  1. Double overtime!
  2. KYLE KORVER!
  3. A BUZZER BEATER!
  4. One-point final margin!
  5. Udonis Haslem!
  6. Also, the play where Florida deflected the ball out of bounds and the Creighton player holds him back….probably a foul now, yeah?

Drake-Western Kentucky, 2008.

Here’s the thing. If it’s just that buzzer-beater in an otherwise forgettable game, it’s still a good game, because there’s a buzzer-beater. But when you factor in that Drake’s best team ever made a 17-point second half comeback to force overtime, the final score was 101-99, and the guy who made the shot was an otherwise-unnotable four-year Western Kentucky player, it’s basically all of what March Madness is supposed to be. I think this is my personal favorite game of the first 32.

Saint Louis-NC State, 2014.

I picked NC State in this game and still get chest pains every time I see a Wolfpack player step to the line in the final seconds.

Auburn-New Mexico State, 2019.

I had Auburn in the Final Four because I thought it was a very good value pick. It made me look really smart for 39 minutes or so and made me want to die for one. The final 30 seconds or so of this game are genuinely unbelievable.

6 vs. 11

Duke-VCU, 2007.

If you were 16 years or younger in 2007 you thought Eric Maynor was going to be what DeMar DeRozan ended up being.

Miami (FL)-Loyola Chicago, 2018.

Pretty much a perfect finish. The team vying for the upset hasn’t played in the NCAA Tournament since 1985, let alone won a game; the team on top has the head coach of maybe the most famous 11 seed to ever make the Final Four. And the final shot, from the logo…genuinely, had Loyola not defeated Tennessee in the next round, I would have been able to watch this a much happier man.

Iowa-George Washington, 1996.

Not one anyone remembers (I had to do some research on it myself), but a phenomenal game. Iowa comes back from 17 points down in the final eight minutes to win in regulation. Iowa would relive this from the other side of the ball against Northwestern State exactly ten years later.

Maryland-Belmont, 2019.

Watching this and not rooting for Belmont should have been a crime.

7 vs. 10

Nevada-Texas, 2018.

Sometimes I like thinking about how Nevada overcame a 14-point deficit and a 22-point deficit in the span of 48 hours or so to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Michigan-Oklahoma State, 2017.

This was a very rare game: a non-marquee matchup that received a lot of hype and fully lived up to it. It was two of the best offenses in basketball and two very, very good teams that were underseeded. Arguably Derrick Walton’s finest performance. Also arguably the game that got DJ Wilson drafted in the first round.

Gonzaga-Davidson, 2008.

An unfortunate thing about the Stephen Curry Elite Eight run is that, after the first two rounds, the Sweet Sixteen game was over with ten minutes left and the Elite Eight game was a brickfest. That left this game or the Georgetown comeback, and I think this one’s just straight-up better.

Connecticut-St. Joseph’s, 2014.

I still genuinely cannot process that a team that had to go to overtime with a 10 seed on the first day of the NCAA Tournament won the whole thing.

8 vs. 9

Ohio State-Siena, 2009.

Here’s a game that no one remembers but was so, so fun. Siena’s return to the Tournament came after they defeated 4 seed Vanderbilt by 21 points the year before. They faced off against the first post-Greg Oden Ohio State team to get into the Tournament, the game went to double overtime, and you had a phenomenal finish complete with a clutch three-pointer to win it.

Texas-Wake Forest, 2010.

This is the only game on the list that doesn’t have video to go with it, unfortunately. But: it is the game that made me fear Rick Barnes.

Cincinnati-Purdue, 2015.

This game had a buzzer-beater to get to overtime, a near-buzzer-beater that would’ve won it and overtime, and had the incredible storyline of Cincinnati’s coach watching the game from home due to a health scare.

Western Kentucky-Michigan, 1995.

As you’re seeing on this list, one of the easiest ways to ensure you’re watching a great college basketball game in March is to put Western Kentucky in it. I don’t know what it is about this program, but they always bring the goods.

NEXT PAGE: Round of 32 & Sweet Sixteen

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