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

Round of 32

1/16 vs. 8/9

Butler-Pittsburgh, 2011.

Apologies in advance that the only video I could find of this was of the BBall Breakdown guy. Anyway, this game was amazing. Butler led Pitt for most of it, blew the lead, and then got to win it in what is still one of the most bizarre basketball finishes in history. Totally lost to history, also, is the fact that the Pittsburgh player that bombed the ball at the basket after the buzzer barely missed an 85-foot shot.

Ohio State-Xavier, 2007.

Xavier led this game by nine points with under three minutes to go and lost. As a Tennessee fan, it is very, very hard to forgive them because of what would happen five days later.

Duke-UCF, 2019.

I think that this game is as intriguing a what-if  as college basketball has had since Gordon Hayward’s shot didn’t fall for Butler. If Zion Williamson and Duke lose to Central Florida in the second round, that creates a cascade effect where Virginia Tech probably makes the Elite Eight, where they’re a very intriguing matchup for a Michigan State team that would lose to a lesser version of VT eight months later. Not only that, Tacko Fall probably gets drafted and doesn’t have to wait for a Summer League opportunity. There’s also the effects for UCF as a program. You’re The Team That Beat Duke. You are, quite literally, the heroes of a nation. Johnny Dawkins gets more recruits. UCF reasonably becomes a perennial Tournament team in the vein of a Wichita or Houston. So much hangs in the balance of one missed tip-in.

Kansas-Northern Iowa, 2010.

Every three-pointer I have taken in a game since 2010, the Kevin Harlan “Farokmanesh, a three…..GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!” plays in my mind as it goes in.

2/15 vs. 7/10

Wake Forest-West Virginia, 2005.

Kevin Pittsnogle.

Arkansas-Syracuse, 1995.

This is a year after Arkansas’s national championship, and they still had a great team, but this one clearly wasn’t on the same level. That said: they produced one amazing game in their wake. It’s such a fascinating game to watch, too, understanding that Arkansas’s coming off of a title and Syracuse is a year away from participating in the title game against Kentucky.

Ohio State-Iowa State, 2013.

Aaron Craft was a 30% three-point shooter over the final two years of his college career. At no point of it was he more than a good, solid point guard who was probably the best defender in the Big Ten. And yet: the only thing anyone will remember him for, other than getting Bruce Pearl fired, is hitting two massive, huge threes to get Ohio State to the Elite Eight.

Coppin State-Texas, 1997.

Frustratingly, the only video of this game that exists online is the final minute, which is available in the midst of a four-hour highlight package of the 1997 NCAA Tournament. But: we do at least have this. Coppin State was the original Florida Gulf Coast, blowing out their 2 seed opponent in South Carolina. The next round, they battled 10 seed Texas all the way to the buzzer. They came this close to pulling off what would have been the most enjoyable run in Tournament history for years to come.

3/14 vs. 6/11

Texas A&M-Northern Iowa, 2016.

12 points in 34 seconds is still absurd to me. How did this happen?

Stanford-Marquette, 2008.

Great game. It’s the Lopez brothers battling a pesky Marquette team that was underseeded in the pre-NET era. Stanford had to take this one to overtime, and it produced a phenomenal finish.

Michigan-Houston, 2018.

I think at this time, this finish was amazing enough…yet it became even more miraculous when this Michigan team somehow made the national championship game.

Stephen F. Austin-Notre Dame, 2016.

This is a game I wish we had the whole of on YouTube. It really, really felt like SFA was going to Do It and make the Sweet Sixteen, and at that point, considering they’re drawing 7 seed Wisconsin in the next round, would you really have doubted that SFA was going to face 1 seed North Carolina in the Elite Eight? A 1/14 matchup for the right to go to the Final Four was almost on the table. Also: this Tournament run completely convinced me Thomas Walkup had an NBA future.

4/13 vs. 5/12

Iowa-NC State, 1989.

I know nothing about this game other than it went to double overtime and some really great forgotten names of history – Rodney Monroe, BJ Armstrong, Roy Marble – are involved. Let’s watch it over the next month.

Maryland-Michigan State, 2010.

Somehow, someway, a Michigan State team that really should’ve been a 6 seed and wasn’t any good at all in the month of February just kept surviving, all the way to the Final Four. This was probably their finest performance of the lot and even that required a player to duck his head to avoid what ended up being the game-winning pass.

Gonzaga-Western Kentucky, 2009.

Was thankful to find this one on YouTube. One round after Western Kentucky controlled the game against Illinois, they faced a pretty good Gonzaga team and trailed most of the second half. In the final two minutes here, they come back from a seven-point deficit…only to lose a pure heartbreaker. Ken McDonald rushes the court after the game to claim he was calling a timeout, and by the final replay you get before the broadcast ends, he clearly was. Would this happen again in 2020? Uh, yeah, probably.

La Salle-Ole Miss, 2013.

Frustratingly, this clip is all there is on YouTube, but it’s all you really need. I’ll always remember the Southwest Philly Floater.

Sweet Sixteen

Reminder: from this point forward, it’s simply the best games, not best games by seeds.

Purdue-Tennessee, 2019.

Thinking about this game for even a second is still pretty painful for me. I’m glad that neither Tennessee nor Purdue would’ve made the field of 68 this year, because having to relive these highlights for longer than a play or two brings up horrible memories. BUT. Objectively, this may be the very best Sweet Sixteen game in Tournament history.

Kansas-Michigan, 2013.

My dad went to the University of Michigan and, aside from February onward, is still not a huge basketball fan. He’s a football guy, mostly. And yet this is still the happiest I have ever seen him after a sporting event.

Indiana-Duke, 2002.

Until I saw the thumbnail of this video, I had completely forgotten Duke had a huge lead on Indiana for a chunk of this game. As late as under 12 minutes to go, they led by 14. When I think about this game, I’ve always remembered it for some reason as Indiana leading most of the way and Duke hanging in…but that wasn’t the case. From 1998 to 2002, Duke was far and away the best program in college basketball, but sometimes, miracles happen.

Loyola Marymount-Alabama, 1990.

Honestly always been way more intrigued by this game than their first two wins. Loyola Marymount had to play a game that was completely and totally antithetical to what their program was about…and they won. Teams doing that is so fascinating to me.

Florida-Wisconsin, 2017.

Never been a Barstool guy, but seeing the Big Cat dude collapse in the stands as he watches his team’s Final Four dreams end on a buzzer-beater is extremely relatable.

UCLA-Gonzaga, 2006.

It was kind of amazing that Gonzaga got this far in hindsight. This Zags team in particular finished the year at 33rd on KenPom, making them the third-worst 3 seed in the KenPom era. None of the bottom 13 have even breached the Elite Eight. And yet: Gonzaga probably should’ve made it that far.

Connecticut-Washington, 1998.

You’ve seen the final ten seconds of this game hundreds of times. Watch the rest of it, too.

Xavier-Kansas State, 2010.

I think this is a pretty reasonable pick for the Best Non-Important NCAA Tournament Game of All Time. Neither of these teams made the Final Four, and neither offered any long-term NBA stardom from their squads. Had Jordan Crawford missed the long three to force double overtime, I’m not sure anyone would remember much about this game. However, that’s everyone else’s problem; from halftime onward, this was a non-stop battle to the death that understandably completely drained the winner and made the loser’s fans feel both devastated and proud. It is everything the NCAA Tournament is supposed to be, in theory.

Elite Eight

Kentucky-Duke, 1992.

Probably the best game ever played.

Michigan State-Kentucky, 2005.

Every time I watch the Patrick Sparks game-tying shot, even now, I really do not believe it’s going to go in. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a combination of the following: five-minute review, ball rolling around, making multiple contacts with the rim, leaning towards the basket, literally the final shot of regulation. It’s a poor man’s Kawhi shot of a sort.

Illinois-Arizona, 2005.

This one has become a bit overrated in hindsight, as it was a pretty weak game for 36 minutes. Again: who cares when the ending’s this good?

Oklahoma State-St. Joseph’s, 2004.

We never really gave this St. Joe’s team their due. This is what 2019-20 San Diego State was, somewhat, but this SJU team had future NBA guys, a beloved coach, and a fun system. They were so close to completing the dream…but the last great Oklahoma State squad stood in their way.

NEXT PAGE: Final Four, national title, and a place for your submissions

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