NCAA Tournament 2012 Results: Ranking the Top 15 Games from Opening Rounds

Rollin Yeatts@@TSBRollinFeatured ColumnistMarch 19, 2012

NCAA Tournament 2012 Results: Ranking the Top 15 Games from Opening Rounds

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    Over the years, we have seen a number of NCAA Tournament games go down to the wire. The 2012 edition has been no different. That's what makes March Madness one of the most exciting events, maybe even in the best, in all of sports.

    Through 52 games, it wasn't easy picking my top 15. There were some truly amazing games. Back-and-forth games, miraculous finishes, big upsets and even the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history.

    I tried to work out a formula for ranking these games, but the math just didn't do justice to a few of the games I favored.

    That's enough jabber, though. Let's take a stroll through the top games of the opening rounds. I'll break down the special moments.

15. No. 13 Ohio 65, No. 5 Michigan 60

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    Michigan could never get its shots going. The Wolverines live or die by the three. When they shoot 7-of-23, they die. Ohio shot 50 percent from the floor to Michigan's 40.

    Ohio jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but the Wolverines never let them get too far ahead.

    After a Reggie Keely free throw with 8:51 left, the Bobcats extended the lead to 57-48. They couldn't build on that as the Wolverines clawed their way back with answer after answer.

    Michigan's Trey Burke scored the next 12 points, going 4-of-4 from the free throw line and 3-of-3 from the field—including two three-pointers. With that spurt, the Wolverines cut the Ohio lead to 63-60 with 4:12 remaining.

    From there, all I can say is that it was a lot of ugly. The teams combined to go 0-for-10 from the floor for the rest of the game.

    Michigan was determined to hit the three-ball, and Burke, the player who was smoldering hot such a short time ago, went sub-zero. He missed his final four three-pointers.

    The only points scored in the final four minutes were Walter Offuts' free throws with seven seconds left.

    The sorry ending put a damper on a great upset.

14. No. 4 Louisville 59, No. 5 New Mexico 56

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    Louisville led 26-25 at the half and opened up a 15-point lead on a Chris Smith three-pointer with 13:03 remaining.

    The lead wouldn't last long as the Lobos went on a 13-3 run over a six-minute span to pull within five, at 47-42 with seven minutes to go.

    I thought Peyton Siva's layup at the 2:25 mark which gave the Cardinals a seven-point lead would ice the game. I was wrong. New Mexico would come back one more time.

    After two Drew Gordan free throws, the Lobos were within three points. Following the free throws, Louisville's freshman forward Chane Behanan couldn't find anyone on the inbound, picking up a five-second violation and handing the ball back to New Mexico.

    The Lobos took advantage as Kendall Williams found an open Demetrius Walker in the corner. Williams' shot hit nothing but net and New Mexico was back within two of Louisville.

    The teams would trade baskets after that, but a dunk by Louisville's Gorgui Dieng would serve as the nail in the coffin for the scrappy New Mexico squad. Siva penetrated the lane and dished it to a cutting Dieng for an authoritative slam.

    Drew Gordan knocked down a three-pointer with five seconds left to bring the New Mexico back within threes. On the inbound, New Mexico immediately fouled Elisha Justice with 2.9 seconds left.

    Justice missed free throw, but it hung on the rim long enough to prevent the Lobos from getting up the court and taking a shot.

13. No. 3 Florida State 66, No. 14 St. Bonaventure 63

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    St. Bonaventure forward Andrew Nicholson scored 20 points, but it wasn't enough to take down the Florida State Seminoles.

    The Bonnies scored the first seven points and held the lead for nearly 35 minutes.

    With 5:19 left, FSU took its first lead on an Ian Miller three-pointer and never looked back. St. Bonaventure played an all-around great game but hit a slump and Florida State jumped all over it.

    The Bonnies went more than five minutes without a field goal. The Seminoles put up 12 points in that span to take the lead and push it all the way to eight.

    St. Bonaventure made it a game again in the final two minutes. The Bonnies knocked down three-pointers on three straight possessions. Demitrius Conger nailed two of them. The score was 65-63 in favor of FSU with 30 seconds to go.

    The Seminoles gave the Bonnies one more chance by going 1-of-3 from the free throw line and keeping it a one-possession game. But it was not to be.

    Though they lost, it was an extremely gutsy performance by the Bonnies.

12. No. 12 VCU 62, No. 5 Wichita State 59

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    The VCU Rams brought some serious excitement to last year's tourney. And for two rounds this year, they provided us with more. I'd venture to say, they don't mind being the underdog.

    VCU finished the first half on an 11-1 run to take nine-point lead into the locker room. When they started out the second half, it looked like the game was on its way to a blowout.

    With 16:01 left in the game, VCU had opened up a 41-29 lead.

    Wichita State decided it wasn't going down like that. The Shockers started to chip away at the lead. By the 5:39 mark, they had cut VCU's lead to one point. Wichita State would later take a 59-57 lead, following back-to-back three-pointers by Joe Ragland and Toure' Murry.

    VCU's Bradford Burgess would follow that up with his own three-pointer to retake the lead with 1:33 to go.

    Wichita State went 0-for-2 from the field for the remainder of the game. They had a chance to tie it at the buzzer, but Garrett Stutz missed on his three-point attempt.

11. No. 6 Cincinnati 62, No. 3 Florida State 56

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    This game didn't exactly start out exciting, but it got a lot better in the final minutes. What was a slow game became flat-out nuts at the end.

    I won't even bother describing any of the first half. Let's just say that with 14:38 left FSU and Cincinnati were tied at 32. Press forward.

    Once Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick knocked down a three-pointer at 3:46 mark, things got real. Over the next 1:02, those of us watching saw three three-pointers and a dunk.

    Florida State's Luke Loucks would follow that with two free throws, putting the Seminoles up 50-49 with 2:09 left.

    The Bearcats' Yancy Gates tied it back up at 50 with a free throw. As the Seminoles were taking the ball up the court, Dion Dixon jumped a Loucks pass and slammed it home. With 57 seconds remaining, Cashmere Wright knocked down a jumper to put Cincinnati up 54-50.

    The Seminoles would never get any closer. The Bearcats closed out the game going 8-of-8 from the charity stripe in the last 34 seconds.

    The Bearcats had never beaten a higher seed in their NCAA Tournament history.

10. No. 8 Creighton 58, No. 9 Alabama 57

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    After a great back-and-forth first half that saw five lead changes, the lead would only change one more time. It should come as no surprise that the go-ahead bucket would come from Creighton star forward Doug McDermott.

    Alabama held Creighton scoreless in the final five minutes of the first half and headed to the locker room with a seven-point lead. Less than three minutes into the second half, Alabama's Trevor Releford dropped a three-pointer to put the Crimson Tide up by 11, their largest lead of the game.

    Three minutes later, after a 10-1 run by the Bluejays, the score would be tied again. The Crimson Tide took the lead again and pushed it to seven, but the Bluejays just wouldn't go down.

    Once McDermott put Creighton ahead at the 5:40 mark, the Bluejays never lost the lead again, though they y didn't close it out very well. The Bluejays kept the Tide in the game, by going 2-of-7 from the line down the  stretch.

    Fortunately for Creighton, Alabama was only 3-of-9 from the field in the last five minutes.

    I had a feeling this game was going to be an exciting one, and it certainly didn't disappoint. The nail-biting 58-57 win was Creighton's first tournament victory in 10 years.

9. No. 1 Syracuse 72, No. 16 UNC-Asheville 65

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    Syracuse may have been playing without star center Fab Melo, but you have to give it up to UNC-Asheville for bringing this game down to the wire.

    If they weren't leading, the Bulldogs were nipping at the heels of Syracuse for the entire game.

    UNC-Asheville managed to open up a seven-point lead in the first half, but Syracuse came back and just wouldn't go away.

    With 9:46 left, Syracuse took the 50-48 lead on a three-pointer by James Southerland. The Orange would never lose the lead again. They opened the lead to eight points on a Southerland three with 2:37 to go.

    The Bulldogs never gave up and the crowd was on their side. The arena was filled with a barrage of boos—directed at the referees—for questionable calls down the stretch. One would turn out to be correct, but the other was a blatant error by the refs.

    UNC-Asheville had pulled within three points of the Orange with 35 seconds left. It was pretty obvious from all angles that Syracuse's inbound pass went off the hand of Brandon Triche, but the referee called it out on the Bulldogs. They had to foul Syracuse the rest of the game, and the Orange went a perfect 6-of-6 from the stripe.

    After that call, UNC-Asheville never had much of a chance. I do wonder how it would've turned out if the referee called it correctly.

8. No. 16 Western Kentucky 59, No. 16 Mississippi Valley State 58

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    Much of the game was a back-and-forth battle between these two play-in teams.

    Mississippi Valley State had largest lead at 15 when Paul Crosy dished to Cor-J Cox for the dunk.

    Still facing a 16-point deficit with 5:06 to go, Western Kentucky went on a three-minute, 17-1 run to tie the game at 54.

    The score remained the same until the 33-second mark when Jamal Crook and T.J. Price took over the game. The pair scored all five of Western Kentucky's final points. Price would add an assist, too.

    In that time, Mississippi Valley State's Kevin Burwell would make a layup and miss two three-pointers, including one that would have tied the game with three seconds left.

    Cor-J Cox got the put-back, but it was too late to get in another play.

7. No. 11 N.C. State 66, No. 3 Georgetown 63

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    Georgetown led by as many as 10 in the first half, but N.C. State went on a 12-0 run and finished the half with a 30-27 lead.

    N.C. State would hold the lead and increase it to seven points with 1:11 remaining. Only seven seconds went off the clock before the Hoyas' Hollis Thompson knocked down a three to cut the lead to four.

    Following a missed free throw by the Wolfpack, the Hoyas' Henry Sims put in a layup and two free throws in a 13-second span. By the 37-second mark, N.C. State's lead had dwindled to 62-61.

    That was as close as Georgetown would get.

    N.C. State was good on four of their next six shots from charity stripe. Lorenzo Brown missed his last free throw, giving Georgetown a chance to tie it on a last-second shot.

    The Hoyas' Jason Clark hustled down the floor and pulled up for a 25-foot three-pointer. The shot went long and wide as the buzzer sounded.

6. No. 4 Wisconsin 60, No. 5 Vanderbilt 57

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    What a great game from two well-coached teams.

    Vanderbilt only took the lead twice in the game. And if I told you Wisconsin led for 38 of the 40 minutes, you'd probably think it wasn't much of a game.

    Wisconsin opened up strong, but Vandy went on a run to come within a point at the half. It was answer after twine-tingling answer.

    The Commodores opened the second half with a Jeffery Taylor jumper to take the lead for the first time. That would only last for the next minute as the Badgers hit back-to-back threes to retake the lead.

    Wisconsin would later go on a 10-2 run over a seven-minute span to push its lead to 53-44. Then Vanderbilt would turn the tide by scoring seven unanswered points.

    It was a game again. Festus Ezeli would put Vanderbilt back on top 57-56 with 2:21 left. Yet again, the Badgers had an answer.

    Jordan Taylor buried a three from NBA range to put Wisconsin back on top 57-59. On their next possession, the Badgers milked over a minute off the clock, grabbing two offensive rebounds and leaving Vandy with 17 seconds.

    By the way, can we please change the shot clock to 25 seconds? Sheesh.

    Vanderbilt had a chance to take the lead, but John Jenkins' three-pointer hit the back of the rim. The Commodores didn't get much help from their leading scorers. Taylor and Jenkins combined to go 7-of-25 from the floor. Wisconsin finished with five players in double figures.

5. No. 14 BYU 78, No. 14 Iona 72

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    In a game in which BYU was down by as many as 25 points, the Cougars still managed to win.

    With 6:12 left in first half, Iona was up 49-24. The Cougars slowly chipped away at the lead to end the half.

    Down 62-44 in the second, BYU went on 17-0 tear to cut the deficit to one point with 8:32 to go.

    Later, Noah Hartsock would hit a three-pointer to put BYU ahead for the first time. The Cougars led 71-70 with 2:28 left. Hartsock scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half.

    Iona turned the ball over on its  next possession and went 0-for-4 from the floor until Ra'Shad James tipped in a miss with 15 seconds left. By then, BYU had a 76-72 lead.Matt Carlino would make the next two free throws to put the game on ice.

    BYU's win would mark the largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history.

4. No. 15 Lehigh 75, No. 2 Duke 70

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    For the first 39 minutes, neither team led by more than five points.

    With 8:23 left, Mackey McKnight hit a three-pointer to take a lead that Lehigh would not relinquish. With two minutes to go, Lehigh stretched its lead to 61-54 on a John Adams dunk.

    Though Duke knocked down three three-pointers in the final 96 seconds, the Blue Devils went 6-of-26 from behind the arc. The Blue Devils were without Ryan Kelly, their best three-point shooter, and that proved to be too big of a loss for a team that relies on the three-ball.

    Lehigh also outscored Duke 14-2 in transition points.

    Duke did fight back, cutting the lead to three on a Quinn Cook three. There was only three seconds left on the clock and they quickly fouled C.J. McCollum.

    McCollum sank both free throws and the game was over.

    Duke never had an answer for McCollum. The Lehigh guard scored 30 points. The Blue Devils also didn't have an answer for forward Gabe Knutson. The pair accounted for 33 of Lehigh's 47 second-half points.

3. No. 4 Indiana 63, No. 12 VCU 61

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    VCU forced 22 turnovers and scored 21 points off those, but Indiana's rebounding would prove to be too much for VCU in the end.

    After VCU's Darius Theus knocked down a jumper to increase its lead to 61-56 with 2:24 left, the Rams never scored another point and were held without a single rebound. VCU didn't shoot well, and the Rams desperately needed their second-chance points.

    Indiana's Cody Zeller was a big part of that run, scoring five of the Hoosiers'  last nine points and snagging a rebound. Victor Oladipo and Will Sheehey would close it out for Indiana.

    Zeller set a pick at the top of the key for Oladipo as he drove into the paint. He was tightly defended, but he managed to sink the layup, pick up a foul and knock down the free throw to tie it up at 61.

    The next play, Oladipo would grab a defensive rebound off a Troy Daniels missed three and push it down the floor. He drove all the way to the basket, but his shot was blocked. As luck would have it, the ball ended up in  Sheehey's hands and he knocked down a 15-footer to take the lead with 12.7 seconds to go.

    VCU still had a chance tie it or go for the win. The Rams went for the win. Rob Brandenberg had an open three with two seconds left but just couldn't knock it down. The Rams finished 9-of-30 from three-point range.

2. No. 2 Kansas 63, No. 5 Purdue 60

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    This game was a roller coaster, even though Purdue led most of the way.

    The Boilermakers jumped on Kansas, scoring the game's first eight points, But every time Purdue built a nice lead, the Jayhawks would come right back. And every time, Purdue would sort it out before relinquishing the lead.

    The Boilermakers eventually would, though.

    Purdue was leading 56-54 when the Jayhawks' Elijah Johnson buried a three, putting Kansas on top for the first time. Terone Johnson followed that up with two straight baskets to put Purdue back up 60-57 with 2:02 left.

    The next minute went scoreless, but Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor started the final minute with a bang. Johnson dished out a monster alley-oop to the cutting Taylor. Then Johnson snatched the ball from Lewis Jackson and took it coast-to-coast for a layup.

    Kansas was up 61-60 with 25 seconds left.

    After a missed three by Purdue's Robbie Hummel, Thomas Robinson snagged the defensive rebound and passed it up the floor to Taylor. Instead of running out the clock, he chose to dunk it and leave just under three seconds for Purdue.

    The Boilermakers' Ryne Smith had time to get off a long three, but it banked off the glass too hard, just brushing the top of the rim as time expired.

1. No. 15 Norfolk State 86, No. 2 Missouri 84

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    Most upsets involve the favored team stinking it up. That was not the case in this game, and that's what made it so special.

    The Missouri Tigers shot nearly 53 percent from the floor and turned the ball over fewer times than Norfolk State. The difference was the rebounding and three-point shooting advantage of Norfolk State.

    The Spartans led for the first 22 minutes, but Missouri rode their back the whole time. Only in short stints,did the lead increase to more than two points.

    Just as the Spartans started to pull away at the end, Missouri scored six unanswered points to tie it at 81 with 50 seconds remaining. Norfolk State scored the next four points, but Missouri's Phil Pressey buried a three-pointer with 11 seconds left to cut the lead to one.

    Norfolk State's Rodney McCauley then hit a free throw to put the Spartans up 86-84.

    Hanging on to a two-point lead with three seconds to go, Kyle O'Quinn would miss two free throws and give Missouri a chance to win it on a buzzer-beater. On a final attempt, Pressey pulled up a little early and out of balance, only catching iron on his three-point attempt.

    A team that many saw making it to the Final Four was eliminated.

    This was Norfolk State's first win over a ranked opponent since joining Division I—and worthy of the No. 1 spot on my list.