The Signature Win of Every Top 25 Team in NCAA Basketball
Selection Sunday is just 12 days away, and NCAA basketball’s Top 25 teams are polishing their resumes heading into March Madness. One of the biggest keys to scoring a favorable seed in the Big Dance is having a statement win that the selection committee can look at and say, “That’s what this team can do at its best.”
The Michigan Wolverines will get a chance to secure a win like that on Sunday afternoon when they host second-ranked Indiana to close the regular season. Even if that game goes awry, Trey Burke and company can point with pride to last weekend’s thrilling win over an outstanding Michigan State squad as the biggest victory they’ve scored in the grueling Big Ten.
Herein, a closer look at that Wolverines-Spartans clash and the rest of the most impressive victories in the portfolios of each of this week’s AP Top 25.
Win: 85-80 at Tennessee, January 4
By far the biggest problem for the 25-4 Tigers is that they haven’t beaten any of the few surefire NCAA tournament teams on their schedule. The closest thing to an impressive road victory was this shootout over the up-and-down Vols.
Even then, Memphis had to hold off a furious Tennessee comeback to escape after leading 60-39 in the second half.
Still, when the next best team the Tigers have beaten is mid-major Ohio in Memphis, it’s tough to find a more impressive win on their barren schedule.
24. Notre Dame
Win: 104-101 vs. Louisville (5OT), February 9
Was there ever any doubt about this one? Surviving a quintuple-overtime epic would’ve been a great win on its own, even if it hadn’t come against the then-No. 11 team in the nation.
On top of all that, it took a miracle finish in regulation from guard Jerian Grant—12 points in the final 51 seconds—just to start the overtime parade.
Amazingly, Notre Dame came out on top despite losing its best player (Jack Cooley) to a foul-out that came seven minutes before the first extra session even began.
Win: 84-73 at Arizona, January 24
Consistency hasn’t exactly been a hallmark of the freshman-heavy Bruins, but when they put it all together, they’re a scary offensive team.
Perhaps the best demonstration of that principle is their surprisingly easy dissection of the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team on its home floor.
In a pattern that’s been pretty typical of UCLA wins, Shabazz Muhammad handled most of the scoring (23 points on 8-for-16 shooting) while classmate Kyle Anderson controlled the glass (12 boards to go with three assists and four steals).
The token non-frosh in the spotlight, sensational PG Larry Drew II, dished out nine assists against just two turnovers, and the Bruins put up more points than Arizona could come close to matching.
Win: 65-62 vs. Michigan (OT), February 9
Though the Badgers have other wins more typical of their grinding defensive style (including their road upset of Indiana), this game is the one everyone will remember.
Down three with seconds left in regulation, Ben Brust launched a half-court prayer that tied the game and took the stunned Wolverines into overtime.
In the extra session, Brust got to be the hero for a second time, draining the go-ahead trey in the final minute. Meanwhile, the famed Badgers’ D held Michigan to just 39.4 percent shooting from the field in eking out the victory.
21. Virginia Commonwealth
Win: 84-52 vs. Butler, March 2
A close call over the Rams’ Battle 4 Atlantis victory over Memphis, this game gets the nod partly because Butler’s had a better overall season than the Tigers.
Also a big factor, though, are the copious amounts of style points to be awarded for a 32-point win over a ranked team in March.
VCU’s havoc defense has rarely been in better form than it was against the Bulldogs, forcing 20 turnovers and pressuring Butler into a negligible 3-of-14 day from beyond the arc.
The Rams’ own three-point shooters (led by a 4-of-8 effort from Troy Daniels) were in fine form on the other end, helping Darius Theus rack up nine assists to go with his five steals.
Win: 73-45 at Georgetown, January 8
With every game Georgetown wins in its incandescent Big East streak, Pitt reaps a share of the benefits. The Panthers’ win in D.C. was an upset even in January, and it’s a monumental one now.
Holding Hoya star Otto Porter Jr. to a mere nine points, Lamar Patterson and the Pitt frontcourt locked down the home team’s offense (35.1 percent shooting).
Meanwhile, seven assists from Tray Woodall helped the Panthers light up the scoreboard with 55.1 percent shooting and cruise to a road win.
Win: 70-66 vs. Arizona, January 10
Arizona was as hot as any team in the nation in early January, coming into Eugene at 12-0 on the season. Oregon, meanwhile, had yet to appear in the national rankings, thanks in part to an ignominious triple-OT loss at UTEP.
In the Ducks’ second conference game of the season, they turned all that around behind E.J. Singler’s run at a triple-double (14 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, with three steals for good measure).
Standout freshman Dominic Artis posted another of Oregon’s four double-digit scoring totals on the night, and Mark Lyons didn't get the chance for a last-second miracle in a four-point win for the home team.
Win: 65-64 vs. Florida, December 15
In one of the marquee games of the non-conference season, one team was guaranteed to come away with a signature victory. Unluckily for the then-No. 5 Gators, then-No. 8 Arizona had Mark Lyons.
The clutch-specialist guard capped a six-point rally in the final minute, muscling a layup past the Florida defense for the game-winning basket.
Lyons had plenty of help from senior Solomon Hill, who poured in a game-high 18 points against one of the toughest defenses in college hoops.
Win: 70-68 at Louisville, January 19
Just before everything went terribly wrong for Jim Boeheim’s squad, Syracuse became the second team in as many weeks to upset No. 1 in the national rankings.
The top-ranked Cardinals controlled a good 39 minutes of their home date with the Orange, only to see it all slip away at the end.
After an erratic performance plagued by eight turnovers, Michael Carter-Williams rallied to grab two steals in the game’s final minute, turning one into the decisive dunk.
Even a monster day from Russ Smith (25 points, four steals) wasn’t enough to save Louisville from just its second loss of the season.
16. St. Louis
Win: 60-46 vs. New Mexico, December 31
Although the Billikens have won three other games against then-ranked teams in Atlantic 10 play, none of those victories has the benefit of No. 12 New Mexico’s lofty current spot in the polls.
The Lobos turned in a fine defensive effort at Chaifetz Arena, but their offense let them down badly.
Not only did New Mexico shoot just 14-of-44 (31.8 percent) against St. Louis’ punishing defense, but the visitors turned the ball over 21 times as well.
Those mistakes provided plenty of opportunities for surprise Billiken standout Cory Remekun (15 points on 7-of-9 shooting) to lead his team to an ugly win.
Win: 49-48 vs. Georgetown, January 5
Like conference rival Pitt, Marquette is getting plenty of mileage out of upsetting Georgetown.
This win provided a huge confidence boost for the Golden Eagles, who had ridden out a rocky non-conference performance and narrowly escaped from UConn in their Big East opener.
Against the Hoyas, Buzz Williams’ defense took center stage, allowing only four Georgetown players to score for the entire game.
Marquette’s offense wasn’t much better, but 12 clutch points from star sixth man Davante Gardner (including 8-of-10 from the charity stripe) helped the home team hang on for a hard-earned win.
14. Ohio State
Win: 56-53 vs. Michigan, January 13
For most purposes, this win is interchangeable with Ohio State's other big home victory (over Michigan State) last Monday.
The Wolverine game gets the pick here because at the time, losses to Duke, Kansas and Illinois had raised serious doubts about the Buckeyes’ ability to hold their own against elite competition.
Ohio State responded to those doubts with a 16-0 first-half run that blew the game open early.
Michigan battled almost all the way back, but the same gutty, Aaron Craft-led defense that’s saved OSU so often this season played just well enough to pull out a three-point win.
UPDATE: Just after this story was initially published, Ohio State finished off a massive road upset of No. 2 Indiana. Naturally, that victory supplants the Michigan game as the Buckeyes' biggest win of the year.
13. Oklahoma State
Win: 85-80 at Kansas, February 2
Any time a team goes into Allen Fieldhouse and wins, especially in Big 12 play, that’s almost guaranteed to be its biggest victory of the year.
Oklahoma State had struggled early in conference action, losing to K-State, Oklahoma and Baylor, but the upset in Lawrence put all those problems in the rear-view mirror.
Freshman Marcus Smart, the hero all year for the Cowboys, devastated Kansas with 25 points, nine rebounds and five steals.
He got plenty of help from backcourt mate Markel Brown, who ate up the Jayhawks’ usually impenetrable defense with 7-of-10 shooting from three-point range.
12. New Mexico
Win: 91-82 at Colorado State, February 23
Although New Mexico is 4-0 against ranked teams this year, none of those opponents is still to be found in the Top 25. Of the quartet, the win that still looks the best is the road victory over Colorado State (currently in a second-place tie behind the Lobos in the MWC).
At the time, the Rams were No. 22 in the nation and making a push for first place, but Kendall Williams stopped them cold.
The New Mexico point guard turned in a career night with 46 points on 10-of-13 three-point shooting (not to mention four assists) to deck CSU on its home floor.
Win: 74-56 vs. Wisconsin, November 14
Much like New Mexico, Florida has seen many of its apparent big wins evaporate as their foes have fallen from the national polls.
The notable exception is Wisconsin, which dropped out and battled back on the strength of a tremendous Big Ten performance.
Back in November, though, the Badgers’ horse-and-buggy offense was no match for the jet-propelled Gators.
Wisconsin shot just 35.6 percent (against 61.9 percent for the home team) as Erik Murphy hit all 10 of his field-goal attempts in the kind of rout that would quickly become the norm for Florida.
10. Michigan State
Win: 67-64 vs. Kansas, November 13
Few teams schedule big games at the beginning of the season with the clockwork regularity of Michigan State.
The Spartans have earned their share of huge wins in Big Ten action, but none is quite as impressive as this neutral-site triumph over a Kansas team that looked Final Four-bound then and still does four months later.
Coming off a painful upset in Germany against UConn, Michigan State leaned on an aggressive backcourt that pressured the Jayhawks into 16 turnovers.
Sensational shooting by both teams kept the game close throughout, but two clutch baskets by Keith Appling brought his point total to 19—and his team’s win total to one—in dramatic fashion.
9. Kansas State
Win: 67-61 vs. Florida, December 22
The Wildcats may yet change this entry if they win in Stillwater on Saturday, but for the moment, an off-campus win (in Kansas City) over a terrific Florida squad isn’t a half-bad statement to make.
The Wildcats came in with minimal expectations, having lost to their first two ranked foes and beaten no one of note.
Against the ballyhooed Florida D, K-State’s aggressive guards got to the foul line early and often.
By doubling up the Gators on made free throws 20 to 10, the Wildcats battled to a win behind a combined 30 points from Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder.
Win: 58-53 at Syracuse, March 2
Louisville has had plenty of opportunities for statement wins in Big East action, and the best of the lot was last Saturday’s revenge job at the Carrier Dome.
After losing their own No. 1 ranking to the Orange in the first meeting, the Cards did their part to keep Syracuse’s losing streak sliding right along.
Brandon Triche shot just 2-of-11 and Michael Carter-Williams was 3-of-10 from the field against Louisville’s high-energy defense.
Gorgui Dieng played the key role, racking up a double-double (11 points and 14 boards, plus two steals and two blocks) while Russ Smith (18 points) carried the scoring load as usual.
Win: 58-57 vs. Michigan State, March 3
The Wolverines have taken their lumps in Big Ten action, but they got a welcome dose of revenge on Sunday against the rival Spartans. Michigan State had humiliated the Maize and Blue the first time around, winning 75-52 in East Lansing.
The rematch was close throughout, providing an ideal stage for Trey Burke’s heroics. Two late steals by Burke (plus the decisive dunk off one of them) highlighted a 21-point, eight-assist, five-steal showcase for the Player of the Year candidate.
Win: 90-63 vs. Duke, January 23
What else for this spot but the signature win of the century for high-flying Miami?
Five straight ACC wins to open the conference season brought the ‘Canes into this showdown in first place, but plenty of fans outside the Sunshine State expected Miami to get put in its place by the then-No. 1 Blue Devils.
Instead, Shane Larkin and company delivered a historic beatdown, holding Quinn Cook and Seth Curry to a combined 1-of-22 from the field.
The 5’11” Larkin registered a double-double (18 points, 10 boards, five assists) while helping backcourt mate Durand Scott pour in a game-high 25 points in the annihilation.
Win: 53-51 vs. Louisville, January 26
The Hoyas came achingly close to beating Indiana way back in November. Even with that game having turned into an OT loss, they have a heck of a consolation prize with a win over the now-No. 8 Cardinals.
Playing the kind of shutdown defense that’s been so successful for them this season, the Hoyas held Louisville to 34.8 percent shooting but shot only 38.8 percent themselves in this slugfest.
Aaron Bowen’s late put-back (his only basket of the game and one of 15 all season) gave Georgetown the second win of what’s now an 11-game streak.
Win: 59-55 at Kansas State, January 22
Kansas has the rare luxury of being able to choose from multiple true road wins over ranked teams, but the highest of those foes in the current poll is the rival Wildcats.
At the time, the victory didn’t make a huge impression, considering that the Jayhawks entered on an eyebrow-raising 15-game winning streak.
Still, then-No. 11 K-State hung tough with Jeff Withey and his mates, getting a surprising 19-point outburst from Shane Southwell.
Withey, though, notched a double-double (11 points and 10 boards) while Travis Releford shot 5-of-6 from the floor to lead KU to a defensive win with a team-high 12 points.
Win: 76-71 vs. Louisville, November 24
Although last weekend’s thriller over Miami had more riding on it, Duke won that game in front of the raucous Cameron Crazies.
For an even more impressive victory, try beating the then-No. 2 Cardinals on a neutral court in the Bahamas as the third game in three consecutive days.
The win helped establish Duke’s national title candidacy as part of an astounding set of three wins in three tries over top-five opponents.
All five Blue Devil starters scored between 14 and 16 points while Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly combined for 13 boards against the Gorgui Dieng-less Cardinals in the victory.
Win: 72-68 at Michigan State, February 19
Indiana seized control of the Big Ten standings with a thriller on the road at East Lansing. Entering the game, the Hoosiers and Spartans were deadlocked at 11-2 each in conference action.
That changed behind a valiant effort from Victor Oladipo, whose quick recovery from an ankle injury the previous game let him rack up 19 points, five steals and nine rebounds.
The last of those boards, with Michigan State at the free-throw line praying for an offensive rebound, set up two Oladipo free throws to ice the game and give IU its first win at Michigan State since 1991.
Win: 69-68 at Oklahoma State, December 31
The Zags’ only losses came against ranked teams, but that total accounts for two of their three contests against Top 25 foes. The third of those clashes saw Kelly Olynyk and company go into Stillwater and sneak out with a nail-biting win.
Olynyk had 21 second-half points and Kevin Pangos hit a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch to hold off the Cowboys.
Pangos finished with a team-high 23 points and five assists despite facing off with OK State star Marcus Smart, whose missed free throws in the final seconds could have tied the game for the home team.