The 10 Best NCAA Tournament Games of the Past Decade
They call it March Madness for a reason. There's nothing like the thrill of the NCAA Tournament.
Amazing comebacks, stunning upsets, unforgettable performances, the past decade has featured all of that and more.
I find it a bit ironic that as a Northwestern fan (my Wildcats have never made The Big Dance), I'm compiling a list of the 10 Best NCAA Tournament games of the past decade...but so it goes.
It's quite the challenge to boil down the top 10 games of the past 10 years, but I've given it my best shot.
These are the games that were the most entertaining from a fan's perspective. Obviously, these selections are debatable, but that's what's so great about sports; there are so many great games that it's nearly impossible to create a satisfactory top 10 list.
Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy this trip down memory lane.
10. Hampton Stuns Iowa State 58-57 (March 15, 2001)
Our 10 greatest games of the past decade begins with perhaps the biggest upset of the decade.
Hampton, a small private school in Virginia, was making its first NCAA Tournament appearance. The mighty Iowa State Cyclones were coming off an Elite Eight appearance the previous season, and were poised to make a run to the Final Four.
History wasn't on the side of Hampton. Only three No. 15 seeds had pulled off victories since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
Hampton upped that total to four. It took a 14-2 run down the stretch, but a Tarvis Williams bucket with 6.9 seconds to go in the game gave the Pirates the lead for good.
Future NBA player Jamaal Tinsley missed a potential game-winning lay-up as time expired.
That set off a wild celebration which saw Hampton's coach Steve Merfeld carried on the court as he shook his fists in jubilation.
9. Michigan State Survives Miracle Sparks Three (March 27, 2005)
Patrick Sparks' shot bounced around the rim for what seemed like an eternity...then finally fell in, sending the game to overtime. But that was only the beginning of the drama.
Officials spent over five minutes attempting to determine whether or not the Kentucky guard's foot was on the line.
They finally ruled that it was indeed a three-pointer, and all the momentum seemed to be on the Wildcats' side.
But there's a reason why Tom Izzo is considered possibly the best coach in the country by many of those who follow the game.
Immediately after the shot fell, he pulled his Spartans together and said simply, "Now let's beat them a second time."
After the first OT, the teams were still tied, but Michigan State ended up winning in double overtime by a final score of 94-88.
Sparks' incredible shot was the moment fans remember about the game, but the fifth-seeded Spartans headed to the Final Four, while the second-seeded Wildcats went home.
8. The Slipper Doesn't Quite Fit (March 22, 2003)
Gonzaga isn't considered a lovable underdog anymore; they now routinely are favored in the NCAA tournament. But in 2003, as a nine seed, they gave top-seeded Arizona all they could handle and then some.
In fact, the Bulldogs had multiple chances to win as time ran out in double overtime. The Wildcats took a 96-95 lead when Salim Stoudamire hit a floater in the lane with 2:06 to go. Neither team would score again.
Tony Skinner had an outstanding game for the 'Zags, but he missed a wide-open three with four seconds to go, and Blake Stepp (pictured) missed the put-back attempt as the buzzer sounded.
After the game, players from both teams, to a man, described it as the greatest game they've ever been a part of. Arizona's Jason Gardner called it "an ESPN Classic," while Stepp said it was the hardest fought game he'd ever participated in.
Both these teams played some more classic games that we'll get to in a bit.
7. The Block Seen 'Round the World (April 7, 2003)
Kansas' Michael Lee was open in the corner. Kirk Hinrich found him for a three-point attempt that could send the national championship game into OT. But Syracuse's Hakim Warrick came flying in to knock the shot out of bounds with less than a second to go in the Superdome.
That basically wrapped up Jim Boeheim's first (and so far only) national title as Syracuse's head coach.
The Orange had a 12-point lead with about five minutes remaining in the game, but the scrappy Jayhawks came battling back thanks in part to Syracuse missing a bunch of free throws.
The championship erased some demons for Boeheim, who had lost in heartbreaking fashion in the Superdome back in 1987 to Indiana.
For him and the Orange program, it was a huge breakthough. Who knows how the game would have ended if not for Warrick's clutch block at the end.
6. Northwestern Wins! (March 17, 2006)
As a long-suffering Northwestern fan, I'd just like to say what a pleasure it is to know our first NCAA tournament victory came over the hated Iowa Hawkeyes...
Oh, apparently it was Northwestern STATE that pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the decade in the NCAA Tournament, not my beloved Northwestern Wildcats.
Well, that's a bit of a letdown. Needless to say anyone reading this has seen the YouTube highlights over and over again. The insane fadeaway three as the game clock neared zero from Jermaine Wallace will not soon be forgotten.
But what people might forget is the fact the scrappy 14 seed rallied from 17 points down with only eight-and-a-half minutes to play in the game.
Iowa was on fire entering the contest, having won the Big Ten Tournament, but it was Northwestern State who would be the ones celebrating at the end.
5. UConn Uses Late Run to Shock Blue Devils (April 3, 2004)
Nothing's better than a battle of two college basketball heavyweights. That's the pleasure basketball fans got to enjoy as Emeka Okafor helped the UConn Huskies rally to knock off the Duke Blue Devils.
For everyone besides, well, Duke fans, it's always great to see the boys from Durham lose.
At halftime, Okafor had no points and one rebound due to foul trouble.
But in the second half, he played like a man possessed, tallying 18 points, including the game-winner with 26 seconds left.
"I just saw this orange object floating in the air, and it said `Grab me,'" Okafor said. "I grabbed it, spun, saw the rim, thought it would be a good idea to put it in, and that's what I did."
The win propelled UConn to the national title game, where they knocked off Georgia Tech.
It was also the only time I've ever predicted the final two in a NCAA Tournament correctly, but that's neither here nor there.
4. Who ARE these guys?! (March 26, 2006)
Commuter schools don't go to Final Fours.
Eleven seeds don't go to Final Fours.
Teams from the Colonial Athletic Association don't go to Final Fours.
Tell that to the George Mason Patriots.
UConn looked like a powerhouse that simply could not be defeated. With stars such Marcus Williams and Rudy Gay, they were one of the favorites to win it all that year.
Many felt George Mason shouldn't have even been allowed in the tournament.
But the Patriots survived a stunning last-second lay-in from UConn's Denham Brown, which forced OT, to defeat the Huskies 86-84 as they advanced to the Final Four.
Coach Jim Larranga told his players that UConn probably didn't even know what conference they were from, and that CAA stood for Connecticut Assassin Association.
It certainly did that memorable afternoon in Washington, D.C.
3. Heart...Break...City (March 23, 2006)
Gus Johnson was already famous before this game, but UCLA's ridiculous victory over Gonzaga was probably his finest hour.
The excitement and energy he brought to the game was perfect for how absurd the ending was.
Gonzaga had the game won, and then they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
Jordan Farmar's steal is one of the most famous plays in recent memory.
The image of Adam Morrison sobbing on the court will forever be etched in the minds of basketball fans everywhere.
To get a full grasp of the improbable finish to this one, you have to watch it yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vt0VUSyVIr4
2. Illinois Rises From the Dead (March 26, 2005)
Full disclosure: As a Northwestern fan, I hate Illinois. I can't stand how NU hasn't beaten them during my time in Evanston, and I really loathe their fans.
Nonetheless, I can acknowledge an epic game when I see one.
Four minutes to go and Illinois is done. They're down by 15 points to a very talented Arizona squad.
It's been a dream season for the Fighting Illini, but it appears to be nearing its end in the Elite Eight.
In the words of a certain ESPN football analyst: "not so fast my friend."
Deron Williams hit a three, and a comeback for the ages ensued.
The sequence of events leading to the improbable comeback included some sensational shooting from the Illini, and some smothering defense as well.
Bruce Weber couldn't even keep track of everything himself.
"It was just crazy," Weber said. "We picked up the pace, did a little 2-2-1 zone, denied. Jack [Ingram]made a steal, Dee [Brown] made a steal, and I'm not sure how Deron got the last three."
In the end, the Fighting Illini lived up to their name, as they battled to force overtime and managed to hang on and beat the Wildcats by one.
"It's heart, man, it's just heart," Dee Brown said. "The whole time I was saying 'If it was meant to be, it was meant to be.' And I guess it was meant to be that we go to the Final Four."
It was that year, but I'm just happy they haven't been back since.
1. The Greatest Title Game Ever? (April 7, 2008)
I don't know the answer to that question, but I do know it was the greatest game of the past decade.
Kansas and Memphis were unquestionably the two best teams in all of college basketball in 2008, and boy did they put on a show!
Memphis outplayed Kansas most of the game, but their old bugaboo—poor free throw shooting—ended up costing them dearly in the end.
Mario Chalmers forever became a Kansas legend with his three to force OT, and the Jayhawks took care of business after that.
I think this game deserves to top the list because even though there were more dramatic comebacks and more shocking endings, none had the meaning of Kansas-Memphis attached to them.
It was by far the best national title game (with only Syracuse-Kansas even coming close) of the past decade, and had some serious drama on its own terms as well.