Men's NCAA Tournament's Best Sweet 16 Games in the Last 10 Years

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2020

Men's NCAA Tournament's Best Sweet 16 Games in the Last 10 Years

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    Ryan Cline
    Ryan ClineKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Had the 2020 men's NCAA tournament gone as planned, the bracket would be trimmed to the Sweet 16. This upcoming stretch would have determined this season's Final Four teams.

    Unfortunately, that's not happening. Fortunately, we have memories to enjoy.

    During the last decade, the Sweet 16 has provided a few unforgettable shots and watched a few Cinderella teams continue their improbable runs in March Madness.

    We're remembering some of the best matchups in this round. The order is chronological.

Honorable Mentions

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    2010: Tennessee 76, Ohio State 73

    J.P. Prince blocked Evan Turner's last-second three to seal Tennessee's first-everand still onlytrip to the Elite Eight.


    2013: Ohio State 73, Arizona 70

    After a dramatic layup and free throw from Arizona's Mark Lyons evened the score with 21.8 seconds left, the Buckeyes answered. LaQuinton Ross hit a deep triple to give Ohio State the victory.


    2019: Kentucky 62, Houston 58

    During the final minute, PJ Washington's huge block led to Tyler Herro's go-ahead three. Kentucky managed to advance despite surrendering a 13-point lead in the second half.

2010: Kansas State 101, Xavier 96 (2OT)

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    Made complete by classic Gus Johnson broadcast implosions, this Sweet 16 contest needed a couple of extra sessions because Kansas State and Xavier wouldn't stop making ridiculous shots.

    Late in regulation, K-State's Denis Clemente converted a four-point play. Xavier's Jordan Crawford drilled a go-ahead three. K-State's Jacob Pullen buried a tie-breaking three with 24 seconds left, and Xavier's Tu Holloway's trio of free throws evened the score with five seconds left.

    In overtime, Holloway knocked down a couple of clutch threes before Crawford hit an absurd game-tying shot.

    Kansas State finally pulled away in the second overtime, earning a 101-96 victory. In the Elite Eight, the Wildcats would fall to eventual national runner-up Butler.

2011: Kentucky 62, Ohio State 60

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    During the first round of the 2011 tournament, Brandon Knight failed to score in 39 minutes. However, a last-second layup allowed Kentucky to escape No. 13 Princeton.

    Two rounds later against top-seeded Ohio State, Knight did it again.

    Ohio State guard Jon Diebler splashed a game-tying triple with 21.2 seconds remaining in regulation, but Knight answered quickly. Despite excellent defense from Aaron Craft, Knight took an awkward-looking jumper that hit nothing but net.

    The Buckeyes elected not to call a timeout, instead rushing down the floor only to see William Buford's shot carom off the rim. Kentucky celebrated a thrilling 62-60 victory.

    "I think Brandon does it on purpose," Kentucky guard Doron Lamb said of the point guard, who finished 3-of-10 with nine points. "I think he misses every shot in the first half then hits the game-winner. If he keeps hitting the game-winner, we'll take that."

    Kentucky would lose to Connecticut in the Final Four.

2011: VCU 72, Florida State 71 (OT)

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    After the bracket had been released, VCU stood out as a questionable inclusion to some analysts. Did the fourth-place team from the Colonial Athletic Association deserve a bid?

    Right or wrong, the Rams capitalized on their opportunity.

    VCU put together an amazing run, winning a First Four game against USC before defeating No. 6 Georgetown and No. 3 Purdue. The Rams met Florida Statewhich had eliminated No. 7 Texas A&M and No. 2 Notre Damein the Sweet 16.

    Florida State recovered from a nine-point deficit in the final eight minutes of the second half to force overtime. During the extra period, a Bradford Burgess layup with 7.1 seconds left and Rob Brandenberg block as time expired sealed a 72-71 win.

    VCU stunned top-seeded Kansas in the Elite Eight, matching 1986 LSU and 2006 George Mason as the lowest-seeded Final Four teams in history. The Rams would bow out to Butler in the national semifinals. 

2013: Michigan 87, Kansas 85 (OT)

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    If only for a moment, Trey Burke had infinite range. But it was the perfect moment to keep Michigan's season alive.

    During the last 15 seconds of regulation, Burke hit a layup to make it 76-73. The Wolverines fouled, and Kansas missed the front end of a one-and-one. Burke sprinted down the court, drifted left and found himself about 30 feet from the basket.

    No matter. Splash.

    Although it was a back-and-forth overtime, Michigan pulled out an 87-85 victory after Naadir Tharpe missed a buzzer-beating shot. Top-seeded Kansas bowed out of the tournament.

    Michigan then defeated Florida and Syracuse to reach the national championship, where it would lose to Louisville.

2014: Kentucky 74, Louisville 69

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    After derailing top-seeded Wichita State in the second round, No. 8 Kentucky bounced an in-state rival during the Sweet 16. It wasn't a painless victory, though.

    Louisville surged to an early 18-5 lead and held a 64-57 advantage with five minutes left in the second half. Steadily, though, the Wildcats narrowed the gap before Aaron Harrison drained a go-ahead triple with 39.1 seconds remaining.

    That corner three marked the first of three memorable shots for Harrison, who later hit clutch jumpers against Michigan in the Elite Eight and Wisconsin in the Final Four.

    As they did three years earlier, Kentucky would fall to Connecticut. This time, though, it happened in the national title game.

2014: Michigan State 61, Virginia 59

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    Virginia announced itself as a national threat with a 30-win season in 2013-14, but the program's rise ended with a fall to longtime power Michigan State. (And in 2014-15; that's a different story.)

    While this wasn't necessarily a glamorous game, it sure was exciting. Virginia fought back from a 10-point deficit and took a lead midway through the second half. MSU responded and build a seven-point edge, which Virginia again erased.

    Over the final 1:50, MSU forward Adreian Payne accounted for five points and an assist to protect a slim lead. Virginia kept it close thanks to Joe Harris and Malcolm Brogdon threes, but a desperation heave from Justin Anderson at the buzzer fell short.

    Michigan State would lose to UConn in the Elite Eight.

2017: Xavier 73, Arizona 71

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    Following upsets of No. 6 Maryland and No. 3 Florida State, 11th-seeded Xavier kept its hot streak going against No. 2 Arizona.

    Neutral fans likely loved this contest, which featured 13 lead changes and a thrilling final few minutes. Arizona pulled ahead 69-61 with 3:45 remaining, but Xavier answered with a 10-2 surge to even the score during the next two minutes.

    Xavier's Sean O'Mara navigated three Arizona defenders to score the game-winning layup with about 45 seconds left. Arizona's Allonzo Trier missed a step-back three in the closing seconds, sealing 11th-seeded Xavier's trip to the Elite Eight.

    The Musketeers didn't have enough magic to outlast top-seeded Gonzaga, which cruised to an 83-59 win.

2017: Florida 84, Wisconsin 83 (OT)

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    Florida clipped Wisconsinwhich had previously stunned top-seeded Villanovain a contest perhaps best remembered as the game of improbable runners.

    At the end of regulation, Wisconsin guard Zak Showalter nearly lost his balance while dribbling. Had he missed, it would've been peak "hero ball gone wrong." However, his running three found the net, tying the score with 2.1 seconds and forcing overtime.

    That dramatic shot capped an eight-point comeback for Wisconsin in the final 90 seconds of regulation.

    During the extra session, Florida trailed 80-75 with a minute to spare and fought back for an 81-all deadlock. Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes hit a pair of free throws with four seconds remaining, but the lead wouldn't hold. Florida's Chris Chiozza sprinted past Hayes and tossed up a three-point floater as time expired.

    Nothing but net.

    Florida's tournament would end in the next round, as it fell to South Carolina amid the No. 7 seed's surprising Final Four run.

2018: Loyola-Chicago 69, Nevada 68

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    Both teams recovered from 12-point deficits in a sensational matchup that featured the continuation of a Cinderella run.

    Loyola-Chicago celebrated last-second shots to defeat No. 6 Miami and No. 3 Tennessee. During the Sweet 16, Marques Townes drilled a corner three to effectively seal the victory. The triple gave the Ramblers a 69-65 edge with 6.3 seconds left.

    Still, the Wolf Pack weren't finished. Caleb Martin's three made it a one-point game, although it proved too little, too late.

    The glass slipper would shatter when Michigan bounced Loyola, but the Ramblers first defeated Kansas State and became the fourth No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four.

2019: Purdue 99, Tennessee 94

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    In a word: bananas.

    Third-seeded Purdue enjoyed an 18-point advantage in the second half, so the Boilermakers were seemingly cruising to the Elite Eight. However, No. 2 Tennessee clawed all the way back, even taking a 73-70 lead with four minutes left.

    But then Ryan Cline happened.

    The senior connected on a trio of threes, including a game-tying step-back trifecta with 36.4 seconds remaining. Grant Williams' putback dunk put Tennessee ahead, but the Vols fouled Carsen Edwards in the closing seconds. He connected on 2-of-3 free throws to force overtime, and Purdue then pulled away for the win.

    Virginia would eliminate Purdue in a classic, but 2019 marked the program's first Elite Eight appearance in 19 years.