Men's NCAA Tournament: Top 9 Sweet 16 Games Since 2000

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2021

Men's NCAA Tournament: Top 9 Sweet 16 Games Since 2000

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    AJ Mast/Associated Press

    The Sweet 16 of the NCAA men's basketball tournament kicks off Saturday with a mix of favorites (Michigan, Baylor, Gonzaga) and underdogs (Oral Roberts, Oregon State) still in the running for the national title.

    The matchups promise exciting action, and the Sweet 16 has produced memorable games for decades. Here are some of the best of this century based on factors like star power, anticipation and in-game drama.

9. Davidson-Wisconsin (2008)

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Davidson's 2008 NCAA tournament run was a national coming-out party for Stephen Curry. In the Sweet 16, the Wildcats shocked third-seeded Wisconsin as a No. 10 seed with a 73-56 win powered by Curry.

    See if this sounds familiar. The game was tied at halftime, and Wisconsin hung in through the start of the second half—but then Curry took over. He scored 22 of his 33 points in the second half and knocked down six three-pointers on the night. Davidson pulled away and punched its ticket to the Elite Eight.

    It was a starting point for what Curry would do in the NBA, where he has become the greatest shooter in history.

8. Kentucky-Indiana (2012)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Kentucky won this game by 12, which belies how competitive it was as well as how highly anticipated. This matchup was a rematch of the epic regular-season game in which the Hoosiers stunned the Wildcats with a last-second three for the win. When they met in the Sweet 16, tension was high.

    The game did not disappoint. Indiana produced a balanced effort with scoring up and down the roster. Kentucky got big performances from star freshmen Anthony Davis, who only scored nine points but contributed in a variety of other ways, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had 24 points. They became the No. 1 and 2 overall picks, respectively, in the NBA draft later that year.

    Indiana's stars, Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, also had big nights. Christian Watford led the effort with 27 points, and the Hoosiers kept it close for most of the game.

    The Wildcats held a three-point lead at halftime and pulled away late to secure a spot in the Elite Eight. They went on to win the national championship.

7. Kentucky-Louisville (2014)

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    In the rare tournament where Kentucky wasn't one of the favorites, it made the NCAA championship game as a No. 8 seed. Maybe the Wildcats' most impressive win of the run came in the Sweet 16 against fourth-seeded Louisville.

    Julius Randle and Aaron Harrison led a second-half comeback after the Cardinals' shots stopped going in, erasing the lead Louisville held through most of the game. Harrison and Randle hit late free throws to seal it and extend Kentucky's unexpected run.

6. UConn-Washington (2006)

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    NICK WASS/Associated Press

    Fifth-seeded Washington gave No. 1 UConn a scare. Washington led by six with less than two minutes to go behind strong performances from Jamaal Williams and Brandon Roy before Connecticut clawed its way back to force overtime and win the game.

    UConn got strong performances out of Marcus Williams, Rudy Gay and Hilton Armstrong, but Rashad Anderson played the hero. He scored 19 points and knocked down two three-pointers at the end of regulation to force the extra period, and UConn pulled out a six-point victory.

5. Indiana-Duke (2002)

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    DARRON CUMMINGS/Associated Press

    As the No. 1 seed, Duke was heavily favored over fifth-seeded Indiana and appeared set to cruise to the Elite Eight after building a 13-point halftime lead. The Blue Devils got huge scoring efforts from stars Carlos Boozer (19 points), Mike Dunleavy Jr. (17 points) and Jay Williams (15 points). 

    But the Blue Devils went cold in the second half, and Indiana's Jared Jeffries led a comeback that resulted in a stunning one-point victory for the Hoosiers, who only hit two three-pointers, and an early exit for Duke.

4. Kansas State-Xavier (2010)

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    Paul Sakuma/Associated Press

    This game didn't feature major star power, but if you want nonstop drama and lead swings, it's tough to beat.

    Down 15 in the first half, Xavier trailed by three late, but then Terrell Holloway made three free throws when KSU fouled him as he was shooting after trying to foul him before the attempt. That sent the game to overtime, and it went into a second overtime after the Musketeers' Jordan Crawford tied it with a three with seven seconds left.

    Second-seeded Kansas State eventually outlasted sixth-ranked Xavier, but the Wildcats got all they could handle.

3. North Carolina-Ohio (2012)

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    This game came down to one missed free throw in the final minute of regulation. That's how close Ohio came to becoming the first No. 13 seed to reach the Elite Eight. But Walter Offutt couldn't convert on a three-point play that would have given the Bobcats the lead over the top-seeded Tar Heels. The game went into overtime, where UNC pulled away.

    In retrospect, it feels inevitable that North Carolina would win this game, especially after Harrison Barnes came alive in overtime to salvage one of his worst games of the tournament. But the 13th seed nearly pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history.

2. Ohio State-Tennessee (2007)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Ohio State's star center, Greg Oden, had one of his worst games of the season in the 2007 Sweet 16...until he blocked a potential game-winner from Tennessee's Ramar Smith and sealed a trip to the Elite Eight for the top-ranked Buckeyes.

    People remember the epic final play from this game, but it featured plenty of drama elsewhere. Ohio State overcame a 20-point first-half deficit behind strong performances from Ron Lewis (25 points) and Oden's fellow future lottery pick, Mike Conley, who sank one of two free throws in the final seconds to put the Buckeyes up for good.

1. Michigan-Kansas (2013)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    This game had it all—a No. 1 seed getting upset in overtime, a huge comeback and one of the most iconic shots in recent tournament history.

    That shot came courtesy of Trey Burke, who hit a deep three with five seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game. It capped an epic rally from Michigan, which trailed Kansas by 11 points with under four minutes to go in the second half before going on a run to tie it.

    In the rest of the tournament, Michigan proved the upset wasn't a fluke. The Wolverines won their Elite Eight and Final Four matchups as well before losing to Louisville in the championship game. They will always be remembered for this incredible comeback and Burke's shot, which punctuated a 23-point night from the future lottery pick.

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