Ranking the Best Men's Final Four Moments Since 2000

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2021

Ranking the Best Men's Final Four Moments Since 2000

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Final Four is the most anticipated time of the men's college basketball season, and key moments can become legendary.

    In the last 20 years, both the national semifinals and national championship have provided unforgettable plays and stories. The topics range from an underdog who made the Final Four to an iconic play, individual star or team achievement. Plus, in a couple cases, the Final Four was the culmination of an important story.

    Granted, it's not always a positive memory. In a few situations, the moment isn't remembered because it went well for the player or team highlighted.

    Both the choices and order of the ranking are subjective.

T-10. Cinderella Teams' Moment in the Final Four

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    We could highlight one of George Mason, VCU or Loyola-Chicago, but they share an identical accomplishment. Each held a No. 11 seed yet assembled a Cinderella run to the Final Four.

    In 2006, George Mason upended Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State and Connecticut. Five years later, VCU defeated USC in the First Four before knocking off Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas. And in 2018, Loyola-Chicago eliminated Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State.

    Unfortunately for all three, the underdog story ended with a loss in the national semifinals. Considering their seed, though, simply taking the court in the Final Four is an incredibly rare achievement.

    Pending UCLA's result in 2021, the Bruins will either join this group or be the first No. 11 seed to reach the championship game.

9. Duke's Epic Comeback over Maryland (Again)

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    In late January 2001, Duke pulled off the Miracle Minute against Maryland. Trailing by 10 points in the final minute, the Blue Devils managed to even the score and then win in overtime.

    After two more exciting matchups in the regular season and ACC tournament, Duke and Maryland met in the Final Four.

    And the Blue Devils made another huge comeback.

    During the first half, Maryland built a 39-17 advantage behind star guard Juan Dixon. Duke, however, trimmed the 22-point deficit to 11 by halftime and jumped ahead with seven minutes left in the second half. It pulled away in the last three minutes for a 95-84 victory.

    Shane Battier tallied 25 points, eight rebounds and four blocks for Duke, which then defeated Arizona for the national title.

8. Florida Tops Ohio State for Back-to-Back Titles

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Since 2000, Florida is the only program to win consecutive men's NCAA tournament titles.

    The Gators achieved the feat in 2006 and 2007 when Billy Donovan assembled a roster with future NBA stalwarts Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer. Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Chris Richard and Walter Hodge held key roles in both seasons, while Marreese Speights contributed as a freshman in 2007.

    In 2006, Florida ended George Mason's Cinderella run before defeating a UCLA team with Jordan Farmar, Arron Afflalo, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Darren Collison for the title.

    In the Final Four the next season, the Gators again defeated UCLA, which no longer had Farmar but added a freshman named Russell Westbrook to the rotation. In the championship, Florida overpowered Ohio State's star duo of Greg Oden and Mike Conley.

7. Kemba Walker, UConn Finish an Incredible Run

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    In 2011, Kemba Walker put together one of the most spectacular individual runs in college basketball history.

    After guiding Connecticut to a surprising Big East tournament title, Walker stayed hot in March Madness. He averaged 23.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.5 steals in the NCAA tourney.

    Walker capped the legendary stretch with a game-high 18 points against Kentucky in the national semifinals and game-high 16 points opposite Butler in the title game. Most notably, he connected on a clutch go-ahead shot to lift UConn past Kentucky.

    Similar to Florida's back-to-back titles, UConn's championship is the culmination of Walker's iconic moment.

6. Wisconsin Ends Kentucky's Undefeated Dream

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    In the 2014 Final Four, Kentucky ruined Wisconsin's championship dreams when Aaron Harrison hit a late three for the win.

    The Badgers had their revenge in 2015.

    Kentucky entered the national semifinals at 38-0. The rotation included future NBA stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker, along with Harrison, his brother Andrew Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Tyler Ulis, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee.

    However, the Badgers capitalized on their moment in the spoiler role. Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig combined for 60 points in Wisconsin's 71-64 win.

    Although Duke won the national title, Wisconsin prevented the first undefeated champion since 1976.

5. Hakim Warrick's Title-Sealing Block

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    Holding an 81-78 lead on Kansas with 13.5 seconds to play in the 2003 title game, Syracuse had a chance to likely seal the game. Hakim Warrick just needed to make a free throw. He missed.

    Perhaps he wanted a more exciting highlight to remember. In that case, mission accomplished.

    After the miss, Kansas stormed down the court. Future NBA guard Kirk Hinrich faked a shot and whipped the ball to marksman Michael Lee, who buried 21 of 41 threes that season. When he received the pass, it seemed he'd have an uncontested look.

    Warrick, however, bolted from the post and rejected Lee's shot.

    Hinrich had another look at the buzzer but misfired, sealing the national title for Carmelo Anthony, Warrick and Syracuse.

4. Mario Chalmers and the Kansas Comeback

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    As the clock ticked below two minutes left in the second half of the 2008 championship game, Memphis held a 60-51 lead on Kansas. Only a disaster could stop the Tigers from winning a national title.

    Well, here's the disaster.

    In the last 1:15 of regulation, Memphis trudged to a 1-of-5 clip at the free-throw line. The most notable miss happened with 10.8 seconds to play; Derrick Rose had a chance to make it a four-point game, but he split the free throws and gave Kansas a shot.

    Mario Chalmers took full advantage, burying a game-tying three and forcing overtime. During the extra session, the Jayhawks scored the first six points and celebrated a 75-68 victory.

3. Gordon Hayward's Half-Court Shot

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    Two, maybe three, inches in the proper direction, and Gordon Hayward would have made the most legendary shot in March Madness history. Instead, it's an iconic moment for a heartbreaking reason.

    Clinging to a 61-59 edge with 3.6 seconds to play in the title game in 2010, Duke had Brian Zoubek intentionally miss his second free throw. Hayward snatched the rebound, dribbled past Zoubek and ditched Kyle Singler thanks to a solid screen from Butler teammate Matt Howard.

    Hayward gathered himself for a half-court shot. The ball smacked the backboard and caromed off the rim, but only because it was inches too far to the right.

    Instead of seeing Butler win its first national title, Mike Krzyzewski and Duke secured championship No. 4.

2. Virginia Seals Dramatic Run to Redemption

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    The story is enough to warrant a ranking. One year after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed, Virginia redeemed itself and won a championship.

    However, the path to a title included a few thrilling finishesnot even including the Elite Eight triumph over Purdue.

    During the national semifinals, Auburn led 62-60 but fouled Kyle Guy on a three-point attempt with 0.6 seconds left. Guy drilled all three free throws for the win.

    In the championship, UVA star De'Andre Hunter made a game-tying three with 12.8 seconds left to force overtime. Virginia outlasted Texas Tech for an 85-77 victory, scoring 15 of the last 19 points to win the program's first national title.

1. Kris Jenkins' Buzzer-Beater for the Championship

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    With 4.7 seconds on the clock in the 2016 national championship, North Carolina guard Marcus Paige buried an acrobatic game-tying triple. Rather than forcing overtime with Villanova, however, the shot is a side note in history.

    Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled down the court and calmly dropped a pass to Kris Jenkins, who was trailing the play. He rose and fired. The buzzer sounded on the 74-74 deadlock.

    "For the championship!" CBS announcer Jim Nantz exclaimed as the ball floated in the air.

    Money.

    Jenkins earned an unforgettable place in March Madness lore and sealed Villanova's first national title in 31 years.

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