With 2016 coming to a close, it’s time for us to take a look back and all the good things that happened to us. The most memorable moments, the best dunks and, today, the most thrilling, unforgettable college basketball games from the last 365 days.
This will be fun to reminisce about. Here are the top 12:
12. Duke 74, North Carolina 73: Duke played the majority of last season as, essentially, a six-man team, but on this Wednesday night in February, they were down to five guys as Matt Jones got injured in the first half. Those five – Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard, Brandon Ingram, Derryck Thornton and Marshall Plumlee – went into the Dean Dome and knocked off the Tar Heels, erasing an eight-point deficit with six minutes left and, with a defense that was as porous as swiss cheese, holding the national runner’s-up scoreless on two possessions in the final minute.
11. Kansas 90, Kentucky 84 OT and Oklahoma 72, LSU 70: There were people that doubted the SEC/Big 12 Challenge – Why would you play a day’s worth of non-conference games in the middle of the league schedule? – but these two games gave the entire ordeal meaning. It started with Buddy Hield vs. Ben Simmons, a great college player having an all-time great season going up against the Next Big Thing having a dreadful one-and-done year, and that game turned into a shootout that was ended on a game-winner from Isaiah Cousins and an ensuing possession that didn’t see Simmons touch the ball. Hield finished with 32 points.
As soon as that barn-burner finished, we jumped to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, where Kentucky gave Kansas all they could handle. Wayne Selden popped off for 33 points, making clutch shots down the stretch, as the Jayhawks held off a feisty Kentucky team in overtime. This performance helped spark a run for the Wildcats that saw them turn around what was, to date, a pedestrian season.
10. UConn 104, Cincinnati 97 4OT: You know something crazy has to happen for an early-round AAC tournament game to be considered among the best games in college basketball in 2016, and something crazy certainly did happen. The four overtimes were wild enough, but it was the end of the third overtime that is going to go down in the annals of UConn basketball history. Check this out:
9. Notre Dame 76, Stephen F. Austin 75: The Lumberjacks looked like they were on their way to the Sweet 16, becoming just the third No. 14 seed to get their in the last 20 year, before a freshman you never heard of – Rex Pfleuger – somehow tipped home a missed shot with 1.5 seconds left.
This was thrilling and tense and saw an underdog go head-to-head with a powerhouse program that made back-to-back Elite 8s. It was everything we love about March Madness. All it lacked was a true buzzer-beater.
8. UCLA 97, Kentucky 92: We’ll remember this game as the moment that UCLA basketball was back. The Bruins reached three straight Final Fours under Ben Howland before the success stalled and, eventually Howland gave way to Steve Alford. Alford reached back-to-back Sweet 16s in his first two seasons, but his teams were just OK and, in year three, the Bruins went 15-17 and the over-reliance on Bryce Alford had Bruin fans ready to find a new coach, regardless of the price.
Then, after a hot start to the season, the Bruins went into Rupp Arena and smacked around Kentucky, who was then the No. 1 team in all of college basketball.
7. Middle Tennessee State 90, Michigan State 81: If you didn’t know any better, you would think that MTSU was the team that was the higher seed in this game. They never trailed against the Spartans. They shot 11-for-19 from three. They answered every Sparty run with a three or an and-one. And, in the process, they landed what is arguably the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.
It wasn’t the biggest difference in spread and MTSU was hardly the worst team to ever win a game, but Michigan State was everyone’s pick to win the national title despite being a No. 2 seed. I went back through every No. 2 seed that has lost a first round game in the tournament. None of them were the trendy pick to win the title.
6. Syracuse 68, Virginia 62: Virginia’s been a dominant force in college hoops for the last three or four seasons, but there’s a segment of the college basketball populace that won’t accept Tony Bennett as a ‘winner’ until he’s able to prove Virginia can have success in March. (Those are mostly the same people that didn’t believe Bo Ryan was any good until he got Wisconsin to back-to-back Final Fours.) Virginia was getting ready to shed that label, as they held a 15-point lead over Syracuse in the Elite 8 with just under 10 minutes remaining last March.
Then the wheels fell off, as Malachi Richardson spurred a 25-4 run to close the game and send the Orange on to the Final Four. The comeback isn’t only memorable because of the way the game played out, but because of the fact that Virginia is nearly impossible to make a run on. They play as slow and defend as well as anyone in college basketball. Coming back from 15 points against them is like coming back from 25 down against a normal team.
5. Kentucky 103, North Carolina 100: This game had everything. Two of college basketball’s biggest brands. Two of the best teams this season. Two teams that want to run-and-gun. A pair of back court stars on either team going back-and-forth, trading big shot after big shot. An iconic individual performance, the 47 points that UK freshman Malik Monk poured in. And, of course, a game-winning three with 15 seconds left from said freshman:
And it all happened on a neutral court that had equally-sizeable – and loud – crowds supporting each team. It does not get much better than this.
4. Northern Iowa75, Texas 72: With 2.7 seconds left, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor scored on a runner to tie a first round NCAA tournament game at 72. UNI inbounded the ball to Paul Jesperson, who took one dribble and casually fired up a prayer from half court … that banked in and sent the Panthers back to the second round of the NCAA tournament:
It also led to an iconic photo of the agony and ecstasy of the NCAA tournament … :
… but it would be far from the lasting memory that we had of the Panther tournament run.
3. Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88 2OT: Just 48 hours after the most memorable moment in program history, the Panthers managed to put together the worst collapse in the history of college basketball, shucking a 12-point lead in the final 44 seconds. Perhaps the most impressive part of this game for UNI was that, after that collapse, they didn’t fold, forcing a second overtime before eventually succumbing to the Aggies.
Our Travis Hines wrote a really good story earlier this year on the Panthers and their attempt to bounce-back from such a catastrophic loss. It’s not an easy thing to do.
2. Kansas 109, Oklahoma 106 3OT: This might be the greatest regular season basketball game that I’ve ever seen, which isn’t quite as impressive as the fact that it actually was able to live up to the hype that it had coming in. This was No. 1 vs. No. 1; when the game was played, Oklahoma was No. 1 in the AP poll while Kansas was No. 1 in the Coaches Poll. The Sooners got 46 points from Buddy Hield – who got a standing ovation from the Phog Allen Fieldhouse crowd – but it wasn’t quite enough as the Jayhawks were able to pull out a win in the end.
1. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74: I’m not sure we’ll ever see a better national title game than the one that we were greeted with last season. A fantastically-played game for 40 minutes, Villanova opened up a 10-point lead with five minutes left before the Tar Heels started chipping away at the lead. UNC would eventually tie the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left thanks to this ridiculous, totally-forgotten shot from Marcus Paige:
Then … BANG: