…And then there were four: Michigan State, Butler, West Virginia and Duke…
Two five seeds, a two seed and arguably the most unlikely of the number one seeds in the Blue Devils – and we are a week away from putting another college basketball season in the history books.
It’s apparent that there are thousands of bracket carcasses left in the tournament’s wake – all due to a plethora of exciting games that led us there.
Here’s what I believe to be the top ten best games of this year’s tournament, leading up to the Final Four – which hopefully will provide an exclamation point to one of the best March Madness tournaments in recent memory.
Top 10 Games Leading Up to the Final Four
10. Purdue defeats Texas A&M
No one gave the Boilermakers a chance after they lost Robbie Hummel near the end of the season. In fact, a lot of brackets had Siena upsetting Purdue in the opening round. But the Boilermakers represented the Big Ten well, falling in the Sweet 16 round in a competitive game against Duke. In order to get that far, the Boilers needed a nail-biting 63-61 overtime victory over the Aggies – one of the best in the tournament.
9. Ohio upsets Georgetown
Entering the tournament as a #14 seed, the Bobcats were the Cinderella of the opening round – and a team that finished ninth in its own conference during the regular season. Facing a Georgetown team that was on a roll – just missing a Big East tournament title – many didn’t give Ohio much of a chance. The result instead was a 97-83 convincing victory and a trip to the second round.
8. St. Mary’s knocks out Villanova
Certainly, Villanova had another dandy in the first round… narrowly escaping 15th seeded Robert Morris in overtime. But it was the second round match against St. Mary’s that not only put thousand of brackets on red alert, but introduced us to the passionate, entertaining and talented big man in Omar Samhan, who lit up the Wildcats for 32 points in a 75-68 win.
7. Murray State sinks Vanderbilt at buzzer
It’s likely that the Racers will get lost in the mix of this year’s NCAA Tournament. That’s a shame, considering Murray State knocked out #4 seed Vanderbilt with a buzzer beater by Danero Thomas on day one. On top of its 66-65 win over Vandy, Murray State also took Final Four representative Butler to the brink, falling just short in a 54-52 loss.
6. Tennessee beats Ohio State
The Volunteers were not given much of a chance in this year’s dance, not just due to drawing Georgetown and Ohio State in its part of the region, but also due to the dismissals of players earlier in the year (including star Tyler Smith). In the end, Tennessee was seconds from the Final Four. Before its loss to Michigan State, there was a gem of a game with the Buckeyes, featuring numerous lead changes throughout the second half – eventually leading to arguably the biggest win in Tennessee basketball’s history.
5. Butler tops Syracuse
How many of you had the Butler Bulldogs in the Final Four, playing just a few miles from home? Right… not many at all. The biggest win during Butler’s amazing run was its 63-59 triumph over top-seeded Syracuse. The most impressive part of this game was Butler regaining composure in the final minutes, all after the Orange had made a late run, taking over the lead – albeit briefly. Now, Butler has a hometown advantage and a chance to be one of the biggest stories ever.
4. BYU outlasts Florida in Double OT
The tournament opened with complete ferocity, featuring three tight games, capped off by a double overtime thriller between BYU and Florida. The game – a 99-92 victory for the Cougars – was the coming out party for BYU star Jimmer Fredette, who scored 37 points against the Gators.
3. Michigan State edges Maryland
The Spartans had a few close calls during its latest Final Four run, but it was the game against the Terps (an 85-83 win) that was most exciting – mainly due to a late charge by Maryland to take over the lead with less than a minute to go. On top of that, the game featured three lead changes in the final 20 seconds – capped off by Korie Lucious’ game winner at the buzzer.
2. Northern Iowa stuns Kansas
The big story of the tournament was Northern Iowa shocking the basketball world by toppling Kansas – the top overall seed of the tournament. After Kansas made a late game charge on the Panthers, Ali Farokhmanesh delivered the dagger with a three-point shot that would’ve been ill advised in the eyes of many coaches, as most would have preferred to eat clock.
But Northern Iowa’s 69-67 stunner of Kansas was not the best game of this year’s tournament…
1. Kansas State beats Xavier in Double OT
The best game to this point is the double overtime marathon between Xavier and Kansas State. It’s a shame if you missed it – because it was an instant classic, featuring clutch shot after clutch shot and made free throw after made free throw. The quartet of Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen (Kansas State), plus Jordan Crawford and Terrell Holloway (Xavier) put on quite a show. On top of everything that went on in this thriller – a 101-96 win by Kansas State – Gus Johnson also called the game. Enough said.
Reliving the highlights of this game is the icing on the cake – and here they are, courtesy of YouTube and CBS:
(Headlined Photo for Kansas State and Xavier by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)