Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The All-Decade Series: The Best College Basketball Games of the 2000's

Like Mattare, I too am a sucker for all-time teams and things of that nature. As the decade winds to a close and the college basketball season is in full swing, what better way to look back on the best of college hoops from the 2000's than with my list of the 10 best games of the decade. And, yes, there's a tie for 6, so I guess there's really 11 on the list. Call it a cop-out, I call it a little extra. The Big Ten has 11 teams, right?

10. Oklahoma State 105, Texas 103 (3OT: 1/16/07): Clutch shots, future NBAers, unbelievable momentum swings, and Sean Sutton almost fainting on the sidelines: What more could one want from a game? Mario Boggan matched Kevin Durant with 37 points and the game winning three pointer in triple overtime, just seconds after KD's 3-point play put the Horns up 1 with 10.5 seconds left. 15 ties, 16 lead changes, and a bevy of unreal shots highlighted this one. The most memorable may have come in the first half, before any hint of the bedlam to follow: Terrel Harris threw one in a fadeaway half-courter after chasing down a bad pass, nearly crashing into the stands in the process.

9. Connecticut 79, Duke 78 (Final Four, 2004 NCAA Tourney): Duke led by 8 with under 3 minutes to go, but UConn rattled off 12 straight points over the game's final minutes. Emeka Okafor picked up a couple of quick fouls in the first half and played just 4 minutes in the game's opening salvo. He came off the bench to score all 18 of his points in the 2nd half, lifting the Huskies to the win and a spot in the national championship game, where they would go on to defeat Georgia Tech.

8. Louisville 93, West Virginia 85 (Elite 8, 2005 NCAA Tourney): Maybe it's my emotional investment in this one that has it ranked a little higher than some might have it. Call me crazy, but this was one of the best games I've ever seen, and a game after which I joined half the city of Louisville in a massive downtown celebration. The Cards trailed by as many as 20 in the first half, but survived one of the most remarkable 3 point barrages the tourney had ever seen. WVU made 18 of their 27 attempts from behind the arc, and some were way behind it. The coach's son knocked one down while falling into the Cards' bench and another from about 30 feet away, and Kevin Pittsnogle, one of the greatest white trash players in college basketball history, simply could not miss. With future first-rounder Francisco Garcia saddled with foul trouble, hometown hero Larry O'Bannon poured in 24 despite crippling cramps, and Taquan Dean, the pride of Neptune, NJ, added 7 threes of his own. A furious second half rally and a few overdue misses from the Mountaineers later, Rick Pitino had taken his third team to the Final Four.

7. Gonzaga 109, Michigan State 106 (3OT, 2005 Maui Invitational): The game was played in front of just 2,400 fans, but boy were they treated to a show. Adam Morrison poured in 43 points and 4 lead changes highlighted the last 1:14 of regulation. Maurice Ager scored a career high 36 points, including the game-tying shot at the end of regulation. If this one had been played in March, it would be several spots higher, and maybe it still should.

6 (Tie): UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71 (Elite 8, 2006 NCAA Tourney): Some of Gus Johnson's finest commentary ever, as Jordan Farmar stole it from J.P Batista and fed it to a wide open Luc Mbah a Moute under the basket for the lead. After another steal, Aaron Afflalo made one of two free throws. The Zag's inbounds found an open Batista, who turned and nearly nailed a Laettner to force OT. Instead, UCLA was on to the first of 3 straight Final Fours, and I think we all remember what happened after that: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgeqrYxu_YM

6. Villanova 78, Pittsburgh 76 (2009 Elite 8): Six lead changes in the final six minutes and Scottie Reynolds' game-ending shot highlighted a spectacular finish and Villanova's first trip to the Final Four since 1985. Believe it or not, Reynolds still plays for Villanova (I was saying that last year too; I feel like this is his 6th or 7th year).

5. Michigan State 94, Kentucky 88 (2OT, 2005 NCAA Elite 8): Again, maybe it's my proximity to this one that gives it such a high ranking, but you can't imagine the bliss of seeing the Cards on to the Final Four and the Cats sent home packing just a night later. Sparty lead by 8 with 5:43 to play, but a Patrick Sparks 3 that bounced around the rim several times before finally falling tied the game and forced OT. I remember watching this game and having no clue even after the closest close-ups modern replay technology can give showed where Spark's feet were on the shot. I still think he had a toenail on the line, but no matter, ball don't lie and UK lost in double OT.

4. George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 (OT: 2006 NCAA Elite 8): George Mason had already beaten UNC and Michigan State. Exactly 4 people picked them to go to the Final Four on ESPN.com's bracket, and you can bet those 4 people were women who either liked their colors, their mascot, or went there. UConn came in #1 and had far more talent. Quick, name a player from George Mason's 11th seeded squad? I got 2, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell, but I doubt anyone could name more. Now do the same for UConn: Marcus Williams, Hilton Armstrong, Rudy Gay, Josh Boone, and Denham Brown started for the Huskies, and don't forget Jeff Adrien and Craig Austrie. George Mason would lose to Florida in the Final Four, but they left a Cinderella slipper that will never be worn again.

3. Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT, 2008 NCAA Championship Game): We'll all remember Mario Chalmers' unreal 3 to tie it and force OT, but what we might not remember is the Mangino-sized egg the Tigers laid at the end of the game. Questions about their free throw struggles abounded throughout the year, and the critics got it right in this one. Two future NBAers, including #1 overall pick Derrick Rose, missed 4 of 5 attempts from the line in the game's final minute. That 20% mark is probably a little higher than the percentage of questions D-Rose got right on the SAT, but it was enough to give Kansas a shot at winning a game they had no business winning at the end.

2. Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT, 2009 Big East Quarters): I was in Dublin for Spring Break during this one, but I wish I had stayed up until 8 or 9 in the morning or whatever it would have been in Ireland to watch this one. I looked at the recap the next day and was flabbergasted. One of the biggest regrets of my sports life has been missing this game. This is why people love college basketball. Nuff' said.

1. Illinois 90, Arizona 89 (OT, 2005 Elite Eight): 6: Number of NBA players in this game. 1: Illini losses during the regular season. 15: deficit overcome by Illinois with 4 minutes left in regulation. Hands down the best game I have ever seen. Watching the comeback now is just as electrifying as it was 4 years ago. You don't come back from 15 down with 3:55 to play without some help, and the Illini certainly got that, but Dee Brown, Luther Head, and Deron Williams orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in sports and cemented this one as the best college basketball game of the 2000s. Best team of the decade to not win a title? I don't see how there's one better.

Disagree? Let's hear it.


  1. How in the hell did you come up with this list? I'm not knocking it, but what was the criteria? How do you even remember all these games? How did you figure there was a tie? One thing I do agree with is the UofI-'Zona game. Amazing. I had the opportunity to see UofI live that year and it was possibly the most exciting team I have ever seen play.

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  3. Other great games I specifically remember:

    * Carmelo over Kansas in the final (Rock Chalk Choke)
    * Indiana over Duke in the round of 32 (Jay Williams hits a 3 and then chokes on the free throw to tie)
    * Arizona over Gonzaga in the round of 32 (2003, it was Walton vs Stepp)
    * Stanford's buzzer beater to stay undefeated over Arizona (Tiger Woods was there and took part in the ensuing court rush...if you look close you can see him banging a freshman near the three point line in the mob)

    I'll never forgive Adam "The Filthy Sanchez" Morrison for crying while there was still time on the clock as he busted my bracket.

  4. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/0912/all-decade.best.games.across.sports.2000s/content.14.html