I wrote—albeit briefly—about my love of the NCAA Vault late last season. For the uninitiated, the NCAA Vault contains every NCAA Tournament game from the Sweet 16 on played since 2000. That is 165 games in all. That is, in fact, too much for you to rationally sort through to figure out which games are worth skipping to the end, which games are worth perusing, and which merit full-blown opening-tip-to-final-buzzer immersion.
That’s why I’m here.
As part of our comprehensive college basketball preview over the next few days, I’ll be breaking down the contents of the NCAA Vault (and March Madness On Demand, which houses all 64 games from last season’s epic Tournament). Whether you’re in the mood to see a great individual performance, a team operating on all cylinders, or the moments when an eventual champion came closest to elimination, I’ve got you covered.
Sounds like gooooood watchin’.
The Five Games from the 2010 Tournament You Should Rewatch…NOW
Let’s be honest: The NCAA Tournament had hit a little bit of a late-decade rough patch before 2010. From the 2006 Final Four blowouts straight through to North Carolina’s romp through the field in 2009, there wasn’t a whole lot of memorable action (Mario Chalmers’ three and Stephen Curry, notwithstanding).
The 2010 Tournament, though, more than made up for that, delivering classic after classic for the duration of its 64 games. Most Tournaments have memorable days or rounds; the 2010 Tourney was good throughout. Its first three games were decided at the buzzer, in overtime, and in double overtime. Its last game was arguably the best college basketball game in 18 seasons.
It’s a Tournament we should never forget.
5. Duke vs. Baylor, Regional Final
You probably don’t remember now how close the Blue Devils came to losing this game. It was tight throughout, with Baylor’s athleticism (and decision not to guard Lance Thomas, like ever) disrupting Duke offensively. Kyle Singler had a terrible game, and with under five minutes to go, the Bears had a 60 percent win probability. But that’s about when Brian Zoubek took that controversial charge (we’re not biased enough to not think that was a block), and Duke got some key offensive rebounds and putbacks late to pull ahead and put it away.
4. Maryland vs. Michigan State, Second Round
I’ll be straight with you: You don’t need to watch this whole game again. In fact, skip ahead to the surreal final two minutes, which are about as good as a Tournament game has given us over the last 11 years.
3. Kansas vs. Northern Iowa, Second Round
Can you believe this was only the third-best game of that Tournament? What would have been No. 1 in most recent years shouldn’t be overlooked for its bad timing, as the Panthers’ victory of the Jayhawks was as groundshaking a first-weekend upset as we had seen since probably 2004 (UAB over Kentucky). Northern Iowa played disciplined defensively and hung on late, hitting all the shots when it needed to—including a certain memorable one from Ali Farokhmanesh.
2. Kansas State vs. Xavier, Regional Semifinal
There was one point in the second half, after I had kind of listlessly watched Butler’s, well, listless upset of Syracuse earlier in the night, that I said to myself, “This is a really good game. Most people won’t end up remembering it, but this is a great game.” Joe Posnanski had the same feeling and of course wrote about it much more eloquently than I ever could, calling it a “self-aware great game”: He called it “remarkable” with “a wonderful touch of desperation in the air” and said, “Sometimes games get to be so good that you just find yourself inside.”
It was a game that transcended its context. What I mean by this is, heading into any game, there’s a certain spectrum of expectations, this scale of just how memorable the game can be. A 1-seed versus a 16 isn’t likely to be worth remembering, but there’s still that slight chance that it will be one of the most memorable games ever. The same can be said for No. 3 on this list. If Northern Iowa beat Kansas, pretty much regardless of how it went down, you would remember it. Because a 1-seed losing in the second round, especially to a mid-major, is always memorable.
Kansas State-Xavier didn’t have that going in. If Kansas State won, well that was what we expected. If Xavier won, well it’s an upset, I suppose, but not a big one. Neither program has much panache, and they certainly didn’t have much history with one another. So the only way this game could be memorable is if it was just flat-out awesome—if it was played within a single possession for like the last 20 minutes, if a guy hit a clutch three on one end and was answered on the other on we’re talking several occasions, if the game’s best player hits this absurd, no-way kinda shot way past the time you’ve told yourself this is a game you won’t forget. Kansas State and Xavier played a game that provided its own storylines and narrative arc; they didn’t need that special context.
And one last thing: The reaction of announcers Gus Johnson and Len Elmore to Jordan Crawford’s three really captured the essence of this game. Gus’s rising “Uhh…” as the ball floated through the air, punctuated by Elmore’s “Oh, NO!” yelled out of disbelief when it went through the net…I mean, it doesn’t get much better than that.
1. Duke vs. Butler, National Championship
It doesn’t get much better, but it does get a little better. The narrative for this national championship—likable underdog in home state battles hated, evil favorite—was well-established before it was even played, even if that storyline ignored that this was a much different iteration of the vaunted Duke program and that Butler was far, far more talented than most gave it credit for.
The game was, almost certainly, the best and most evenly played championship since expansion in 1985. Its slower pace and lack of offensive firepower was attributable to nothing short of terrific defense. The number of easy baskets throughout the game could be counted on two hands. For over 30 minutes of gameplay, Duke and Butler were within a single possession.
And then of course there’s the finish. Lost amid all the hypotheticals about Gordon Hayward’s oh-so-close halfcourt heave is the fact that, on Butler’s previous possession, Hayward had a step on Kyle Singler en route to the basket before Brian Zoubek forced a difficult corner fadeaway that floated just long. It was a well-played game that had you on the edge of your seat most of the night. It was the best championship game I’ve ever seen.