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’.
Great Individual Performances
There are few things as exhilarating as watching a precocious athlete come of age on a national stage, as seeing potential fulfilled and yet promised again, at a higher level, simultaneously. It should come as no surprise that the five best individual performances in the NCAA Tournament since 2000 all came from college basketball superstars; there are no surprises on this list. For all of them, these performances were less breakthroughs than they were confirmations of what we thought they could be, occurring at the most opportune moments. It is performances like these that help make the NCAA Tournament the best sporting event in the world.
5. Carmelo Anthony, 2003 National Semifinal, Syracuse vs. Texas
The freshman put all of his considerable skills on display in the Orange’s dismantling of the Tournament’s last remaining No. 1 seed, scoring a career-high 33. It was yet another easier-than-expected victory for Syracuse over a Big 12 team, one game after it blew out top-seed Oklahoma in the Regional Final. Anthony wasn’t quite as good in the title game against Kansas, but he didn’t need to be with Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick stepping up big.
Best Stretch: Anthony put it away late with a long jumper from the corner and a baseline drive for a reverse slam.
4. Sean May, 2005 National Championship, North Carolina vs. Illinois
Heading into the showdown between the nation’s clear top two, the key question was whether Illinois’ undersized frontline could handle Sean May and, to a lesser extent, Marvin Williams. Williams may have scored the eventual game-winning bucket, but it was May who dominated for 40 minutes, tallying 26 points and 10 rebounds en route to earning Most Outstanding Player honors. Charged with defending May, the Illini’s James Augustine barely saw the court, fouling out in an astonishingly meager nine minutes.
Best Stretch: May picked up a block and a big fast-break assist to close the first half, then scored 16 points in the first dozen minutes of the second half to help stymie Illinois’ attempts at a comeback.
3. Jason Williams, 2001 Regional Semifinal, Duke vs. UCLA
In a game that featured eight future pros, the gap between Jason Williams and everyone else was never clearer. In pouring in a career-high 34, the point guard who would win NPOY honors a year later scored 19 Duke points in a row in the second half, showcasing a wondrous versatility by hitting deep contested threes and beating defenders backdoor for alley-oop finishes.
Best Stretch: Umm, the one where he scored 19 straight points for Duke. That was pretty good.
2. Stephen Curry, 2008 Regional Semifinal, Davidson vs. Wisconsin
His performance in the first round against Gonzaga (40 points on 14-of-22 shooting) might have been better, but Stephen Curry lighting up the nation’s preeminent defensive team in the Sweet 16 legitimated his first-weekend fireworks. Curry hit his career Tournament average with 33 in the game as Davidson dissected the Big Ten power.
Best Stretch: During the run that blew the game open in the second half, Curry hit a transition three, hit a deep NBA range three to beat the shot clock, then made a terrific backdoor cut on a fast break for a ridiculous and-one finish that had LeBron James—who we liked then—incredulous. What I love so much about this stretch: On the first transition three, Curry sprinted ahead to the left wing and set himself up for the trey. Then, just a few possessions later, he looked like he was doing the same thing, except that once the Wisconsin defender hurried to him on the wing, Curry bolted backdoor for the layup. It’s the equivalent of a receiver following an out route with the out-and-up. The one-handed pass from Jason Richards and Gus Johnson’s trademark “HA HA” only help matters.
1. Dwyane Wade, 2003 Regional Final, Marquette vs. Kentucky
One of only two triple-doubles in the last decade of the NCAA Tournament (Cole Aldrich unspectacularly had the other in 2009), Wade’s coming-out party in the Elite Eight came at the expense of a pretty dominant Kentucky team that hadn’t lost since December. The Wildcats weren’t supposed to be challenged by Marquette, let alone run out of the building. The biggest reason for the upset was the performance of Wade, who went from diamond in the rough to a household name during the course of that Saturday afternoon, posting 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists. It’s worth rewatching simply for the joy and exuberance displayed by Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery calling the game.
Best Stretch: Since I can’t pick all 40 minutes, how about this awesome dunk?