Cracking the NCAA Vault: The Best Team Performances

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 Team Performances

As much fun as it is to watch single players at their best, it still doesn’t compare to the beauty of superior team basketball. These seven teams, for stretches lasting various periods of time, reached a state of near basketball perfection, executing so exquisitely that it didn’t much matter that the game would no longer be close. Indeed, it’s the way they sucked the competition out of the game, making the opponent look so hapless or inconsequential, that makes these performances so memorable.

7. Baylor vs. Saint Mary’s, 2010 Regional Semifinals

The Gaels had been one of the storylines of the Tournament’s first weekend, but Baylor put them in their place in the Sweet 16, running out to a 46-17 halftime lead. The amazing thing about watching this first half? How much bigger that Bears’ advantage could have been.

6. Missouri vs. Memphis, 2009 Regional Semifinals

Missouri didn’t dominate Memphis all game, but for a 12-minute stretch bridging halftime, the Tigers in gold outscored the Tigers in white 38-12. It was about as flawless a period of uptempo basketball as I’ve ever seen.

5. Duke vs. West Virginia, 2010 National Semifinals

In a game John S and I both thought would be tight and fairly low-scoring, the Blue Devils put on an offensive clinic against one of the nation’s best defensive teams. A Duke team that built its offense more on second-chance points than a high field-goal percentage shot 52.7 percent for the game and saw its Big Three—Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith—combine for 63 points. It almost—almost—looked like the Duke of old.

4. Memphis vs. Michigan State, 2008 Regional Semifinals

I hadn’t fully bought into John Calipari’s Tigers, having picked them to lose to Mississippi State in a second round game that did end up somewhat close. And then they went up 50-20 at the half against Tom Izzo’s Spartans. I’m with Billy Packer: “I haven’t seen a Tom Izzo team get absolutely blown away like this. This is a no-contest.”

3. Kansas vs. Marquette, 2003 National Semifinals

Against the team that had just routed the nation’s No. 1 squad, Kansas led by 29 at the half. The Jayhawks then scored the first eight after intermission, and led by as many as 39 and at least 30 for the remainder of the contest. A remarkably complete performance. This is not how a Game Flow is supposed to look in the Final Four:

2. Florida vs. UCLA, 2006 National Championship

I’ve questioned the quality of this Florida team before, but the fact that the Gators so thoroughly outplayed UCLA in the championship helped legitimate UF. The Bruins took a 4-2 lead, but Florida never trailed again, making it look easy with dunk after dunk against UCLA’s aggressive defense. The final 16-point margin was deceptive, with the Gators responding quickly and mercilessly to any and all UCLA runs.

1. Kansas vs. North Carolina, 2008 National Semifinals

I have to begin with a caveat here: Kansas’ performance against UNC wasn’t the most thoroughly dominant one on the NCAA Vault. The Jayhawks’ previous National Semifinal blowout of Marquette probably earns that distinction. But for the seven minutes that comprised Kansas’ 25-2 run, it played better than any college basketball team I’ve ever seen. The Jayhawks made UNC-Chapel Hill—a team one season away from routing its way to the championship—look like UNC-Asheville or UNC-Greensboro or UNC-Pembroke. During that stretch, the best offensive team in the country looked like it was playing soccer: In order to score, the Tar Heels would have to execute perfectly, and then get lucky. It was astonishing. Seeing 40-12 on the scoreboard and hearing Billy Packer accurately say “This game is ov-ah” was more stunning than anything that happened in college basketball since 2000.

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