Cracking the NCAA Vault: Top 10 Analogues

I recently had a conversation with a friend (who may or may not be a blog colleague), and he mentioned how much he appreciated “If you liked…” recommendations when it comes to albums. This got me thinking. I’ve already run down the Top 10 College Basketball Games of the Aughts, and I didn’t want to repeat myself in talking about them again. So why not use that list as a springboard for this one—ten games that are like the Top 10 but not quite the Top 10.

And if you like this list, we recommend reading the rest of the College Basketball Preview Palooza.

10. If you liked Duke’s Miracle Minute at Maryland, we recommend…Indiana vs. Duke, 2002 Regional Semifinal

No comeback was as swift as the Blue Devils’ at Cole Fieldhouse a season earlier, but the Hoosiers’ late run to defeat Duke in 2002 was every bit as stunning. Indiana trailed by 17 in the first half and 14 with just over 10 minutes to go against a team whose top six contributors would all play in the NBA—five of them as starters. IU chipped away on the offensive glass and held on late, with Jason Williams—in the midst of arguably his worst game as a collegian—providing the single quickest unclutch-to-clutch-back-to-unclutch moment in the history of sports.*

*Some bonus points: How weird is it that this is Indiana’s only Sweet 16 appearance of the last 16 years? And do you agree that, while 2002 Duke is much more talented than 2010 Duke, that 2010 Duke would probably beat 2002 Duke the majority of the time because of its prowess on the offensive boards?

9. If you liked Adam Morrison and Maurice Ager going toe-to-toe in Maui, we recommend…Maryland vs. Connecticut, 2002 Regional Final

Pitting two great teams—one culminating a stretch of dominance, one embarking on its own—this regional final is among the best played games since Y2K. It included 21 ties and 24 lead changes, with most of the second half being played within a one-possession radius. Juan Dixon and Caron Butler* were the stars, of course, but it was Steve Blake who hit the game’s biggest shot in the final minute.

*Watching this game now reminded me what I thought of watching this game eight years ago: Caron Butler was really good. I suppose it’s harsh to call his pro career a disappointment, but I actually thought he was going to be an even better pro. It’s tough not to imagine what his career would have looked like if he, Lamar Odom, and Dwyane Wade had teamed up for more than one season in Miami.

8. If you liked Villanova’s last-second dash to upend Pitt, we recommend…Oklahoma State vs. St. Joseph’s, 2004 Regional Final

I’m going to make an odd comparison here between this game and Super Bowl XXXVIII. You might remember the Patriots and Panthers were scoreless for the game’s first 27 minutes, and then went to halftime with the score 14-10. Like that, St. Joe’s and Oklahoma State were tied at 59 for roughly two-and-a-half tense minutes before a thrilling flourish of offense at the finish that sent the Cowboys to the Final Four. “Everything the game could have been,” noted curmudgeon Billy Packer said. “Two great teams.”

7. If you liked North Carolina squeaking past Illinois in the championship, we recommend…Connecticut vs. Duke, 2004 National Semifinal

Much like that UNC-Illinois title game, this semi was the matchup many had waited all season for—and then it wasn’t exactly each team at its best. The refs had this one tied in a corset for much of the night, with Emeka Okafor and Shelden Williams each in big-time foul trouble from the opening minutes. Once Williams fouled out with five to go, though, UConn closed the game on a 12-3 run to notch its second Final Four win over the Blue Devils.

6. If you liked George Mason taking it to big-time Connecticut, we recommend…Kansas vs. Davidson, 2008 Regional Final

I’ll cede this space to the guy who wrote a book off this game, Michael Kruse:

“‘In that moment,’ William Robertson wrote in his message board post, ‘we had in our hearts and minds … the joy of having it go in. Before it was not in, it was as good as in. For that fraction of a second, we had that experience, and it is enough.

“‘It is,’ he wrote, “well worth the journey.’

“What I came to believe, and I guess my answer to why that moment is on the cover of my book, is that Davidson – the college and those who love it – had there in those 16.8 seconds what all of us want, and maybe on occasion do in fact get, if we’re good, or lucky, or both.

“We had a shot.

5. If you liked Arizona holding off Gonzaga in a double-OT classic, we recommend…Duke vs. Xavier, 2004 Regional Final

It’s tough to remember a 7-seed playing as well as Xavier did in the weeks leading up to and then in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers handed No. 1 St. Joseph’s its first loss (in convincing fashion, mind you) in the A-10 Tourney, and then ran Louisville, Mississippi State, and Texas off the floor in three straight wins. The X-Men hung tough with Duke—no lead exceeded five—but Luol Deng took over down the stretch, spearheading a game-changing 7-0 run in the second half to allow the top-seeded Blue Devils to survive.

4. If you liked Kansas edging Memphis in a title thriller, we recommend…Syracuse vs. Kansas, 2003 National Championship

Occurring in the middle of about a five-year stretch where title games weren’t that good, the only difference between this Kansas team and the ’08 champs is that nobody on Memphis had arms as long as Hakim Warrick. Also, don’t overlook how Gerry McNamara and the Orange played about as good a first half of offensive basketball as the championship game has ever seen.

3. If you liked Louisville and West Virginia duking it out in overtime, we recommend…Arizona vs. Oklahoma State, 2005 Regional Semifinal

Two really good teams playing a really good game. Almost all of the last 13 minutes were played within a single possession, so you knew it would come down to the last one, where Salim Stoudamire shunned the pick-and-roll and did it on his own.

2. If you liked Syracuse’s outlasting UConn in six overtimes, we recommend…Kansas State vs. Xavier, 2010 Regional Semifinal

I think I pretty much said all I could say about this game a few days ago. I mean, if you forget it already, what’s wrong with you?

1. If you liked Illinois’ last-gasp comeback against Maryland, we recommend…Duke vs. Maryland, 2001 National Semifinal

I doubt two teams have ever played a quartet of games as memorable as those between Duke and Maryland in 2001, and this was a fitting capper. The Terrapins shot lights-out early to build themselves a shocking 39-17 lead, but the Blue Devils systematically chipped away at the deficit, finally taking the lead with under seven minutes to play. Behind Jason Williams, Duke was able to salt it away late.

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