Dalton Pence’s Top-25 Moments of March Madness
Like many, I’m having an extremely tough time coping with no NCAA tournament this year due to the outbreak of the COVID-19. So, I’ve decided to compile a list of my top 25 March Madness games since I began following basketball back in 2006.
Note: I’m 21 years old, so older games may or may not be on here due to my engagement. Also, these are MY top-25. I have my own criteria such as watchability, storylines, context, players, etc. I apologize for games I left off that could be viewed as worthy; I’ve done a ton of reminiscing, here are my top 25.
25: Duke-Lehigh, 2012 second round
We start this list off with a primetime upset; the 15th-seeded Mountain Hawks shocked the nation when they defeated the two-seeded Duke Blue Devils 75-70. Future NBA standout CJ McCollum posted a 30 point, 6 rebound and 6 assist stat line to pull off the upset essentially in Duke’s backyard (Greensboro).
24: Texas A&M-Northern Iowa, 2016 third round
This one is on here strictly for the epic comeback. Northern Iowa had a 12 point advantage with just over 30 seconds to play in the game, but managed to complete one of the worst meltdowns in tournament history. The Aggies came roaring back, tying the game on a steal and score from Admon Gilder, forcing overtime in which A&M came out victorious.
23: Connecticut-San Diego State, 2011 Sweet 16
The Huskies’ 2011 title run was nothing short of amazing. Phenom Kemba Walker and company ran into a solid Aggies squad headlined by Kawhi Leonard. Leonard didn’t have an outstanding game, only scoring 12 points. However, the game is on the list because of Walker and freshman guard Jeremy Lamb catching fire. The duo combined for 60 of UCONN’s 74 total points, while shooting 7-11 from downtown.
22: Kentucky-West Virginia, 2010 Elite Eight
John Calipari’s first team at Kentucky was loaded with future NBA talent: John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Patrick Patterson, and Darius Miller. It was youth versus veterans in the elite eight against West Virginia, led by Da’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones, and Devin Ebanks. It was a back-and-forth game for the most part in which the Mountaineers ultimately won, but mainly because Kentucky couldn’t buy a basket (4-32 from deep).
21: Wisconsin-North Carolina, 2015 Sweet 16
The 2014-15 Wisconsin Badgers were one of the most exciting squads I’ve ever watched; the team was full of unselfish veterans that could shoot the lights out, get to the rack, and play lights-out defense. Their sweet 16 matchup with the Tar Heels in the 2015 tournament is one of the most underrated on this list. The two squads took turns ripping off runs of their own until Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky rose to a new level and sealed the victory for the top-seeded Badgers.
20: UMBC-Virginia, 2018 second round
This one speaks for itself. The Retrievers not only became the first 16-seed to ever take down a one-seed, but also took down the overall number one seeded Virginia by a whopping 20 points. What a time to be alive.
19: Louisville-West Virginia, 2005 Elite Eight
I know I said I started watching in 2006, but my Louisville and Kansas fandom began earlier. One of my first basketball memories include the Cardinals completing a monstrous comeback against West Virginia to force overtime and secure a spot in the upcoming Final Four. Outstanding performances from Larry O’Bannon and Taquan Dean pushed Louisville through to the next round.
18: Marquette-Murray State, 2019 second round
I feel bad for those who didn’t watch Ja Morant tear things up in college. When the 5-12 matchup between Marquette and Murray State was announced, it instantly began garnering hype. Let’s just say the future #2 NBA Draft pick did not disappoint; Morant recorded a 17 point, 16 assist, and 11 rebound triple-double, shocking the nation with step-back jumpers, electrifying dunks, and insane passes.
17: Virginia-Auburn, 2019 Final Four
After losing to UMBC the year prior, the Cavaliers succeeded in bouncing back by winning the national championship. Virginia ran into a red-hot Auburn squad in the national semifinal and even trailed in the final seconds. After hitting a corner three-pointer, Kyle Guy was fouled on another attempt while down two. He stepped up to the line and calmly drained all three shots from the charity stripe as Virginia escaped from the clutches of defeat.
16: Wisconsin-Arizona, 2014 Elite Eight
The 2014 tournament was filled with upsets, but the West Regional gave the nation a highly-anticipated matchup between the top two respective seeds in Arizona and Wisconsin. The two squads were very similar in talent, and took turns putting it on display. However, neither the Badgers or the Wildcats ever possessed a big lead. The game went into overtime and the excitement didn’t disappear until the final buzzer rang, with Wisconsin winning by one.
15: Louisville-Florida, 2012 Elite Eight
After defeating top-seeded Michigan State in the sweet 16, Louisville entered a matchup with a Florida team that was playing its best basketball. The Cardinals trailed most of the game, but came roaring back in the waning parts of the second half to punch their Final Four ticket. Despite the Gators’ starters scoring in double-figures, Russ Smith (19 points) and Chane Behanan came up big in the second half (17 points, seven rebounds) in the regional final thriller.
14: Kansas-North Carolina, 2008 Final Four
The 2007-08 Jayhawks were one of my favorite squads of all time, in any sport. Strangely enough, all four number one seeds made the Final Four that season. UNC came in as the heavy favorites, but Kansas blitzed the Tar Heels right away, racing out to a 17-point halftime lead. The Big 12 champions withstood a second-half surge to advance to the national title game.
13: Kentucky-Wichita State, 2014 third round
After losing in the 2013 final four, Wichita State entered the 2014 tournament as the nation’s only undefeated team. However, the Shockers were handed a tough bracket that included Kentucky, Louisville, and Michigan. The round-of 32 matchup proved to be one for the ages. Cleanthony Early scored a game-high 31 points, but four Wildcats scored at least 13 points as Kentucky ended Wichita’s perfect season in a wire-to-wire thriller.
12: Florida Gulf Coast-Georgetown, 2013 second round
This 2-15 matchup upset was different from others due to the way the Eagles took down Georgetown. Most giant-killers are exceptional three-point shooting teams, but FGCU took down the Hoyas behind a slew of emphatic dunks. It was enough to get the small university in Fort Myers coined as ‘Dunk City’ and an unprecedented amount of media coverage for a 15-seed.
11: Louisville-Duke, 2013 Elite Eight
The 2012-13 Louisville squad was my favorite team to date, one that had a chance to compete for the national title. The showdown with Duke in the elite eight presented a roller coaster of emotions. The game is known for Kevin Ware brutally snapping his leg, but the way in which Louisville responded and trounced the Blue Devils in the second half was unbelievable.
10: Kentucky-North Carolina, 2017 Elite Eight
This matchup had everything: glaring hype, talent, and a classic ending. Both teams took turns making runs, but North Carolina had a commanding lead with under a minute to play. A couple of big shots from Malik Monk tied the game, but Luke Maye hit a go-ahead midrange jumper with .3 seconds left to win the game for the Tar Heels.
9: Duke-Butler, 2010 National Championship
The David and Goliath battle between Duke and Butler in the national title game came down to the final seconds as Gordon Hayward’s potential game-winning half-court shot rimmed out. Brad Stevens’ team tested the Blue Devils for 40 minutes, but weren’t able to do the unimaginable.
8: Virginia-Purdue, 2019 Elite Eight
Unlike any of the other games on this list, I was actually in attendance for this one. Virginia’s quest for a national title went through a Purdue team with a lot of momentum. Every time the Cavaliers looked to pull away, Carsen Edwards caught fire, scoring a game-high 42 points. Mamadi Diakite’s jumper at the buzzer sent the game into overtime, and the whole atmosphere was electric from start to finish.
7: Kansas-Duke, 2018 Elite Eight
Speaking of shots to force overtime, Svi Mykhailiuk’s three-pointer leveled the score up after a late Duke run to extend the game. All ten starters scored in double figures except for Udoka Azubuike in this high-scoring affair. Malik Newman scored 32 points and hit a couple of clutch shots to put the contest out of reach in the extra period.
6: Wisconsin-Arizona, 2015 Elite Eight
The second matchup between these two teams featured just as much talent and hype, but wasn’t necessarily as close as the 2014 matchup. Every time the Wildcats attempted to cut the lead in the second half, Wisconsin had an answer. That answer’s name was Sam Dekker; the junior forward came down the court and hit big shot after big shot to send the Badgers to their second straight final four.
5: Villanova-North Carolina, 2016 National Championship
To some, this was the best tournament of the 2000s. Although it wasn’t necessarily my favorite, I do appreciate the competitive display both Villanova and North Carolina put on. Marcus Paige’s double-clutch three-pointer to tie the game was quickly overlooked when Kris Jenkins hit a deep ball at the buzzer to win the title and stun the nation.
4: Wisconsin-Kentucky, 2015 Final Four
Coming into the 2015 final four, Kentucky was two wins away from a perfect 40-0 record. Their opponent was a Wisconsin team looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss to the Wildcats in the previous year’s final four. The Badgers went blow-for-blow with Kentucky and Dekker’s step-back three late in the second half pushed them ahead for good.
3: Louisville-Michigan, 2013 National Championship
Witnessing the Cardinals win their first title in my lifetime was a surreal experience. Spike Albrecht and Luke Hancock led a shootout in the first half, while glaring tension arose in the second. The number-one overall usually doesn’t win the tournament, but 2013 did not apply to that. Not to mention, seeing Kevin Ware get to cut down the net was priceless.
2: Louisville-Wichita State, 2013 Final Four
The last selection followed this game, in which Louisville trailed by double-digits in the second half to the nine-seed Wichita State. With all of the momentum gone, reserve Tim Henderson came in and buried back-to-back corner triples, sparking a Cardinal run. Behanan and Hancock led the charge to complete the comeback and the Cardinals escaped a potential all-time upset.
1: Kansas-Memphis, 2008 National Championship
Derrick Rose was one of the most unstoppable forces in college basketball since 2000. Despite being in Conference USA, there was no doubt that Calipari had a legit title-contending squad. The Tigers led by three after Rose went one for two from the line with just over 10 seconds to play, but a difficult shot from Mario Chalmers forced overtime and resulted in a Jayhawk win. 2008 seems like forever ago, but that game will always be a classic.