I love sorting this one out every year. We get 67 games, and I take it upon myself to narrow down the top 14.9 percent of the contests, or: the top 10 from the field.
Happens often that we get an NCAA tournament after the fact that seems "OK," "all right," "decent" or "solid." If that's the case, why is it always so hard to get this thing down to just 10 games? I admit this wasn't an all-time tourney (though didn't we hear a lot of people expecting absolute bedlam? I sense a cyclical theme here), but it was good and emphasized/uplifted by an enjoyable final three games down in Atlanta. Two of them made the cut.
Here they are, the best of what the 2013 field had to offer after the buzzer.
As usual, this NCAA tournament lacked a true buzzer-beating shot -- which is a criticism we can't control but remains a trend over the past 25 years. We rarely get a true buzzer-beater. As you'll see on this list, we had a couple of close ones, but nothing that actually fell through as time expired to extend or end the game. This one above dropped with more than two seconds to go, but it got La Salle to its first Sweet 16 -- ever. The last time La Salle was this deep into a tournament, there was no "Sweet 16." The field was too small. This is also what ended Marshall Henderson's notable 2012-13 season. Solid game that's going to be forgotten because of its weird time slot during the day and the fact that it involved two programs without national identities.
9. Florida Gulf Coast 78, Georgetown 68. Not even a close game, but it was so engaging and enrapturing, I had to put it on the list. The nation was captivated not just by the 15th-seeded Eagles' win but how they just trashed No. 2 Georgetown. It was arrogant and fun and unlike any 15-over-2 upset we've seen before. Florida GIF Coast gave us a weekend performance to remember. The G'town game gets the nod because it had a few more highlights, a bit more surprise factor than FGCU's win over No. 7 San Diego State. I get the feeling it'll never be the same again, FGCU.
8. Marquette 74, Butler 72. Marquette makes its first of two appearances on this list. Buzz vs. Brad. Vander Blue had 29 and was the star for the Golden Eagles. He was the man behind the big rally that brought Marquette back and stole the game. And then Butler just absolutely brainlocked on its final possession. If it'd managed to win on a 3 or get it to OT, the game would be higher on this list, I'd imagine. Read Doyel's piece on it. Good, good stuff. This one was in Lexington, at Rupp Arena, which has a penchant for giving us really good/memorable tournament games. After the game, Buzz went Buzz -- and boogied.
7. Gonzaga 64, Southern 58. I was on hand in Salt Lake City for this one. Practically the entire country was engaged and Southern threatened -- took the lead -- and looked to become the first 16 to do The As Of Now Still Impossible. I'll tell you what, though. While the game was good, close, dramatic and appealing -- I didn't ever think it was in doubt. Gonzaga never seemed (to me, anyway) to be scared of losing. Maybe that's why it ultimately lost to Wichita State? Who knows. The 1/16 game is seldom good. Maybe once every three years one of the four matchups is actually within a shot of the dramatic at the under-four timeout. We got it here, thankfully. And so we move closer to a No. 1 facing the worst embarrassment. It will happen, and it will happen within the next decade, yes it will.
6. Marquette 59, Davidson 58. Funny enough, as I was watching Gonzaga stave off Southern, Ryan Fagan of Sporting News had this game on his iPad. Gregg Marshall was next to us on press row, too. We were all watching the ending -- in the middle of Gonzaga-Southern -- and about the first five rows of fans behind us were encroached and getting a glimpse, too. And, oh, what a horrible way to lose, Davidson. The Wildcats had this one. Totally had it. Then an ultimate gack. This turnover is vomit-inducing for Davidson fans. Here's the ending, spliced up. The turnover comes at the 1:15 mark. I'm tugging at my scalp just watching this again.
Wait, where did Trey Burke take that shot from again?
I actually think I might be ranking this one too high. With five minutes to go, I had half my game story written. Kansas was winning this. It was entirely in control for about 37 minutes. Here's the interesting thing. Burke's title-game performance and the second half/overtime showing in this one, against Kansas, is pretty much all he had to be proud of in the NCAAs. Other games featured him shooting at less than 30 percent from the floor. He wasn't bad, but he wasn't impressive, either. Only in the biggest moments did Burke show.
And what I find to be an interesting post-note on this game. Because Michigan looked so good throughout the tournament, because it made a championship game and its offense was so great -- I think that actually takes some heat, in hindsight, off Kansas/Elijah Johnson. This was more a comeback than a collapse, but it was still a surprising fold by the Jayhawks. I don't think it lingers with the program, though.
4. Louisville 72, Wichita State 68. The unfortunate fact about what's bound to happen in the coming years: We'll remember Wichita State making the Final Four, but everyone aside from WSU fans will forget just how close this team was to making the title game. Like, the Shockers had this. They had it. And, not only that, but fans, pundits, we all fell into the trap of thinking Louisville would cruise. I probably talked to 50 people in Atlanta about this game before it happened and not one person had Wichita State winning or losing by single digits.
Unfortunately, a premature jump-ball call that should've never been altered possession to Louisville and the Cardinals -- who deserved to win, I'll add -- and they held control until the end. Luke Hancock provided what would prove to be the first of two unprecedented performances. The Final Four often provides duds. I'll celebrate the close ones when they happen.
3. Wichita State 76, Gonzaga 70. Yet this is the Shockers game that gets highest ranking because -- and I'm probably biased because I saw it happen first-hand -- that run to end it was just nuts. Go to the play-by-play, scroll down to the bottom and then scroll back up and tell me when you get to the last point when Wichita State missed a field goal. Gregg Marshall's team hit 14 3-pointers after only sinking two against Pitt 48 hours prior. This game wasn't close, but I'm putting it so high because of WSU's offensive onslaught. A tidal wave of offense, really. Super impressive. This was WSU's best game of its five in the tournament. And for the Zags, another letdown in the tournament; I think this goes a long way to showing why this is the case.
There was, of course, controversy. The charge call. Craft was also involved in that. He'd had a bad game until that shot, really. Iowa State was on pace to win, and for the third time this year (both losses to Kansas being the other two), felt like it had the game ripped away. The controversy was earned, but in spite of that I think, this game was terrific. The first weekend had a few good moments, but this one came on Sunday afternoon and really lifted the feeling of what 64 to 16 delivered.
In terms of riveting action over the course of 40 minutes, I think Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 7 are the only ones on this list that qualify. The Cyclones had a really good club this year that had some bad breaks and probably enter the offseason feeling like they were a top-20 team in the country with second-weekend potential.
1. Louisville 82, Michigan 76. Hancock getting MOP and winning for his dad was a special moment. That Georgia Dome was above a hum all night. It's not the greatest title game ever, probably not even in the top five, but those first 20 minutes I could watch on a loop. It was on pace to be the best ever. The throwback game of offense and pace and big highlights that recalled and reminded why college hoops was so fun, dominant and mainstream for about 15 years, from 1982 through the late '90s. There was the tough call, with 5:09 to go and Louisville up 67-64, Burke getting the foul call instead of the clean block on Peyton Siva.
I also remember another moment. At the under-16 timeout, Louisville trailed 46-43. Pitino was crouched in the huddle, newly elected to the Hall of Fame earlier that morning. He was calm and supportive. There was never panic or exaggerated animation from Pitino. The momentum would come again, just like it did in the Wichita State game. Basically, one in five teams that trails at the half of college hoops' title games comes back to win. Louisville qualified -- and has done it in each of its three championships -- because it was built to run. Michigan provided a great counter in style and talent. But Louisville was this season's best team. The 16-game run to end the year helped prove that. This was the game that was a fitting end to a great -- yes, it eventually became great -- season.