LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 3: Darius Miller #1 of the Kentucky Wildcats goes up for a shot past John Henson #31 of the North Carolina Tar Heels at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2011 in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 73-72. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
While the 2012 NCAA Tournament may not have delivered the fantastic finishes some were hoping for, the 2011-12 season as a whole was loaded with great games. Mike Rutherford takes a look at the ten best.
Despite a first Friday night that included two 15-seeds upsetting a pair of two seeds in the span of just over four hours, the 2012 NCAA Tournament has drawn some heat in recent weeks for not being exciting enough. Much of the reason for that is centered around the fact that there were no games won via a made shot at the buzzer.
What can you say? Some people won't be happy with a giant cake unless there's something popping out of it. I fall into that category, but whatever, the point is that the 2011-12 season was one not lacking in exciting contests.
Below are the ten best.
1. Kentucky 73, North Carolina 72 (12/3/11)
This was supposed to be a meeting of the top two teams in the country, but North Carolina spoiled it a bit by losing to UNLV in November and thus came to Lexington ranked No. 5. Still, it was about as hyped a matchup as a college basketball game played in early December can be. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to play the role of hero for the first 39 minutes and 50 seconds of the game, but it was Anthony Davis' block of John Henson in the closing seconds that ultimately captured the majority of headlines. This had the feel of a "part I" game, a notion which likely would have come to fruition had the Tar Heels not lost Dexter Strickland and Kendall Marshall to injury later in the year.
2. Indiana 73, Kentucky 72 (12/10/11)
The talk leading into this game was whether or not Indiana, which had not lost yet, was "back." The Hoosiers answered the question on the court by hanging with the top-ranked and equally unbeaten Wildcats for the duration of the game, and then breaking their rivals' hearts with likely the most memorable buzzer-beater of the season.
3. Duke 85, North Carolina 84 (2/8/12)
Duke's defense, or lack thereof, was its achilles heel all season and for the vast majority of the first of their two meetings with rival North Carolina, the Blue Devils simply could not keep the Tar Heels from scoring. UNC led by ten with a little over two minutes to play and appeared poised to cruise to a relatively easy victory. But a few turnovers and a lot of missed free-throws gave Duke a chance in the game's closing seconds. Down two, Coach K elected to put the ball in the hands of freshman point guard Austin Rivers, who had spearheaded the late rally.
4. Norfolk State 86, Missouri 84 (3/16/12)
Not just the most memorable game of the NCAA Tournament, but also the best overall. Every time it looked like Missouri had made the play or string of plays that would propel it to victory, Norfolk State would answer right back with an unbelievable shot. Kyle O'Quinn's play and then subsequent lovable postgame antics cemented his place in tournament lore forever.
5. Kansas 87, Missouri 86 (OT) (2/25/12)
With Missouri leaving for the SEC, it's unclear when these two rivals will meet again. Until it happens, they'll have this late-season classic to fall back on. Missouri led by as many as 19 in the second half, but All-American Thomas Robinson and senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor led the Jayhawks all the way back. A pair of go-ahead free-throws by Taylor and the block of a potential game-winner by Robinson proved to be the contest's defining plays. The hope was that this would set up a rubber match in the Big 12 championship game, but Baylor ruined that by upsetting KU in the semifinals.
6. Syracuse 64, Wisconsin 63 (3/22/12)
Syracuse survived 14 3-pointers from the Badgers by shooting 55 percent from the field and getting a surprisingly huge effort from forward C.J. Fair. Badger All-American Jordan Taylor could not give the tournament its first (and ultimately only) buzzer-beater, as he clanked a deep three in the closing seconds which allowed the top-seeded Orange to advance to the Elite Eight. Syracuse would fall to Ohio State two days later.
7. George Mason 62, VCU 61 (2/14/12)
George Mason sophomore Sherrod Wright made what he called "the shot of my dreams" with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Patriots to a 62-61 win over archrival VCU. The victory temporarily pulled Mason into a tie atop the CAA standings with the Rams. Wright's shot capped a crazy final 77 seconds in which the two teams combined for four three-pointers and 21 total points.
8. Creighton 83, Illinois State 79 (OT) (3/4/12)
The Missouri Valley title game was the best that Championship Week gave us in 2012, as Creighton held off an Illinois State team playing for its NCAA Tournament life in overtime. Freshman Nic Moore scored 20 points and was the hero of regulation for Illinois State after driving the length of the court and hitting a lay-up to force an extra five minutes. But Creighton's Antoine Young, the team's lone senior starter, took over in overtime, hitting six free-throws and scoring eight of his 14 points.
9. Stanford 103, Oregon State 101 (4 OT) (1/7/12)
The longest game of the season has to warrant a spot on this list. Twelve players scored in double figures in this game, but surprisingly, only three fouled out. Chasson Randle's layup with 37 seconds left in the fourth overtime provided the winning points for Stanford in the longest game in the history of the program.
10. Missouri 74, Kansas 71 (2/4/12)
The first "Border War" was also the best of ESPN's Saturday night GameDay games of the week. Missouri, ranked fourth in the country at the time, went on an 11-0 run at the the end of the second half to pull out the victory. The run was sparked by senior star Marcus Denmon, who buried a pair of off-balance 3-pointers in the final minutes and finished with a game-high 29 points.