When the (March) Madness Began
1:16 | College Basketball
When the (March) Madness Began
Tuesday April 19th, 2016

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As it always does, the NCAA tournament this season offered a little bit of everything for college basketball fans. We witnessed insane upsets (like Middle Tennessee over Michigan State), wil d finishes (Texas A&M over Northern Iowa) and, of course, a historically great championship game (Villanova over North Carolina). Once again, the tournament proved why it remains the best sporting event in America.

So it’s far too early to relive the best games of the tournament, right? Of course not! That’s why combed through the results and ranked the top 10 games of the 2016 NCAA tournament.

10. Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81 (first round)

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo—unofficially dubbed Mr. March—surely didn’t see his most recent stay in the NCAA tournament coming to an untimely end. Middle Tennessee upended the Spartans in a game it never trailed, becoming just the eighth No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2. The Conference USA-champion Blue Raiders opened the game on a 15–2 run and took a 41–35 lead into halftime. Michigan State, winners of the Big Ten tournament title, reduced the deficit to 77–76 with 3:34 to play. But Middle Tennessee finished on a 13–5 run to hand the Spartans their first loss in the first round since 2011.

9. Syracuse 68, Virginia 62 (Elite Eight)

The 10-seeded Orange, who had lost five of six games entering the NCAA tournament, had no business romping their way to the Elite Eight with wins Dayton, Middle Tennessee and Gonzaga during the first three rounds. But that run appeared over early in a matchup with Virginia, when the No. 1 seed built a sizable 35–21 lead by halftime. But that’s when Syracuse turned on the jets; it trailed 54–39 with 9:33 to play before scoring 25 of the game’s next 29 points. Coach Jim Boeheim’s club outscored the Cavaliers 47–27 in the second half to become the first 10-seed ever to reach the Final Four.

• MORE: Ranking the five best title games of the modern era

8. Wisconsin 66, Xavier 63 (second round)

Xavier, meet Bronson Koenig. Wisconsin’s junior sharpshooter knocked down two three points in the final 13 seconds to lift the No. 7-seeded Badgers over No. 2 Xavier and past the second round of the NCAA tournament. Koenig, who went 0-for-2 from deep against Pitt in the first round, tied the game 63–63 on a trey with 13 seconds remaining. An ensuing offensive foul on Xavier guard Edmond Sumner gave Wisconsin one final shot, and coach Greg Gard called Koenig’s number again: He nailed his sixth three-pointer of the day at the buzzer to push the Badgers to their fifth Sweet 16 in six seasons.

7. Providence 70, USC 69 (first round)

A pack of furious Friars spelled doom for USC in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Trojans had held a five-point lead against Providence, 66–61, with 3:20 to play and a one-point lead, 69–68, with 58 seconds left. But Friars guard Kris Dunn and his squad took advantage of the Trojans missing the front end of two one-and-ones in the final minute. Then a defensive breakdown on a final inbounds play allowed Providence’s Keith Bullock to bank in the winning layup. Just like that, the Friars had capped one of the best comebacks of the first round, earning their first NCAA tournament win since 1997.

6. Villanova 64, Kansas 59 (Elite Eight)

This heavyweight bout in Louisville had a Final Four feel to it. No. 2-seeded Villanova, which hadn’t advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament since 2009, stifled overall No. 1 seed Kansas into a 32–25 halftime deficit. The Wildcats’ stellar defense even held the Jayhawks scoreless for one 6:55 stretch in the first half. Kansas, of course, roared back in the second half, but two big free throws from Kris Jenkins and late steals from Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart helped Villanova hold on for a monumental upset. In the end, coach Bill Self’s crew managed a season-low 59 points against the Wildcats, who went on to claim the national championship.

• MORE: Was Villanova's run the most dominant of the analytics era?

5. Little Rock 85, Purdue 83 (first round)

In Little Rock’s quest to reach the second round of the NCAA tournament, senior guard Josh Hagins came to the rescue. With the 12th-seeded Trojans trailing No. 5 seed Purdue by 13 points with 3:33 left in regulation, Hagins drilled a deep three from the edge of the midcourt logo with four seconds left to secure overtime. Then Hagins delivered in the extra period as well, kissing a shot off the glass with 18 seconds to play to earn another overtime tied 75–75. Finally, the senior’s two late free throws sealed the game in a second overtime, and he finished with 31 points and a trip to the second round.

4. Northern Iowa 75, Texas 72 (first round)

Texas appeared headed to overtime when Isaiah Taylor knocked in a layup with 2.7 seconds to play against Northern Iowa in Oklahoma City. But with the game tied 72–72, Panthers’ guard Matt Bohannon found fellow senior Paul Jesperson at midcourt, where Jesperson launched a prayer. Somehow, that prayer was answered: his last-ditch shot banked in as time expired to stun Texas and send Northern Iowa to the second round. The Panthers’ thrilling finish was eerily reminiscent of its 2010 appearance in Oklahoma City, when a clutch three by guard Ali Farokhmanesh helped No. 9 Northern Iowa beat No. 1 Kansas 69–67 in 2010.

• MORE: Who is No. 1 in our Way Too Early top 25 for 2016–17?

3. Notre Dame 76, Stephen F. Austin 75 (second round)

Ever heard of Rex Pflueger? Notre Dame’s unheralded freshman guard averaged just 2.3 points per game, but his two biggest points helped the program reached its second straight Sweet 16. Entering the Irish’s first-round matchup with No. 14-seed Stephen F. Austin in New York, Pflueger hadn’t hit a field goal since March 5. That didn’t matter in the final moments against the Lumberjacks, when Pflueger tipped in a rebound with 1.5 seconds left to cement Notre Dame’s right to advance. When the buzzer sounded, the Irish swarmed Pflueger, who had finished with—wait for it—two points.

2. Texas A&M 92, Northern Iowa 88 (second round)

Northern Iowa had all but punched its ticket to the Sweet 16 when two Jeremy Morgan free throws gave it a 69–57 lead over Texas A&M with 44 seconds left. But the Aggies had other plans. Six shots and a free throw later, A&M had closed the game on an improbable 14–2 run to secure overtime. The rally set a new NCAA record for a comeback in a game’s final minute. Two overtimes later, the Aggies emerged with an 88–82 victory, and senior guard Danuel House, who went scoreless until 5:14 left in regulation, finished with 22 points.

• MORE: The inside story of how Villanova won it all

1. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 (national championship)

North Carolina and Villanova careened into the national title game riding red-hot tournament runs, and in the end, the matchup didn’t disappoint. Two talented, balanced squads traded blows before the Wildcats built a 10-point lead, 67–57, on two Phil Booth free throws with 5:29 to play. But the Tar Heels rallied, tying the game at 74 on a head-turning, double-clutch three-pointer from Marcus Paige with 4.7 seconds left. Overtime? Think again. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono led Villanova down the court and dished to a trailing Kris Jenkins, who launched a trey just as time expired. The shot dropped, sparking an eruption from the crowd at NRG Stadium and capping one of the most thrilling championship games in NCAA history. The victory gave Villanova its first national title since 1985.

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