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  • You don't need March Madness to see an instant classic in college hoops. We turned to our staff to determine the best 10 games of the last decade from outside the NCAA tournament.
By The SI Staff
September 27, 2018

March may bring the madness, but you don't need the NCAA tournament to create an instant classic in college hoops. Some of the sport's most memorable games have come in either the regular season or conference tournaments, whether there was a buzzer beater, an incredible individual effort or an unforgettable oddity. We asked our staff to rank their top 10 non-NCAA tournament games of the last 10 years, just as we did for top 10 upsets, uniforms, toughest arenas and rivalries. These are the results, with honorable mentions at the bottom:

1. Kansas Beats Buddy Hield and Oklahoma in Triple Overtime: Jan. 4, 2016

Despite the Jayhawks winning, this game is referred to as “The Buddy Hield Game,” which tells you how good the senior’s performance was. A January 2016 showdown between the AP No. 1 (Kansas) and No. 2 (Oklahoma) teams in the country (interestingly, the two were opposite in the Coaches Poll) exceeded all expectations as the two played to three overtimes, with KU prevailing in a buzzing Allen Fieldhouse, 109–106. Hield put on a show, dropping 46 points, making eight of 15 threes and adding eight rebounds and seven assists for good measure. He was also one of five players who logged more than 50 minutes on the floor.

The Sooners had a chance to win the game in regulation, but Khadeem Lattin missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2.1 seconds remaining. The extra periods then turned into a three-point showcase, with eight in total being traded by the two heavyweights. Hield had 13 points in overtime after finishing regulation with 33, but in the end he and Oklahoma came up just short in Lawrence, falling to a Jayhawks team led by Perry Ellis, Frank Mason III and Devonte’ Graham. However, it was such a thrilling, balanced battle that the Sooners remained at No. 2 in the following week’s AP poll.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

2. Syracuse Beats UConn in Six Overtimes in the Big East Quarterfinals: March 12, 2009

The legendary Syracuse-UConn thriller is the only Division I college basketball game to go six overtimes since the record seven-OT marathon between Cincinnati and Bradley in 1981. The game didn’t end until after 1 a.m. local time at Madison Square Garden, but everyone who stayed until the end was treated to a historic Big East tournament battle that, at times, felt like it would never end. What’s ironic is just how close the game came to going no further than regulation. After a putback by Kemba Walker tied the game up with 1.1 seconds remaining, Eric Devendorf thought he won it with a three-pointer at the buzzer, but a review showed the ball left his hand a tenth of a second too late. And so they played on. And on. And on. And on. And on.

The first five overtimes featured a familiar theme of UConn leading, Syracuse coming back and one of the two (usually the Huskies) missing one or multiple game-winning attempts in the final seconds. In fact, it took until the sixth overtime for the Orange to get their first lead of the extra period when Andy Rautins drained a three, and they never looked back. It’s pretty anticlimactic that a game as long as this ended with a 127–117 margin, but both teams previously had their chances at glory.

Michael Heiman/Getty Images

3. Indiana’s Christian Watford Stuns Kentucky: Dec. 10, 2011

The last regular-season game of the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry sure was a good one. The game is remembered for Christan Watford’s iconic buzzer beater, which came after the Hoosiers, down two, inbounded from under their own basket with 5.6 seconds remaining. The shot had Dick Vitale repeatedly shouting “Unbelievable!” on the broadcast and bewildered winning coach Tom Crean giving us one of the best Tom Crean Faces of all time:

The fans at Assembly Hall stormed the court after the undefeated Hoosiers handed the nation’s No. 1 team its first loss, and the eventual national champion Wildcats would not lose again until the SEC tournament final against Vanderbilt. Watford, the day’s hero, led all scorers in the game with 20 points, making four of the six threes he attempted. The game had everything you could want from a regular-season contest: the rivalry element, a buzzer beater and a deep significance to an Indiana program coming off three straight dismal seasons that had just re-announced itself to the world.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

4. Duke Buries UNC on Austin Rivers’s Buzzer Beater: Feb. 8, 2012

A new chapter was added to the best rivalry in college basketball when Austin Rivers stunned the Chapel Hill crowd on a February night in 2012. A top-10 matchup between the schools went the Tar Heels’ way most of the night but came down to the final possession, with UNC leading by two. Rivers let the clock run down before launching a step-back three over 7-footer Tyler Zeller…and instantly became a hero. As Rivers was mobbed by his Blue Devils teammates, the Dean Dome stood in shock, the only sounds being the celebration by Duke and its small contingent of fans, which included Rivers’s NBA coach father, Doc.

It was a gutting end for North Carolina, both for the nature of the shot and for the fact that the Tar Heels controlled much of the second half but just couldn’t put away their archrival. Harrison Barnes and Zeller combined for 48 points on the night, while Rivers scored a career high 29. The freshman’s final three was one of six on the night for him, part of a 6 for 10 effort from beyond the arc.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

5. UConn Makes a Three-Quarter-Court Shot, Then Beats Cincinnati in Four Overtimes: March 11, 2016

Picture this: there are 0.8 seconds left on the clock and your team is down three and inbounding from under its own basket. Not feeling too confident? Tell that to UConn’s Jalen Adams. The UConn guard, then a freshman, pulled off the improbable by taking the inbound and—without dribbling—throwing up a prayer from just outside his own three-point arc. The ball bounded off the backboard and in, sending the crowd at the AAC quarterfinal into a frenzy.

If that’s not wild enough, consider that this all transpired at the end of the game’s third overtime. The Huskies had long ago overcome a nine-point halftime deficit as the game was pushed to extra time, but then an additional 10 minutes didn’t solve the deadlock (the third overtime happened because none other than Adams made a layup with five seconds to go). Adams’s insane shot turned out to be the jolt UConn needed to finally create separation, and the freshman added eight more points in the final overtime period as the Huskies finally won after four overtimes, 104–97.

Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

6. Jimmer Fredette Scores 52 to Beat New Mexico: March 11, 2011

It’s Jimmer time! Remember that phrase, back when Jimmer Fredette and his limitless range were torching opposing college defenses nightly for BYU? What about the night when he went off for a career-high 52 points in the Mountain West tournament? Fredette and the Cougars had revenge on their minds when they faced New Mexico in the semifinal, a team they had lost four straight to and that was responsible for two of BYU’s three losses in the 2010–11 regular season. And so the senior turned in a performance for the ages in an 87–76 win, taking 37 shots and making 22 of them (59.5%), including draining 7 of 14 threes. Perhaps the craziest stat of Fredette’s 52-point night was the fact that he attempted just one free throw, and it was the point that got him to 50. Fredette’s special talent was on full display that night in Vegas, in one of the final games of his stellar college career.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

7. Kemba Walker Lifts UConn Over Pitt in the Big East Quarters: March 10, 2011

UConn’s entire run to the 2011 national championship was impressive, but don’t forget what happened just before it. With a guy named Kemba Walker leading them, the Huskies were the No. 9 seed in a loaded Big East tournament—meaning they would need to win five games in five days to be the champion. After a warm-up against DePaul, UConn proceeded to face four ranked opponents—and beat them all.

In the quarterfinals, Connecticut had to go up against Pittsburgh, the No. 1 seed in the tournament and No. 3 team in the country. And while the Panthers at times controlled the game, they were unable to create the second-half separation they needed and the Huskies wound up with a chance to win in the final 15 seconds. And so Walker went to work, dancing around the perimeter before pulling off a step-back that was so filthy it knocked his defender over. Walker then sunk the buzzer beater to deliver a thrilling 76–74 win at MSG.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

8. Evan Turner’s 37-Footer Sinks Michigan in the Big Ten Quarters: March 12, 2010

It may not be football, but there’s always a little something extra in the narrative when Michigan and Ohio State clash on the hardwood, and that’s especially true when they meet in the Big Ten tournament. And so when the Wolverines erased a 12-point deficit in the 2010 quarterfinals against their rival, taking their first lead of the second half on a shot by Manny Harris with 30 seconds remaining, the No. 5 Buckeyes were in a bit of trouble. Then when Harris again put Michigan up two—this time with only 2.2 seconds remaining—the Buckeyes were in a lot of trouble. The Wolverines elected to defend deep and not put pressure on Evan Turner, one of the best players in the country, on the inbounds, giving Turner the space to quickly get up the court and launch a 37-footer just before time expired. It was nothing but net.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

9. Alabama Nearly Comes Back While Playing 3-on-5: Nov. 25, 2017

This one takes the cake for strangest college basketball game on the list—and maybe ever. “I have never, ever, ever seen anything like that in my life,” Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said after his team won a top-25 matchup in which the opponent had only three players for 10 minutes ... and yet almost came back. With over 13 minutes left, the entire Alabama bench got ejected after coming onto the court when a scuffle broke out in front of it. Three minutes later, Dazon Ingram had fouled out and John Petty rolled his ankle, leaving the Crimson Tide with three players and over 10 minutes still to play.

Here’s where it gets even more wild: At the point where Alabama went down to just three players, Minnesota was leading 67–54. That’s also when the Tide’s Collin Sexton decided to become a one-man wrecking crew. Sexton, somehow, led a late charge by the short-handed side, scoring 17 points the rest of the way—the last of which cut Minnesota’s lead to 83–80. The final score was 89–82, meaning that Alabama actually outscored the Golden Gophers 26–22 while playing with at two-man disadvantage. Welcome to college basketball.

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

10. Malik Monk Scores 47 as Kentucky Outraces UNC: Dec. 17, 2016

Two-hundred and three total points were tallied when the Wildcats and Tar Heels met in December 2016, and the game didn’t even go to overtime. It’s rare to see both teams top the century mark in a regulation contest, but that’s what happens when two of the fastest and most talented teams in the country meet. But more than anything else, this game belonged to Kentucky freshman Malik Monk. Monk exploded for 47 points in a 103–100 win, responsible for 45.7% of the Wildcats’ scoring output on the day. He shot 18 for 28 of the field and was on fire from the perimeter, draining 8 of his 12 three-point attempts. It was his seventh three of the day that answered a Justin Jackson trey to tie the game with 1:20 to go, and his eighth that put Kentucky ahead for good with 19 seconds remaining.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Honorable Mention:

• Northwestern beats Michigan at the buzzer off a full-court inbounds pass (March 2017)

• Duke’s Ryan Kelly returns from injury and drops 36 against Miami (March 2013)

• Nevada comes back from 25 down in regulation with three-point barrage, beats New Mexico in overtime (January 2017)

• Washington’s Kelsey Plum enters regular season finale needing 54 points to break the all-time women’s scoring record, scores 57 (February 2017)

• Florida outlasts Gonzaga in double overtime at the PK80 (November 2017)

• Grayson Allen scores 37 as Duke beats Michigan State at the Champions Classic (November 2017)

• Marshall Henderson lets loose on Vanderbilt, sinks buzzer beater to force OT in Ole Miss win (January 2013)

• Roosevelt Jones steals the inbound, scores at the buzzer to lift Butler over Gonzaga (January 2013)

• Wisconsin shuts out Michigan State in overtime of the Big Ten championship (March 2015)

• Central Michigan’s Marcus Keene drops college basketball’s first 50-point game in four years (January 2017)

• Down four points with 0.9 seconds remaining, Virginia uses a five-second violation and a buzzer beater by De’Andre Hunter to beat Louisville (March 2018)

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