The Dagger will be recapping the best and worst of the recently completed 2013-14 college basketball season during the next week. Here's a look at the 10 best games:
1. Kentucky 74, Wisconsin 73 (April 5): Aaron Harrison experienced the exhilaration of sinking a game-winning shot in the NCAA tournament for the third time in eight days. The Kentucky guard added to his growing legend in the national semifinals, beating Wisconsin with a game-winning left-wing 3-pointer from virtually the same spot on the floor that he'd waylaid Michigan from six days earlier. Harrison's shot not only kept the Wildcats' national title hopes alive but also saved his twin brother from some difficult postgame questions. Andrew Harrison enabled Wisconsin to take the lead on the previous possession when he bit on Traveon Jackson's shot fake as the shot clock was winding down and sent him to the line for three free throws.
2. Kentucky 78, Wichita State 76 (March 23): The most anticipated matchup of the NCAA tournament's opening weekend somehow exceeded expectations. Unbeaten Wichita State and former preseason No. 1 Kentucky staged a heavyweight fight worthy of the Final Four rather than the round of 32, trading body blows and counterpunches for two-plus hours before the Wildcats finally landed a haymaker. James Young buried a 3-pointer that put Kentucky up two with less than two minutes to play and the Wildcats sank 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch to maintain their lead. Fred VanVleet missed an off-balance 3-pointer that would have won it at the buzzer, ending Wichita State's perfect season and launching Kentucky's run to the title game.
3. Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 OT (March 29): To send Bo Ryan to the first Final Four of his career, Wisconsin had to defeat top-seeded Arizona in front of a hostile crowd in Anaheim. The Badgers did it thanks to a masterful 28-point, 11-rebound performance from Frank Kaminsky and a pair of crucial defensive stands in the final seconds of overtime. On the first one, Nick Johnson was called for a pushoff as he tried to get by Josh Gasser on the way to the rim. On the second, Johnson failed to get the potential game-winning shot off before the buzzer sounded. The timing of the victory could not have been more fitting since it came on what would have been Bo Ryan's late father's 90th birthday. Every year from 1976 until 2013, Bo would take his dad to the Final Four for a father-son bonding trip.
4. Syracuse 91, Duke 89 (Feb. 1): The first meeting between the ACC blueblood and the ACC new blood produced an epic overtime thriller that may help launch a new rivalry. The largest on-campus crowd in college basketball history witnessed a scintillating game defined by two plays. First, Rasheed Sulaimon took advantage of Syracuse not fouling up three in the final seconds of regulation, burying a game-tying shot from behind the arc as the buzzer sounded. Duke hung tough in overtime despite Jabari Parker and Amile Jefferson fouling out, but the Blue Devils were undone by a tough call in the final seconds. Rodney Hood made a bold drive into the paint and rose for a tomahawk dunk, but Syracuse center Rakeem Christmas got away with some contact while blocking the dunk attempt to preserve the victory.
5. Kansas 94, Duke 83 (Nov. 13): To understand how much hype there was for the meeting between prospective No. 1 picks Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, consider this for a moment. The Champion's Classic's other game featured No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 Michigan State, and that was clearly the less anticipated of the two blockbuster showdowns. The matchup between Duke and Kansas met expectations too even though the Jayhawks pulled away late as both freshmen whet our appetite for a fun season ahead. Parker finished with 27 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Wiggins bounced back from a lackluster first half to score 22 points, grab 10 rebounds and lock up Parker down the stretch to help his team win.
6. Kentucky 75, Michigan 72 (March 30): To make the Final Four for the third time in four years, Kentucky had to defeat college basketball's only unbeaten team, the defending national champions and the regular season champs of the nation's toughest conference. Aaron Harrison made sure the Wildcats overcame the final hurdle. Harrison secured Kentucky's place in the Final Four when he received a dribble handoff from his brother, faked like he intended to drive and then buried a go-ahead step-back 3-pointer with 2.6 seconds left over the outstretched hands of Michigan's Caris Levert. That shot ended the Wolverines' hopes of a second straight Final Four and kept alive the Wildcats' bid to atone for a poor regular season.
7. Mercer 78, Duke 71 (March 21): When Mercer coach Bob Hoffman watched Florida Gulf Coast's magical run to the Sweet 16 in March 2013, he admitted to thinking, "That could have been us." A year later it was the Bears. The team that fell to FGCU in the Atlantic Sun title game the previous season ousted the Eagles this season, setting up an opening-round matchup with third-seeded Duke. Mercer then pulled off a Dunk City-esque upset, sending the Blue Devils home in the round of 64 for the second time in three years. Jakob Gollon scored 20 points and Daniel Coursey scored 17, enabling the Bears to overcome a season-high 15 3-pointers from perimeter-happy Duke.
8. Iowa State 98, Oklahoma State 97 3OT (Feb. 4): It took a game-saving 3-pointer by a previously slumping backup guard for Iowa State to end its 18-game losing streak in Stillwater. Only a few seconds remained in double overtime when DeAndre Kane yanked down an offensive board and dished to sophomore Naz Long spotted up at the top of the key. Long buried a game-tying 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left, forcing a third overtime and giving Iowa State the chance to eke out a thrilling 98-97 road victory. That Long was even in the game at the time is a testament to the confidence coach Fred Hoiberg has in him. Before that possession, Hoiberg inserted Long for his outside shooting even though the sophomore was only 2 of 19 from behind the arc over the previous four-plus games.
9. VMI 108, Gardner Webb 104 4OT (Feb. 6): One buzzer beater is typically enough to turn an ordinary game into a memorable one, but VMI did a bit better than that. The Keydets sank three game-tying shots at the buzzer against Gardner Webb before pulling away in the fourth overtime. The first came via a 3-pointer from guard Brian Brown as time expired at the end of regulation to tie the score at 73. Up next was senior forward D.J. Covington's short jump shot to beat the buzzer and extend the game at the end of double overtime. The final one was the most improbable. VMI needed to go the length of the floor after a Naji Hibbert jump shot put Gardner Webb up two with 1.7 seconds left in triple overtime, but Covington caught a baseball pass at the top of the key, drew a crowd of defenders and fed wide-open Tim Marshall under the basket for a game-tying layup.
10. Colorado 75, Kansas 72 (Dec. 7): Colorado's run of futility ended against longtime nemesis Kansas ended on an improbable buzzer beater. With 3.0 seconds left in regulation and the score tied at 72, Askia Booker took an inbound pass near mid-court, shook free of his defender and floated a running 3-footer at the rim. To the delight of Booker and his Colorado teammates, the shot found all net, giving the Buffaloes a 75-72 victory and snapping the program's 19-game losing streak at the hands of the Jayhawks. At the time, it seemed that victory might pave the way for a special season for Colorado. Alas, the Buffaloes lost leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie for the season a month later and had to settle for scraping into the NCAA tournament.
Ten worthy of honorable mention:
- UCLA 75, Arizona 71 (March 15)
- Arizona 70, San Diego State 64 (March 27)
- Iowa State 85, North Carolina 83 (March 23)
- North Carolina 85, NC State 84 (Feb. 26)
- Kentucky 74, Louisville 69 (March 28)
- Stephen F. Austin 77, VCU 75 (March 21)
- Louisville 58, Cincinnati 57 (Feb. 22)
- North Dakota State 80, Oklahoma 75 (March 20)
- San Diego State 51, New Mexico 48 (March 8)
- Michigan State 72, Ohio State 68 OT (Jan. 4)
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