The 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was one for the ages to say the least. Never before had we seen so many teams go into so many overtime sessions. While many of the top four seeds survived to the Sweet Sixteen, there were many new surprises and it was many of those new surprises who would make noise all the way to the Eite Eight and to the Final Four.
So here is a rundown of The Five Biggest Games of the NCAA Tournament….. and why.
#5. Michigan State defeats Duke – For me, the Spartans win over the Blue Devils is the 5th best game of the tournament for a few reasons. First of all, you had a great coach who was criticized for being too passionate with his young players. Then you have another great coach who was also criticized for not being as passionate with his players who were ranked the best overall team in the tournament. Both of which probably in all reality helped in the outcome of this game. Duke probably should have beat Michigan State with the players it had and Michigan State probably would not have beat Duke without its coach. It was clear which team would not be denied the victory and no matter how many times the Blue Devils put the Spartans down in the midst of a run during the game….. just like a bad cold the Spartans kept coming back with no medicine in sight to contain them. Next year, barring the draft, Cassius Winston returns along with the 7 freshmen. The Spartans are just getting started for next year.
#4. Duke defeats Virginia Tech – After the Duke game against UCF, the big question here would be if the Hokies would have enough firepower to overcome Duke and Zion with the return of Zion Williamson. The Hokies defeated Duke in Cassell Coliseum without Zion but the Hokies were without Justin Robinson as well. Duke played well but showed for a second game that if they didn’t have Zion they probably would not do very much in the tournament. The Hokies never quit…. never backed down from their ACC counterparts and if not for a missed layup at the buzzer drawn up off a great inbounds play by Texas A&M bound Buzz Williams, the Hokies probably have a shot at playing for a Final Four against the Spartans because many of the big Blue Devils were in major foul trouble. For the Hokies, it was a great climb up the ladder for them. Having went 2-14 in Buzz Williams first ACC season to an appearance in the Sweet Sixteen helped put Blacksburg on the map for basketball and also gave Buzz Williams validation among the critics as a basketball coach and program builder. He would sign less than a week later back in his home state of Texas as the new head coach of the Texas A&M Aggies. For the Blue Devils it was a second game of humble pie as a number one seed. A game in which they did not dominate and did not dismantle a team in such a way as they were predicted to do.
#3. Virginia defeats Purdue. – As much as you could love any of these two teams, the true winner here was Carsen Edwards of the Purdue Boilermakers. This tournament was for sure his coming out party and this game was pure evidence of it. Edwards lit up the Cavaliers by hitting 10 3’s and scoring 42 points and had all of America screaming for the black and gold in the process. This game showed that except for a few bounces of the ball Purdue wins this game…..but Mamadi Diakite was in the right place at the right time and scored the basket that kept the future national champions in the hunt for their first ever title.
#2. Virginia defeats Auburn – This game had everything you could want for pure entertainment: drama, excitement, theater, smiles and laughter, sadness and tears. It truly had everything. Auburn proved their worth in the tournament as a true power from the SEC who wore the glass slipper well and if not for a slight bump on a three point shot at the end of the game, the Tigers could very well have been facing the Red Raiders for the national championship. The biggest takeaway from this game? The postgame media conference as given by Bruce Pearl. It was given in the most classiest of ways and it was a lesson for all of us to not make excuses for the outcome of a game but to deal with it and be proud of who we are and what we are and to learn from it and be better next time. For this reason alone, watch out for the Tiger prowl next year. They definitely earned some respect in this tournament.
#1. Duke defeats UCF – The game at number two probably could be the number one game on this list for a number of reasons but for me this was the game to be placed at number one. UCF, coached by Johnny Dawkins a former Blue Devil himself, had the Blue Devils on the ropes and for the first time we saw a very uncomfortable Coach K wondering what in the world was taking place. (It would not be the first time we see this look on his face in the tournament). This wasn’t just Duke… this was Duke with Zion. This was Duke with the top 3 players in the nation. This was the number one overall seeded Blue Devils, who with Zion and company, were supposed to have a reserved seat at the table at the Final Four in Minneapolis. That was before they met UCF and 7’6 310 pound center Tacko Fall. Fall, who stands at the goal with a reach up to 10’6 was very imposing to the Blue Devils and made Zion look small in comparison. But Zion also has a huge heart and took it to Fall and his teammates over and over until Fall ultimately fouled out in the midst of a late Blue Devil rally which pushed the Devils to the win over the Knights. The postgame saw a very smiling Coach K looking relieved in talking to his former assistant Dawkins but underneath this had to be Coach K’s first mental thoughts of wondering if the One and Done concept was truly something he wanted to deal with in the future. The next two games probably helped ease the thought process along as Duke would survive their ACC rival Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 but fall to a very tough and physical Michigan State in the Elite 8.