Commentary

Ranking the decade's best games

Updated: December 31, 2009, 12:46 PM ET
By Staff | ESPN.com

As we close out the decade, ESPN.com's writers and contributors rank and take a look back at the most unforgettable games of the past decade …

Most memorable NCAA tournament games

1. Kansas 75, Memphis 68 in OT (2008 national title game)

2. George Mason 86, Connecticut 84 in OT (2006 Elite Eight)

3. Illinois 90, Arizona 89 in OT (2005 Elite Eight)

4. Michigan State 94, Kentucky 88 in 2OT (2005 Elite Eight)

T-5. UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71 (2006 Sweet 16)

Syracuse 81, Kansas 78 (2003 national title game)

Others receiving votes: Hampton over Iowa State, 2001 first round; Creighton over Florida, 2002 first round; Indiana over Duke, 2002 Sweet 16; Maryland over UConn, 2002 Elite Eight; Arizona over Gonzaga in 2 OT, 2003 second round; Oklahoma State over Saint Joseph's, 2004 Elite Eight; UConn over Duke, 2004 national semis; Vermont over Syracuse, 2005 first round; West Virginia over Wake Forest, 2005 second round; Louisville over West Virginia in OT, 2005 Elite Eight; Northwestern State over Iowa, 2006 first round; Texas over West Virginia, 2006 Sweet 16; Villanova over Pittsburgh, 2009 Elite Eight

Making the case

[+] EnlargeIllinois
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonTrailing by 15 with just four minutes to play, Illinois somehow found a way to force OT against Arizona.

Jay Bilas: Illinois' comeback to beat Arizona and reach the 2005 Final Four was one of the most remarkable games I have seen. I was so lucky to be courtside with Dick Enberg to witness the incredible heart that the Illini showed. Michigan State's win over Kentucky in 2005 was a thriller, and I always wonder, if Tubby Smith had won that one or if Keith Bogans hadn't been injured in the 2003 Elite Eight, would Tubby still be in Lexington? Mario's Miracle merits a spot among the decade's best, as does the battle between Maryland and UConn in Syracuse in 2002. The biggest shocker was George Mason's win over UConn in 2006, when Connecticut had the best team in the country. If the Huskies had won that one, the pros on that team would have won it all, and we would have been denied the decade's feel-good story.

Pat Forde: Kansas-Memphis is on top because it was for all the marbles, but Illinois' left-for-dead comeback to reach the Final Four was incredible -- and one of three amazing regional finals that same weekend. (Michigan State-Kentucky and Louisville-West Virginia were the others.) Mason's upset of UConn was a historic moment for Cinderella. And Indiana's comeback from 19 down to dethrone Duke has marked something of a breaking point for the Blue Devils -- they've never been as good since then.

Fran Fraschilla: Connecticut-George Mason may not have been the most exciting NCAA tournament game of the decade, but it was the most meaningful to me because I coached at the mid-major level. I had a great appreciation for what the Patriots accomplished in beating UConn in overtime and reaching the Final Four. The Huskies had a roster full of NBA players, and two of them, Rudy Gay and Josh Boone, hailed from the Baltimore/Washington metro area. George Mason, on the other hand, had a team full of local guys who'd had success against Boone and Gay in high school. That eliminated the intimidation factor that UConn had enjoyed all season. Jim Larranaga's crew was not scared, and it showed.

Andy Katz: The significance of these games is what makes them matter most. The drama of Kansas coming back against Memphis in the final 90 seconds, Mario Chalmers' equalizing 3-pointer to send the game into overtime and Bill Self's first national title make it No. 1. George Mason beating vaunted Connecticut to reach the Final Four completed a remarkable run for a mid-major, the first to make the Final Four since Penn and Indiana State in 1979. The Zags' collapse against UCLA in Oakland, Calif., led to the Bruins going to three straight Final Fours. UCLA was dead in this game before Jordan Farmar picked J.P. Batista and started the incredible comeback that ultimately led Adam Morrison to cry at midcourt. The Arizona-Illinois game was absolutely epic with a memorable Illini rally in the final five minutes that allowed them to reach their destiny that season: the Final Four. And I'll never forget seeing Phil Martelli in shock in a back locker room at the Meadowlands after Okie State's John Lucas III hit that shot to beat the Hawks and deny them a historic appearance in the Final Four.

Most memorable non-NCAA tournament games

1. Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 in 6OT (2009 Big East tournament)

2. Gonzaga 109, Michigan State 106 in 3OT (2005 Maui Invitational)

3. Oklahoma State 105, Texas 103 in 3OT (2006-07 regular season)

4. Duke 98, Maryland 96 in OT (2000-01 regular season)

5. Louisville 75, Memphis 74 (2005 C-USA title game)

Others receiving votes: Iowa State over Kansas (2000); Illinois over Michigan State (2001); Duke over Maryland (2001 ACC semis); Duke over Kentucky (2001 Jimmy V); UConn over Pitt in 2OT (2002 Big East title game); Wake Forest over North Carolina in 3OT (2003); Maryland over NC State (2004 ACC semis); UNLV over San Diego State (2005); Kentucky over Louisville (2004); Texas over Texas A&M (2007); Baylor over Texas A&M in 5OT (2008); Tennessee over Memphis (2008); UCLA over Cal (2008)

Making the case

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Michael Heiman/Getty ImagesIt was the ultimate watercooler game. The sports world couldn't get enough of the six-OT epic between Syracuse and UConn at Madison Square Garden.

Jay Bilas: The six-overtime thriller between Syracuse and UConn was an incredible experience and speaks for itself. Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and I were lucky to be courtside to broadcast that game. We were similarly lucky to be courtside to broadcast the Michigan State-Gonzaga fistfight in Maui, where big shot after big shot was hit, and guys such as Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown and Adam Morrison played so well at such a high level. Nobody missed a free throw in that one. It was electric. Duke's incredible comeback and collapse by Maryland in 2001 featuring two Final Four teams was what college basketball was all about: great drama, incredible performances and heart by both teams. The Duke-Kentucky game at the Meadowlands was played at such a high level for a December contest and featured two of the game's best programs. And if you didn't see the Michigan State-Illinois game in 2001 at Assembly Hall, you missed a knock-down, drag-out fight that the Illini survived. That was competition at its very finest between Tom Izzo and Bill Self.

Pat Forde: What could possibly top that freak show in Madison Square Garden?

Fran Fraschilla: My definition of a great basketball game is when nobody lost it but one team made a few more spectacular plays to win it. The 2005 Maui Classic semifinal between Gonzaga and Michigan State was such a game because it was filled with so many clutch individual performances, led by Adam Morrison's tournament-record 43 points. Highlighted by Maurice Ager's five late 3s, there were 13 lead changes in the final seven minutes of regulation and four in the last 1:14. The overtimes were just as wild. What a game.

Doug Gottlieb: It wasn't that important a game in the grand scheme of things -- both teams were fairly mediocre -- but I'll never forget the 2005 game in which UNLV miraculously came back from 10 down with 28 seconds to go to force overtime at San Diego State on an off-balance 3-pointer at the buzzer. Vegas beat the shell-shocked Aztecs by two in OT.

Andy Katz: I'm not sure I've seen another game that changed as quickly as when the Terps' 10-point lead evaporated in a minute against Duke in 2001. The drama of the Texas-Oklahoma State classic was quite a spectacle as well. The utter elation and draining emotion of those two games will not soon be forgotten.

Dana O'Neil: Any game that begins on a Thursday and ends on a Friday (i.e., Cuse-UConn) gets my vote at the top of the list. Each of the top five has exactly what great games are made of: Jim McKay's thrill of victory and agony of defeat. The latter could not have been more evident than when Memphis' Darius Washington fell to his knees and wept after missing the final two of three free throw attempts with his team down one and no time left on the clock, with a conference title and NCAA tourney berth on the line.