The 25 best Sweet 16 moments from the NCAA men's tournament
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The 25 best Sweet 16 moments from the NCAA men's tournament

The deeper into the men's NCAA Tournament we go, the more memorable the moments become. Whether buzzer-beating shots, prime-time individual performances, or historic accomplishments, the Sweet 16, in particular, has given college basketball fans some lasting memories.

Here's our ranking of the 25 best moments from the Sweet 16.

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25. Upstarts meet in St. Louis (1998)

Upstarts meet in St. Louis (1998)

Upsets ruled early in the Midwest Region of the 1998 NCAA Tournament. The second round featured No. 12 seed Florida State against 13th-seeded Valparaiso. Meanwhile, No. 8 seed Rhode Island upset No. 1 Kansas in the round of 32. That set up the Rams and Valpo in a Sweet 16 contest in St. Louis made for fans of the underdog. Neither team shot that well, but Cuttino Mobley and Rhode Island prevailed 74-68 in a matchup that proved seedings often don't matter amid the madness of March.

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24. LSU's Final Four run goes through No. 2 Georgia Tech (1986)

LSU's Final Four run goes through No. 2 Georgia Tech (1986)
Louisiana State University/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Led by John Williams, Don Redden, Derrick Taylor, and Ricky Blanton, LSU reached the Final Four of the 1986 NCAA Tournament as a No. 11 seed (tied for the lowest seed to advance that far). The Tigers got there by beating the top-three seeds in their region. In the Sweet 16, it was second-seeded Georgia Tech, who shot 58.3 percent for the contest, but committed 17 turnovers and had no answer in stopping Redden (27 points) and Taylor (23 points), as LSU won 70-64.

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23. UAB handles Sampson, Virginia (1982)

UAB handles Sampson, Virginia (1982)

Ralph Sampson was the best college basketball player in the country during the early 1980s, yet his Virginia Cavaliers never won a national championship. Sampson and the Cavaliers were a No. 1 seed at the 1982 NCAA Tournament, but after struggling to dominate No. 9 seed Tennessee in the second round, they lost 68-66 to fourth-seeded UAB in this regional semifinal contest. Sampson had 19 points and 21 rebounds in that game, but the Blazers' Oliver Robinson scored 23 and hit a pair of key free throws with just under seven minutes to play following a technical on Virginia coach Terry Holland.

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22. Kansas State surges by No. 1 Purdue (1988)

Kansas State surges by No. 1 Purdue (1988)

The fourth-seeded Wildcats trailed 10-0 and by nine at the half. However, on the heels of 27 points and 11 rebounds from star Mitch Richmond, Kansas State came to life in the second half to take down top-seeded Purdue 73-70 in this regional semifinal classic. What made things more satisfying for the K-State was the fact it lost 101-72 to the Boilermakers during the regular season. The Wildcats' run would end in the Elite Eight, however, when they were upset by rival and eventual national champion Kansas.

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21. Arizona's Williams hammers Duke (2011)

Arizona's Williams hammers Duke (2011)
Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire

Duke was the reigning national champion and a No. 1 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils' roster included the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kyle Singler, but it was Arizona sophomore Derrick Williams who was the star in this regional semifinal matchup. Williams put on a show. Thanks to five three-pointers and a pair of highlight-reel dunks, in scoring a career-high 32 points and pulling down 13 boards as the fifth-seeded Wildcats shot 54.0 percent and scored 55 second-half points en route to a 93-77 rout of the Blue Devils.

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20. Macon, Temple go extra to upset Oklahoma State (1991)

Macon, Temple go extra to upset Oklahoma State (1991)

John Chaney's Temple Owls earned an at-large bid and the No. 10 seed in the 1991 NCAA Tournament. After knocking off seventh-seeded Purdue in the first round and fellow upstart No. 15 seed Richmond in the second, the Owls posted one of the most memorable wins in school history, 72-63 over third-seeded Oklahoma State in overtime of the Sweet 16. The Cowboys thought they'd won the game in the final seconds of regulation when Corey Williams hit what seemed to be a tiebreaking 3-pointer. However, his foot was on the line and the game went to overtime. Temple star Mark Macon, who scored 26 points, hit his first three shots of the extra session to help his squad pull off the upset.

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19. Tar Heels survive Bobcat-upset (2012)

Tar Heels survive Bobcat-upset (2012)
William Purnell/Icon Sportswire

The Cinderella No. 13 seed Ohio Bobcats were unable to pull off a Sweet 16-stunner over top-seeded North Carolina in 2012, but they sure put up a valiant effort in their 73-65 overtime defeat . Despite shooting 32.4 percent overall from the field and being outrebounded 63-30 by the mighty Tar Heels, Ohio sank 12 three-pointers and forced 24 Carolina turnovers to remain competitive. The Bobcats also had a shot to take the lead late in regulation, but Walter Offutt (26 points) failed to convert a traditional three-point play. Ohio managed just two points in overtime but earned some major respect for the program.

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18. Inspired LMU can't be slowed down (1990)

Inspired LMU can't be slowed down (1990)

No. 11 seed Loyola Marymount's inspiring and emotional run to the 1990 regional final was filled with special moments (Bo Kimble's left-handed free throws to honor fallen teammate and best friend Hank Gathers). While it's hard for college hoops fans to forget the run-and-gun Lions totaling 260 points in upsetting New Mexico State and reigning national champ Michigan in the first two rounds, respectively, some might forget it overcame seventh-seeded Alabama's attempt to slow the pace down and squeak out a 62-60 victory in the Sweet 16. Despite shooting 33.8 percent -- 7-of-28 from three-point range -- and allowing the Crimson Tide to make 49 percent of their shots, LMU forced 24 and rallied from eight down late to continue its magical tournament run. 

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17. Curry keeps Davidson rolling (2008)

Curry keeps Davidson rolling (2008)
Tim Cowie /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Stephen Curry's performance during 10th-seeded Davidson's run to the 2008 Elite Eight was beyond special. Curry averaged 32.0 points and went 23-of-52 from three-point range over the four games. In a 73-56 regional semifinal-victory over No. 3 seed Wisconsin, Curry went 11-of-22 from the field and knocked down six 3s to finish with 33 points as the Wildcats outscored the Badgers 37-20 in the second half.

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16. Carsen comes through for Purdue (2019)

Carsen comes through for Purdue (2019)
Robert Scheer/Indianapolis Star/USA TODAY

As the saying goes, big-time players step up in big-time games. Enter Purdue's, Carsen Edwards. After Tennessee's Grant Williams threw down a dunk with 8.8 seconds left in regulation to give his team an 82-80 lead in this 2019 regional semifinal, Edwards (29 points) drew a foul on his missed three-pointer. He knocked down two of three free throws to force overtime, and the third-seeded Boilermakers eventually outlasted the No. 2 seed Volunteers in the extra session, winning 99-94.

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15. Top-ranked Ohio State climbs out of hole, beats Vols (2007)

Top-ranked Ohio State climbs out of hole, beats Vols (2007)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

A 17-point halftime deficit to fifth-seeded Tennessee was not enough to deter the No. 1 Buckeyes from making an expected run to the 2007 national championship game. Ron Lewis scored 25 points, and star 7-footer Greg Oden, in foul trouble most of the night and limited to nine points with three rebounds in just 18 minutes, came up big with a last-second block to help Ohio State avoid a Sweet 16 upset and pull out the 85-84 victory.

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14. Hoosiers rally, end Duke's repeat bid (2002)

Hoosiers rally, end Duke's repeat bid (2002)
Craig Jones/Getty Images

Another team that needed to overcome a 17-point deficit in the Sweet 16, fifth-seeded Indiana chipped away at the No. 1 Blue Devils' seemingly comfortable lead. By the time the dust settled, Hoosiers star sophomore Jared Jeffries had 24 points with 15 rebounds and Mike Davis' squad outscored the reigning national champions 45-31 in the second half to pull out a stunning 74-73 win. That victory would further propel Indiana to the national title game, which it lost to Maryland.

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13. Turner gets Memphis past underdog BC (1985)

Turner gets Memphis past underdog BC (1985)
Scott Taetsch/USA TODAY Sports

Back when the school went by Memphis State, the Tigers owned a No. 2 seed in the 1985 NCAA Tournament. However, upstart 1tth-seeded Boston College gave Memphis all it could handle in this regional semifinal contest. Tied at 57 in the final seconds, BC turned the ball over and Vincent Askew kicked back a pass to 5-foot-10 star Andre Turner, who promptly made a game-winning jumper from the elbow as time expired to keep the Tigers from an upset loss.

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12. Kentucky says good-Knight to Ohio State (2011)

Kentucky says good-Knight to Ohio State (2011)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Kentucky's Brandon Knight shot the ball poorly most of the night against No. 1 seed Ohio State in this 2011 regional semifinal contest. However, when the fourth-seeded Wildcats needed their talented freshman guard most, he came through. After the Buckeyes' Jon Diebler hit a tying three-pointer with 21 seconds left in regulation, Knight came down and canned a 15-foot jumper with 5 seconds remaining to ultimately give Kentucky the 62-60 upset victory.

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11. Florida's Chiozza-n one (2017)

Florida's Chiozza-n one (2017)
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Wisconsin was a No. 8 seed in 2017 but led fourth-seeded Florida by five with less than a minute to play in overtime. However, the Gators weren't done. Canyon Barry recorded a huge block on a Wisconsin breakaway attempt to keep the Badgers from pulling away. Then, with his team trailing by two points in the final seconds, Florida guard Chris Chiozza literally pushed a three-point heave that went in and sent the Gators to a seemingly improbable 84-83 victory.

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10. Cinderella Gonzaga tips way into Elite Eight (1999)

Cinderella Gonzaga tips way into Elite Eight (1999)
Getty Images

The 1999 NCAA Tournament was Gonzaga's national coming-out party. The Zags' program has not looked back since, but that 1998-99 group deserves to be celebrated. As the No. 10 seed, Gonzaga knocked off second-seeded Stanford in the round of 32, then faced No. 6 seed Florida in the Sweet 16. Trailing the Gators by a point, Casey Calvary tipped-in teammate Quentin Hall's missed runner with 4.4 seconds left in regulation to send Gonzaga to the Elite Eight with a 73-72 triumph. Having Gus Johnson on the call only made it better.

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9. Paulino shoots Texas over West Virginia (2006)

Paulino shoots Texas over West Virginia (2006)

Memorable, last-second shots are part of just about every NCAA Tournament. That was the case during the regional finals of 2006, when second-seeded Texas' Kenton Paulino drained a three-pointer at the buzzer  to stun Kevin Pittsnogle and No. 6 seed West Virginia, 72. Paulino had just five points at the time of his game-winner. It just proves that it doesn't take the star of the team -- which was shared by LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker -- to be the hero.

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8. Zags give it away to UCLA (2006)

Zags give it away to UCLA (2006)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

With a trip to the 2006 Elite Eight in its sights, No. 3 seed Gonzaga led second-seeded UCLA the entire game and was up one when the Bruins pressed and forced a J.P. Batista turnover with 12.9 seconds left in regulation . Which, in turn, resulted in Jordan Farmar's pass to a wide-open Luc Richard Mbah a Moute at the basket for the go-ahead layup -- exuberantly called by Gus Johnson. UCLA won 73-71, leaving Zags star Adam Morrison wallowing on the floor in disappointment.

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7. Crawford stars, but Xavier falls to K-State in double-OT thriller (2010)

Crawford stars, but Xavier falls to K-State in double-OT thriller (2010)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Talk about having a moment. Jordan Crawford finished with 32 points in sixth-seeded Xavier's wild 101-96 double-overtime loss to No. 2 Kansas State in the Sweet 16 of the 2010 tournament. Despite the Musketeers' bitter defeat, Crawford provided the most memorable moment of the game when he drilled a deep three-pointer with just over four seconds left to force the second overtime. Of course, having Gus Johnson on the call made the moment even more exciting.

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6. Burke's long-distance call against Kansas (2013)

Burke's long-distance call against Kansas (2013)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Kansas was the No. 1 seed at the 2013 NCAA Tournament. But, fourth-seeded Michigan had star sophomore Trey Burke when these two perennial powers met up in the regional semifinals. In this highly competitive contest, Michigan shot 49.3 percent and the Jayhawks were at 54.5. Burke, though, hit a  massive 30-foot, game-tying three-pointer with 4.2 seconds remaining to force overtime. Ultimately, that shot from Burke, who scored all 23 of his points after halftime, helped the Wolverines win 87-85.

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5. VCU edges Florida State in underdog battle (2011)

VCU edges Florida State in underdog battle (2011)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In 2011, the "First Four" play-in games certainly made a lasting impression. Thanks to VCU, which knocked off USC in one of those contests. Then, as the No. 11 seed, the Rams beat Georgetown and Purdue, respectively, each by 18 points. In the Sweet 16, VCU wasn't the only upstart to advance. No. 10 seed Florida State just took down second-ranked Notre Dame, and now looked to end the Rams' Cinderella run. In one of the most entertaining and spirited games in NCAA Tournament history , Bradford Burgess (26 points) recorded the go-ahead layup off an inbounds pass with 7.1 seconds remaining in overtime and teammate Rob Brandenberg blocked an FSU shot at the buzzer to give VCU a 72-71 victory.

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4. Hamilton "Rips" upstart Washington (1998)

Hamilton "Rips" upstart Washington (1998)

Richard Hamilton and second-seeded Connecticut did not win the national championship in 1998 (that would come a season later). However, the man known as "Rip" was the hero of one of the wildest finishing sequences in the history of the NCAA Tournament. With UConn trailing 11th seed Washington by one in the '98 Sweet 16, the Huskies got three shots off in the final seven seconds. It was Hamilton's second fall-away jumper at the buzzer, eventually, that was the difference in the 75-74 victory.


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3. By George! UConn takes down Clemson (1990)

By George! UConn takes down Clemson (1990)

Hoops fans love their buzzer-beaters. Especially in March. Some are remarkable. Then there are those that make us scratch our heads in wonder at how they were allowed to happen at all. Taking nothing away from top-seeded Connecticut's Tate George. His impressive full-court catch, and even more miraculous turnaround buzzer-beating jumper to shock No. 5 seed Clemson, 71-70, in the 1990 Sweet 16, is legendary in the minds of Huskies fans. That said, it's puzzling that the Tigers were unable to properly defend an inbound heave, and the ensuing shot when they seemed to have plenty of players in position to accomplish both.

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2. Ainge goes coast-to-coast to sink Irish (1981)

Ainge goes coast-to-coast to sink Irish (1981)

BYU's highly entertaining regional semifinal against second-seeded Notre Dame in 1981 is still considered one of the great games in NCAA Tournament history. It's obviously known for the game's memorable finish, courtesy of Cougars star Danny Ainge. The play started with eight seconds remaining in regulation and BYU down by one. When it ended, Ainge had gone the length of the court, weaving his way through the Irish defense and in for a floating layup that fell with two seconds left. Notre Dame's desperation chance was short and six-seed BYU prevailed, 51-50. 


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1. "The Game of Change" (1963)

"The Game of Change" (1963)

One of the most significant games in the history of college basketball featured a Loyola, Chicago team with four black starters -- something still unheard of even amid the growing civil rights movement in the United States. The Ramblers' 1963 regional semifinal opponent was Mississippi State, an all-white squad whose program never played in the NCAA Tournament because Mississippi colleges, at the time, refused to face teams with black players. However, that changed when Mississippi State president Dean W. Colvard allowed the team to travel, creatively albeit, to Michigan to meet Loyola. After Ramblers' black captain Jerry Harkness and State's white leader Joe Dan Gold took part in a historic, statement-making, pre-game handshake, Loyola went on to win 61-51, and ultimately claim the national championship.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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