Believe it or not, the NCAA Tournament is already down to 16 remaining teams. The Sweet 16 starts Thursday, and that got us thinking: what are our favorite Sweet 16 games we’ve watched?
Sam Perkins and Doric Sam recount theirs below.
My favorite all-time Sweet 16 matchup came when 13th-seeded Valparaiso and eighth-seeded Rhode Island met in the 1998 Midwest regional semifinal — a battle between the two big Cinderella stories of that year’s tournament. Seventeen years later, I still vividly remember watching this game, as an eighth grader, with my dad.
Valpo’s path to the Sweet 16 was well told, and, thanks to Bryce Drew’s game-winning long bomb in the opening round against Mississippi, remains well known today.
But the Rams were a great story in their own right. The roster was largely built by Al Skinner before he left for Boston College, and they remained together under new head coach Jim Harrick. They featured future NBAer Cuttino Mobley, but they were a sum-is-larger-than-its-parts squad led by the dynamic playmaking of pint-sized point guard Tyson Wheeler and the heart of undersized power forward Antonio Reynolds-Dean.
The Sweet 16 matchup between two teams that had been written off by just about everyone entering the tournament didn’t disappoint — truly one of those games where neither team deserved to walk away with an L. This was a 40 minute war between two teams who simply did not want to go home, with the Rams and the Crusaders throwing haymakers from the opening tip until the final horn.
Rhode Island opened the game up 50-39 with a little over 18 minutes remaining on a big dunk by center Luther Clay — a moment most thought would be the final nail in the Crusaders’ coffin — only for Valparaiso to get up off the mat and throw a flurry of punches, cutting the Rams’ lead down to one, 64-63, with 3:54 left. But Reynolds-Dean took over in the game’s final minutes, coming up with two huge blocks at the rim, while converting a 3-point play at the other end, giving the Rams a sliver of breathing room en route to a 74-68 win.
After the game, the Crusaders and their fans provided one final, magical March moment. With thousands of fans remaining in the arena, chanting, long after the final horn, the entire Valpo roster — from the players, to the coaches, to the trainers and managers, none of whom had a dry eye — returned to the court for a final curtain call.