March Madness is one of the most popular annual sports traditions in the United States, with the top collegiate basketball programs in the country battling for the coveted title. With a history of over 80 years, the Division I Men's Basketball Tournament has been referred to by the name "March Madness" since 1982.
In a tournament that originally featured just eight teams, March Madness has expanded to a chaotic 64-team competition with four play-in games. NCAA March Madness implemented four play-in games in 2011, giving eight teams a win-or-go-home matchup for a shot at playing in the tournament. The first two rounds of matches bring the field down to just 16 teams for a round that has become endearingly referred to as the Sweet Sixteen.
With this year's Sweet Sixteen round nearly upon us, let's take a look back at the five greatest Sweet Sixteen battles in March Madness history.
Best Sweet Sixteen matches in March Madness history
The Sweet Sixteen typically delivers close battles. Whether it be the high seeds or underdogs, teams often feel the pressure of the single-game knockout format.
The March Madness tournament has experienced many changes throughout the years, so this top five will only feature games under the 64-team format, which began in 1985.
#5 - Gonzaga Bulldogs 71 - 73 UCLA Bruins (2006)
The second-seeded UCLA Bruins were the favorites in this March Madness matchup, but the 3rd-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs started the game in tremendous fashion. Gonzaga led by as many as 17 points, commanding the pace of the game well into the second half.
The Bulldogs were led by star forward Adam Morrison, who averaged an incredible 28.1 points per game on 49.6% shooting. Morrison scored 24 points in the game, but his effort fell just short.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs held a nine-point lead with less than four minutes remaining but the UCLA Bruins began an 11-0 scoring run to close out the game. Forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute put the Bruins ahead with less than 10 seconds remaining.
The Gonzaga Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game at 73, but a mid-range jumper at the buzzer by J.P. Batiste missed wide and sent Adam Morrison to the hardwood. This matchup will always be remembered as one of the wildest finishes in Sweet Sixteen history.
#4 - Kansas State Wildcats 101 - 96 Xavier Musketeers (2010)
The second-seeded Kansas State Wildcats were heavy favorites in this 2010 Sweet Sixteen matchup against sixth-seeded Xavier Musketeers. The Wildcats seemed to be in control, taking an early 15-point lead, but the Musketeers would not go away.
Slowly chipping away at the lead, Xavier pulled to within three points with less than 15 seconds remaining. Xavier guard Terrell Holloway evaded an attempted foul at midcourt, took an ill-advised three-point attempt and was fouled on the shot, earning himself a trip to the line for three free-throws. With his team's season on the line, Holloway hit three clutch free-throws and sent the game into overtime.
The first overtime period was back-and-forth, with Xavier hitting yet another last-second three to send the game to a second overtime. But the next five minutes were all Kansas State with Jacob Pullen doing most of the scoring on the way to a five-point victory. A terrific, hard-fought March Madness battle for the ages.
#3 - Indiana Hoosiers 72 - 68 North Carolina Tar Heels (1984)
The top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels were favorites for the national championship, carrying a 28-3 record into the March Madness tournament. The Tar Heels were led by Michael Jordan, who averaged 19.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
The fourth-seeded Indiana Hoosiers were a very young team, with two freshmen in their starting five. The star of the game, freshman Steve Alford, finished with 27 points to help the Hoosiers pull off a massive upset. The Hoosiers defense held Michael Jordan to just 13 points and advanced to the March Madness Elite Eight for the seventh time in school history. This was the final game of Jordan's college career.
#2 - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 81 - 80 Michigan State Spartans (1990)
The top-seeded Michigan State Spartans were in control during the first half of the game, but the fourth-seeded Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets refused to quit. As the final seconds ticked down, Georgia Tech star Kenny Anderson got the ball with a chance to tie the game. Anderson released a controversial three-pointer nearly simultaneously with the buzzer, hitting the shot and sending the game into overtime.
Anderson would go on to finish with 31 points, leading Georgia Tech to its third Elite Eight appearance. Georgia Tech went on to lose in their Final Four matchup against eventual March Madness tournament champions UNLV Runnin' Rebels.
#1 - Michigan Wolverines 87 - 85 Kansas Jayhawks (2013)
While this game was not the biggest upset in Sweet Sixteen history, the Michigan Wolverines' late comeback to take down top-seeded Kansas went down as an instant classic. The Kansas Jayhawks were leading by 11 points with just under four minutes remaining, carrying all the momentum to that point.
The Wolverines suddenly sprung to life, getting huge buckets down the stretch from star guard Trey Burke. With the clock ticking down, Burke hit a clutch three-point jumper from way beyond the arc and sent the game into overtime, where Michigan would edge Kansas by one score. This upset victory has earned our top spot as the greatest game in Sweet Sixteen history.