The 20 most influential college basketball games of the 2000s: Virginia vs. UMBC, Villanova vs. UNC, more

With the 2022-23 college basketball season fast approaching, it’s a great time for your resident Hoop Thinker to do what he does best: Copy other people’s smart ideas!

When I read through my The Athletic colleague Andy Staples’ entertaining story in August ranking the 20 most influential college football games of the 2000s, I came down with an acute case of list envy. So with a not-so-gentle push from our college basketball senior managing editor Hugh Kellenberger (“If you don’t do this, we’re going to make you our Thursday Night Football beat writer”), I set out to do the same for the men’s game.

As Andy noted, it’s not easy to define what makes a game “influential.” First and foremost, the game needs to be consequential to the overall narrative of the sport. It should have a historically significant result, or at least an iconic moment or two. And it should have decided something important.

Not surprisingly, most of these games took place in the NCAA Tournament. But not all. March Madness is the capstone for college basketball, but there are plenty of other golden nuggets from the past 22 years that are well worth revisiting. So with a tip of the hat to Andy, here are my Influential 20, followed by the 10 games that almost made the cut.

20. UConn 76, Pittsburgh 74

March 10, 2011

Since UConn went 9-9 and finished ninth in the Big East, it did not get a bye into Wednesday’s second round for the conference tournament in Madison Square Garden, much less the double bye that went to the top four seeds.

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