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Year in Review: The best mid-major games of 2017

The games...they were good.

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Gonzaga vs North Carolina Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Another year, another set of basketball games that goes into the archive.

This was a busy year for those of us in the mid-major world. It’s fun to look back at where we were in January and see the progression throughout the year that’s led us to where we are now.

There have been A LOT of basketball games played this year. Some were good, some were bad, some were in fact the sport of basketball being played. It’s hard to remember all of them, but we’re going to try our best.

As we say goodbye to 2017 and look forward to a hopeful 2018, let’s take some time to remember some of the best games from mid-major basketball in 2017. We will surely forget (or intentionally omit) some, but don’t take it personal. These were just some of the best.

Gonzaga plays in its first ever National Championship Game

In short, 2017 should be remembered as the year that Gonzaga silenced its critics. After rolling into the NCAA Tournament with a 32-1 record, the Zags finally broke through and made the Final Four. Despite falling short in the National Championship game to a North Carolina team that seemed destined for redemption, Gonzaga’s appearance on the game’s biggest stage solidified themselves as one of the game’s powerhouses.

Nevada rallies to beat New Mexico in OT

Simply put, this game was bonkers. With just over a minute to play, New Mexico had a 90-76 lead and had all but sealed a solid win in The Pit. Then chaos ensued:

The combination of atrocious free throw shooting from New Mexico and absurd shot making from Nevada helped make this one of the biggest collapses/comebacks in college basketball history. Jordan Caroline hitting one final three to cap off a 45-point and give the Wolfpack the win was icing on the cake. Also, let’s take a moment to acknowledge Kenpom’s win probability graph from this game.

Nevada - New Mexico win probability

Dayton and Wichita State get matched up in the First Round

Forcing Dayton and Wichita State to play in the First Round was one of the most egregious cases of mid-majors being on the losing end of poor seeding. Our own Austin Brown wrote about that here.

The game itself only confirmed the fact that these two teams were too good to be matched up at this point in the tournament. The Shockers outlasted Dayton in what would wind up being Archie Miller’s final game as head coach of the Flyers. It’s not often that we get a matchup of two good mid-majors in the tournament, but this one delivered.

UC Davis makes its first NCAA Tournament after a terrible game

The Aggies were one of five teams to make the exit from the Never Made the Tournament Club. In a game that epitomizes #FUNBAD basketball, UC Davis prevailed. Here’s an excerpt from the 2017 NMTC Finale that sums up this game:

There are moments of history you dream of witnessing. The Gettysburg Address. The Fall of Berlin. The Tennis Court Oath. The first half of UC-Irvine vs UC-Davis was one of those moments. Never again will two teams with so much to gain, playing so hard, accomplish so little. It was art.

North Dakota wins in OT to go Dancing for the first time

North Dakota was another team that broke free from the reigns of the NMTC, but they did it in more entertaining fashion. After rallying late in the championship game against Weber State, the Fighting Hawks came away with a 93-89 overtime victory.

VCU wins back-to-back games with insane finishes

Words don’t really do these games justice, so just watch this video on how VCU picked up back-to-back wins against George Washington and St. Bonaventure:

Without this pair of wins, there’s a good chance that VCU wouldn’t have made the NCAA Tournament. Sometimes it pays to be lucky.

The WAC gives us a 4OT thriller in the conference semifinals

In typical Rod Barnes fashion, Cal State Bakersfield prevailed in a rock fight. In the semifinals of the WAC Tournament, the Roadrunners and Utah Valley battled for four overtimes. Both teams barely cracked 80 points, because what else would you expect from a Rod Barnes coached team? This one gave us another great win probability graph.


Wofford takes down No. 5 North Carolina in Chapel Hill

As far as upsets go, you’ll be hard pressed to find one bigger than this one for the 2017-18 season. It’s the most recent of the games on the list, and it featured one of the country’s best shooters in Fletcher Magee. Based on Kenpom’s win expectancy, the Terriers had a 2% chance of pulling the upset. All in all, it was a perfect upset of the defending national champs.

Gonzaga and Florida trade haymakers at PK80

If you were to ask someone what the best game of the 2017-18 season has been, Gonzaga’s double OT thriller against Florida would probably be the most common response. Josh Perkins was huge down the stretch for Gonzaga, and Johnathan Williams poured in 39 points. The Zags came out on the short end, but it was still an extremely entertaining game that featured great shotmaking from two ranked teams.

Ball State stuns Notre Dame at the buzzer

So far this year, Ball State has shown that it’s going to be one of the top tier teams in the MAC. Their marquee moment, however, came against a No. 9 Notre Dame squad. I’ll let Tayler Persons tell you what happened.

Just for good measure, he followed it up with another game winner against Valparaiso.

BYU ruins Gonzaga’s undefeated season

If it weren’t for those pesky Cougars, Gonzaga would have probably taken an undefeated record into the NCAA Tournament. However, BYU had other ideas, and went into the Kennel on the last night of the regular season and took down the No. 1 team in the country. The Cougars trailed early and for a big portion of the game, but came back late to stun the Bulldogs.

UNC Asheville and Winthrop each score 100 in 2OT

According to Kenpom, this was the most exciting game from the 2016-17 season. It’s hard to argue that fact for a game that featured both teams scoring in triple digits and needing two overtimes to settle the score. Former staff favorite Keon Johnson poured in 40 points, but UNCA had five guys with at least 14 points en route to the win. And how could we not include a win probability graph for the year’s most exciting game?

UNCA - Winthrop

Grambling State stuns Georgia Tech

For teams that require you to scroll to the bottom of the Kenpom home page, wins are few and far between. For Grambling State, Kenpom gave them a measly 2% chance to defeat Georgia Tech. So what did they do? They went out and beat Georgia Tech. Our own Mitchell Northam was on sight for that one, and did a great job chronicling the historic night.