I'm prone to hyperbole. And hyperbole in headlines helps bring readers. Was last night's six overtime marathon between Syracuse and Connecticut the greatest college basketball game ever played? Probably not. But let's take a closer look:
This is where this game is lacking. The quarterfinals of the Big East tournament just can't match the intensity of an NCAA tournament game. In this case, each team was guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance regardless of outcome.
For these teams, however, the stakes were high. It's a pretty intense rivalry and a prime-time game at Madison Square Garden is a big deal for these players. Also, UCONN had lost 4 straight openers in the Big East tourney and wanted this game badly. And Syracuse is working to improve its seeding.
It was big to these teams, but hardly matched the stakes of a National Championship game or even a game like Duke-Kentucky in the East Regional Finals of 1992.
Quality of Teams
UCONN is one of the top 4 teams in the country. They've been ranked #1 twice this year and, despite the loss, I think they'll still be a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney. Syracuse was ranked as high as 8th this year and have already beaten Big 12 champ Kansas, Top 5-ranked Memphis and Florida out of conference.
These are two very good teams playing in the nation's toughest conference. Again, are they Duke and Kentucky from 1992? Not quite. But they can match up with just about anyone in college basketball this season.
That's where this game has an advantage over most others. Only a 1981 game between Cincinnati and Bradley went longer (7 overtimes), but the final score in that game was just 75-73 because that was before the shot clock. Two games in the 1950s also went to 6 overtimes.
This game is more impressive than any of these because of the shot clock. That entire 7 OT game totaled 148 points. Syracuse and UCONN scored a combined 102 points in overtime alone (and 244 total). The shot clock changes everything. Before the shot clock, teams could rest on offense, milking the clock. Now, teams must continue moving, getting just 35 seconds per possession. This 6 OT game was significantly harder on the players than any previous college basketball game ever played.
Record for points scored in OT: 56 (Syracuse)
Record for total points scored in OT: 102
Minutes played by Johnny Flynn: 67 of a possible 70
Total FGs made-attempted: 82-209
Total FTs made-attempted: 64-93
Players who fould out: 8 (four for each team)
This game had it all. UCONN never lead by more than 4 points in regulation. Syracuse lead by 7 points with 4 minutes left, but UCONN came back to tie it with 4 seconds left. Syracuse then hit what appeared to be an amazing buzzer-beating 3 point shot, but after a long review, the refs waved it off.
In the first OT, UCONN lead by as many as four but Syracuse tied it on a dunk at the end. In the 2nd OT, UCONN never lead by more than 2 and just missed a half court shot at the buzzer. In the 3rd OT, lead by 6 with must 2 minutes remaining, but Syracuse hit a three pointer with 10 seconds left to tie it up. In the 4th OT, UCONN again never lead by more than 2 points. In the 5th OT, UCONN lead by three, but Syracuse again tied it.
In the 6th and final OT, Syracuse took the lead on a three pointer on the opening possession. It was their first lead since regulation. They had played 25 minutes of OT basketball without leading once. But after that three, they never looked back, winning by 10 points.
Is it greatest game ever played? Probably not. The closer you are to the game, the more likely you are to overstate it's importance. I doubt this game is remembered 15 years from now like the Duke-Kentucky game of 1992.
In fact, I'd site two other games involving Syracuse in the last 20 years that are more memorable to me. First, the 1996 game against Georgia in the NCAA tournament that included a buzzer-beater at the end of regulation to tie it and a John Wallace 3-pointer at the end of OT to win it. And second, the 2003 Finals when Carmelo Anthony lead my Orange to a title over Kansas.
It was a great, great game. One I will never forget and one that will stand in the record books for a long time. But it's not the greatest game ever.