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Ultimate March Madness: The 20 Greatest Moments in NCAA Tournament History

Posted on March 17, 2010 by A.J. Foss
Christian Laettner's game-winning shot ended one of the great games in NCAA Tournament history.

Christian Laettner's game-winning shot ended one of the great games in NCAA Tournament history.

Welcome to the third and final part of the Ultimate March Madness List.
This installment features the top 20 moments in the history of the NCAA Tournament.

20. 1998 Valparaiso-Ole Miss

With 2.5 seconds left and trailing 69-67, Valpo’s Jaime Skyes throws a 60-foot pass down the length of the court that is caught by Bill Jenkins, who then passes it over to Bryce Drew (the head coach’s son), who then proceeds to drill a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give #13 seed Valparaiso an improbable 70-69 victory over the #4 seed Ole Miss Rebels in their first round game.

19. 1990 Connecticut-Clemson
With exactly one second left, Uconn guard Tate George catches a full-court pass from Scott Burrell, lands, then squares up to shoots a jumper that goes in the basket at the buzzer to give the Huskies a miraculous 71-70 win over the Clemson Tigers and send Connecticut to their first ever Elite Eight.

18. 1991 Duke-UNLV
One year after losing to UNLV 103-73 in the championship game, Duke avenges that humiliating by knocking off the undefeated and defending national champion Runnin’ Rebels 79-77 as Christian Lattener hits two free throws with 12.7 seconds left.

Duke would win the national championship two nights later as they defeated Kansas 72-65 to give coach Mike Krzyzewski his first national title after five trips to the Final Four.

What is the Greatest Moment in NCAA Tournament History?

  • 1983 N.C. State's Prayer is Answered (40%, 6 Votes)
  • 1992 Laettner's Shot Lifts Duke Over Kentucky (27%, 4 Votes)
  • 1985 Villanova Knocks Down Ewing's Hoyas (13%, 2 Votes)
  • 1966 Texas Western Shocks Kentucky (7%, 1 Votes)
  • 1979 Magic Tops Bird (7%, 1 Votes)
  • 2006 George Mason Shocks UConn (7%, 1 Votes)
  • 1982 Jordan sinks Georgetown (0%, 0 Votes)
  • 1987 Smart Sinks Syracuse (0%, 0 Votes)
  • 2010 Duke Edges Butler in Thrilling Final (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 15

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N.C. State ended UCLA's run of seven straight national titles in 1974.

N.C. State ended UCLA's run of seven straight national titles in 1974.

17. 1974 N.C. State-UCLA
UCLA’s run of seven straight national championships comes to an end as the Bruins blow a 11-point lead against the N.C. State Wolfpack in the second half of their national semifinal, then blow a seven-point lead in the second overtime as N.C. State goes on a 13-2 run to pull out the 80-77 victory and send the Wolfpack to the title game where they would defeat Marquette.

16. 1973 UCLA-Memphis
One year earlier, UCLA center Bill Walton gives a near-perfect performance as he hits on 21 of 22 shots for a championship game record 44 points to give the Bruins their seventh straight national championship with a 87-66 victory over the Memphis Tigers.

15. 1990 Loyola Marymount
Playing just two weeks after the death of All-American Hank Gathers during the West Coast Conference Tournament, the Loyola Marymount Lions make an emotional and heartwarming run to the Elite Eight.

The Lions entered the tournament as a #11 seed in the West Regional and faced New Mexico in their first round matchup.

When Bo Kimble, Gathers’ best friend and teammate since high school, went to the free throw line for the first time in the game, he shot his first free throw left-handed, the way Gathers shot free throws, in his friend’s memory.

The free throw was good and Kimble went on to score 45 points in a 111-92 win over New Mexico.

Kimble would repeat this act in the Lions’ second round matchup with #3 seed Michigan as the Lions defeated the Wolverines 149-115 in the highest scoring game in NCAA tournament history.

Kimble did not go to the foul line in the Lions’ Sweet Sixteen game with the Alabama Crimson Tide, but Loyola Marymount came away with a 62-60 win to advance to the Elite Eight where Kimble would make his left-handed free throw for the third time in a 131-101 loss to eventual national champion UNLV.

14. 1989 Michigan-Seton Hall
Assistant coach Steve Fisher takes the head coaching duties at Michigan right before the tournament begins, after head coach Bill Frieder was fired because he accepted the head coaching job at Arizona State, and leads the Wolverines to the national championship.

Michigan point guard Rumeal Robinson nails the game-winning free throws with three seconds to play in overtime after a controversial foul to give the Wolverines an 80-79 victory over the Seton Hall Pirates.

Larry Brown and Danny Manning led Kansas to a surprising national title in 1988.

Larry Brown and Danny Manning led Kansas to a surprising national title in 1988.

13. 1988 Kansas-Oklahoma
Player of the year Danny Manning scores 31 points, grabs 18 rebounds, and makes five steals while his other unheralded Kansas teammates combine for 22-of-31 shooting as the Jayhawks upset their conference rivals, the Oklahoma Sooners, 83-79 in the championship game.

The Jayhawks, a #6 seed out of the Midwest Regional, become the first team with at least 10 losses to win the NCAA tournament and become immortalized as “Danny and the Miracles”.

12. 1981 Second Round
The craziest single day in NCAA tournament occurs in the second round of the 1981 NCAA tournament as the top two ranked teams in the country and the defending national champions are all eliminated by last-second shots in the same afternoon.

#1 ranked DePaul and the Mideast Region’s top seed is knocked off by St. Joseph’s when John Smith makes the game-winning layup with three seconds left for a 49-48 victory.

#2 ranked Oregon State, the 1 seed in the West Region, is stunned by Kansas State when Rolando Blackmon makes a 16-foot jumper from the right corner with two seconds left to give the Wildcats a 50-48 win.

But perhaps the most remarkable event of this day occurs in the Midwest Regional matchup between Arkansas and Louisville, the defending national champions, when Razorback U.S. Reed makes a buzzer beater from beyond half court, giving Arkansas a 74-73 victory.

11. 2008 Kansas-Memphis

Kansas guard Mario Chalmers hits a 3-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 63 and send the game into overtime, where Kansas would outscore Memphis 12-5 for a 75-68 win and the school’s first national championship in 20 years.

Memphis held a nine-point lead with 2:12 to go but missed several free throws down the stretch to set up Chalmers’ heroics.

10. 1957 North Carolina-Kansas

Just one night after defeating Michigan State 74-70 in triple overtime of their national semifinal, North Carolina plays another triple overtime game this time against Kansas and center Wilt Chamberlain.

North Carolina center Joe Quigg makes the game-tying and game-winning free throws with six seconds left in the third overtime to give the Tar Heels their first national championship with a 54-53 victory.

9. 1993 North Carolina-Michigan

Michigan forward Chris Webber etches his name in infamy as he calls for a timeout with 11 seconds remaining and his team trailing 73-71, not realizing that Michigan was out of timeouts.

The miscue results in North Carolina getting two free throws and possession of the ball which results in two more free throws and securing head coach Dean Smith’s second national championship with a 77-71 victory.

8.2006 George Mason-Connecticut
#11 seed George Mason out of the Colonial Athletic Association completes its Cinderella run to the Final Four as they rally from a nine-point deficit in the second half of their East Regional Final against UConn and hold off the top-seeded Huskies in overtime for a 86-84 win, to become the second #11 seed to reach the Final Four.

During their memorable run, George Mason knocked off Michigan State, North Carolina, Wichita State, and Connecticut.

Keith Smart hit the game winning shot to give Indiana the national title.

Keith Smart hit the game winning shot to give Indiana the national title.

7. 1987 Indiana-Syracuse
Following a missed one-and-one by forward Derrick Coleman, Indiana guard Keith Smart nails a 16-foot baseline jumper with four seconds to play to put the Hoosiers ahead and then steals the inbounding pass on Syracuse’s last possession to give Indiana a 74-73 victory and the national championship, the third for head coach Bob Knight.

6. 1982 Georgetown-North Carolina

The legend of Michael Jordan begins as the freshman sensation hits a 16-foot jump shot with 17 seconds to play, which turns out to be the winning basket in the Tar Heels’ 63-62 victory of the Georgetown Hoyas in the title game.

The win is secured when Georgetown’s Fred Brown throws the ball away to North Carolina’s James Worthy on the possession following Jordan’s basket, giving head coach Dean Smith his first national championship in his seventh trip to the Final Four.

5. 1979 Michigan State-Indiana State

Indiana State guard Larry Bird and Michigan State guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson begin their legendary rivalry in the national championship game, in the most watched college basketball game of all time.

However, the game does not live to the hype as Bird is limited to just 19 points on seven of 21 shots while Johnson pours in 23 points as the Spartans go on to a relatively easy 75-64 win and the school’s first national championship.

Still, this game is seen as the birth of March Madness.

4.1966 Texas Western-Kentucky
Texas Western, with an all-black starting lineup, defeats Adolph Rupp and his all-white Kentucky Wildcats in a game that is considered the “Brown v. Board of Education” of college basketball as teams that were not integrated began recruiting black players.

3.1985 Villanova-Georgetown
Villanova, the #8 seed from the Southeast regional, plays the perfect game as the team shoots 78% from the field (22 out of 28 shots) to knock off the top-ranked and defending national champion Georgetown Hoyas 66-64, to become the lowest seed to ever win the NCAA tournament.

2. 1983 N.C. State-Houston
N.C. State complete perhaps the greatest run in the history of March Madness as Wolfpack forward Lorenzo Charles catches Derrick Whitenberg’s 30-foot air ball, and dunks it as time expires to give NC State a 54-52 upset win over the Houston Cougars and their “Phi Slama Jamma” team.

The last-second win is the fourth win for the Wolfpack in which they trailed in the second half and had to come back to win during the tournament (Pepperdine in the first round, UNLV in the second round, and Virginia in the elite eight).

The image of N.C. State head coach Jim Valvano running onto the court after Charles’ basket and looking for someone to hug is one of the most famous images in March Madness history.

1. 1992 Duke-Kentucky
It is the moment that is replayed every March.  It is “The Shot” or the Laettner game.

With 2.1 seconds to go in overtime and trailing 103-102, Duke forward Grant Hill throws a full-court pass that is caught by Christian Laettner at the top of the key.

Laettner dribbles once after the catch and shoots an 18-foot fade away that goes through the net as time expired to send Duke to the Final Four for the fifth straight year.

Laettner finishes the game with 31 points as he makes all ten of his shots and all ten of his free throws in what most experts consider to be the greatest game in NCAA tournament history.

Check out the other articles in the countdown:

Ultimate NCAA Tournament Moments 40-21

Ultimate NCAA Tournament Moments 65-41


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