There is nothing quite like the Big Dance. You take the best teams in college basketball, put them in a bracket, and then have them each embark on a month-long, single elimination tournament. This “win or you’re out” style helps create one of the most exciting sporting events in the world. Literally any team can win, and that’s what makes the NCAA men’s basketball tournament so thrilling. Since its beginning in 1939, the tournament has produced an incredible number of memorable moments, from buzzer-beating wins to miraculous Cinderella stories. What are some of the best?
Here are 10 Memorable Moments in March Madness History.
10. Tyus Edney Drives for the Win
UCLA is no stranger to the NCAA tournament. In 1995, the Bruins finished the regular season with a record of 26-1 and had earned a No. 1 seed. They were primed to win an 11th national title, but a tough Missouri team stood in their way. Leading by 1 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Missouri was only 4.8 seconds away from a huge upset victory. UCLA senior Tyus Edney would have none of that though. He drove the entire length of the court and banked in a layup as the buzzer sounded, giving the eventual national champion Bruins a 75-74 victory.
9. George Mason’s Cinderella Season
Sure, upsets happen every year in the NCAA tournament. However, rarely do these Cinderellas have enough magic to make it to the Final Four. Apparently, however, no one told that to No. 11 seed George Mason back in 2006. They beat perennial powerhouses Michigan State and North Carolina in the first and second rounds of the tournament that year. A win over pesky Wichita State in the Sweet Sixteen set up a game against top-seeded UConn. Despite having four future first-round NBA draft picks, George Mason was able to knock out the Huskies in overtime to advance to the Final Four. Florida, the eventual national champion, would end George Mason’s run in the national semifinals, but not before George Mason captured the imaginations of underdogs everywhere.
8. Keith Smart’s Game Winner
One of the most exciting aspects of the Big Dance is that one shot can send a player into college basketball lore. Trailing Syracuse by 1 in the national title game, the Indiana Hoosiers had one last chance to take the lead before the game ended. Instead of opting for star Steve Alford, Indiana turned to the modest junior guard Keith Smart. Known today simply as “The Shot”, Smart swished in a buzzer-beating jumper as time expired, giving Indiana their fifth national title, and creating one of the most memorable moments in March Madness history.
7. A Legend is Born
The 1982 national championship game was supposed to be a showcase between junior James Worthy of North Carolina and freshman Patrick Ewing of Georgetown. However, it was another freshman, some guy named Michael Jordan, that stole the show. Down by 1, Jordan knocked down a jumper with 17 seconds left to give North Carolina the lead. Georgetown had time to take it back, but Hoyas guard Fred Brown mistakenly passed the ball to his opponent in the waning seconds, giving North Carolina the title, and beginning the legend of Michael Jordan.
6. Kansas Comes Back Big
It looked like a done deal. With a couple minutes to play in the 2008 national title game, Kansas trailed a star-studded Memphis team by nine. However, anyone who has played basketball knows that free-throws certainly aren’t free. Some crucial misses by the Tigers late in the game allowed Kansas to rally. With seconds left, Kansas guard Mario Chalmers hit a game-tying three-pointer to force overtime. The Jayhawks had all the momentum, and would win the national title.
5. Magic vs. Bird in 1979 National Title
Before ushering in a “golden era” of NBA basketball in the 1980s, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird gave the nation a taste of what was to come in the 1979 NCAA national championship. Bird was the national player of the year, leading mid major Indiana State to a perfect 33-0 record coming into the title game against Johnson and Michigan State. In what became the most-watched college basketball game ever at the time, Magic was able to outshine Bird. The Spartans won convincingly, and a great individual rivalry was born. The game also helped make the NCAA tournament a must-watch television event.
4. Christian Laettner’s Buzzer-Beater
Christian Laettner was much more than the worst player on the original Olympic Dream Team. In 1992, he was the college basketball player everybody loved to hate, having helped lead Duke to a national title the year prior. It looked like Duke was ready to win another championship. However, in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament that year, they trailed Kentucky by one with only 2.1 seconds left in overtime. Inbounding the ball behind his own basket, Duke’s Grant Hill was left unguarded. He hit Laettner with a stellar pass down the court, who then swished a spinning fadeaway from 18 feet to send his team to the Final Four. The game was an instant classic, and serves as a reminder to always guard the inbound pass! And in fairness to Laettner, he did have himself a solid, long NBA career despite never quite living up to the hype.
3. A Victory for Civil Rights
By 1966, much of college basketball was integrated, but not everyone was onboard with it. Adolph Rupp of Kentucky did not recruit black players until the end of his coaching career, and his all-white team was the heavy favorites against Texas Western (now UTEP) in the championship game that year. Texas Western coach Don Haskins, who had made history earlier that year by starting five African-American players for the first time, did so again in the title game. The Miners used stellar defense to hold Kentucky to 38% shooting, and would win 72-65, cementing themselves in college basketball history and scoring a win for civil rights.
2. Villanova Beats Georgetown in 1985
The 1985 national title game pitted the defending champion Georgetown against the underdog No. 8 seed Villanova. Georgetown had returned four starters from the year prior, including Patrick Ewing, and looked primed for an easy victory (Georgetown had already beat Villanova twice that year). However, in what was one of the all-time great shooting performances, Villanova shot 78% from the field, missing just one shot in the entire second half! The Wildcats stunned Georgetown, becoming the lowest-seeded team to ever win a national title.
1. N.C. State Upsets Houston at the Buzzer
Nobody expected the 1983 national championship game to be close. The Houston Cougars and their notorious Phi Slama Jama squad featured future Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Coach Jim Valvano’s No. 6 seeded N.C. State came into the game as heavy underdogs. However, with time winding down toward the end of the game, both teams found themselves tied at 52, with the Wolfpack in possession. Dereck Whittenburg tossed up a long-range shot with time expiring, but it came up short. Lorenzo Charles, however, was able to grab the miss and slam it home at the buzzer. It was one of the greatest sporting upsets of all-time, and tops our list of most memorable moments in March Madness history. The moment is equally remembered for the late Jimmy V running around the court after the game, trying to find someone to hug.
The best part about lists like these is that people always disagree with them. What did we miss? What would your top 10 look like? Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to get your March Madness fix on Sporcle!
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.