Is there anything in sports better than March Madness? The NBA and NHL are just past midseason. Baseball is in its infant stages. The NFL is just starting free agency and readying for the draft.
College basketball has the stage, and all of America is its captive audience. From afternoon games that we watch on work computers and break room televisions to the late-night matchups that we cheer for in whispers to let our family sleep.
It is a one-of-a-kind event that produces indelible images that last a lifetime. The games can't start soon enough, but since there is still some waiting left to do, it is worth looking back on the best moments in tournament history as we prepare for the ones ahead.
There have been many more than 10 classics and everyone has their own favorites. Feel free to add your own favorites or even your own version of the top 10 in the comments section below.
Sit back and enjoy a spine-tingling walk down March Madness memory lane.
On March 26, 1973, the John Wooden-led UCLA Bruins looked to continue their dynasty against the formidable Memphis State Tigers.
The Tigers entered the game 24-5 and were led by All-American Larry Finch and future Bruins coach Gene Bartow.
It was the first-ever Monday night national championship game, played in "The Barn" in St. Louis, Missouri.
Junior center Bill Walton led UCLA to wins over Arizona State, San Francisco and Indiana, averaging 17.0 points and 15.0 rebounds per game.
UCLA dominated their competition, winning each game by more than 10 points. Unfortunately, Finch and Memphis State came to play.
The Bruins and Tigers went blow-for-blow, with Larry Finch going for 29 points. The game was tied at 39 at halftime.
Bill Walton had answer after answer, going 21-of-22 from the field on his way to a championship game record 44 points along with 13 rebounds.
Walton was nearly perfect on the night with an astonishing 95.5 shooting percentage. He scored his points in just 33 minutes which is astonishing, as UCLA won the game 87-66..
A historic night in televised sports was made even more historic with UCLA and Wooden's seventh straight national championship.
The Georgetown Hoyas were the biggest, baddest boys on the block in the mid-1980s. They had a menacing mountain of a coach in John Thompson and an even more intimidating big man in Patrick Ewing.
The Villanova Wildcats entered the 1985 tournament as a No. 8 seed, with a 19-10 record. They lost twice to Georgetown in the regular season by a combined nine points.
After an improbable run where 'Nova pulled upsets over Dayton, Michigan, Maryland, North Carolina and Memphis State, the Wildcats would get their third crack at their toughest nemesis.
It was April Fool's Day in Lexington, Kentucky. The defending champion Hoyas were poised for a repeat, but Villanova was going to make them earn it.
The Wildcats were familiar with Georgetown's rough and tumble, intimidating style, and they would not back down.
They dug in their heels and played tough defense and gutsy offense. Rollie Massimino's team shot daggers at the vaunted Hoya defense.
Villanova went on to shoot an incredible 22-of-28 from the field as a team, led by Dwayne McClain's 17 points and Ed Pinckney's 16 points and six rebounds.
The myth is that Villanova did nothing but stall and grind down the clock, but they played an aggressive game, going to the free-throw line 27 times, compared to Georgetown's eight.
In the end, Villanova vanquished their mighty foe 66-64 in what is still regarded as the greatest upset in the history of March Madness.
UCLA entered their second-round game in Boise, Idaho having won 21 consecutive games. They were heavily favored over the No. 8 seed Missouri Tigers.
Brothers Ed and Charles O'Bannon led a deep and talented Bruins team that also featured senior center George Zidek.
Missouri didn't blink in the face of this dominant UCLA group. The Tigers took it right to the Bruins, threatening to end their glorious season two weeks too soon.
UCLA trailed 74-73 after a made layup by Julian Winfield. That left just 4.8 seconds left in the Bruins' season. The team grouped together for what could have been their final huddle.
Receiving the inbounds pass roughly 84 feet from his basket, 5'10" Tyus Edney raced to half court in less than two seconds. Reaching the time line, a behind-the-back dribble set him loose toward the lane.
As he reached 6'9" Derek Grimm, he created space with a lean to his right as he lofted the ball toward the glass.
The balled banked in as time expired, giving UCLA a thrilling 75-74 victory.
Over the next two weeks, UCLA went on to defeat Mississippi State, Connecticut and Oklahoma State before dethroning the defending nation champion Arkansas Razorbacks.
If not for Edney's blistering dash up the court, the Bruins would still be without a title since John Wooden's retirement in 1975.
Indiana and Syracuse met in New Orleans on March 30, 1987, in a college basketball "Clash of the Titans."
The Hoosiers entered the game at 29-4, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Steve Alford and Keith Smart. The Orangemen stood at 31-6 with five double-figure scorers, among them Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas and dominant freshman Derrick Coleman.
The Hoosiers were carried to the final by Alford and Smart who teamed for 38.8 points per game in the tournament. Syracuse blasted through the field with dynamic offense, suffocating team defense and relentless rebounding.
The two teams traded blows the entire first half, with Indiana leading 34-33 at the break. The second half was more of the same, with Syracuse holding a 73-72 lead and Coleman stepping to the line to shoot the front end of a one-and-one.
The freshman's free-throw attempt came up short, and Indiana grabbed the rebound with 26 seconds remaining.
The Hoosiers exchanged passes at the top of the key before Keith Smart took the ball on the wing. He took one dribble and rose for an 18-foot jumper, falling to his left toward the baseline.
The ball dropped through the net with four seconds left, ultimately leaving Syracuse with a single tick of the clock to overcome a 74-73 deficit.
Syracuse hurled a desperate pass down the court only to have Smart intercept it and start the Hoosiers' celebration.
Smart was awarded the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award after what was truly an epic game.
Sherman Douglas had 20 points an seven assists and Rony Seikaly added 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Derrick Coleman grabbed 19 rebounds.
Indiana answered with three 20-point scorers, led by Alford's 23. Smart scored 21, including the most important two of the game.
In the 1998 NCAA Tournament, fourth-seeded Ole Miss was a chic pick to make an Elite Eight run. They were led by a dangerous inside-outside game of forward Ansu Sesay and guard Keith Carter.
Valparaiso was just a little Indiana school with a funny name. Even their head coach Homer Drew had a funny name. The Crusaders came in with their go-to guy and coach's son, Bryce Drew.
Through most of the game, it looked like a standard first-round matchup. The underdog hung around for a while, and took a surprising lead only to lose it.
Valpo led 65-60 with just over five minutes remaining before the Rebels went on an 9-2 run to take a 69-67 lead with 2:17 left.
The Crusaders wouldn't allow another point, but their last-ditch offensive effort came up short as Drew missed a three. Sesay secured the rebound and was fouled with just four seconds on the clock.
Ansu Sesay stepped to the line and failed on both attempts. The rebound squirted out of bounds with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Trailing by two, Valparaiso needed a miracle. Homer Drew called for a play that the team practiced all season. It was a high-risk, high-reward play, but it was all they had left.
Valpo's Jaine Sykes threw a football-style pass that Tennessee's Peyton Manning would have envied. Bill Jenkins jumped and high-pointed the ball. In one motion, he deftly directed it to the coach's son.
Bryce Drew caught it on the run, planted about three feet behind the arc and let it fly. The ball fluttered through the net as the horn sounded, and the Crusaders celebrated in a pile on the floor.
Valparaiso became the darlings of that March, even winning another game over Florida State. Their Sweet 16 run ended with a loss to Rhode Island, but their story will live on forever.
Since they were college freshmen, no one could have predicted exactly what was in the cards for Patrick Ewing and Michael Jordan. Aside from the fact that one was going to be a national champion after the title game in New Orleans.
The two youngsters weren't the only future stars on the court. Ewing was joined by Eric "Sleepy" Floyd. Jordan teamed up with James Worthy and Sam Perkins.
In a golden age of college basketball, these two teams played in arguably the best game up to that point.
Ewing was an intimidator. He was so active around the rim that North Carolina's first eight points all came on goaltending calls.
The Tar Heels handled the tenacious Georgetown press, going into halftime trailing just 32-31. They were carried by Worthy, who scored 28 points on the night and delivered several thunderous dunks.
Neither team led by more than six points, and there were 15 lead changes throughout the contest.
After Jordan scored to give UNC a 61-58 lead, the Hoyas stormed back with the next four points, taking a 62-61 lead.
Trailing by a point with 20 seconds on the clock, North Carolina needed a score. Point guard Jimmy Black looped a pass from the right elbow to the left wing.
The pass found freshman Michael Jordan on the left wing with 18 seconds to go. Jordan gathered and shot in one fluid motion, draining the go-ahead bucket with just 15 seconds on the clock.
On Georgetown's next possession, guard Fred Brown mistakenly threw a pass directly to James Worthy for the steal. The Tar Heels had just won Dean Smith's first national championship.
As legendary as that is, along with Worthy's Most Outstanding Player award, they pale in comparison to what precipitated from the occurrence in the Superdome that night.
A superstar, a transcendent figure, a man who was put here for a purpose, seized the first piece of his destiny. Simply put, Jordan did in his first championship game the same exact thing he would do to win his last championship 26 years later.
The Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, but two years later, the SEC was still segregated. Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp was none too happy about the addition of black players to the college game and wasn't ashamed to say it.
Earlier in the 1965-66 season, Texas Western became the first team in NCAA history to start five black players. In March, the Miners became the first team to do so in a championship game.
Don Haskins' Texas Western team entered the game at 27-1 and ranked third in the nation. The blue-bloods of Kentucky were the nation's top-ranked team and shared an equal record to their opponent.
Interestingly enough, a championship game featuring five black players against five white players happened just below the Mason-Dixon line, at Cole Field House in Maryland.
The thought was that Texas Western would play wild and out of control, but they did no such thing. They played methodical basketball and made life difficult for "Rupp's Runts."
The Miners fought hard over the first 20 minutes and took a 34-31 lead into the locker room.
For all the talk of Kentucky being more disciplined and better prepared to play for a championship, the game itself didn't reflect that.
Kentucky's two leading scorers, Pat Riley and Louie Dampier, combined to shoot just 15-of-40 from the field. As a team, they were a paltry 27-of-70 on field goal tries.
Texas Western was much more efficient, hitting 22 of their 49 attempts. Kentucky also committed 23 fouls to the Miners' 12.
While Texas Western shot 28-of-34 from the line, Kentucky attempted just 11 free throws.
In the end, Texas Western's discipline and stellar defensive performance led them to a 72-65 victory.
It would go down as the only championship loss of Adolph Rupp's career. By the next season, every southern basketball conference was integrated. The Miners showed the basketball world that race was not a barrier to success, unless the barrier was to keep minorities out.
The Houston Cougars were in there glory days, then known as "Phi Slama Jama." They had advanced to the Final Four the previous season in 1982 and were making a return trip.
They entered the game with a 31-2 record and riding a 26-game winning streak, led by Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, Clyde "The Glide" Drexler and leading scorer Michael Young.
Houston had four players that would be NBA first-round picks. They were a fast-paced wrecking crew that was destined for greatness. They were beating up on opponents in the tournament by an average of 12.0 points per game.
On the opposite end of the spectrum were Jim Valvano's North Carolina State "Cardiac Pack." \Aside from a 19-point defeat of Utah, the Wolfpack won their other four game by a combined 11 points.
N.C. State was up for the challenge, leading their more talented opponent 33-25 at the half. But the Cougars wasn't interested in leaving empty handed, opening the second half on a 17-2 run.
In a scrappy effort, led by Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg, the Wolfpack managed to slow the pace and stay close. Fortunately, only "The Dream" seemed up for the challenge, scoring 20 points and grabbing 18 rebounds in the game.
With 3:20 remaining, Houston held a seemingly insurmountable 52-46 lead. Lowe and Whittenburg combined to hit three long jumpers to tie the score as the Cougars missed the front end of two one-and ones.
Holding the ball for the final minute, N.C. State held onto the ball for the last shot. With six seconds on the clock, Whittenburg fumbled a pass, gathered it and heaved a 30-footer. It was his 11th miss of the game, but Lorenzo Charles was there to grab it and slam it through as time expired.
The players gathered by the baseline as Valvano jubilantly raced onto the court in search of someone to hug. It was arguably the greatest championship upset to date with one of the most iconic finishes.
Olajuwon was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, but Charles and Valvano shared the most outstanding moment.
Another Final Four in the Louisiana Superdome and another classic championship battle. This time, it was the legendary Dean Smith and this North Carolina Tar Heels against the revolutionary "Fab Five" of Michigan.
Armed with arguably the most talented recruiting class in NCAA history, the Wolverines were the tournament runners-up the previous year. In their second go-around, the sophomore stars were on a mission to own the college game and bring a national championship to Ann Arbor.
They blitzed through traditional powers UCLA, Temple and Kentucky on the road to the final. The Tar Heels made it through by toppling Arkansas, Cincinnati and Kansas.
Michigan came out of the gates fast, leading for most of the first half—Chris Webber was just too much for the Heels to handle inside.
Despite their slow start, UNC collected itself and took a 42-36 lead into halftime. The game continued on a rubber band with North Carolina stretching its lead and Michigan clawing right back.
Webber was getting help from guards Jimmy King and Jalen Rose, who were proving difficult to stop off the dribble. The Tar Heels were being carried by the sharpshooting of sophomore Donald Williams.
Exactly midway through the second half, the score was tied at 56, with both teams struggling to score.
With 8:30 left in the game, a tremendous alley-oop from Juwan Howard to Webber gave the Wolverines their first lead of the game at 60-58. A minute later, Williams answered with a three to put the Tar Heels up by one.
At 5:24, Rose hit a huge three to put Michigan up four, setting the stage for a truly unforgettable final stretch.
A 9-2 Tar Heels run put Carolina up 70-67 heading into the final 90 seconds. Steve Fisher strategically had his team commit four fouls in thirteen seconds to ensure that any subsequent foul would put Carolina at the line.
The teams exchanged baskets to make the score 72-69. After Ray Jackson's jumper was good for Michigan, the Wolverines took their final timeout with 46 seconds left.
A turnover on North Carolina's ensuing possession set up a Webber putback to get to within 72-71. Fisher's foul strategy worked out as they fouled Pat Sullivan, who made the first shot, but missed the second.
Webber rebounded the ball with 19 seconds left, giving Michigan a chance to tie. Webber froze with the ball, got away with a travel, then sprinted to the opposite corner of the floor and into a trap. Still rattled, Webber called a fatal timeout. Michigan had none left to call, resulting in a technical foul.
Donald Williams hit four free throws to close out a 77-71 victory and seal the infamous legacy of Chris Webber. No one remembers how dominant he was inside with 23 points and 11 rebounds or the offensive rebound and score in the final minute.
He will always be remembered as a choke artist and the man who called for a timeout when there were none.
March 28, 1992. Duke vs. Kentucky. Krzyzewski vs. Pitino. The Spectrum in Philadelphia, the building where Rocky Balboa fought two wars with Apollo Creed.
The two championship fights were fictional, but the basketball game, which couldn't have been scripted any better, was all too real.
Duke came in as a star-studded group with Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, all future first-round draft picks. Kentucky was armed with a superstar of its own in Jamal Mashburn who was aided by a core group of seniors called "The Unforgettables."
The two teams fought to what could be called the basketball version of the death. Both teams just hit shot after shot, combining to shoot a blistering 61 percent from the field.
In a lights-out first half, Duke led 50-45 before stretching the lead to 67-55 with just 11 minutes remaining.
But the Wildcats wouldn't go away. They dig in and wore Duke down, outscoring the Blue Devils 38-26 the rest of the way, forcing overtime in a game nobody wanted to see end.
The teams continued their toe-to-toe battle in overtime with incredible individual performances abound. Kentucky hit a three to open the extra session, and Bobby Hurley answered right back for Duke, knotting the game at 96.
They continued to trade baskets, until Laettner put Duke up 100-98. Mashburn attacked the basket for a three-point play to put Kentucky up by one. Laettner added two more free throws to give the Blue Devils the lead once again.
With 7.8 seconds on the clock, Kentucky inbounded to senior guard Sean Woods, who drove into the lane and made a miraculous floater off the glass to put Kentucky back on top 103-102 with just 2.1 seconds on the clock. Duke, down by a point, needing to go the length of the floor with just two ticks on the clock.
Grant Hill was left unguarded by Rick Pitino and unfurled a gorgeous pass that found the hands of Laettner on the opposite foul line.
Laettner made the catch with his back to the basket, jab-stepped to his right, then turned left and flicked a jumper at the rim. The ball left his hands with just three-tenths of a second remaining. The horn sounded just as the ball descended into the net. Duke had taken Kentucky's best shot and survived.
Christian Laettner scored 31 points, shooting 10-of-10 from both the field and the free-throw line. Hurley scored 22 and added 10 assists. Grant Hill showed his all-around game with 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists, including the biggest assist in the history of Duke basketball.
On the losing side, Mashburn had 28 points and 10 rebounds, Woods posted 21 points and nine assists and senior John Pelphrey added 16 points, including Kentucky's first five in overtime.
Great programs, great coaches and legendary players putting on legendary performances along with an incredible finish.
No college basketball game can live up to this one on any level. It is the greatest college basketball game ever played, and it was played during the greatest time of the year. March Madness.