March Madness 2012: 20 Most Clutch Players in NCAA Tournament History

Doug Brodess@DougbrodessCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2012

March Madness 2012: 20 Most Clutch Players in NCAA Tournament History

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    March Madness is here! 

    Are you ready to see some fantastic finishes and some unbelievable accomplishments?

    Over the next few weeks, legacies will be written, as players will help their teams advance through one of the most exciting sporting events of the year.

    When the pressure is on and titles are at stake, some individuals will step up and deliver clutch performances.

    Here is a quick look at 20 of the most clutch performers in NCAA Tournament history.

    Each of the following players distinguished themselves as the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player (MOP).

    I used this as a standard for creating this list.

    In doing so, there are a number of players who didn't make the list simply because they were not selected for their exceptional individual play in March Madness.

    For example, Michael Jordan was not given this award.

    Neither was Notre Dame's Austin Carr, who holds NCAA tournament records for most points in one game (61 vs. Ohio in 1970), most field goals in one game (25) and most field goals attempted in one game (44).

    As always, let me know if you think I missed someone or that a player that's on here doesn't deserve to be included.

    Also, if you haven't printed off your 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket, click here!

20. Mario Chalmers (Kansas)

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    Mario Chalmers is the least heralded player on this list.

    He was never named as an All-American in his three years at Kansas.

    But, "Mario's Miracle" still remains as one of the greatest big-time shots in tournament history.

    Chalmers hit a three-pointer with 2.1 seconds to go in the 2008 Championship game against Memphis to put it into overtime, where the Jayhawks sealed the deal and won the title.

    For that shot and his overall quality play, Chalmers won the MOP award.

19. Miles Simon (Arizona)

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    "Simon says, 'Championship'".

    Miles Simon helped Arizona pull off one of the most amazing March Madness runs in tournament history.

    They put down three No. 1 seeds (UNC, Kansas and Kentucky) on their way to cutting down the nets following the NCAA Championship game in Indy.

    Simon was named the MOP after scoring 30 points, including four last-minute free throws, in the 1997 Championship Game against Kentucky.

18. Pervis Ellison (Louisville)

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    Pervis Ellison was a versatile big that got things done right off the bat in his collegiate career.

    The 1986 Louisville Cardinals were a veteran ballclub, but they owed a ton to the bashful freshman

    Ellison scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the title game on his way to winning the Tournament's MOP.

    The Cardinals beat Duke, 72-69, for the school's second national championship.

17. Isiah Thomas (Indiana)

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    Isiah Thomas only played two years for Bob Knight at Indiana, but in that time, "Zeke" got a lot done.

    With Thomas in charge, IU won back-to-back Big Ten titles.

    But Thomas brought his best when it counted the most.

    In the 1981 NCAA Tournament, Thomas dished a career-high 14 assists against Maryland, and the Hoosiers dominated their five opponents by an average of nearly 23 points.

    In the national championship game against Dean Smith and North Carolina, Thomas scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half to lead the Hoosiers to a 63-50 victory, their second national title in six years.

    To no one's surprise, Thomas was selected as the tournament's MOP.

16. Ed Pinckney (Villanova)

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    Ed Pinckney wrote his name on the NCAA Tournament's history books in bold fashion.

    Even though his 1985 Championship Game stats were not spectacular (16 points and  seven rebounds), Pickney successfully battled Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas (who were supposed to be one of the great collegiate teams in history), with Nova coming out on top, 66-64.

    To this day, Villanova's win represents one of the biggest NCAA Tournament upsets of all-time.

15. Kemba Walker (UConn)

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    Kemba Walker was the heart and soul of the team that made one of the most fantastic runs in NCAA history.

    Walker led the 2010-11 Huskies to the Big East tournament championship by winning five games in five days.

    He followed that up by catapulting UConn to a NCAA Championship by scoring 23.5 ppg, grabbing six rpg and dishing out 5.7 assists on his way to claiming the 2011 MOP award.

14. James Worthy (North Carolina)

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    "Big-Game James" was the leading scorer on the Tar Heels' 1982 NCAA Championship team that featured UNC legends Sam Perkins and a freshman named Jordan.

    Worthy not only stole a pass at the end of the championship game to seal the deal, but he also scored 28 points on 13-of-17 shooting.

    Worthy was named the tournament's MOP.

13. Carmelo Anthony (Syracuse)

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    Without Carmelo Anthony, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse would still be looking for their first NCAA Championship.

    Melo set a tournament record for most points by a freshman in a Final Four game, when he dropped 33 on Texas in the 2003 Semis.

    In the title game against Kansas, Anthony put up 20 points and snatched 10 boards to earn the '03 MOP.

12. Mateen Cleaves (Michigan State)

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    Mateen Cleaves was one of the most gutsy performers in Final Four history.

    In the second half of the 2000 NCAA Championship game, Cleaves went down with a turned ankle.

    Hardly able to walk, Cleaves came back into the contest to lead the Spartans to the title.

    The two-time Big Ten Conference Player of the Year was selected as the Tournament MOP.

11. Darrell Griffith (Louisville)

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    "Dr. Dunkenstein" was more than just an above-the-rim performer.

    Darrell Griffith was a great all-around player for Denny Crum at Louisville.

    After four years, Griffith left college as Louisville's all-time leading scorer with 2,333 points in his career

    He helped the Cardinals win their first NCAA Championship in 1980, scoring 23 points in the their 59-54 victory over UCLA in the championship game.

    For that, Griffith was named the tournament's MOP.

10. David Thompson (NC State)

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    David Thompson was one of the most physically-gifted players to ever lace 'em up.

    The 6'4" wing was fearless in attacking the rim.

    In 1974, Thompson led the Wolf Pack in ending UCLA's seven-year NCAA Championship run.

    Scoring 49 points in the two Final Four games, Thompson was named the tournament's MOP.

9. Jack 'Goose' Givens (Kentucky)

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    Jack "Goose" Givens' 41 points and eight rebounds remains one of the all-time great NCAA championship game single-player performances ever.

    The undersized (6'5") SF for Kentucky hit 18-of-27 shots from the field to help the 1978 Wildcats beat Duke for the title.

    The three-time All-SEC performer was unanimously chosen as the tournament's MOP.

8. Earvin 'Magic' Johnson (Michigan State)

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    Magic Johnson changed how we thought about a player of height.

    Rather than thinking that a 6'9" player had to be put on the block, Johnson showed that you could have size and still be a great playmaker.

    Johnson's all-around performance helped the Spartans defeat Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores in the 1979 NCAA Championship.

    Johnson was selected as the tournament's MOP.

    This matchup may have launched March Madness into the phenomenon that it is today.

7. Bill Russell (San Francisco): 1955

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    Bill Russell was one of the most dominating bigs in college basketball history.

    Russell averaged 20.7 ppg and 20.3 rpg over his three years playing for the Dons.

    In his three years at USF, he was twice selected as National Player of the Year and led them to back-to-back National Championships in 1955 and 1956.

    Russell was named the MOP for the 1955 Final Four after grabbing 25 rebounds to key San Francisco's 77-63 victory over LaSalle in the final.

6. Danny Manning (Kansas)

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    "Danny and the Miracle" was not a 50's Doo Wop group, but the nickname of an unlikely college hoops squad that won it all in 1988.

    The "Danny" was none other than Danny Manning, a 6'10" forward who, without question, was the tournament's MOP.

    The three-time consensus All-American scored 25 points in the semifinal and 31 points—including four free throws in the final 14 seconds—as Kansas surprised Oklahoma, 83-79, in the championship game.

5. Bill Bradley (Princeton)

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    Bill Bradley put Princeton basketball on the map during his senior season (1965).

    He almost single-handedly carried the Tigers to the '65 Final Four.

    Bradley set the record for most points in a national semifinal, with 58 (shooting 22-of-29 from the field) against Wichita State.

    In that game, Bradley scored 39 points in the second half alone.

4. Jerry Lucas (Ohio State)

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    Jerry Lucas may not be a household name still with many current college basketball fans, but he is still one of the most clutch performers in NCAA Tournament history.

    Twice the tournament's MOP, Lucas dominated as few have before or since.

    In 1961, in the semifinal against Saint Joseph's, he went off, shooting 10-for-11 from the field, the second-highest shooting percentage in Final Four history.

    Lucas and the Buckeyes played in three straight finals, winning it all in 1960.

3. Bill Walton (UCLA)

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    Bill Walton was one of the great players in college basketball history.

    Walton was downright ridiculous during UCLA's 1973 national championship run, when he averaged 28.8 points and 17.8 rebounds.

    The three-time Naismith Player of the Year made his mark in the championship game against Memphis, scoring 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting from the field.

    For this, Walton was named the tournament's MOP.

    Despite being double- and triple-teamed much of his collegiate career, Walton holds the record for highest career tournament field-goal percentage. In 12 games between 1972 and 1974, he shot 109-of-159 from the field, or 68.6 percent.

2. Lew Alcindor (UCLA)

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    Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) was the best college basketball player of all-time.

    In three varsity years at UCLA, Alcindor led the Bruins to three NCAA Championships, where he was named the Most Outstanding Player each time.

    In 1967 and 1968, Alcindor outdueled Elvin Hayes, another excellent front court player.

1. Christian Laettner (Duke)

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    When big games were on the line, no one delivered any better than Christian Laettner.

    He is one of only four players to play in four consecutive Final Fours and the only one to ever start in all four Final Fours.

    Laettner is known for hitting "The Shot" in the last seconds of the 1992 East Regional Finals.

    What many don't know is that he was perfect all around that day, going 10-for-10 from the field and 10-for-10 from the stripe.

    Two years before that, in the 1990 East Regional Final, Laettner also hit a nail-in-the-coffin shot as time expired to beat UConn, 79-78.

    Laettner helped Duke win two consecutive National Championships (1991, 1992) and was selected as the MOP for 1991.