NCAA Bracket 2012: The 25 Greatest Plays in March Madness History
The NCAA tournament field is set, and as you're filling out your brackets, you see matchups of yesteryear unfolding with the potential to see Duke-Kentucky in the Elite 8, 20 years after Christian Laettner's heroics. Or even Roy Williams and his Tar Heels facing his former team, Kansas in the Elite 8. What about UNC's potential matchup the round before against Michigan, where in 1993 Chris Webber's "timeout" gave North Carolina the championship.
The NCAA tournament is filled with history of fantastic plays. From Laettner's heroics and Webber's blunder to Chalmers' overtime-forcing three against Memphis in 2008. How about Bryce Drew sending Valparaiso past Mississippi or even the incredible play in 2008 from current Golden State Warrior Stephen Curry?
As you fill out your bracket and prepare yourself for the can't-miss Thursday and Friday second-round action, take a trip down memory lane and relive the top 25 most memorable games in March Madness history.
Who will take home the coveted No. 1 spot? Will it be Laettner, Webber, Chalmers, Drew or even NC State's Lorenzo Charles from back in 1983?
You can view a printable bracket right here.
25. Scottie Reynolds' Winner over Pitt in 2009 Elite Eight
With the score tied at 76 after two Levance Fields free throws, the third-seed Wildcats had four seconds to attempt a game-winning basket. It set the stage for Scottie Reynolds' heroics.
The inbounds pass went to Dante Cunningham near mid-court as Jermaine Dixon played stellar in-bounds defense on Reynolds to deny him the ball. After taking the in-bounds pass, Cunningham flipped it to a sprinting Reynolds who weaved his way into the lane through multiple defenders.
Reynolds absorbed a lot of contact in the lane before hoisting the running layup over Gilbert Brown's outstretched arm to nail the winner with 0.5 seconds left. A Gilbert Brown heave from 70 feet out hit off the top of the backboard for Villanova to advance to the Final Four for the first time since their 1985 season when they won it all.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they were dispatched 83-69 by the eventual national champion Tar Heels of North Carolina.
24. UConn's Denham Brown Forces Overtime Before George Mason Shocks the World
The 2006 NCAA tournament was all about the George Mason Patriots. The Patriots went through three former NCAA champions and a fellow mid-major to reach the Final Four. The Patriots, an 11 seed, took out Michigan State 75-65 first and then took out third-seed North Carolina 65-60 before meeting Wichita State, a seven seed, in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Patriots would go on to the Final Four and drop a 73-58 game to eventual national champion Florida. The Gators also won the next year with the same returning lineup.
The story of this game was George Mason's 74-70 lead with under 10 seconds to go in regulation. UConn's Marcus Williams sank a bucket to make it 74-72 and then Mason's Tony Skinn missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up a potential game-tying bucket for UConn. That's when Denham Brown showed up.
Brown drove to the basket and tossed up a reverse layup that seemed to hang on the edge of the rim for an eternity before it sank and forced overtime. As that went in, the crowd went nuts, as did commentator Bill Raftery.
"What can Brown do for you?" said Raftery soon after the game-winning bucket.
That play is certainly memorable for this fan, but the outcome of the game seems to overshadow the incredible individual effort by Brown as the Patriots outscored the Huskies 12-10 in overtime to win 86-84. Brown had another eerily similar chance at the end of overtime as the Patriots led 86-84 after a missed free throw, but George Mason defenders cut him off at the three-point line, and he missed a jumper at the buzzer for Cinderella to move onto the Final Four.
23. Georgia Tech's Will Bynum Hits Twisting Layup Against Oklahoma State
Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State had a classic Final Four matchup in 2004 as the Yellow Jackets advanced to the national championship game with a 67-65 win courtesy of a last-second basket by Will Bynum.
After a three-point bomb by Oklahoma State's John Lucas tied the game at 65 win under 30-seconds to go, Georgia Tech star Jarrett Jack received the inbounds pass and took it upcourt to look for a potential game-winning basket.
Bynum eventually got the ball and drove to the net where he was hacked hard by Cowboys defender Ivan McFarlin, but he managed to still get off the shot on a spinning layup for the lead with 1.5 seconds left. A last-second desperation heave was well off the mark, and Georgia Tech advanced to their first final in history.
UConn dispatched of the Yellow Jackets 82-73 in the championship game.
22. No. 15 over No. 2?
How many times has a 15-seed taken out a No. 2 seed? If you guessed four, you would be correct. It happened first in 1991 when Richmond took out Syracuse 73-69, then again in 1993 when Santa Clara beat Arizona 64-61 and in 1997 when Coppin State beat South Carolina 78-65. Since then? Just once.
That happened in 2001 when the Hampton Pirates took out the Iowa State Cyclones 58-57. The Pirates trailed by double-digits in the second half. The Pirates took the lead on a go-ahead bucket by Travis Williams with 6.9 seconds remaining.
The Cyclones had another chance but missed two shots to end their season in heart-breaking fashion. The Pirates' season didn't last much longer either as they were dispatched by 10th-seed Georgetown 76-57 in the next round.
When's the next time the No. 2 seed will go down? Is it this year? Who's the next Hampton to shock the world?
21. Drew Nicholas Sends Mayland Past UNC-Wilmington in 2003
Drew Nicholas' bomb against UNC-Wilmington in 2003 will forever be entrenched in this fan's mind as I watched from the comfort of my math classroom in high school. I remember everyone, including the announcers in the clip, wanting to get the ball to Steve Blake and have him run the floor.
What could have been? Luckily for Terrapins fans, it happened this way.
Nicholas took the inbounds just before the mid-court stripe and dribbled to the far right corner by his Maryland bench and let go of a running three-point shot off his back foot. The ball must have been pre-loaded with a GPS as it found i's way directly to the basket.
Just one season removed from a championship, Maryland got all it could handle from an already-experienced Seahawks team that had upset fourth-seed USC in the first round in 2002. The Terrapins would take their season a few days longer to the Sweet Sixteen where they lost by two to Michigan State, 60-58.
20. Vermont Does It!
With a 56-55 lead and the shot clock under 10 seconds, Vermont guard T.J. Sorrentine attempted a three-point shot well over five feet beyond NBA range to pad the lead to 59-55 with just over a minute left in overtime.
That lead held for the 60-57 victory as the No. 13 Catamounts took out the fourth-seed Orange of Syracuse. Sitting watching the game at the time, when Sorrentine set for the jumper, I couldn't help but think for a split second that he was going to screw this game for them.
A half-second later I jumped up from my seat as it was one of the most improbable shots I have ever seen go in—not just in the NCAA tournament, but ever. It was a sensational shot to cap a sensational performance. Michigan State ended the Catamounts' run just two days later with a 72-61 win.
19. Northwestern State Shocks Iowa
The 2006 tournament saw its fair share of upsets, and Northwestern State finished off a furious rally from 17 points down with 8.5 minutes to go with a corner three by Jermaine Wallace.
The ending was furious as the Demons missed their first shot attempt from the right, but Wallace grabbed the rebound and raced to the outside. Being defended extremely close, he tossed up a fade-away as he fell out of bounds that went right through.
The shot was dubbed "The 'swish' heard round the world." Rightfully so. The rally was incredible, and the winner was just as incredible and improbable.
Northwestern State then bowed out in the next round to sixth-seed West Virginia, 67-54.
18. Steph Curry with Back-to-Back Threes in 2008
With a tight 48-45 score with just over 13 minutes to play, Steph Curry took the game on his shoulders and drilled back-to-back three pointers to start the Davidson run-away at 54-45. The final score? 73-56.
Curry finished this game with 33 points and six threes. Curry and the Wildcats went on to face the Kansas Jayhawks in the Elite 8. Curry and Davidson came up just short, 59-57 to the eventual national \champs.
I'll leave this here as we'll see more from Curry and even the Jayhawks later on.
17. Creighton Knocks off Florida in 2002
Double Overtime. The first of such on my countdown, and Terrell Taylor drained a three pointer with under a second to go for No. 12 Creighton to down the Florida Gators, 83-82.
Florida all but had this game won 82-80 and was set to inbound the pass with under 30 seconds left, but they had trouble getting it in and were eventually whistled for five seconds, giving Creighton the ball and a chance.
That's all Taylor, Creighton's sixth man, needed to hit his eighth three of the game.
Creighton bowed out of the tournament, 72-60, to No. 4 Fighting Illini of Illinois.
16. Indiana Stuns Duke in 2002
In a tightly-played game, the Duke-Indiana regional semifinal in 2002 came down to the wire. With the score 74-70 with just about 11 seconds to go, Duke's Daniel Ewing missed the first three attempt with about seven seconds left. Then Jason Williams got the rebound and shot up a three, got fouled and made the three to make it 74-73 as he headed to the line.
Williams proceeded to miss the free throw. Carlos Boozer couldn't convert a tip attempt, and the Hoosiers held on for the victory that would propel them to the national championship game opposite Maryland.
Maryland wound up winning that game and the championship, 64-52, but the incredible finish, most notably the missed Williams' free throw that would have been for the tie, cemented this game in the memory of a lot of fans.
15. Kentucky Outlasts St. Bonaventure in Double Overtime
A "can you top this" basketball game is a very entertaining game to watch, and that's just what happened in a tournament game in 2000 when Kentucky outlasted St. Bonaventure, 85-80.
It all started with a Tayshaun Prince three with about seven seconds left in regulation that tied it at 63 to force the first overtime. Then in overtime, trailing 74-70, Tim Winn dribbled the ball into the middle, drew the foul and hit a twisting layup to make it 74-73 after the free throw.
After Wildcats center Jamaal Magloire hit two free throws to make it 76-73, the unthinkable happened. Kentucky's Marvin Stone fouled St. Bonaventure's David Messiah Capers on a three-point attempt with 0.4 seconds left. Capers, a poor free-throw shooter, hit all three free throws to force a second overtime.
The final improbable play came with 11.2 seconds remaining in double overtime as Kentucky freshman Keith Bogans found a loose ball under the rim that Capers had knocked away from Prince, and he put it in to make the score 83-80. St. Bonaventure missed the tying three opportunity, and two free throws by Prince made it the final 85-80 outcome.
What play there stood out above the rest? To be honest, not a single one stood out as it was a plethora of huge plays, and it starts out my top 15 with a chunk of action.
14. Hakim Warrick Swats Away Kansas' Dream in '03
The stage was set for a thrilling finish between Kansas and Syracuse for the 2003 championship. Kirk Hinrich and his Kansas teammates had an opportunity to send then coach Roy Williams to his first championship when he set up Michael Lee on a wide-open three attempt to tie the game.
As if Hakim Warrick would allow that to happen. Upon the pass, Warrick was down low in the purple paint in New Orleans, but he closed quickly to tip the ball out of bounds to preserve a first championship for Syracuse Jim Boeheim, 81-78 after a last-ditch effort went unrewarded for the Jayhawks.
It wasn't Carmelo Anthony, or Gerry McNamara, or heck even Nick Collison or Kirk Hinrich who ended up with the game's top play. It was a little-known, at the time, freshman Hakim Warrick.
13. Gonzaga's First Magical Run in 1999
Before Adam Morrison, it was Casey Calvary providing the heroics. The most famous Gonzaga victory happened in the 1999 tournament in the form of a shocking Sweet Sixteen 73-72 victory over the Florida Gators where Calvary hit a put-back with 4.4 seconds remaining to send the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga had that final opportunity when Florida's Brent Wright was called for traveling as he tried to call a timeout. That set the stage for Calvary's heroics. The Bulldogs' Quentin Hall tossed up a runner that came hard off the rim when Calvary got two hands on the ball, and after a few bounces on the rim it went in.
A desperation heave from Florida didn't fall, and Gonzaga celebrated a trip to the Elite Eight. At that point, Gonzaga was still just seen as a small program that seemed to be on a once-in-a-lifetime run, as they had picked up their first NCAA tournament victory in the first round against Minnesota. Their run ended in the next game, 67-62 to the eventual champion Connecticut Huskies.
12. Tyus Edney Goes Coast-to-Coast for UCLA
Tyus Edney. A name UCLA fans will remember forever due to his coast-to-coast heroics in the second round of the 1995 NCAA tournament against Missouri. He'll be remembered due to the team winning the remaining games to win the 1995 national championship after an 89-78 win over Arkansas.
Edney, with the Bruins trailing 75-74, took the inbounds pass and raced up court. At halfcourt he dribbled the ball behind his back and took it to the hole for a game-winning layup.
A layup coming in at No. 12? It's more than just that. Had he missed the layup, the Bruins would have been a victim of an upset from an eighth-seed team in the second round instead of national champions. He also went coast-to-coast on the winning layup, a testament to his speed and perhaps the Tigers' lack of defense.
Incredible play, incredible finish.
11. U.S. Reed's Half-Court Bomb Against Louisville in 1981
A situation eerily similar to the No. 12 Tyus Edney winner saw U.S. Reed and Arkansas take out defending champion Louisville with a buzzer-beating, half-court winner.
The difference between this one and Edney's? Edney ran the floor in under five seconds to win it, while Reed lallygagged around before putting up a prayer from half court. Somehow that prayer was answered with a 74-73 victory.
Reed and the Razorbacks didn't last much longer as they bowed out of the tournament in the Sweet Sixteen with a 72-56 loss to Final Four participant LSU.
10. Huskies Beat The...Huskies?
In a matchup of Huskies vs. Huskies, the University of Washington's Huskies held a 74-73 lead over the University of Connecticut's Huskies in a Sweet 16 game during the 1998 NCAA tournament when chaos reigned at the Greensboro Coliseum.
UConn freshman point guard Khalid El-Amin sent a pass to Jake Voskuhl who missed a short jumper. Future NBA Star Richard "Rip" Hamilton corralled the miss and put up his own jumper that also missed. After a few tips, the ball found its way back to Hamilton who gathered it just inside the foul line and sunk a fade-away jumper to win the game 75-74 to send his Connecticut Huskies to the Elite Eight opposite the home-state favorite North Carolina Tar Heels.
That game ended the Huskies season, as they dropped a 75-64 game to the Tar Heels.
9. James Forrest Picked a Good Time for His First Three
In the second round of the 1992 NCAA tournament, the second-seed Trojans of USC were heavy, heavy favorites to move on past the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, but James Forrest must not have gotten the memo.
He must have also missed that he hadn't hit a three pointer all season when he put up a desperation heave as the clock struck zeros. The Trojans had a 78-76 lead with 0.8 seconds left when Forrest got the inbounds pass.
Upon receiving the feed he quickly put up a turnaround jumper and sunk his only three-point make of the season in just his third try.
The Yellow Jackets' run came to an end in the Sweet Sixteen via an 83-79 loss to Memphis State.
8. Deron Williams Completes Epic Illinois Comeback
In 2005, Illinois was one of the best teams in the NCAA with an impressive trio of guards in Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head. However, in an Elite Eight matchup against Arizona, they had all they could handle and more in the Wildcats as Illinois' season seemed to be coming to a close in Chicago as they trailed 75-60 with under four minutes remaining in regulation.
That's when Illinois started the comeback. They cut the deficit to 80-75 with under a minute to play and Arizona having possession of the ball. Time was certainly not on the Illini's side, but a steal and a Brown lay-up made it 80-77, and another turnover on the inbounds play set the stage for Williams' heroics.
Brown corralled the ball and passed it to an open Williams. Williams dribbled left, getting the defender caught in a screen, and calmly sunk the uncontested three pointer to tie it at 80.
That score held until overtime when Illinois, with complete momentum, put the finishing touches on the comeback and Final Four berth with a 90-89 victory.
The Illini ran that momentum to the final where they met Sean May and North Carolina. The Tar Heels won the championship, 75-70.
7. The Coach's Son Wins It
The top seven to 10 plays were very difficult for me to rank, and Bryce Drew's winner in the 1998 tournament for 13th-seed Valparaiso is a fantastic play and even deserving to be higher in the eyes of many. It comes in at No. 7 due to the magnitude of some of the other shots and plays that will come beyond this.
An incredible play from start to finish with a half-court lob on the inbounds with under three seconds left. You could compare the Crusaders' amazing play to the improbable hook and ladder play the Boise State Broncos used years later to defeat the Oklahoma Sooners in a BCS game.
The outcome was the same on this catch and lateral play as Drew received the lateral and hit an off-balanced running three for the win as the buzzer sounded.
A fitting ending for the son of Valparaiso coach Homer Drew, Bryce sent Valpo past Mississippi 70-69. The run by the Crusaders didn't end there as two days later they defeated 12th-seed Florida State, 83-77. Their Cinderella run ended in the Sweet Sixteen with a 74-68 loss to eighth-seed Rhode Island.
6. Laettner Wins It
How could one of the most iconic plays in basketball history end up at only No. 6 on my list of most memorable plays? I feel it tends to be extremely over-rated due to the programs in the game, not necessarily the play itself. That's taking absolutely nothing away from Christian Laettner, or Grant Hill, or anyone involved in this play.
Everyone knows how the play goes, so no real reason to give you the play-by-play. But Hill lobbed a perfectly placed three-quarters-court lob to Laettner. Laettner dribbled once, faked left, turned right and drained a jumper for the 104-103 overtime victory.
That play has been played over and over and is forever entrenched in the minds of million upon millions of Americans. Is it being overplayed so much, especially in this 20th anniversary year, because of the teams involved or the magnitude of the play? I think for both reasons. It's a great play, as it ranks sixth on my list, but it tends to get a lot of extra hype due to Kentucky and Duke being involved.
What do you think?
5. Tate George Sinks Clemson but Should It Have Counted?
We go from one of the most played March Madness highlights to a gem that isn't played nearly enough, especially in today's day and age of buzzer-beaters and near buzzer-beaters. The big question here is: Should it have counted?
The Connecticut Huskies were trialling 70-69 late in the Sweet Sixteen contest when Scott Burrell hit Tate George. George hit a turnaround jumper for the win. But did he get the ball off before the buzzer? The pass was as precise, if not more precise than Hill's pass on the previous clip, and it was an incredible play all around.
If this shot happened on Thursday or Friday, would it count? UConn went on to lose their next game to Duke 79-78 to end their season.
Do you think the shot counts? Or was it after the buzzer?
4. Keith Smart Brings the Title to Indiana
We're getting down to the stretch and a national championship play will appear on the final four of the list. The first one is a game-winning basket with under five seconds left. Keith Smart is a legend in the state of Indiana and will forever live in NCAA tournament lore due to this singular shot. Let's take you through the play.
Syracuse led 73-72 with just under 30 ticks left when the Hoosiers took the ball upcourt following a missed free throw by the Orange. After a few passes, Smart got the ball back on the left wing with about seven seconds left and dribbled toward the sideline where he released a shot falling toward the end line.
The ball, on a high arc, hung up there for what seemed an eternity. When it finally dropped, Indiana had a 74-73 lead and was on to winning a championship for legendary coach Bob Knight and Indiana faithful.
3. Chris Webber Calls a Timeout...Too Bad Michigan Didn't Have Any
Chris Webber was a fine basketball player. From his collegiate days at Michigan to his best NBA-playing days in Sacramento with the Kings. Webber, however, will forever be known for his gaffe in the 1993 title game as his blunder handed Dean Smith and the Tar Heels of North Carolina the championship.
With the score at 73-71, Webber and the Wolverines had a chance to tie the game or even take a lead. Webber took the rebound, looked like he was about to call a timeout but got told by a teammate not to. He then appeared to travel and took the dribble downcourt to the corner where he actually called a timeout.
It's what typically happens, so what was the issue here? Oh just the fact that Michigan had no timeouts. The final score; 77-71. Webber has never, and probably will never, live this down. It's a shame such a good player will be defined by this.
2. Lorenzo Charles Slams Home the Title for Valvano and N.C. State
So much was good about this play. It's still being played over and over by the networks when March rolls around, especially when we get ready for the championship game. It was David vs. Goliath as Valvano's "Cardiac kids" took on Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.
With the score tied late, Derek Whittenberg put up a shot from deep that was coming up short. Lorenzo Charles had the presence of mind to catch the ball and slam it in just before the buzzer for the victory and championship that sent Jimmy V into a frenzy running around the court.
Very memorable moment as NC State won 54-52 over the heavily-favored Houston team.
1. Mario Chalmers over Derrick Rose Forced Overtime
The most memorable play in March Madness history had to happen in the all-No. 1 Final Four of 2008 that pitted Memphis and Derrick Rose against Mario Chalmers and Kansas. The game was everything you could imagine, and after Rose hit one of two from the line with 10.8 seconds left, Memphis held a 63-60 lead.
The ensuing inbounds play went to Sherron Collins, who took the ball upcourt where he actually lost possession of the ball which Chalmers calmly picked up, dribbled to the top of the key and let go a high arching shot over Rose with 2.1 seconds left to tie it at 63.
The Jayhawks went on to win in overtime, 75-68. The crazy part about this game is that with under two minutes to go, Memphis led 60-51, when the Jayhawks furiously rallied. To me that's what sets apart this game-tying bucket, that completely deflated Memphis over Charles alley-oop finish to win.
Is Mario Chalmers' tying bucket your No. 1 play? Is it Christian Laettner's winner? How about Chris Webber's time-out gaffe? Feel free to discuss below.
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