NCAA Tournament 2013: 25 Most Thrilling Finishes in March Madness History

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMarch 11, 2013

NCAA Tournament 2013: 25 Most Thrilling Finishes in March Madness History

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    Fans love March Madness, from the thrilling matchups to the drama. In fact, the drama is what has come to define the tournament.

    Rather than discuss a certain game or player's performance, fans instead prefer to talk about individual plays. Of course, I'm talking about the key baskets and/or defensive plays that send one team to a close, hard-fought victory and send another team home heartbroken.

    What fan doesn't remember Brandon Knight's (pictured) key jumper to beat top-seeded Ohio State in 2011?

    And what of the thrilling final minute between Connecticut and Butler?

    The fact is, March Madness produces some of the most memorable moments in all of sports history. Though they only last for a few seconds, their legacies last a lifetime.

    Here are the 25 most thrilling finishes in March Madness history.

No. 25: Rumeal Robinson's Free Throws Equal a Title for Michigan

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    Free throws may not seem overly exciting, but they made the difference in the 1989 championship game. A battle of No. 3 seeds went down as the Michigan Wolverines took on the Seton Hall Pirates.

    With three seconds to go, Seton Hall led 79-78 with three seconds left to play. Wolverines guard Rumeal Robinson was fouled and awarded two shots from the charity stripe, and his 64 percent percentage from the line that season made it seem like an easy win for Seton Hall.

    Instead, Robinson sank both shots to the delight of rabid Michigan fans and the Wolverines held on to win.

No. 24: Norfolk State Defeats Missouri

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    This is a result that nobody could have seen coming.

    In the opening round of last year's NCAA tournament, the No. 2 seed Missouri Tigers and their explosive offensive game were expected to wipe the floor with the No. 15 seed Norfolk State Spartans. However, the game was anything but one-sided.

    Norfolk State shot 53 percent from beyond the arc and went toe-to-toe with Missouri every step of the way. Thanks to a three-point play from big man Kyle O'Quinn and some ensuing clutch free throws with less than a minute to go, the Spartans were able to hold off a late charge from the Tigers and pull off an 86-84 upset.

No. 23: Murray State Upsets Vanderbilt in Round 1

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    In 2010, the No. 4 seed Vanderbilt Commodores and their hot shooting game was a heavy favorite over the No. 13 seeded and highly under-the-radar Murray State Racers. Instead of a blowout, the game was close from start to finish.

    Anyone who picked Vanderbilt in the bracket went home disappointed, as one of the best buzzer-beaters in tournament history was unleashed by Murray State's Danero Thomas.

    The team inbounded the ball with 4.2 seconds remaining, and Thomas did a great job of creating off the dribble to get the shot off with one second left and send the Eagles to the next round.

    Murray State stormed the floor as broadcaster Spero Dedes announced the call as mellowly as possible, while Vandy just watched absolutely stunned.

No. 22: Brandon Beats the Buckeyes

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    The top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes were heavy favorites entering the 2011 tournament, but the feisty No. 4 seed Kentucky Wildcats proved to be a tough challenge in the Sweet 16.

    John Calipari's crew led 60-57 as time wound down in the second half, but Buckeyes shooter Jon Diebler tied the game with a three.

    The shot clock was off with 21.2 seconds remaining, and point guard Brandon Knight opted to take his time and find the shot. With seven seconds left, he hit a jumper to put Kentucky ahead for good.

    William Buford's last-second three bounced off the rim as the Wildcats pulled off the upset and advanced to the Elite Eight.

No. 21: Tyus Edney Keeps UCLA Alive

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    At 5'10", 195 pounds, Tyus Edney's size did not make him much to look at as a player. However, his heroics earned him a permanent spot in tournament history.

    In 1995, his No. 1 seed UCLA Bruins were matched up against No. 8 seed Missouri. Despite being favorites, they trailed 74-73 with 4.8 seconds to go.

    At that point, Edney fielded the inbound and drove up the court at blazing speed before unleashing a layup as time expired. The ball just happened to fall through the net, and UCLA went on to win that year's championship.

No. 20: Indiana Defeats Duke

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    The Duke Blue Devils entered the 2002 tournament as a No. 1 seed and also the defending champions. However, in the Sweet 16, Mike Davis' No. 5 seeded Indiana Hoosiers had an answer for Mike Krzyzewski's men.

    Indiana led the game 72-70 with 11.1 seconds to go before guard A.J. Moye was fouled. However, the Blue Devils answered back after he sank two free throws.

    Guard Jason Williams was fouled as he nailed a three-pointer, and it looked as though Duke was destined to at least send the game to overtime.

    Unfortunately, Williams missed his free throw, and teammate Carlos Boozer was unable to make the go-ahead layup after getting the offensive rebound, leaving the Hoosiers free to storm the court.

No. 19: Bryce Drew and the Legend of Valpo

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    Valparaiso University has never had much of a reputation as an elite basketball program, but the Crusaders will always have one permanent home in tournament history. In 1998, No. 13 seed Valpo was matched against No. 4 seed Ole Miss in the first round.

    With the Rebels leading 69-67 with 2.5 seconds to go, Valparaiso had time for one more play.

    The ball was inbounded across the court and quickly dished to guard Bryce Drew, whose game-winning three-pointer gave the Crusaders a 70-69 upset victory for the ages.

No. 18: Tate George's Miracle Shot

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    The 1990 Sweet 16 pitted the top-seeded UConn Huskies against the tough defense of the No. 5 seed Clemson Tigers, and it looked like an upset was in the works.

    With one second remaining, Clemson led 70-69. Victory was all but a certainty.

    At that point, 6'5" Scott Burrell found a hole in 6'11" Elden Campbell's defense as he inbounded the ball to teammate Tate George, whose last-second jumper was good and sent the Huskies to the Elite Eight.

No. 17: Christian Laettner Crushes UConn's Hopes

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    Christian Laettner may be known for one notable moment in Duke basketball history, but this occurred well before that.

    Matched up against Connecticut in the Elite Eight, the Blue Devils were down 78-77 with just over two seconds to go in overtime.

    With limited time to make a shot, Laettner took the ball and sank an elbow jumper at the buzzer to send Duke to the Final Four, as the top-seeded Huskies could only watched in stunned disbelief.

No. 16: Rolando Blackman Completes the Upset

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    Kansas State has started to establish itself as something of a basketball powerhouse in recent years, but one of the program's greatest moments occurred back in 1981. In the second round of that year's Big Dance, the Wildcats were matched up against top-ranked Oregon State.

    In a defensive battle from start to finish, it was Kansas State that finally pulled off the upset thanks to a jumper from Rolando Blackman with two seconds remaining.

    The team won 50-48 and got as far as the Elite Eight, where eventual runner-up North Carolina defeated them.

No. 15: Virginia Commonwealth Stuns Duke

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    The Duke Blue Devils stumbled into the 2007 NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed, but still drew a seemingly favorable matchup against Virginia Commonwealth in the first round.

    What was thought to be a blowout waiting to happen instead became incredibly close.

    VCU's stingy defense and clutch shooting had the game tied at 77 with 10.3 seconds to go, and guard Eric Maynor was bringing the ball up the court.

    With four seconds left, Maynor sank his jump shot to put VCU ahead and complete the stunning upset of the seemingly superior Blue Devils.

No. 14: John Smith Defeats DePaul

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    Whenever a No. 1 seed goes down in the NCAA tournament, it's always shocking. At the same time, however, it's a bit uplifting to see the underdog win.

    Such was the case in 1981, when scrappy No. 9 seed St. Joseph's took on elite No. 1 seed DePaul University in the second round. Instead of a blowout, the game was close from start to finish, and DePaul led 48-47 as St. Joseph's took over on the game's final possession.

    The Blue Demons proceeded to basically fall asleep on the final possession.

    St. Joe's opted not to call time out and instead drove the length of the court before capping the game with John Smith's game-winning layup to seal the upset.

No. 13: John Wallace's Super Sweet 16

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    The 1996 Sweet 16 was an epic one, especially in the game between No. 8 seed Georgia and No. 4 seed Syracuse. Georgia had recently upset top-seeded Purdue, so momentum was on its side.

    Unfortunately, Syracuse wasn't having any of it. In overtime, with the Orange up 80-78, Bulldogs guard Shandon Anderson nailed a wide-open corner three to give Georgia the lead.

    Rather than call a timeout, though, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim let his men play. Forward John Wallace received the inbound near half court and proceeded to ice the game with his own three-pointer with just 2.8 seconds remaining.

    Georgia's desperation shot fell short and the Orange advanced to the Elite Eight.

No. 12: Heartbreak City

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    In 2006, Gonzaga became a household team thanks to star scorer Adam Morrison. The No. 3 seed Bulldogs were set to face the No. 2 seed UCLA Bruins in the Sweet 16, and a 17-point halftime lead made a Gonzaga victory seem certain.

    Instead, UCLA came all the way back to trail 71-68 with just under 20 seconds remaining. Center Ryan Hollins sank free throws to cut Gonzaga's lead to one, but the Bruins were not done yet.

    Hollins was subbed out in favor of pest extraordinaire Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and the double-teamed Morrison made a bad pass that resulted in Jordan Farmar stealing the ball away for UCLA. He threw up a desperation jumper that was tipped in by Mbah a Moute, and broadcaster Gus Johnson went nuts.

    UCLA went on to win 73-71 as Morrison just broke down in tears, only to be consoled by Bruins guard Arron Afflalo.

No. 11: Jordan Defeats Georgetown

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    The 1982 NCAA championship game featured a tough defensive squad in the Georgetown Hoyas facing the spry North Carolina Tar Heels. Both No. 1 seeds were going toe-to-toe from start to finish, but the sad part about basketball is that there can only be one winner.

    In this case, it was North Carolina thanks to a clutch 18-footer from a guard named Michael Jordan.

    The basket put the Tar Heels up 63-62, and as Georgetown brought the ball back up the court, Fred Brown accidentally passed to Tar Heel James Worthy.

    The turnover proved to be the difference and North Carolina was champion.

No. 10: Butler's Near-Upset of Duke

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    In 2010, the No. 5 Butler Bulldogs proved to be the surprise team of the tournament. Not only did they defeat No. 1 Syracuse in the Sweet 16, but they got as far as the Final Four.

    There, they beat No. 5 Michigan State to punch a ticket to the final against top-seeded Duke.

    The game was close from start to finish, and free throws put Duke ahead 61-59 with 3.9 seconds left. Unfortunately for Butler, Gordon Hayward's half-court shot was just a little too strong as the Blue Devils were champions once again.

No. 9: U.S. Reed's Halfcourt Buzzer-Beater

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    We head back to 1981 for a half-court shot that did make it into the hoop.

    This game featured No. 4 seed and defending champion Louisville taking on No. 5 seed Arkansas in the second round. The Cardinals were up 73-71 with five seconds to go, but the Razorbacks had other ideas.

    Following a time out, Arkansas' Ulysses "U.S." Reed put up a prayer from half court. The hoops gods were on his side, as the shot was good and the Razorbacks pulled off the thrilling upset.

No. 8: Gonzaga Defeats Florida

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    Gonzaga was a relatively unknown team in 1999, but the No. 10 seed proved to be a team to watch in defeating Minnesota in the first round, and then No. 2 seed Stanford in the second round to reach the Sweet 16.

    The Cinderella run continued there.

    The Bulldogs' opponent was the No. 6 seed Florida Gators, who led 72-71 with seconds remaining. Fortunately, Casey Calvary was able to make a runner while Florida's shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim, and Gonzaga reached the Elite Eight.

    There, the Zags lost to eventual champion Connecticut.

No. 7: George Mason Goes to the Final Four

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    No. 1 seed UConn seemed unstoppable in 2006. Heck, four of their players were drafted in the first round of the NBA draft that same year.

    Unfortunately, seeds don't buy championships, and the Huskies learned that the hard way.

    They faced No. 11 seed George Mason in the Elite Eight, and the Patriots had already defeated two giants in Michigan State and defending champion North Carolina.

    UConn proved to be the third giant to be slain, as George Mason won in overtime and headed to the Final Four, where it lost to eventual champion Florida.

No. 6: Danny Ainge Sends Notre Dame Packing

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    We head back to 1981 again, this time to the Sweet 16.

    The No. 6 seed BYU Cougars took on the No. 2 seed Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, and the Irish led 48-47 with just over a minute to go. BYU hit a jumper to take the lead, but was answered quickly by one from Notre Dame's Kelly Tripucka.

    Guard Danny Ainge then put the team on his back and drove the length of the court to make the game-winning layup, leaving just two seconds on the clock.

    The Cougars won 51-50 and proceeded to the Elite Eight, where they lost to top-ranked Virginia.

No. 5: Keith Smart Seals a Win for the Hoosiers

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    Bob Knight's Indiana Hoosiers made it to the 1987 championship game, but they had to face a tough Syracuse team led by star big man Derrick Coleman.

    However, fate was not on the Orange's side.

    Coleman missed a key free throw late in the game, leaving Indiana 27 seconds to get a shot off. With five seconds remaining, Keith Smart got open and sank a mid-range jumper to give the Hoosiers a 74-73 lead and the win.

No. 4: Rip Hamilton Sinks the Fadeaway

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    UConn entered the 1996 Sweet 16 as a No. 2 seed, but No. 11 seed Washington proved to be a tough matchup.

    With 16 seconds to go, Connecticut trailed 74-73 and center Jake Voskuhl missed a 10-footer, only to see a flurry of rebounds tip in his team's favor.

    With 1.5 seconds remaining, guard Richard "Rip" Hamilton caught a rebound and sunk a fadeaway to send his team to the Elite Eight.

No. 3: Mario Chalmers Forces Overtime

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    Two top-seeded teams faced off in the 2008 title game, with John Calipari's Derrick Rose-led Memphis Tigers taking on Bill Self's Kansas Jayhawks.

    With 10.8 seconds left in regulation, Memphis led 62-60 before Rose missed a key free throw. He sank the second one, but Kansas now had a chance to tie the game at 63.

    Thanks to a Mario Chalmers three with two seconds to go, the Jayhawks forced overtime and eventually won the game, 75-68.

No. 2: Christian Laettner Makes "The Shot"

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    In 1992, No. 1 seed Duke took on No. 2 seed Kentucky in the East Regional Final. With just over two seconds remaining, the Wildcats led 103-102.

    Fortunately, the Blue Devils had a secret weapon in forward Christian Laettner, whose prowess for clutch shots we saw earlier.

    Laettner answered the bell once again this time, sinking the turnaround jumper at the buzzer to send his team to the Final Four and an eventual championship.

    Duke has gone on to win two championships since, but this moment always finds a way of coming up in conversation over the other Blue Devils titles.

No. 1: North Carolina State Slays Phi Slama Jama

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    The 1983 championship game featured two teams that could not have been more different. Guy Lewis and the No. 1 seed Houston Cougars squad known as "Phi Slama Jama" was an athletic bunch known for a fast-paced offense and extreme dunking abilities.

    The team featured key players like Hakeem "The Dream" Olajuwon and Clyde "The Glide" Drexler, and Houston was the easy favorite over the scrappy No. 6 seed North Carolina State Wolfpack squad coached by Jim Valvano.

    Believe it or not, the game was unbelievably close from start to finish. With four seconds remaining and the game tied at 52, guard Dereck Whittenburg launched a long three-pointer that appeared destined to fall short, but fate was on the Wolfpack's side.

    At the very last second, forward Lorenzo Charles rose up, caught the ball and slammed it home for the game-winning basket. The Wolfpack were champs, and the story of this game has since become one of the greatest underdog tales of all time.