NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: 20 March Madness Moments We'll Never Forget

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2013

NCAA Basketball Tournament 2013: 20 March Madness Moments We'll Never Forget

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    Last-second shots, massive upsets, heart-wrenching stories—the history of the NCAA tournament is equipped with decades full of moments that can make us cry, laugh and kiss the person next to us in bewildered glee.

    With the 2013 festivities in the offing, it's always best to look back at these moments, highlight the best ones and hope we get a few more along the way this year. 

    Of course, finding memorable NCAA tournament moments is easier than finding a red-blooded man who finds Kate Upton attractive. They're everywhere. But sifting through those moments and coming up with the best ones? That's a whole different animal. 

    By no means is this list wholly definitive. These things are always fluid. There are plenty of moments that get left off the list for this reason or another, and it's wholly possible that your favorite tournament experience won't be included. Sorry in advance.

    With that caveat out of the way, here is a complete breakdown of the 20 greatest moments in NCAA tournament history (for now). 

20. Gordon Hayward Narrowly Misses Giving Butler 2010 National Championship

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    There are cabals of NCAA tournament moments that captured the nation’s attention with a beautiful dunk, last-second shot or Cinderella story. It’s not too often that you remember exactly where you were when something almost happened, but that’s the case with Gordon Hayward’s last-second shot in the 2010 NCAA Championship Game.

    Ahead 61-59 with 3.6 seconds remaining, Duke center Brian Zoubek purposely missed his second free throw to keep Butler from running a set inbounds play.

    Hayward grabbed the rebound from Zoubek’s miss, took four dribbles toward the right side of half court and launched an off-balanced but open heave to win the game. It went off the backboard, clung to the front of the rim—almost in a massive tease to Duke haters everywhere—and fell off.

    The win gave Duke its first national championship since 2001 and ended a Cinderella run for Butler. Though it’s only been three years, Hayward’s shot has to go down as one of the biggest “what if” moments in NCAA tournament history.  

19. VCU Goes from First Four to Final Four in 2011

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    If it weren’t for the NCAA’s decision to expand the field from 65 to 68 teams in 2011, it’s very possible VCU’s titillating tournament journey never begins. The Rams, along with USC, were one of the last two remaining at-large teams to get into the field of 68 for that inaugural “First Four” event—and they were a controversial pick at that.

    Shaka Smart’s squad was selected despite finishing just 12-6 during its CAA schedule—and it’s not as if the CAA was the Big East back in 2011. It was a mid-major school

    The committee’s decision would spark one of the greatest tournament runs in history. VCU, led by a ferocious defensive scheme, defeated USC to advance and took off from there. In succession, the Rams defeated No. 6 seed Georgetown, No. 3 seed Purdue, No. 10 seed Florida State and No. 1 seed Kansas to advance to the Final Four.

    As a No. 11 seed, the Rams tied the record for the lowest seed to ever reach the Final Four. They would go on to lose to Butler in the Final Four, but their journey remains one of the more confounding runs in NCAA tournament history. 

18. Austin Carr Scores NCAA Tournament Record 61 Points vs. Ohio in 1970

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    It’s always easy to look back at grainy footage of players and wonder if Player X or Team X could hang with today’s players. Well, based on the nationwide scoring drought going on in college hoops, it’s safe to say that Austin Carr could more than hang with today’s youth.

    Arguably the most important basketball player in Notre Dame history, Carr has plenty of moments worthy of praise but none better than his first-round evisceration of Ohio in 1970. Utterly dominant for the entire 40 minutes, Carr scored 61 points—a record that hasn’t even come close to being bested in the 40-plus years since.

    In an even more astounding feat, he attempted to beat his own record during the tournament. He put up 52 points versus Kentucky later in the tournament and then matched that number the next season.

    There may have been better all-around players, but it’s hard to argue against Carr being the tournament’s greatest scorer. 

17. Illinois Comes Back from 15 Points Down to Defeat Arizona and Reach Final 4

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    Infamous comebacks are a way of life in basketball—but not as much as you may think in the NCAA tournament. When discussing NBA history, events like Reggie Miller’s eight points in nine seconds come to mind quickly.

    As for the NCAA tournament, utterly impossible comebacks were rather hard to come by—until the 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini shocked the world.

    Down 75-60 with less than four minutes remaining in their regional final matchup versus Arizona, the Illini looked dead in the water. They had come a long way, losing just one regular season game, and this seemed like an understandable end point. Coach Bruce Weber would be hailed for doing the fine job that he did and guards Dee Brown and Deron Williams would (possibly) hitch their wagons to an NBA future. (Williams left, Brown stayed—arguably to his detriment.)

    What transpired in those closing moments was nothing short of astounding. Illinois went on a 20-5 run to finish off regulation, capped off by a bone-crushing three from Williams to tie the game at 80. The teams went to overtime, where the Illini won and eventually went on to be the national runner up. 

16. Arizona Defeats Three No. 1 Seeds to Capture 1997 NCAA Tournament

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    Every March, pundits look at the brackets and judge which region they feel is the toughest—oftentimes given the distinction of the “Group of Death.” Well, there has never been a group of opponents more “deadly” than the ones faced by the 1997 Arizona Wildcats.

    A No. 4 seed in their region, the Wildcats faced two double-digit seeds to reach the Sweet 16 before defeating their first top seed, the Kansas Jayhawks. They dispatched of Kansas in a thriller and got Providence, the region’s No. 10 seed, in the Elite Eight.

    Arizona then defeated North Carolina, a No. 1 seed, to make the national championship game, where it would play Kentucky—another No. 1 seed.  And, of course, the Wildcats won again to capture the title.

    But what’s so remarkable about beating three No. 1 seeds? It had never happened before. Ever. So...yep. There isn’t all that much more to say about this one. 

15. John Wooden Captures 1975 NCAA Tournament in Final Game as UCLA Coach

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    Much to the chagrin of the UCLA basketball program (and the delight of every other university across the nation), Bruins legendary coach John Wooden decided to hang up his chalkboard following the 1974-75 season. He told his players prior to the national championship game, and his Bruins subsequently went out and got one more for the Wizard of Westwood.

    The title gave Wooden a ring for each finger. Ten championships in 12 seasons. It’s a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since and almost certainly will never be again. That 1974-75 team was also one of Wooden’s best coaching accomplishments.

    Not equipped with an otherworldly force like Kareem Abdul-Jabbaar or Bill Walton, that UCLA bunch got ahead on ingenuity and the genius of the man drawing up the plays. It would take the Bruins program two decades to win another national championship after Wooden left, making his indelible mark all the more noteworthy.

    Wooden did not have the longest coaching career, but he left where he always stood: on the mountaintop of college basketball.

14. U.S. Reed Knocks Down Half-Court Shot to Defeat Louisville in 1981

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    There aren’t many more astounding individual plays in NCAA history than U.S. Reed’s game-winner versus Louisville during the first round of the 1981 tournament.

    Reed took an inbounds pass and initially looked for a crossing defender down the floor. Unable to find an open teammate, he took a few dribbles and heaved up the prayer of all prayers from a step beyond midcourt—and it went in. The win gave Arkansas a victory over the defending national champions and Reed a place in infamy.

    While the shot was impressive in and of itself, Louisville’s strategy on the play was interesting, to say the least. So deathly afraid of fouling the shooter and setting up free throws, Louisville’s players essentially stood there motionless with their hands above their heads—human Chinese Checkers, if you will.

    The Cardinals’ lack of urgency on the play actually gave Reed the space he needed to get off a good shot. Well, as good as you can get from half court. 

13. Two No. 15 Seeds Advance in 2012 First Round

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    There have been six No. 15 seeds in NCAA history to move on to the second round—one-third of them came exactly 12 months ago. In one of the craziest tournament rounds in history, two separate No. 15 seeds took out No. 2 seeds within mere hours of each other.

    Norfolk State’s 86-84 win over Missouri was confounding, but it wasn't the biggest shock in the world. The Tigers had struggled throughout the season on the defensive end—prone to giving up big points against athletic teams—and Norfolk State just continually kept pace with Missouri’s top-shelf offense.

    The other upset—Lehigh defeating national power Duke—left an entire nation equal parts flabbergasted and gleeful in schadenfreudian excitement. C.J. McCollum, who dropped 30 points on the Blue Devils, instantly became a nationally known name as a complete disappearing act from Seth Curry drew equal reaction on the opposite end of the spectrum.

    Lehigh and Norfolk State wound up losing in their very next games, but they can fall asleep knowing they set a record that may never be broken.  

12. Keith Smart Knocks Down Jumper to Give Indiana 1987 National Title

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    Bob Knight’s final national championship as head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers can almost solely be attributed to the greatness of Keith Smart. The standout guard and current Sacramento Kings head coach was the singular force down the stretch versus Syracuse, scoring 12 of Indiana’s final 15 points in the championship game.

    None (obviously) were more important than his final two. Down 73-72 with mere seconds remaining on the clock, Smart decided to take the ball in his own hands. Despite the set play obviously not working, he took a dribble toward the left side of the baseline and went up for a jumper. Smart knocked it down, giving the Hoosiers a 74-73 lead with one second remaining—essentially beginning the net-cutting ceremonies right there on the floor.

    That said, nobody stopped the clock. So there’s always that for Syracuse fans to hold onto. 

11. Bill Walton Scores 44 Points on 21-of-22 Shooting in 1973 Championship Game

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    If you ever want to know why Bill Walton’s feet are one of the great American basketball tragedies, just watch film of his days at UCLA—particularly the 1973 NCAA Championship Game.

    At the time, Walton was arguably the world’s most dominant center—college or professional. He played with such a combination of grace and force behind the basket, changing shots and creating them in equal doses, that it’s just captivating to watch on game film.

    Facing off against Memphis State in the title game, Walton showed just how dominant he could be. He scored 44 points and 13 rebounds, two stats which are impressive on this stage in their own right. But Walton was also Phil-Simms-in-Super-Bowl-XXI-level accurate from the field as well. The dominant seven-footer drained 21 of 22 shots and only needed two free throws to get to 44 points.

    Walton’s Bruins dominated the contest, getting an 87-66 victory, en route to winning John Wooden his ninth of 10 NCAA championships. 

10. Mario Chalmers Sends 2008 National Championship Game to Overtime

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    Long before Derrick Rose was an NBA MVP and Mario Chalmers a replacement-level point guard, the two shared a polar opposite collegiate experience. Given the opportunity to put Memphis ahead two possessions with free throws, Rose whiffed on the first—a moment that would give Chalmers his moment to shine.

    After Rose knocked down his second shot at the charity stripe, putting the Tigers ahead 63-60 with 10.5 seconds remaining, Kansas had one opportunity to tie the ballgame. The play call was seemingly directed Chalmers’ way the whole time. A leader of the Jayhawks squad, Chalmers lined up on the right wing, took a pass with a little more than five seconds to go, took one dribble and cocked back the most important shot of his life to that point.

    The shot went through, sending reverberations which would carry over to the overtime period. Memphis never recovered, getting outscored 12-5 in overtime, and Kansas went on to give Bill Self his first tournament championship.

    As for that Rose fellow, I’m sure his confidence is doing just fine.  

9. No. 8 Seed Villanova Upsets No. 1 Seed Georgetown to Win 1985 Title

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    Led by Patrick Ewing, arguably the nation’s most dominant big man since Ralph Sampson, and legendary coach John Thompson, Georgetown walked into its 1985 national championship game matchup versus Villanova as a massive favorite.

    The Wildcats, a No. 8 seed, were considered just lucky to be there.  Coach Rollie Massimino had led his team through four games decided by seven or less points, using a debilitating slow-down offense—a “gimmick,” as some would say. Villanova had absolutely no chance to defeat the most talented team in the nation, one that had pummeled it earlier in the season.

    Well, of course, Villanova had “no” chance until it did. The Wildcats, once again using that gimmicky offense, slowed down Ewing and the vaunted Hoyas. Coming away with a thrilling 66-64 victory, Villanova became the lowest seed ever to win the NCAA championship—a record that still stands today.

    Also a salient point: This was the last in college basketball history to be played without a shot clock. Though the invention that revolutionized basketball had long been a part of the women’s game, the men’s side failed to adopt a shot clock until the 1985-86 season.

    With all of the talk about lowering the men’s sides shot clock from the current 35 seconds, one has to wonder whether we’ll be able to draw parallels between the 2013 and 1985 winners come next March.  

8. Indiana Wins 1976 National Championship, Finishes Season Undefeated

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    Following a season of such turmoil at the top of the rankings, it seems almost unfathomable that a team could go undefeated—and it may be. Bob Knight’s 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers were the last team to go undefeated through an entire season, a feat that seems less and less likely to happen again by the year.

    But during the 1970s, an undefeated campaign wasn't an anomaly; far from it, actually. John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins had gone undefeated twice already in the decade and two other times during the 1960s, so the accomplishments of Knight’s Hoosiers did not seem that far from the norm in 1976.

    As time goes on, though, and the thought of an undefeated season in college hoops seems more like an impossibility, the legend of the Hoosiers grows.

    Led by three All-Americans and one of the sport’s best coaches, Indiana was the nation’s best team—and it wasn’t even close. The Hoosiers rampaged through their regular season undefeated and were challenged just once during their tournament run: in the second round versus Alabama.

    In the national championship game, Knight’s squad skated to an 86-68 win over Michigan. Kent Benson won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player of the Year Award and Knight cut down his first of three nets at the Final Four.

    At the time, it was utterly ho-hum. But nearly four decades later, Indiana’s accomplishment only continues to grow in legend. 

7. Michael Jordan Gives Dean Smith His First National Championship in 1982

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    Believe it or not, there was a time where Michael Jordan was not known as an otherworldly life form who decided to grace our presence with his basketball excellence. He was, in fact, simply seen as one of many very good players on Dean Smith’s 1981-82 North Carolina Tar Heels—Jordan’s first collegiate season.

    The young whippersnapper put up solid counting stats during his first season, winning the ACC’s Freshman of the Year Award, but he was mostly a cog in Smith’s team-first system.

    Then the Tar Heels made the 1982 national championship game and Jordan’s legacy changed forever.

    Facing off against a Georgetown squad led by Patrick Ewing, North Carolina had fallen behind 62-61 with less than a minute remaining. With no obvious choice as to who would take a critical shot in the waning moment, Smith drew up a play to give Jordan a baseline jumper. As he became prone to do in Chicago, Jordan drained the 17-footer to give North Carolina a one-point lead and the eventual championship.

    It was Smith’s first after legendarily being unable to finish the job in so many previous opportunities. Though most remember Jordan for his time with the Bulls, his shot in 1982 was the nation’s introduction to a man who would go on to captivate the basketball world for the next quarter century. 

6. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird Meet in 1979 NCAA Championship Game

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    Speaking of legends being created, the greatest individual rivalry in basketball history was also spawned during March Madness. In 1979, Magic Johnson was merely an ascendant point guard for Michigan State and Larry Bird was an equally great forward for Indiana State. The two were intertwined, but only in the most minimal sense; they were the nation’s best players.

    That all changed come March 1979. Indiana State came in as the No. 1 team in the country, a side seemingly preordained for a championship run. Michigan State, though still highly rated, faced a difficult bracket of opponents, including an Elite Eight contest against an extremely talented (and top-seeded) Notre Dame squad.

    Both sides navigated their brackets, of course, setting up arguably the most important game in college basketball history. Featuring Bird and Magic, two talents who captivated audiences during the regular season and again during March Madness left the whole nation standing at attention.

    The Spartans won, 75-64, pulling away thanks to an ascendant performance from Johnson, who won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award. Bird, shooting 7-of-21 from the field, mostly disappointed. But to this day, that game remains something of legend. It’s the most-watched game in college basketball history with 35.11 million viewers, and it sparked an individual rivalry that would the sports world forever.

5. Bo Kimble Shoots Left-Handed to Honor Hank Gathers

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    If the 1989-90 Loyola Marymount basketball team was playing today, it would be everything that Cinderellas were made of. Led by a maverick coach in Paul Westhead and two scintillating scoring options in Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers, Loyola Marymount rampaged through the regular season and took the WCC season title.

    Just when it was all coalescing and the team was on the precipice of capturing the conference tournament championship and making the Big Dance, it happened. “It,” of course, refers to Gathers collapsing on the court and dying due to a heart condition during Loyola Marymount’s conference semifinal versus Portland.

    Shocked and stricken with grief, no one would have blamed Loyola Marymount for forgoing its NCAA Tournament bid. Instead, the team played, sparking one of the most touching runs in tournament history.

    Loyola Marymount made a shocking run as a No. 11 seed to the Elite Eight, but the team will forever be remembered for the actions of Kimble. To honor his fallen friend, Kimble, a right-handed shooter, took his first free throw in every game left-handed, knocking down each of his attempts.

    Though the team's run ultimately fell short, those moments from Gathers remain spellbinding. 

4. Texas Western Wins 1966 National Championship

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    If we were counting down the most important moments in March Madness history, this wouldn’t even be a contest. Texas Western winning the 1966 national championship would top the list and we could all just go about our day.

    By now, we all have read the book, seen the movie and heard the story recounted more times than we can count.

    In the face of racial unrest throughout the United States, Texas Western became the first college basketball team to win a national championship with five African Americans in the starting lineup. Coach Don Haskins forever told the story that he wasn’t trying to play a hero role—just trying to win the game like any other coach—but the impact his decision made was monumental.

    Obviously, Texas Western did not suddenly end racial unrest. But that’s a cultural problem for another time and another columnist. What Texas Western did was prove—though it should have already been known—that talent, coaching prowess and a team-first mentality win basketball games; race doesn’t play a factor.

    It seems impossible to think that in today’s day and age that would have ever been a question. But in the  mid-1960s, it was one that divided the entire country. Texas Western was the first of many teams that started changing that attitude. 

3. Chris Webber Calls a Timeout He Doesn't Have, Fab 5 Era Ends in Heartbreak

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    The Fab Five was created to dominate the college basketball landscape. Built on the foundation of five of the nation’s most talented players, the Michigan Wolverines personified the culture of the early 1990s. Brash, confident and equipped with the baggiest of shorts, the Fab Five dominated the culture and the conversation.

    It’s just too bad the results on the floor never quite matched up. Though Michigan’s Fab Five mostly dominated during the regular season and had cabals of tournament success, a championship was never brought to Ann Arbor during the two years all five members were on the team.

    Of course, the most infamous moment of the Fab Five era came during the 1993 national championship game. Down by two points to North Carolina with mere seconds remaining on the clock, forward and resident team superstar Chris Webber took the ball down the floor. Trapped in the corner by two defenders, Webber called a timeout to get himself out of a sticky situation...only Michigan had no timeouts remaining.

    As such, Webber was called for a technical foul, giving North Carolina both free throws and possession. The Tar Heels went on to win the title, Webber declared for the NBA draft following the season and the Fab Five was no more. Michigan went on, without Webber, to the Elite Eight in 1993-94, but the program was never the same—especially after an improper benefits scandal rocked the program.

    Despite the wins from the Fab Five era being vacated, Webber’s timeout has gone on to live in infamy. To this day, Webber, who went on to have a brilliant NBA career, is so hesitant to talk about his time at Michigan that he would not even appear in a ESPN documentary about the Fab Five. Some say that singular moment (along with the benefits scandal) went on to noticeably affect Webber’s playing career.

    While that’s up for debate, his place in history was cemented from the time he made a “T” symbol with his hands. 

2. Lorenzo Charles Dunks N.C. State to 1983 National Championship

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    North Carolina State’s 1983 national championship has taken on a life of its own over time due to the presence of Jim Valvano. The luminary sports figure is at the center of the moment, scampering around the court looking for someone to hug, and his legendary bout with cancer—and the 1993 ESPYs speech that has made him a folk hero—makes this moment live on perhaps more than it otherwise would have.

    But let’s just appreciate Lorenzo Charles’ basket for what it was at the time.

    A heavy underdog against the Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars, N.C. State should have been just happy to get there. The Wolfpack were a No. 6 seed, held together mostly on Krazy Glue and the scope of Valvano’s brilliance, while Houston was the most talented team in the country.

    To put it another way: Hakeem Olajuwon won the Most Outstanding Player Award despite being on the losing side. He was that spectacular, that head and shoulders above the remainder of college basketball.

    And even Charles being in a position to take a rebound and dunk it was fluky at best. Dereck Wittenburg took a wildly ill-advised shot, one that would have rightfully gotten him skewered had Charles not been there to put it back. He essentially took the best worst shot in college basketball history.

    All of that had to happen for Charles to have a chance. Houston had to play down to its competition, Wittenburg had to take a horrible shot and Charles had to be there at the perfect time and have the presence of mind to go straight up.

    Valvano is the lasting memory, but lest we forget how improbable that whole sequence was to begin with. 

1. Christian Laettner Dashes Kentucky's Final Four Dreams

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    Quantifying the single most famous play in college basketball history is hard. Ask Grant Hill to throw a perfect baseball pass to Christian Laettner a hundred times and he’s probably a bit off on 99. Laettner having the presence of mind to set his body on his turnaround jumper and Kentucky deciding to play completely lax defense are probably more likely but no less astounding.

    Put it all together, though, and you have the greatest buzzer-beater and best moment in college basketball history. The combination of Hill’s pass and Laettner’s shot gave Duke a thrilling 104-103 victory, sending the Blue Devils to the Final Four.

    They would go on to win the championship, but perhaps the most impressive thing about that play is that it rendered the net-cutting almost irrelevant. Duke’s championship, where it defeated the Fab Five Michigan Wolverines, just seemed preordained from the moment Laettner’s shot went through the hoop.

    Some even mistakenly think the shot came in the championship game. That’s how much that play has overshadowed nearly anything else that happened in the tournament.

    Plenty will argue that a game-winner in the Elite Eight shouldn’t top a list, but when anyone mentions brilliant moments or last-second shots, Laettner still comes up two decades later.

    It’s a play that defied all logical comprehension and stood the test of time. That’s just about all you can ask for in an individual NCAA tournament moment.