NCAA Tournament History: The 20 Greatest Finishes in Elite Eight History

Yaneek SmithContributor IIIMarch 29, 2011

NCAA Tournament History: The 20 Greatest Finishes in Elite Eight History

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    There is something special about the Saturday-Sunday games that take place on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

    Granted, it is not the final set of games in the NCAA tournament, but there is a finality to the regional finals, a sense of closure a team feels when it has advanced to the Final Four.

    Throughout the years, we've seen our share of exciting games take place in the Elite Eight, from Duke-Kentucky (1992) and Arizona-Illinois (2005) to Butler-Florida last weekend.

    This list recounts some of the greatest moments we've seen in regional finals over the years, from 1979-present. (1979 was the year in which the Selection Committee began seeding teams in the NCAA Tournament.)

No. 20: James Salters' FTs with 23 Seconds Left Sends Penn to Final Four (1979)

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    Can you imagine a team like Pennsylvania, or any team from the Ivy League for that matter, making it to the Final Four today?

    Pretty hard to envision, huh?

    But it has happened before.

    In 1979, the Pennsylvania Quakers did just that, embarking on an historic run and winning four games to advance to the Final Four.

    As a No. 9 seed, they defeated Jim Valvano's Iona Gaels in the first round, 73-69, then upset No. 1 seed North Carolina, 72-71, in the second round. In the Sweet 16, the Quakers defeated Syracuse, setting them up for a regional final with St. John's, a 10-seed who had also made an incredible run to the Elite Eight.

    Against St. John's, the Quakers, behind the play of Tony Price (21 points) and Tim Smith, rallied from a second-half deficit. With the game tied at 62, Penn's James Salters made two free throws with 23 seconds left to give Penn the lead, sending them to the Final Four. 

    In the Final Four, they were defeated by eventual national champion Michigan State, 101-67.

No. 19: Lorenzo Charles' Free Throws Send NC State to the Final Four (1983)

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    With time winding down in the second half, North Carolina State's Dereck Whittenburg was open for a potential go-ahead jumper, but seeing teammate Lorenzo Charles open underneath the basket, he passed it to the big man, who was fouled by Virginia's Ralph Sampson as he went up for a shot.

    With 23 seconds to play, Charles made both free throws, giving the Wolfpack the lead.

    The lead held up, and the Wolfpack defeated the Cavaliers, ranked fourth in the country, by the slimmest of margins, 63-62, to advance to the Final Four.

    As we all know, North Carolina State would continue its Cinderella run, advancing to the national championship and defeating Houston, 54-52.

No. 18: Raymar Morgan's FT with Under 2 Seconds Wins It for Michigan St. (2010)

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    Tennessee trailed by eight in the second half, but rallied to crawl within a point, 69-68. Scotty Hopson then went to the line, making his first free throw, but missing his second, giving Michigan State a chance to win in regulation.

    After grabbing the rebound off the missed free throw, the Spartans drove to the other end of the floor. Draymond Green looked underneath the basket and dished the ball to Raymar Morgan, who was fouled with 1.8 seconds remaining.

    Morgan made the first free throw and missed the second on purpose, forcing Tennessee to call a timeout. 

    Unfortunately for the Volunteers, J.P. Prince's half-court heave was no good, sending the Spartans to their sixth Final Four in 12 years.

No. 17: Shelvin Mack's 3-Pointer Sends Butler to Final Four (2011)

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    After trailing by 11 points in the second half and rallying to send the game to overtime, the Butler Bulldogs, following a Florida three-pointer, found themselves down one point. And when they needed someone to make a big play, guard Shelvin Mack, as he had done throughout the tournament, came through.

    With 1:22 remaining, Mack drilled a three-pointer to give Butler the lead for good at 72-70. The Bulldogs held on for a 74-71 win and headed to the Final Four for the second consecutive season, this time as a No. 8 seed.

No. 16: Chris Webber's Tip-in with 31 Seconds Left Sends the Game into OT (1992)

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    [Webber's tip-in comes at the 2:00 mark.]

    After Michigan tied the game with just under two minutes remaining, Ohio State took the lead back on a jumper from Jamaal Brown with one minute to play.

    The Wolverines then tied it again when Chris Webber put back Jalen Rose's miss with 31 seconds to play.

    After Chris Jent missed a baseline jumper that would've given OSU the lead with a few seconds remaining, the game went into overtime, where Michigan took over before winning, 75-71, over its arch rival.

No. 15: Scoonie Penn's Late Steal vs. St. John's Wins It for OSU (1999)

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    Down two with less than 15 seconds remaining, the St. John's Red Storm had mounted a late rally to give themselves at chance at forcing overtime or possibly taking the lead. 

    With time running down, point guard Erick Barkley ran a pick-and-roll with Ron Artest, only to have the ball poked away by Ohio State's Scoonie Penn and recovered by his teammate Michael Redd, who dribbled to the other end of the floor and was fouled with 0.7 seconds remaining.

    After Redd made one of two free throws, Barkley's desperation heave from three-quarters court was off-line, sending the Buckeyes, who had finished last in the Big Ten just one year before, to the Final Four.

No. 14: Jamel Thomas' 3-Pointer Caps Rally, Sending the Game into OT (1997)

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    It had been an incredible run for the Providence Friars.

    A bubble team that sneaked into the NCAA tournament as a 10-seed, the Friars beat No. 7 Marquette in the first round, No. 2 Duke in the second round and fellow Cinderella, No. 14 Tennessee-Chattanooga, in the Sweet 16 to advance to the Elite Eight to take on the Arizona Wildcats, who had also surprised many by making this far, especially after having defeated the No. 1 team, Kansas, just two days before.

    Up three and with possession, the Wildcats, with 39.7 seconds remaining, ran some time off the clock before Miles Simon's shot in the lane with 26 seconds left was blocked, leading to a fast-break opportunity for the Friars. On the ensuing play, guard Corey Wright drove into the lane and kicked it out to Jamel Thomas in the corner, who drilled a three-pointer with 15.3 seconds left to tie it at 85.

    On the ensuing possession, Providence stole the ball and had a chance to take the lead, but could not convert, sending the game into overtime, where they would fall to the Wildcats, 96-92.

    Arizona would continue its incredible run, defeating North Carolina in the Final Four and Kentucky in the title game, 84-79 in overtime, to win it all. 

No. 13: Taquan Dean's Layup with 38 Seconds Left Sends the Game into OT (2005)

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    [Go to and under "Search," type in "Louisville-West Virginia." The play begins at 1:02:32.]

    Down 20 points in the early stages of the game, the Louisville Cardinals, after watching West Virginia shoot an incredible 11-for-16 on field goals in the first half, including 10-for-14 from three-point range, staged a furious rally, setting up a play out of a timeout that led to Taquan Dean's game-tying layup with 38 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime.

    In the extra session, the Cardinals took command midway through overtime, grabbing their first lead of the game since they led 3-0 before cruising to victory.

    By making it to the Final Four, Rick Pitino became the first coach, at the time, to take three different teams to the Final Four (Providence and Kentucky being the others).

No. 12: Rick Calloway's Tip-in Sends the Hoosiers to the Final Four (1987)

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    Down 76-75, the Hoosiers, after LSU's Fess Irvin missed the front end of a one-and-one, had the ball with 26 seconds to play and decided against calling a timeout.

    As time wound down, Indiana's Daryl Thomas drove into the lane and shot an air ball, but teammate Rick Calloway, darting in from the baseline, bailed Thomas out, putting the ball in the basket to give Indiana the lead.

    Indiana, having rallied from a 12-point, second-half deficit, held on for the win, preventing LSU from making it to the Final Four for the second consecutive season as an 11-seed.

No. 11: Madsen's Dunk Gives Stanford the Lead Late over Rhode Island (1998)

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    Down six points with just under a minute to play, the Stanford Cardinal, who seemed dead in the water, made a valiant comeback, cutting the lead in half on a three-pointer by Arthur Lee. After cutting the deficit to one, 74-73, on a free throw, they forced a steal, leading to Mark Madsen's dramatic dunk that gave them the lead for good with 26.2 seconds to play.

    Rhode Island's Tyson Wheeler, fouled on a three-pointer with five seconds left and his team trailing 77-74, had a chance to tie the game, but missed all three of his free throws.

    With the win, the Cardinal advanced to their first Final Four in 56 years.

No. 10: Wallace's 3-Pointer with 31 Seconds Left Sends the Game into OT (2007)

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    It was 25 years after North Carolina had defeated Georgetown by a point to win the national championship.

    Fortunately for the Hoyas, this game had a different outcome.

    Down 11 points in the second half, Georgetown slowly chipped away at the UNC lead and, with 31.2 seconds remaining, guard Jonathan Wallace hit a three-pointer to tie it at 81, sending the game into overtime.

    From there, it was all Hoyas as they outscored the Tar Heels 15-3 in the extra session to win it, 96-84.

No. 9: Daniel Gibson's Late 3-Pointer Sends the LSU-Texas Game into OT (2006)

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    [The footage for this play begins at 6:10.]

    After LSU's Glen "Big Baby" Davis hit a turnaround jumper to give the Tigers a 52-49 lead with just over a minute remaining, the Longhorns drove to the other end of the floor and staged one of the wildest plays in NCAA tournament history. Texas had its first shot blocked, then missed a jumper, recovered a loose ball and had another shot blocked before guard Daniel Gibson recovered the ball and hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 52 with 32 seconds left in regulation.

    Unfortunately for Texas, the fun ended there as LSU dominated in overtime to win, 70-60.

No. 8: Giddens' 3-Pointer with 17 Seconds Left Ties It at 66 (2004)

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Having trailed throughout the majority of the second half, the Kansas Jayhawks found themselves trailing, 66-63, with one last chance to send the game into overtime.

    On its final possession in regulation, Kansas got the ball inside to center Wayne Simien, who missed a short hook shot. A mad scramble ensued, with the Jayhawks' Jeff Graves coming away with the ball and finding J.R. Giddens outside for a three-pointer that tied it at 66 with 16 seconds remaining.

    After Georgia Tech failed to score on the ensuing possession, the game went into overtime, and the Yellow Jackets dominated, outscoring KU 13-5 in the extra frame to win it, 79-71, and advance to the Final Four.

No. 7: Denham Brown's Layup Sends the GMU-UConn Game into OT (2006)

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    Based on the names on the front of the jerseys, this was David versus Goliath.

    But, the truth is that George Mason was good enough to hang with Connecticut. The Patriots had proven that after beating Michigan State, North Carolina and Wichita State earlier in the tournament.

    Just when it looked as though the Patriots were going to advance to the Final Four, UConn, trailing 74-70 with 10 seconds remaining, cut the deficit to two. After two missed free throws by George Mason, Brown took a pass on the left wing and drove, laying it in on a reverse to tie the game at 74 as time expired.

    In overtime, George Mason had an 85-80 lead with 28.5 seconds remaining, only to see the Huskies stage another rally.

    After cutting the lead to 86-84 with 6.1 seconds remaining, the Patriots again missed two free throws. On the other end, Brown attempted a three-pointer at the buzzer, only to see it sail wide, making George Mason only the second double-digit seed to ever advance to the Final Four.

No. 6: Scottie Reynolds Hits a Runner To Send Villanova to Detroit (2009)

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    [Scottie Reynolds' last-second shot begins at 1:38.]

    In a game that featured two of the Big East's best teams, Pittsburgh and Villanova engaged in a dogfight. With 5.5 seconds to play, Pitt guard Levance Fields hit two free throws to tie the game at 76.

    On the ensuing play, Villanova's Reggie Redding hit Dante Cunningham just beyond the three-point line, who found Scottie Reynolds racing forward at mid-court. From there, Reynolds did the rest, driving into the lane and hitting a floater with 0.5 seconds remaining to send the Wildcats to their first Final Four since they won the national championship in 1985.

    Fields' shot from three-quarters court as time expired came close to going in, hitting the backboard and missing the basket by less than a foot or so.

No. 5: Deron Williams' 3-Pointer Caps a 20-5 Run To Send the Game into OT (2005)

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    Down 75-60 with four minutes to play, the Fightin' Illini, a team that many picked to win the national championship, embarked on an historic comeback.

    Having cut the deficit to nine with under 1:30 to play, Illinois shifted into another gear, stealing the ball several times and creating opportunities for themselves before further cutting into the lead. And, then, down 80-77 with 45 seconds remaining, the Illini came up with another steal. On the ensuing play, Dee Brown found Deron Williams, who hit a three-pointer with 38 seconds to play, known to Illini faithful as "The Shot," sending the game into overtime.

    A back-and-forth struggle throughout overtime, the Wildcats, trailing 90-89, had one last chance to win the game, but Hassan Adams missed a three-pointer as time expired.

No. 4: John Lucas' 3-Pointer with 6.9 Seconds Wins It for Oklahoma State (2004)

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    With the game tied at 59, John Lucas III hit a jumper with 41 seconds remaining to give Oklahoma State a two-point lead, but St. Joseph's responded, taking a 62-61 lead on Pat Carroll's three-pointer with 29.9 seconds to play.

    On the ensuing play, Oklahoma State's Joey Graham kicked it out to Lucas, whose three-pointer from the left-wing gave Oklahoma State a 64-62 lead with 6.1 seconds to play.

    When St. Joe's guard Jameer Nelson missed a straightaway 17-foot jumper that would've tied it, OSU was on its way to its first Final Four since 1995.

No. 3: Patrick Sparks Hits Dramatic 3-Pointer To Send Game into Overtime (2005)

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    There were initially two missed shots on the Kentucky's final possession in the second half, setting things up for a wild and crazy finish.

    After getting the rebound at the top of the key, the Wildcats' Patrick Sparks, with his feet situated just behind the three-point line, launched a difficult shot with one second remaining, only to see the ball hit the rim, glance off the backboard and hit the rim a few more times before dropping, tying the game at 75 and sending it into overtime.

    It was a fitting way for the last game of 2005's Elite Eight to end, with two of the previous three having also gone into overtime.

    Michigan State would recover, though, winning 94-88 in double overtime to advance to the Final Four.

No. 2: Christian Laettner Hits a Runner at the Buzzer To Defeat UConn (1990)

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    [The clip for Laettner's buzzer beater against UConn starts at 2:18.]

    When we think of Christian Laettner, we tend to think of his shot against Kentucky in 1992 and the two national championships he won at Duke. But, for me, this has always been the one play of his that has never gotten enough attention.

    With Duke trailing 79-78 with 2.6 seconds remaining and the ball out-of-bounds near its own bench, Laettner and head coach Mike Krzyzewski, after the initial play had been called in the huddle, conferred with one another and decided to change the play, which instead called for Laettner to take the final shot.

    Laettner threw the ball in, got it back and drove, hitting a 16-foot leaner at the buzzer to send No. 3 seed Duke to the Final Four.

No. 1: Laettner Does It Again, Beating Kentucky at the Spectrum (1992)

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    This is the shot that is often ranked No. 1 when it appears on a countdown of some sort.

    It is to college basketball what Bobby Thomson's home run in 1951 is to Major League Baseball, what Michael Jordan's jumper in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals is to the NBA—one of the iconic moments that has left a lasting image for years and years.

    On this play, Duke, which had just fallen behind 103-102 when Kentucky's Sean Woods hit a floater in the lane, had the ball 90 feet away from the hoop with just 2.1 seconds remaining.

    Everything that happened from that point on had to be perfect for the Blue Devils.

    And it was.

    Grant Hill threw an incredible pass to Christian Laettner, who was standing at the free-throw line. After catching the ball and taking a dribble, Laettner turned around and swished a 16-foot fadeaway jumper, forever sustaining his legacy as one of college basketball's greatest of all time.