The 8 Most Elite Individual Performances in NCAA Tournament History

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March Madness is finally here, and what better way to honor the Tournament than to look at the greatest individual performances in Tournament History.

Most of us could easily list off the biggest names from Tourney lore.  Walton, Jordan, Ewing, Laettner, and more recently Carmelo and Kemba, all cemented their names in history by leading their school to a championship.

kemba-walker-best-individual-peformances-ncaa-tournament-history

Kemba Walker authored one of the greatest six-game performances in NCAA Tournament history last year. Does he make the list? (Photo By Kevin Scheller, The Daily Campus via Wikimedia Commons)

But did any of them crack the list for greatest individual performances?  Read on to find out.

Some quick ground rules:

1. Competition matters.  

Bill Bradley scored 58 points against Wichita State in 1965…but the Shockers weren’t exactly a national powerhouse.  What Bradley did was phenomenal, but he won’t be cracking this list.

2. Round matters.  

Austin Carr dropped 61 just five years later against Ohio.  But he did it in the first round.  The deeper into the tournament a player’s performance came, the more heavily it was weighted.

3. Result matters.  

The magnificent David Robinson pounded the Michigan Wolverines in 1987 for 50 points.  Unfortunately, his team was just outgunned and wound up with the loss.  Was it The Admiral’s fault?  Probably not.  But it will be harder to top this list if you couldn’t get your team the W.

So who made the cut?

Here are the 8 most elite individual performances in NCAA Tournament history.

#8.  Magic Johnson’s Final Four against Pennsylvania in 1979

  • 29 points
  • 10 rebounds
  • 10 assists
  • 9-10 from the floor
  • 11-12 from the FT line

Everyone remembers what Magic and the Spartans accomplished in the Championship against Larry Legend and the Sycamores, but most people don’t remember Magic’s sheer brilliance throughout the Tournament.  It peeked in the Final Four against an overmatched Penn team.

michigan-state-magic-johnson

In fact, if the game hadn’t turned into such a blowout, it certainly would have finished higher up on this list.  Even though his triple-double was an “unofficial one” (the NCAA didn’t keep track of steals, assists, or blocks until the mid-80s), it still goes down as one of the only Triple-Doubles in Final Four history.

#7.  Shaquille O’Neal’s First Round against BYU in 1992

  • 26 points
  • 13 rebounds
  • 11 blocks
  • 4 assists

I know I said that round and opponent mattered, but sometimes, a game is simply TOO dominant to ignore.  This certainly was the case with The Big Diesel’s opening game against BYU in 1992.

Shaq turned in a whale of a game against BYU with one of the only triple-double in tournament history that included blocks*.  The Big Fella was just all over the place, and the crazy thing is that LSU needed just about every one of his points, rebounds, AND blocks.  The game remained close throughout, and Shaq showed the world that he was ready to dominate the NBA for years to come.

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* – Kudos to the reader who point this out in the comment section.

#6.  Ty Lawson’s Championship Game against Michigan State in 2009

  • 21 points
  • 4 rebounds
  • 6 assists
  • 8 steals
  • 1 turnover
  • 15-18 from the FT Line

It’s ridiculous that Lawson’s Championship Game performance is so often overlooked.  Most likely, the nationwide celebration and coronation of Tyler Hansbrough kept Ty Lawson a little too far under-the-radar.

That’s ok.

Lawson still made it to #6 on this list by tying the tournament records for steals and setting the record for most trips to the FT line in a Final Four game.  In case you forget, Lawson kept the Finale from ever getting too close with his relentless running, on-ball pressure, and attacks on the basket.

(Note: see if you recognize a certain Michigan State Spartan youngster and future Big Ten Player of the Year in the video below…)

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Lawson willed his team to victory, and was really a more important player to the Tar Heels than Hansbrough throughout their final season together.

#5.  Christian Laettner Regional Final against Kentucky in 1992.

  • 43 minutes
  • 31 points
  • 7 rebounds
  • 3 assists
  • 10-10 from the floor
  • 11-11 from the FT Line

Now we are getting into sacred territory as far as All-Time Performances go.

In the greatest game ever played, Laettner was literally perfect: 31 points, 7 rebounds, and zero missed shots.  In all, he took 21 shots…and made every last one of them.  And boy, is it a good thing that he did make that last one of them.

—–

Without it, we would be celebrating Jamal Mashburn and the Kentucky Wildcats’ fantastic victory in one of the all-time classics.

The only thing that keeps Laettner from climbing up this list is his unfortunate stomp of Aminu Timberlake in the same game.  It really is the only blemish on an otherwise fantastic performance.

*****

What are the four most elite individual performances in NCAA Tournament history?

Well, basketball’s greatest champion is involved; so is one of the NBA’s current alpha dogs; and the performance at #1 will most likely surprise you…but it definitely won’t disappoint you.

Click to continue reading…

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About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.

Comments

  1. How could a site called “Midwest Sports Fans” fail to include Cole Aldrich’s astonishing performance against Dayton in the 2009 Tournament?  In your article, you claim that Shaq is the only player in tournament history to achieve a triple-double that included blocks.  However, Kansas’ Aldrich dropped a titanic triple-double on the Flyers in ’09, finishing with 13 points, 20 rebounds and 10 blocks.  Shaq’s performance came in the first round, while Aldrich achieved this in the second round.

    • Collin, great point. I updated the article to reflect this. Jon is away from the computer but texted me the following:

      “Aldrich’s performance was nearly as dominant, and nearly made the list.
      Frankly, I only wanted to include one block-party, and I weighed Shaq’s
      and Cole’s games closely. Shaq won out because he scored more AND had
      one more block. Also, to be honest, he is the bigger name and I felt
      like his performance was a larger announcement to the world about his
      dominance that would be coming. Cole’s game cannot be diminished, and it was nearly as dominant, but it ended up on the cutting room floor at the very end.”

  2. Brian_washburn says:

    Interesting how “one of the only” became the “only” when comparing blocks. Going back a little further than most of your examples, then Alcinder and the Big E had a memorable clash (I believe in the Astro Dome) that should have earned both consideration. Doing it side-by-side against each other, while not totally individual, has to rank somewhere in the consideration. Great article!

  3. What about Dave Corzine of Depaul in 1978 scoring 45pts of 90 in a double ot game vs Louisville

  4. On the Laettner shot why does #34 timidly back away from him after he receives the ball?  I know he doesn’t want to foul but man, throw your hands up or something.

  5. Dougmoorestables says:

    what about jack givens 43 points against duke in the 1978 championship game

  6. What an uninformed article and author. In the 1978 championship game Jack “Goose” Givens actually had 41 points. Do you think that ranks with all the 20 point regional games listed. This ranking is a joke!!

  7. The 1974 NC State team was definitely not a one man team. 7’2″ center Tom Burleson was second team all-american in 73 and third team in 74.  Also, in the UCLA game he had 20 pts. and 14 rebs.  Not a bad game for himself considering he was matched up with Walton!

  8. Bossbacon says:

    I would love to see an Honorable mention list. Say, 20 or so other players that were top performers deserving to be recognized such as Cole Aldrich’s performance or Jack Givens. 

  9. Vern Levy says:

    Bill Walton’s FG miss against Memphis was actually an offensive goal tending call so the ball actually went in the basket, but was called off, thus recorded as a miss.

  10. as a tournament as a whole, not single games kemba walker has to be included.

  11. I remember the David Thompson thing, I thought he was dead, many feared he either broke his back, skull, or neck. Personally, I squeeze Walton in at #1 and move Laettner (despite the stomp) up to #3 and Wade to #5, and somehow get Jack Givens on the list, not to diss Magic, but Penn was completely out of its league.

    Honorable mention: Larry Finch (29 points) for Memphis State in a losing cause in the game Walton went 21-22…

  12. Mutha Damn says:

    Wichita State was a powerhouse back then, they made it to the Final Four that year. Remember only 23 schools played back then so all of the schools were good teams. So if you did well in the first round back then it was like doing it in the Sweet Sixteen now. Just an FYI 

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