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.
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.
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.
* – 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.
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…)
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.
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