The beauty of March Madness is its unpredictability. Since the NCAA tournament started in 1939, it has provided fans with monumental upsets, unforgettable buzzer-beaters, dominant teams, and great players.
Throughout the years, the tournament has continued to expand and so too have the number of memorable moments in the tournament’s illustrious history. While some of those last-second shots and monstrous player-performances are soon forgotten, others stick with us for years and even decades. These moments are what make fans love college basketball’s postseason tourney.
Here are the top ten moments in NCAA tournament history.
10. Bryce Drew’s Game-Winning Three (1998)
Down by two points to Ole Miss with 2.5 seconds left in the game, Bryce Drew put Valparaiso basketball on the national map in 1998 by sinking an improbably three-point shot at the buzzer to lift the 13th-seeded Crusaders past the fourth-seeded Rebels, 70-69.
9. Richmond Upsets Syracuse (1991)
Richmond became the first ever No. 15 seed to win a game in college basketball’s national tournament when the Spiders defeated Syracuse 73-69 in 1991. Even though it was a monumental occasion in college basketball, a major upset wasn’t uncommon for Richmond, as it defeated third-seeded Indiana in the first round of the 1988 tournament, 72-69. At the time, Richmond was just the fourth team to win a tournament game as a 14th seed.
8. Butler’s Championship Run (2010)
When Butler came into the tournament 28-4 and undefeated in Horizon League play, everyone knew that Butler was going to be a tough out. Nobody in the college basketball world expected the Bulldogs to be a National Championship threat, however.
Despite a great regular season, Butler was awarded a No. 5 seed in the tournament and would have an improbable road to the Final Four. During its run, Butler knocked off UTEP, Murray State, Syracuse, Kansas State, and Michigan State before falling in the national championship game to Duke 61-59.
The Bulldogs ultimately made a name for the little guys in the sport and proved that anything can happen in March.
7. Keith Smart’s Shot (1987)
With Indiana down by a single point to the Syracuse Orangemen and time dwindling down in the 1987 National Championship game, Keith Smart hit a go-ahead, baseline jumper with one second remaining to give the Hoosiers a 74-73 advantage.
Syracuse’s long desperation pass was stolen, and Smart became the hero of the game while Indiana won its fifth NCAA Championship in school history.
6. Chris Webber Calls Timeout (1993)
If Chris Webber could choose to forget one thing in his life, it would be his timeout call in the 1993 National Championship game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
With 11 seconds left in the game and trailing by two points, Webber drives into the far corner of the court where he is met by two Carolina defenders. In a panic, Webber signals for a timeout, forgetting one thing…the Wolverines don’t have any remaining. As a result, North Carolina became National Champions, winning 77-71. It was one of the lowest points in Webber’s career.
5. Bo Kimble’s Left-Handed Tribute to Hank Gathers (1990)
In a tragic event in college basketball’s history, Loyola Marymount forward Hank Gathers collapsed during a WCC tournament game against Portland and later died.
As LMU continued its season in the NCAA tournament, longtime friend and teammate Bo Kimble pledged to shoot his first free throw of every game left-handed because “Hank was always working on his left hand.” It was a heart-breaking, yet unforgettable moment when the ball went through the hoop.
4. Christian Laettner’s Shot (1992)
This is a shot that is played yearly when the talk of the NCAA tournament begins. In the 1992 East Regional Finals, Duke and Kentucky battled for a trip to the Final Four. The hard-fought game came down to the final seconds and became an unbelievable March Madness moment.
With 2.1 seconds remaining in overtime, Duke trailed the Wildcats by one point and needed a miracle. As the pass soared 70 feet, Laettner grabbed the ball, made a move, and hit the game-winner as time expired to send the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
Laettner cemented his legacy at Duke with that free throw line jumper.
3. Texas Western Wins National Championship (1966)
The 1960s were the height of the Civil Rights era, which makes the story of Texas Western even better. Until the 1966 season, no college basketball team had an all-black starting lineup.
Despite all the criticism and negative reaction surrounding coach Don Haskins and Texas Western’s basketball program, the team prevailed, becoming the first team with an all-black starting lineup to win a national title.
To make the moment even sweeter for the ball club, Texas Western defeated legendary coach Adolph Rupp and the juggernaut Kentucky Wildcats to win it all.
2. Lorenzo Charles Dunk (1983)
In a tie game with Houston in the 1983 National Championship game, N.C. State had the ball and a chance to become NCAA champions. Many fans of the Wolfpack were probably screaming when they saw Dereck Whittenburg air ball a questionable 30-foot shot as the clock ticked down.
Much to everyone’s surprise, and N.C. State fans relief, Lorenzo Charles was in the right place at the right time, grabbed the ball, and dunked it as time expired to give the Wolfpack the 54-52 win.
It’s impossible to forget N.C. State head coach Jim Valvano’s reaction to the victory; running around the floor of University Arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico, looking for someone to hug after his team etched its name in the NCAA tournament record books.
1. Magic vs. Bird (1979)
Larry “The Hick from French Lick” Bird vs. Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Two of the greatest players in college basketball history (and the NBA for that matter) met on college basketball’s biggest stage in 1979 as the Indiana State Sycamores and the Michigan State Spartans competed for an NCAA championship.
The game wasn’t as nail-biting as most had hoped for, as Michigan State cruised to a 75-64 win over the Sycamores. Bird finished the games with a double-double (19 points, 13 rebounds), and Johnson ended with 24 points and a National Championship win. This epic bout has been the highest-rated and most-watched college basketball game for years.