There is no shortage of websites and forums espousing opinions on the greatest ever NCAA tournament March Madness moments. It stands to reason, as the tournament has genuinely thrown up some of the most astonishing events in basketball history. The sheer length of the competition and the number of games that have been played over the years mean that it is almost as impossible to pick a list of the best moments as it is to pick a perfect bracket.
WELL, NOT QUITE, BUT YOU GET THE PICTURE
The speed of college basketball games and the huge number of teams just make it a gloriously chaotic event that just throws up one shining moment after another. There are the gutsy underdog performances and Cinderella stories that capture the imagination, and enough buzzer-beaters and final seconds upset to keep the sports fan entertained for days on YouTube. It’s all so drama-filled and exhilarating that it is pretty ridiculous to try and quantify it. We couldn’t even agree on what deserved to make a generous list of 40 here in The Jump Hub office without it almost ending up in a fistfight. So, in an effort to keep the violence to a minimum and the trolls from our door, we present to you our collective favourite March Madness moments in no particular order. Only that most of the first ones were unanimously agreed upon and the later ones less so.
MAKE OF THEM WHAT YOU WILL…
We recommend Australian sportsbook PlayUp for all your NCAA March Madness Betting. They have great offers and promotions, keen NCAA March Madness odds, and a huge array of other sports to have a bet on. Read our full review of PlayUp.
18+ | You know the score | Stay in control | Gamble responsibly
THE BIG DANCE
NORTH CAROLINA STATE VS HOUSTON (1983)
Houston’s iconic ‘Phi Slama Jama’ lineup was beaten by massive underdogs North Carolina State in the last seconds of this low-scoring drudgery by a truly memorable moment. With the game tied at 52-52 and only 7 seconds to go, Dereck Whittenburg lobbed a long-range shot/pass to the rim and Lorenzo Charles gratefully caught it in mid-air and dunked with 1 second remaining.
The celebration that exploded from the Wolfpack bench and fans is what people tend to remember most. Jim Valvano scrambles desperately across the court for someone to hug and celebrate with. It’s carnage of the kind that gives you goosebumps and truly represents the best that the NCAA tournament has to offer. Drama and excitement don’t get much more visceral and breathless than this. The moment became all the more poignant as the iconic coach Jim Valvano sadly lost his battle with cancer just 10 years after this euphoric moment of March Madness.
ILLINOIS STATE VS ARIZONA STATE (2005)
Comeback stories are not lacking in the annals of March Madness history and they shine out like glorious moments of pure joy. None more so than in 2005 when Illinois went on a staggering run of 20 points to 5 over Arizona and pulled back a 15-point deficit. They did this with only 4 minutes on the clock, and it resulted in them taking the game into overtime. It was nip and tuck from there, and they ended up winning by a single point 90-89.
THE CROWD WENT WILD
(we can take that as a given for every moment on this list no doubt) and Illinois progressed to the Final Four.
MICHIGAN STATE VS INDIANA STATE (1979)
Now, this one caused some heated discussions in the office, let me tell you. Nobody would argue that this was one of the highest-quality, most exciting games in NCAA tournament history. What it was is something that captured the attention and imagination of an entire nation. NBA history will show that it probably ended up saving the flagging brand. Considering that, at its core, this was one college basketball team against another, its historical importance is beyond reproach.
EVEN IF ITS DRAMATIC QUALITIES WERE LESS OBVIOUS
The estimated viewing audience for the game was 40 million. 20% higher than the previous year, and a record for ANY BASKETBALL GAME before or since.
NOT JUST AMATEUR ONES
The Magic Johnson/Larry Bird rivalry went on to become the stuff of legend and America watched spellbound as it was born in the 1979 NCAA tournament. Johnson’s Spartans eventually triumphed over the, previously undefeated, Indiana State, but the true story is on the legacy of this game. Perhaps one of the most important in all of basketball, let alone college basketball history.
DUKE VS KENTUCKY STATE (1992)
This particular game has been called the greatest in college basketball history. That’s a bit further than we’re prepared to go but it certainly was a dazzler. It was a heated and physical matchup that truly exemplified March Madness.
THE LEAD CHANGED HANDS 17 TIMES DURING THE GAME…
and the quality was through the roof. Eventually, the teams played out an overtime thriller that produced the most famously replayed buzzer-beater of all time.
There were only 2.1 seconds left on the clock and Kentucky were leading by one point, Grant Hill threw a superb half-court pass from the end line to Christian Laettner near the free-throw line. Laettner spun around and executed one of the most memorable shots in basketball history. His game-winning shot meant that they took the victory 104-103 and secured their place in the Final Four.
VILLANOVA VS GEORGETOWN (1985)
Villanova were unranked in the US in the 1985 NCAA tournament. Georgetown were the reigning champions and number one seed. It was all but a foregone conclusion.
EXCEPT IT WASN’T
The Wildcats played the game of their lives and won the game with a final score of 66-64. They managed to hit a sublime 22 of 28 field shots (FG% – 78.6% – a Final Four record to this day) and that included 9 from 10 in the second half. Add 22 from 27 at the free-throw line into the mix, and it was a done deal. They became the lowest-seeded team (8th) to ever win the tournament and that record still stands today.
UCLA VS MEMPHIS STATE (1973)
The story of this game and its inclusion here comes down to one man and one man alone. Bill Walton was undeniably one of the greatest college basketball players in history. You need look no further than his performance in the 1973 NCAA championship game for evidence of that.
Walton’s UCLA side were chasing their seventh consecutive NCAA men’s basketball title and he himself was reigning national college player of the year. He pulled out a truly astonishing performance that many would argue is the most dominant in the history of the competition
21 SCORED FROM 22 SHOTS!
This gave him 44 of UCLA’s 87 points. He took 13 rebounds in 33 minutes before leaving the court with an injured ankle. John Wooden and his Bruins did indeed go on to claim the title. In no small part thanks to Bill Walton’s efforts and the biggest game he ever played in terms of performance.
UCLA VS MISSOURI STATE (1995)
In 1995, UCLA were hoping to win their first championship since the John Wooden era. It needed a quite unbelievable play from Tyus Edney to keep the dream alive. It was the second round and UCLA were down by one with less than 5 seconds to go. Tyus Edney took the ball virtually underneath his own net and, instead of making a long pass to another teammate, charged the entire length of the court by himself and made the game-winning shot from inside the paint. UCLA won 75-74. Check out the video below and marvel at it all over again.
PREPARE TO BE LEFT OPEN-MOUTHED IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT
The speed and ball-handling skill under that kind of pressure is nothing short of staggering. Most buzzer-beaters involve a desperate 3-point effort when all other options are depleted. Tyus Edney made his own option that day and it remains one of the most captivating in all NCAA tournament history.
NORTH CAROLINA STATE VS GEORGETOWN (1982)
The 1982 championship game contained an absolute plethora of basketball talent, including soon-to-be NBA legends like James Worthy and Patrick Ewing. There were six future Hall of Famers involved in all, (including both head coaches)
BUT THE STORY IS ALL ABOUT ONE PARTICULAR FRESHMAN
With 15 seconds left in the game, a 19-year-old Michael Jordan sank a 16-foot shot to make it 63-62 and clinch the game. North Carolina had its first title since the 1950s and the world had its first glimpse of the phenomenon that is the greatest basketball player who has ever lived.
THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, BALTIMORE COUNTY VS VIRGINIA (2018)
UMBC stunned the world, and Virginia in particular, by giving them a brutal first-round thrashing 74-54 in 2018. Virginia didn’t take kindly to this (neither did the millions of people who had to tear up their bracket-betting slips after the first round) and returned the following season to win the tournament. But in that incredible moment, UMBC made history and became the first and only number 16 seed to ever beat a number 1 seed in March Madness.
INDIANA VS MICHIGAN STATE (1976)
In 1976 Indiana returned to the fore with their first NCAA men’s basketball title since the 1950s. Remarkably, this was the culmination of a season where they went undefeated. The final itself was nothing to write home about (they beat Michigan State convincingly 86-68) but the achievement of going an entire season unbeaten is a remarkable one.
THEY WERE THE LAST TEAM TO ACHIEVE IT…
Although, Gonzaga came within one game of replicating it in 2021.
NOTRE DAME VS OHIO STATE (1970)
In one of the greatest individual performances in NCAA Tournament history, Notre Dame’s Austin Carr set an NCAA Tournament record that will, quite possibly, never be beaten. He put 61 solo points past Ohio in an astonishing 112-82 first-round victory. He was 25/44 in field-goal attempts and 11/14 from the free-throw line.
A GENUINELY STAGGERING FEAT
His very next game was a 52-point performance against Kentucky but even that wasn’t enough to avoid being knocked out.
UCLA VS KENTUCKY (1975)
One name in the history of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament coaching stands head and shoulders above all the rest. John Wooden took UCLA to one straight championship after another during his time there. In all, a quite astonishing, unmatched 10 championship titles in the space of 12-seasons. That included an unprecedented 4 unbeaten seasons! This was all finished off beautifully with the cherry on top as UCLA defeated Kentucky 92-85 in 1975. NCAA tournament history was made again. Wooden retired immediately after that game and here is yet another entry to this list that will probably never be beaten.
LOYOLA VS CINCINATTI (1963)
Loyola-Chicago’s place in history is secured by the events of the NCAA tournament of 1963. They fielded 4 black players in their team and were at the mercy of other teams who might refuse to play against them. The civil rights movement was given a huge boost as the all-white Mississippi State team ignored the demands of the state’s governor that they were to refuse to play against integrated teams. They sneaked out of the state to play Loyola, who beat them and made their way to the Sweet 16 as a result. This became known as the ‘Game of change’ and it was truly that.
Loyola-Chicago didn’t stop there and they made it all the way to the finals to meet Cincinnati. In an incredibly rare occurrence at that time, both teams fielded black players and a tight game saw Loyola win by 60-58.
WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT THAT PUTS ALL THE OTHER ACHIEVEMENTS ON THIS EXALTED LIST INTO PERSPECTIVE FOR US…
TEXAS WESTERN VS KENTUCKY (1966)
Don Haskins’ Texas Western team upset Kentucky in more ways than one when they took the 1966 championship. They were the first team ever to start an all-black lineup against a defiantly all-white Kentucky. The world was changing and college basketball played its part. Texas prevailed and beat Kentucky 72-65.
IT REMAINS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS IN SPORTS HISTORY
It was also a significant event in the ongoing civil rights struggle in America.
So – there’s our list. It’s not perfect because no list like this can ever please everybody.
BUT IT PLEASES US…
Watching those games and getting caught up in the excitement and disbelief pleased us.
From the very start of the tournament to the last game, the team here at The Jump Hub are utterly glued to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. March Madness history has thrown up some of the most exhilarating moments of our lives (yes, we said it) and it has been a privilege to witness some of the greatest college basketball players in history create March madness lore before our very eyes.
From the biggest national title game in history to the first-round game-winning shot that set the world alight, there have been moments in this competition that are cemented in sports history.
Have you been scouring the college basketball news as we have? Got your eyes on a first-round March Madness upset this year?
MEMORABLE MOMENTS ARE VIRTUALLY GUARANTEED IN THIS INCREDIBLE SPECTACLE
The time draws near and we couldn’t be more excited. NCAA tournament lore might be writ large again…