March Madness is renowned for its buzzer beaters, game winners, and mass celebrations of shots that go in against all odds (just ask Texas).
You watch the NBA to see the best basketball players in the world. You watch March Madness to see upsets. To see Wisconsin beat Kentucky. To see players, like Mario Chalmers, have one possession that gets them drafted about 1,000 positions higher than they should’ve been. Sometimes, to see future NBA superstars, like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Carmelo Anthony, cruise through their adversaries on the way to the big leagues.
With its one-and-done format, this is the closest that hoops gets to an Any Given Sunday scenario. It’s why the Badgers can make it all the way to the Tournament Final, or why everyone goes into the tournament with a completed bracket that has no real chance at being right. Of course, the basketball-watching community can band together to root against Duke, because rooting against Duke is a national pastime. To get you really in the zone NCAA Basketball Tournament, here’s a list of the nine most memorable shots in March Madness history.
9. U.S. Reed and the half court line
U.S. Reed’s first name is Ulysses. That alone is pretty awesome, grouping him with presidents and mythological heroes. But Grant ain’t got nothing on Reed — at least not when it comes to hoops.
One of the great things about this kind of video is watching how much the game has changed over the years. There was no three-point line (it wouldn’t be adopted by the NCAA until 1986, five years later), and floor spacing is nonexistent. The players are all crowding around the basket and in the paint. Almost everyone is crashing the boards, and full-court pressure is everywhere. Enter U.S. Reed.
His desperate heave ended up lifting the Arkansas Razorbacks over the Louisville Cardinals 74-73. While the team lost in the next round, it hardly mattered. Reed had his slow-motion finish. Thanks to YouTube, we can watch it over, and over, and over again.
8. Jordan Crawford and the rare double-overtime
(Play starts at 1:25.) Jordan Crawford, aka Steez, is a polarizing NBA figure. Traded away from the Washington Wizards, who drafted him in 2010 with the 27th pick, Crawford is famous for dunking on LeBron during a Nike camp, saying he could be better than Michael Jordan, and never meeting a shot he didn’t like. After enjoying a renaissance with the Boston Celtics in 2013, Steez spent a season coming off the bench for the Golden State Warriors before taking his talents to the Chinese Basketball Association.
He’s also famous for one of the biggest NCAA shots ever. With his team, Xavier, forcing an initial overtime in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the Musketeers were down 84-87 with 10 seconds left. After collecting the ball at nearly half-court, Crawford launched a three that would be deep by NBA standards, elevating from what looks to be nearly 27 feet away from the basket to drain a fade away bomb.
As second-seed Kansas St. missed a shot on the ensuing possession, the game continued into double-OT. Xavier eventually fell to Kansas St., and Crawford would make history as the first Xavier student to declare for the NBA draft before graduating.
7. Danny Ainge becomes Mega-Mormon against Notre Dame
(Disclaimer: Mega-Mormon is not a real superhero.) While Danny Ainge is now most famous for his role with the Boston Celtics — first as a player, then as a GM — he was a guard for BYU back in 1981 when he went coast-to-coast to deliver one of the most memorable layups in NCAA history. The only player to ever be a high school All-American in baseball, football, and basketball, Ainge’s athletic ability was off the charts. It also helped that no one on the Fighting Irish played any kind of defense. The Fatiguing Irish, if you will.
The Cougars went on to lose to Virginia in the Elite Eight. Ainge was named the National Player of the Year. He entered the NBA draft in 1981 and was chosen by the Celtics. Ainge recently made headlines by trading away franchise cornerstones Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett for a king’s ransom in draft picks (and Gerald Wallace) to keep the Celtics competitive in the East; they are currently third in the East just two seasons after saying goodbye to the big three.
6. Korie Lucious sends Maryland home early
It was 2010. Korie Lucious, then a sophomore Michigan Spartan, was in the game out of necessity. Starting guard Kalian Lucas had ruptured his Achilles tendon during the first half of the game. Undeterred, the Spartans continued to pile up a lead until the Maryland Terrapins began a spirited comeback on the shoulders of Greivis Vasquez, now a point guard for the Toronto Raptors. Trailing 82-83 with six seconds left, Lucious got the ball just outside the arc, dribbled once, and chucked a three as time expired.
The Spartans continued on the warpath after that victory, making it all the way to the Final Four. After being dispatched falling to Butler in the national semifinals, the Spartans regrouped without Lucious, who transferred to Iowa State in 2012. After going undrafted in 2013, Lucious signed with a Polish team and currently plays overseas.
5. Michael Jordan sinks the Hoyas
Before he was the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan was just a freshman at North Carolina named “Mike.” But all that changed during the 1982 National Championship Game against Georgetown, when His Airness knocked down the shot that officially put him on the map.
With roughly 30 seconds to play in the national title game, Jordan and the Tar Heels found themselves trailing 62-61. Georgetown pressured UNC with a stifling 1-3-1 defense, but Jordan managed to get open on the left corner. He received the pass with 18 seconds left on the clock, no hesitation, release — Splash. It wasn’t a buzzer-beat, but that shot gave the Tar Heels a 63-62 lead; one they held onto to win the championship. It’s true; one moment can really change a person’s life forever.
4. Lorenzo Charles turns an airball into an alley-oop
Would you believe that a team featuring Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon could lose? Neither could they with their 1983 Houston Cougars — affectionately known as Phi Slama Jama by local sportswriter Thomas Bonk — who steamrolled teams in the NCAA tournament. Winning each game by an average of 12 points, the Cougars went to the Finals with their above-the-rim, ABA style fully intact. Like Florida Golf Coast, but with the Dream and the Glide in the driver’s seat.
So, in the cruelest of twists, the Cougars played some serious defense — with the game tied — when they forced a poor NC state player to fire one off from almost half-court. It was an airball. That was the game. Except for Lorenzo Charles, who took the opportunity to pull off the first simultaneous alley-oop/putback, dunking the ball home as time expired and delivering a victory for NC State. It was a sad day for Hakeem, Clyde, and all their fans.
The Cougars would never win an NCAA championship, running into Patrick Ewing and Georgetown the next year. Lorenzo Charles would later be drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the 41st pick of the 1985 draft before playing overseas. Hakeem and Clyde turned out all right, too.
3. Mario Chalmers sends it to overtime
(The play begins at 3:00.) It was the 2008 National Championship Game. Derrick Rose and his Memphis team were ready to take it home against the Kansas Jayhawks — ready to do everything except hit free throws, that is. Bricking all but one in the final seconds, the Jayhawks got the ball back with 10 seconds left.
As Rose hounded Kansas point guard Sherron Collins up the court, Collins lost his dribble and hastily handed the ball off to Chalmers, who did what Mario Chalmers does. He immediately launched up a three. He was off-balance and well-defended, but Chalmers is nothing if not an endless wellspring of bravado. It was nothing but net, because of course it was.
2. Kris Jenkins ‘for the championship’
It’s the shot every kid dreams about. A game-winning buzzer-beater for the national championship. For most kids, this sort of magical moment usually comes by way of a crumpled piece of paper and trash can or a lonely basket in the driveway and the prayer that comes with it. For Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, however, the opportunity arose when the stakes were a little bit higher.
On the grandest stage of them all, the 2016 National Championship Game, ‘Nova and North Carolina were all tied up at 74. The Wildcats inbounded the ball under their own basket with 4.7 seconds left on the clock. Jenkins threw it to point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who dribbled the ball up the court. Three seconds left, Arcidiacono saw Jenkins trailing the play and flipped him the ball. Jenkins received the pass, stepped into the triple — bang. Ball game. Villanova took the title 77-74, and Jenkins etched his name in the March Madness history books.
1. ‘The Shot’
Laettner. Hill. Duke. 1992. With a full-court pass and a perfect game from the token rookie on the Dream Team, Coach K and the ’92 Duke Squad ended with a 104-103 victory over Kentucky. The Blue Devils eventually took down the Fab Five in the Finals that year.
According to legend, that was the play that Mike Krzyzewski drew up; the half-court heave from Hill to Christian Laettner at the foul line. Laettner took a dribble, turned around, and drained it, finishing the game a perfect 9-9 from the field and a perfect 10-10 from the foul line. Even if you weren’t alive when it happened, you’ve heard of “The Shot.” Enough said.
Statistics courtesy of SR/College Basketball.