1982 National Championship
Long before his “Air” Jordan days as the face of Nike and the NBA, M.J. was a skinny freshman from Wilmington, N.C., who Dean Smith trusted enough to have on the floor at the end of the national championship matchup with Georgetown. When Jimmy Black skip-passed the ball over the top of the Hoyas’ 2-3 zone defense, Jordan was ready to catch-and-shoot from the wing — knocking down a 17-footer to give the Tar Heels a 63–62 lead with 16 seconds to play. Georgetown’s Fred Brown threw the ball away to UNC’s James Worthy on the ensuing possession, making Jordan’s basket “The Shot” and giving Coach Smith his first NCAA title.
9. Richard Hamilton, Connecticut
2 of 12
1998 East Regional Semifinal
“Rip” Hamilton did just that, stealing victory from the jaws of defeat in a panicked final possession by both sets of Huskies. With UConn trailing Washington, 74–73, Khalid El-Amin dribbled the clock down to 10 seconds before driving and dishing to Jake Voskuhl in the paint. The big fella’s shot danced around the rim before one shot — by Hamilton — and two tips ultimately landed in Hamilton’s hands (again) with less than two seconds to play. Falling to the ground, “Rip” put the ball in the air and ended the chaos with a game-winning shot as time expired. Jim Calhoun’s same core group took that never-say-die attitude to a national title the following season.
8. Keith Smart, Indiana
3 of 12
1987 National Championship
Following Derrick Coleman’s short-armed missed free throw with 28 seconds to play, Bob Knight’s Hoosiers dribbled out the clock until Keith Smart made a jump pass to senior co-captain Daryl Thomas with 10 seconds remaining. With a fundamental give-and-go for the ages, Thomas took one bounce facing the basket, turned back to Smart and pitched an underhanded assist for the win. Smart’s baseline pull-up with five ticks left gave IU a 74–73 lead. A stunned Syracuse club — coached by Jim Boeheim and including Coleman, Rony Seikley and Sherman Douglas — failed to call time out until one second left. By then, the dye was cast red, not orange.
7. U.S. Reed, Arkansas
4 of 12
1981 Second Round
The U of L’s Derek Smith corralled an errant Poncho Wright desperation heave — in a crowd of Hogs — to put back what in all likelihood should have been a game-winning fade-away in the lane with five seconds on the clock. But an Arkansas timeout later, U.S. Reed patiently dribbled up the court with no apparent concern for time or score, only to throw up a leaning floater from just beyond halfcourt as time expired — sinking the shot, ending the Cardinals’ premature celebration and giving the Razorbacks a seemingly impossible win.
6. Tate George, Connecticut
5 of 12
1990 East Regional Semifinal
Trailing Clemson 70–69 with one second to go at the Meadowlands, UConn’s Scott Burrell — a first-round pick of MLB’s Seattle Mariners in 1989 and, ultimately, a first-round pick of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets in 1993 — threw a full-court pass that even Grant Hill can’t relate to. The right-handed pitcher threw a strike over Tigers 7-footer Elden Campbell, hitting Tate George — who caught the ball in traffic with his back to the basket, turned — to the bench and then baseline — and let it fly for one of the greatest game-winning shots in NCAA Tournament history.
5. Tyus Edney, UCLA
6 of 12
1995 Second Round
With the No. 1 team in the country, UCLA, trailing 74–73 against No. 8 seed Missouri, diminutive 5'10" point guard Tyus Edney went coast-to-coast with 4.8 seconds to play for the game-winning layup — going off the glass and through the net as the buzzer sounded in Boise, Idaho. Following Edney’s do-or-die drive, the Bruins, led by M.O.P. Ed O’Bannon, went on to win UCLA’s 11th national championship — the first (and only) since John Wooden’s run of 10 national titles ended in 1975.
4. Bryce Drew, Valparaiso
7 of 12
1998 First Round
Coach Homer Drew’s No. 13 seed Valparaiso trailed 69–67 with 2.5 seconds remaining against No. 4 seed Ole Miss. Against all odds, Jamie Sykes threw an on-target three-quarter-court pass to Bill Jenkins, who jumped to catch the ball before turning in mid-air and dishing to Bryce Drew. The coach’s son and Crusaders’ superstar caught the pass with 1.9 seconds left, launched a leaning 3-pointer from three-and-a-half feet behind the arc and dove to the floor to celebrate a thrilling 70–69 upset win — and one of the greatest Cinderella shots in Big Dance history.
3. Mario Chalmers, Kansas
8 of 12
2008 National Championship
Twenty years after Danny Manning and the Miracles’ 1988 national championship, Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit a miraculous 3-pointer to send the national title game against Memphis into overtime. Bill Self’s Jayhawks were given a sliver of daylight after the Tigers’ future No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Derrick Rose missed one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds to play. Needing a 3-pointer to tie, KU’s Sherron Collins pushed the ball up the floor and stumbled while passing to Chalmers — whose one-dribble, top-of-the-key three tied the game at 63–63 with 2.1 seconds left in regulation. Kansas outlasted Memphis in overtime, winning 75–68 to cut down the nets on a championship comeback for the ages.
2. Lorenzo Charles, NC State
9 of 12
1983 National Championship
Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler had no answer for coach Jim Valvano’s NC State underdogs, who hung around and hung around until it was all over for the Cougars and their two future Hall of Fame stars. With the game knotted at 52–52, the Wolfpack’s Dereck Whittenburg launched a desperation heave from between half court and the top of the key with four seconds to play. An airball has never looked so good, as Lorenzo Charles turned the miss into an alley-oop dunk and gave the “Cardiac Pack” a 54–52 national title win — handing NC State its sixth consecutive come-from-behind victory and causing Jimmy V to run wild at the Pit in Albuquerque.
1. Christian Laettner, Duke
10 of 12
1992 East Regional Finals
With 2.1 seconds on the clock, the son of a former Dallas Cowboy — sophomore Grant Hill (Calvin’s kid) — threw a touchdown pass roughly 80 feet to Christian Laettner. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino’s “Unforgettables,” along with Jamal Mashburn, went 5-on-4 rather than guarding Hill’s full court inbounds pass from the far baseline. The strategic move was a poor one, as Hill tossed a perfect pass to Laettner, who caught the ball cleanly, faked right, turned left and released a fade-away game-winner from the free-throw line with 0.3 left on the clock. The ball swished as time expired, stunning UK fans (and Duke’s Thomas Hill, whose memorable postgame expression summed up what we all felt). Thanks to Laettner’s late-game heroics, Coach K’s club advanced to the Final Four and went on to win its second straight national title.
11 of 12
The best big shots of the Big Dance, from Michael Jordan to Christian Laettner.
Final Five In: Saint Mary’s, Richmond, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Alabama
First Five out: VCU, Clemson, Penn State, Colorado State, Baylor
In: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech
Worth a Mention: Clemson
Notes: Boston College, Virginia Tech and Clemson were each in the final pool of teams. Ultimately, Boston College and Virginia Tech sneaked into the field while Clemson (barely) missed the cut. It is very difficult to differentiate these teams. Boston College gained an advantage with its neutral site win vs. Texas A&M and road win at Virginia Tech late in the year. Virginia Tech has a win over to Duke to brag about. Clemson? It was hard to find something that stood out about the Tigers. A win over Boston College in the ACC quarters would help the cause.
Notes: Richmond is one of the final teams in the field. That win vs. Purdue in late November is the difference; without that win the Spiders would be on the outside looking in.
Big 12 (6)
In: Colorado, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
Worth a Mention: Baylor, Nebraska
Notes: Colorado has a bad RPI (76), but it’s hard to ignore the Buffs’ quality wins — Texas, Kansas State (home and away) and Missouri. CU avoided a bad loss by beating Iowa State in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday. Baylor’s resume is highlighted by two wins vs. Texas A&M. The Bears will need to advance to the Big 12 title game — and they are capable of doing so.
Big East (11)
In: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Syracuse, Villanova, West Virginia
Notes: Marquette limped to the finish line, losing at home to Cincinnati and at Seton Hall in its final two regular-season games. The win over Providence on Tuesday did nothing but avoid a bad loss. Losing to West Virginia on Wednesday hurts, but the Eagles should still get in.
Big Sky (1)
In: Northern Colorado
Big South (1)
In: UNC Asheville
Big Ten (6)
In: Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Worth a Mention: Penn State
Notes: Michigan beefed up its resume by completing the season sweep over Michigan State. The Wolverines can take another step forward by beating Illinois in the Big Ten quarters on Friday, but they will still be in decent shape with a loss. Michigan State cannot lose to Iowa on Thursday. That would be too much to overcome. Penn State has some good wins (Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan State), but they are all at home, and the Lions already have 13 losses.
Big West (1)
In: Long Beach State
In: George Mason, Old Dominion
Worth a Mention: VCU
Notes: VCU advanced to the CAA Tournament title game but lost to rival ODU. The Rams are very, very close but just missed the cut. There are some things to like — wins at Old Dominion and vs. UCLA — but there are a lot of losses (11) and some struggles down the stretch of the regular season (1–4 in final five games).
Conference USA (1)
Worth a Mention: Memphis, UTEP
Notes: UAB has a solid case even if it doesn’t win the C-USA Tournament. Memphis will need to get to the finals to be in the discussion for an at-large invite.
Notes: Harvard and Princeton play on Saturday to determine the Ivy’s automatic bid.
In: St. Peter’s
In: Kent State
In: Indiana State
Worth a Mention: Missouri State
Notes: Missouri State doesn’t have a single win vs. a top-60 RPI team.
Mountain West (3)
In: BYU, San Diego State, UNLV
Worth a Mention: Colorado State
Notes: Colorado State has floated in and out of the bracket this year. This week, the Rams are out. Bottom line: They have only one win vs. a team that is currently in the field (at UNLV).
In: Long Island
In: Morehead State
In: Arizona, Washington, UCLA, USC
Worth a Mention: Washington State
Notes: USC is among the final teams in the field this week. The Trojans have 13 losses, but they also have some really nice wins — Texas, Arizona and UCLA at home and at Tennessee. And keep in mind, the losses to Rider, TCU, Nebraska and Bradley occurred before point guard Jio Fontan became eligible. Washington State has some good wins (two vs. Washington, Gonzaga, Baylor), but the Cougars’ RPI is 75 and they have three losses to teams ranked 130 or worse.
"The Big East Conference acknowledges that two separate officiating errors occurred at the conclusion of the St. John's vs. Rutgers game. Both missed violations should have caused the game clock to stop and a change of possession to occur prior to the end of the game. Neither error is reviewable or correctable under NCAA playing rules."
Big East commissioner John Marinatto after multiple officiating errors occurred at the end of the second-round game between the Red Storm and Scarlet Knights.
College basketball fans and media tend to overreact to poor officiating. But we need to face the facts: It’s a very difficult sport to referee. The game has become so physical — which is a product of the officiating, but that’s not the point here — and the players have become so big and strong. Virtually every game is littered with questionable calls — just ask the fans of the losing team.
1. Which bubble team would scare you the most as a possible first-round opponent?
Mitch Light: I wouldn’t want to play Colorado — assuming CU gets in to the tournament. First of all, the Buffs have proven they can beat good teams, with a 91–89 victory over Texas in late February and two wins over Kansas State, which went 10–6 in the Big 12. Secondly, Colorado features some skilled players, most notably sophomore guard Alec Burks, who averaged 19.5 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. The Buffs aren’t great on defense, but they can score.
Braden Gall: Facing Richmond, with the sharpshooting Kevin Anderson and big man Justin Harper, would concern me. The Spiders have won eight out of nine and could beat anyone in the nation. Michigan State would also scare me as an 11- or 12-seed. I know the Spartans have played some terrible basketball this season, but they also have enough — or had at one point — talent to be a preseason top-five team. No one wants to see Tom Izzo on the other bench in March.
Nathan Rush: No team wants to see an at-large Alabama squad that plays under-your-jersey defense and is coached by Cinderella Man TKO artist Anthony Grant. Everyone remembers VCU-Duke (79–77 upset win) and VCU-Pitt (84–79 loss in OT) back in 2007, right? The Crimson Tide crested at the end of the season — going 15–4 after a 5–6 start — and will almost certainly crash down on whichever fading, overrated team that the Selection Committee “randomly” matches them with. It won’t happen, but a Brandon Davies-less BYU squad and Bama would be a nice yin-yang 4-13 first-round matchup.
2. If you were on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee and had to differentiate between some bubble teams, what would be the most important aspect of team's profile — road wins, lack of bad losses, strength of schedule, etc.?
Mitch: I’m always looking for good wins. All bubble teams are going to have some warts — that is why they are on the bubble. I can overlook some bad losses as long as a team has proven it can beat a quality opponent. Playing a tough schedule is nice, but it doesn’t mean much if you haven’t defeated any of those good teams.
Braden: This may be a cop out, but I look at the entire package. That probably pushes me closest to overall schedule. Certainly, wins are what counts, but generally speaking, a 6–9 team against the RPI top 50 is probably a better overall team than one that went 3–1. I always lean towards the eighth- and ninth-place “power” teams over second- and third-place mid-majors.
Nathan: In my opinion, the last 10 games plus the conference tournament should be weighed the most. If a team is trending in the right direction — a la George Mason in 2006 (despite Billy Packer’s strong and outspoken objections) — it has a better chance of making an NCAA Tournament run. Also, fair or not, I think the coach should be considered. All things being equal or reasonably close, any Tom Izzo team should win a head-to-head argument behind closed doors; he (and his five or so peers) have proven an ability to X-and-O or flat-out beat the heat come Tournament time.
3. Which of the Big Six conference tournaments intrigues you the most?
Mitch: I’m very interested to see what Florida can do in the SEC Tournament. There was a perception early in the league season that the Gators, with three overtime wins, were lucky to be on top of the SEC East standings. Well, after winning the division by three full games over Kentucky, nobody is throwing around the L-word anymore. The Gators, who can put five scorers on the court at the same time, are very hard to guard. If they win the SEC Tournament, they could play their way up to a No. 2 seed in the NCAAs.
Braden: Without a doubt, the Big East Tournament is a special event. The depth and talent level is unlike that of any college basketball league ever assembled. The ninth- and 10th-place teams (UConn and Villanova) in this league were both, at some point this year, in the top-10 nationally. We’ve got the son of a legend (John Thompson III), two Hall of Famers (Jim Calhoun and Jim Boeheim), one former ESPN analyst (Steve Lavin), the best dressed coach in hoops (Jay Wright), two more potential Hall members (Rick Pitino and Bob Huggins) and the most famous arena in all of sports. There is just nothing like MSG at this time of the year.
Nathan: Mark my words, Vanderbilt, Florida or Kentucky will make a run in the NCAAs. All three are two-faced and flawed. But the talent and coaching are undeniable. If the Commodores, Gators or Wildcats find their rhythm in the SEC Tournament, look out.
4. Do you like the format of the Big East Tournament, with the inclusion of all 16 teams and the double-byes?
Mitch: I do like it. I think it’s good that all 16 teams are invited to the Big East Tournament, and I like how teams that do well in the regular season are rewarded with a bye or a double-bye. The coaches don’t like the double-bye — they voted 16–0 last summer to get rid of it — but I think it is the best format for a 16-team tournament.
Braden: See answer to No. 3.
Nathan: I’m still thrown off by the fact that Big East basketball deserves one-third of the at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament, but Big East football (arguably) doesn’t deserve even one berth in the BCS bowls (Connecticut lost to Oklahoma, 48–20, in the Fiesta Bowl this year, FYI). Honestly, I’m fine with it. The more Madison Square Garden, the better. Double-byes, sure. Six overtimes (see: Connecticut over Syracuse, 127–117, in 2009), even better. Bring it, Big East.
5. Name a player on an automatic qualifier that you are looking forward to watching in the NCAA Tournament (and don't say Kenneth Faried of Morehead State).
Mitch: Wofford’s undersized power forward Noah Dahlman is fun to watch. The brother of former Michigan State Spartan Isaiah Dahlman is averaging 20.0 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting over 60 percent from the floor. Last year, Wofford gave Wisconsin a scare in the first round before losing 53–49, but Dahlman only scored 10 points. He will no doubt be eager to be a bigger factor this time around.
Braden: I am excited to see Nashville’s own Belmont, and its 30 wins, get a shot to knock someone off in the first round. However, with 11 players averaging double-figure minutes, it’s tough to single out one player. Indiana State’s Jake Odum, a freshman from Terre Haute, Ind., has earned the ball-handling duties in the second half of the year for the Sycamores. He is averaging nearly 12 points over the last 11 games and is leading the team in assists — with a very sound 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also plays the baseline in the ISU zone defense — which is impressive for a point guard.
Nathan: I’m looking forward to watching Oakland’s 6’11” NBA first-round prospect Keith Benson — who goes for 17.7 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 “get that outta heres” on an average night.
The Tar Heels have been one of the hottest teams in the nation over the past month. This team doesn’t shoot it well from the outside (league-low .292 from three in ACC games), but there are few other weaknesses. Since Kendall Marshall was inserted as the starting point guard, North Carolina is 12–1, with the only loss coming at Duke.
Dark horse — Clemson
The Tigers, the No. 4 seed, closed the regular season with three wins in their last four games, and they played well against North Carolina — their likely opponent in the semifinals — during the regular season, losing by two at home and by 10 in Chapel Hill.
Prediction — North Carolina
Roy Williams’ club is playing just about as well as any team in the nation.
BIG 12 TOURNAMENT
Favorite — Kansas
The Jayhawks claimed their seventh straight Big 12 regular-season title by beating Missouri 70–66 in Columbia on Saturday. Kansas has been remarkably efficient on the offensive end — KU shot over 50 percent as a team and over 40 percent from three in Big 12 games — and also ranks near the top of the league in field goal defense and rebounding.
Dark horse — Kansas State
The Wildcats played their way off the NCAA Tournament bubble in the final three weeks of the season by winning their final six, highlighted by an 18-point win over then-No. 1 Kansas and a 75–70 win at Texas. Guard Jacob Pullen has averaged 25.5 points during K-State’s winning streak.
Predicted winner — Texas
The Horns showed some toughness in the win at Baylor Saturday night. This team has a ton of talent.
BIG EAST TOURNAMENT
Favorite — Pittsburgh
The Panthers won the Big East title playing Pittsburgh basketball — great defense (league opponents shot 38.7 percent), rebounding (league-best plus-7.2 margin) and efficient offense (46.4 percent shooting, third-best in the Big East). The Panthers went 9–2 in the Big East Tournament from 2006-08 but have lost their first game in each of the past two seasons.
Dark horse — St. John’s
The Red Storm won seven of their last eight games overall and for the season went 7–1 at Madison Square Garden (5–1 in Big East games). Steve Lavin’s club has the necessary experience and depth to win four games in four days.
Predicted winner — Louisville
Since Jan. 12, the third-seeded Cards are 10–5, with four of the five losses by five points or less or in OT.
BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
Favorite — Ohio State
The Buckeyes are playing great basketball at the right time of the year, winning their final four games by an average of 22.3 points. During this stretch, Ohio State is shooting an astounding 57.0 percent (41-of-72) from 3-point range.
Dark horse — Michigan
The Wolverines like to shoot from long range, but they aren’t as reliant on the 3-point shot as you might think. They averaged 8.6 made threes in their nine Big Ten wins and 7.5 made threes in their nine league losses.
Predicted winner — Ohio State
The Buckeyes are the best team. No need to overthink this one.
Favorite — Arizona
Sean Miller captured the Pac-10 title in his second season as the boss in Tucson, leading the Wildcats to a 14–4 record in league play. Arizona endured a mini-slump late in the year, losing back-to-back games at USC and UCLA, but bounced back to beat both Oregon schools at home in the final weekend of the season.
Dark horse — USC
The Trojans played very well down the stretch, winning five of their final six games, including three on the road. Junior Nikola Vucevic is one of the nation’s most underrated players. He averaged 19.4 points and 10.8 boards in 18 league games.
Predicted winner — UCLA
The Bruins very quietly played solid basketball in the final two months of the season, losing only three games (at Arizona, at Cal in overtime and at Washington) since Jan. 9.
Favorite — Florida
The Gators went wire-to-wire in the wide-open SEC East and clinched the outright title by winning at Vanderbilt on the final weekend of the season. Florida won the close games early in the SEC season — three in overtime, three others by six points or less — but asserted their dominance late in the year.
Dark horse — Mississippi State
The enigmatic Bulldogs were good enough to beat Florida and win at Tennessee yet also lost at home to LSU and blew a 19-point second half lead at Auburn. Any team with Dee Bost, Ravern Johnson and Renardo Sidney is capable of winning three games in three days — or losing by 20 points in its first game.
Predicted winner — Florida
The Gators, who can put five scorers on the court at once, are hard to guard in the half court. Chandler Parsons, now healthy, is playing extremely well.