Top 10 Greatest Moments in NCAA Tournament History

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There is nothing quite like the NCAA Tournament for drama, atmosphere and memorable moments. Players in their teens and early 20s enter what is likely the brightest spotlight they have seen.

Some excel, some fail during March Madness, but it’s all top-quality entertainment.

The madness begins this week, and basketball fans everywhere have cleared mental space for all the surprising new memories along the road to the 2024 Final Four in Arizona.

Before we settle in for the tip-off, here are our all-time top 10 NCAA Tournament moments.

10. John Thompson Makes History in 1984

The stars were out in Seattle as Houston played Georgetown at the Kingdome downtown.

Georgetown coach John Thompson, with star center Patrick Ewing leading the way, defeated Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and the talented Houston team to become the first African-American coach to win an NCAA championship.

9. Washington is ‘Ripped’ by Connecticut in 1998

You never know whether one of your top players has what it takes to come through in crunch time – until they do it.

Richard “Rip” Hamilton, who would have a strong NBA career, helped his Huskies, UConn, avoid an upset by the No. 11-seeded Washington Huskies.

Hamilton grabbed one offensive rebound with a few seconds left, missed a shot, but recovered to grab a second offensive rebound and hit a buzzer-beating 10-foot fall-away jumper to win it.

Crowd goes crazy.

8. George Mason – Who? – Shocks UConn in 2006

UConn rolled into the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, the favorite, the big tuna, El Jefe’ and all that.

The Huskies had to clear only one more tiny hurdle to reach the Final Four.

A little public university in Fairfax County, Va., however, wasn’t impressed.

George Mason used its bulk to outplay UConn’s big guys (future NBA players) and stun the country, 86-84 in overtime, joining only the 1986 LSU Tigers at the time as the lowest-seeded school ever to reach the Final Four (three others, Virginia Commonwealth in 2011, Loyola Chicago in 2018 and UCLA in 2021 have since joined them).

You think the crowd went crazy? Oh, yeah.

7. Bucknell Beats the Big Boys in 2005

A college basketball blueblood, Kansas can be forgiven for overlooking a 14th seed. But the No. 3-seeded Jayhawks had to exit the tournament after one day.

The Bucknell Bisons’ center, Chris McNaughton, buried an ugly, short-range jump hook that (likely unintentionally) banked in with 10 seconds remaining.

The Bisons even left enough time for Kansas to rally.

Didn’t happen.

Crowd goes crazy.

6. Arkansas’ US Reed – From Half Court in 1981 – Gooooooood!

Today’s young players have practiced the half-court shot most of their lives, but one of the more famous half-court heaves was authored by a guy that had never really practiced it.

Arkansas’ US Reed seemingly took too much time in just getting to the midcourt stripe, but calmly eyed the basket and delivered a winner for the ages to dethrone the defending NCAA Tournament champion Louisville Cardinals.

He told ESPN in 2009 that outside forces may have been at work as he made a change in his pregame routine. He moved farther and farther from the hoop, practicing long-range shots.

And that puzzled his teammates.

“They all wanted to know what I was doing,” Reed said in the ESPN story. “I had never done that before. Never. It was like I was preparing or being prepared for something big. Almost as if I had a premonition.”

Shot goes down, crowd goes crazy.

5. What is Valparaiso and What Did They do to Mississippi in 1998?

The school in Indiana apparently is too much of a mouthful, so it’s known as “Valpo” during basketball games.

And Valpo guard Bryce Drew, son of head coach Homer Drew, had a chance to win the game but missed a 3-pointer with seconds remaining.

But wait.

Valparaiso fouled Mississippi’s Ansu Sesay, who missed both free-throw attempts. Valpo had the ball on its own baseline with 2.5 seconds to play.

A long pass from Jamie Sykes connected with Bill Jenkins, who quickly hit Drew – who then hit a US Reed-flavored desperation 3-pointer to push his No. 13 seeded team past No. 4 Mississippi as huge underdogs.

Announcer Ted Robinson said it was “an absolute miracle” and we’re inclined to agree.

Drew now coaches Grand Canyon University, which qualified for this year’s NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed and plays Thursday against fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s.

The players and the crowd go crazy.

4. A 14-Seed Over No. 3 Iowa in 2010, ‘Oh, my Goodness!’


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No. 14 seed Northwestern State was down 63-61 but had a good look from 3-point range as Iowa Hawkeyes fans held their collective breath.

That shot missed but bounded toward the corner.

Northwestern State’s Jermaine Wallace corralled the ball, turned and buried a stunning 3-pointer to eliminate the Hawkeyes.

The crowd goes crazy.

3. Danny Ainge’s Desperate 1981 Sprint Leads BYU Over Notre Dame

Danny Ainge, who would win titles with the Boston Celtics and become an NBA general manager, also played Major League Baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays for a short time.

Before that, he etched his name in March Madness history with the BYU Cougars in 1981.

He could do just about everything, and that was his mindset as he raced up court against Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.

Notre Dame had four future NBA players on the court: John Paxson, Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Woolridge, and Joe Kleine.

But Ainge went coast to coast and converted the game-winning layup to stun fans of the Irish everywhere.

The BYU crowd goes wild.

2. Tyus Edney Rescues the Future Champs in 1995

UCLA was No. 1 – in seeding and expectations – in the West Region.

But Missouri took the lead with four seconds remaining.

No worries. Tyus Edney, a slightly built point guard, pulled a Danny Ainge and went coast to coast to hit a layup that saved the day for the Bruins.

And saved the tournament, too, as UCLA went on to win the title.

The crowd certainly went crazy.

1. Laettner and Lorenzo, Oh My, are co-No. 1 Moments

We cheated.

These two, because of impact and legacy, are equally deserving of the top spot.

Grant Hill to Christian Laettner and down goes Kentucky in 1992

The Duke Blue Devils repeated as NCAA champions in 1992, thanks to future pros Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.

And fellow future pros Bobby Hurley, Johnny Dawkins, Brian Davis and Antonio Lang can thank the shocking, baseball-style pass from Hill to Laettner that is among the singular moments in NCAA Tournament history.

And Laettner made the shot. (Crowd goes crazy.)

Equally impressive is this one:

Lorenzo Charles bails out NC State to win the title in 1983

Legendary coach Jim “Don’t ever give up” Valvano led the unlikely run to the 1983 title, and, when Charles alertly grabbed an errant last-second shot just short of the basket and put it in for the game winner, Valvano ran on to the court in an excited haze, just looking for someone to hug.

An all-time NCAA Tournament memory.

(The crowd went wild, again.)


Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert
Jay Dieffenbach
Sports Betting Expert

Jay is a Sports Betting Writer at, and has been working in US sports for more than 20 years. He's worked for Daily Racing Form, the Arizona Republic, The Athletic and FanDuel among other sports and gambling positions.