10 Most Dramatic NCAA Tournament Games and the 2011 Men's Basketball Bracket
2011 NCAA Mens Basketball Bracket (click on image to enlarge)
No sporting event delivers the drama like March Madness. A single game — one poor or masterful performance — can make or break a months-long season, storied career or emerging program. Each close game is fueled by emotion, as the players and coaches prepared all season for their One Shining Moment. A hard-fought victory is highlighted by unconstrained joy and exaltation, and a narrow loss is followed by pure agony. It's why college basketball fans love the sport and casual fans tune in religiously. It's also why employee productivity drops during the opening rounds. The following games (from the last three decades) enthralled us from start to finish and encapsulated the awesomeness of the NCAA tournament. Note: for full games, if not already provided below, check out the NCAA Vault.
1992 East Regional Final — Duke 104, Kentucky 103 (OT): Perhaps the greatest basketball game of all time. Duke, the defending champ with stars such as Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill, was hoping to establish a dynasty. Kentucky, led by third-year coach Rick Pitino, was reemerging as a national power just a few years after enduring an embarrassing and crippling scandal. His up-tempo offense and full-court pressure defense enabled the Cats to go toe-to-toe with the Blue Devils. From the second half on, the teams put forth a dazzling offensive display, shooting a combined 63 percent from the field. In that time period, Kentucky overcame a 12-point deficit to force overtime, where Laettner — who had a perfect game, shooting 10 for 10 from the field and 10 for 10 from the free throw line — hit "The Shot" as time expired. It was a fitting culmination, but sadly, one team had to lose.
1983 National Championship Game — NC State 54, Houston 52: Admittedly, this list has a bias toward national championship games — after all, they are the most important games of the tournament. Upsets tend to be favored too because, well, we all love the Cinderella story. The 1983 national championship game was supposed to be a formality for Houston, the No.1-ranked team overall in the tournament. To many, the title was already secured when Phi Slama Jama defeated Louisville, the No. 2-ranked team overall, in the high-flying, rim-rattling national semifinal. But Jim Valvano's Wolfpack, known as the "Cardiac Pack," kept it close until the very end. The game winner came on a Lorenzo Charles dunk of a Dereck Whittenburg 30-foot air ball as time expired. Who can forget Jim Valvano's ensuing frantic sprint onto the court?
1985 National Championship Game — Villanova 66, Georgetown 64: Entering the 1985 NCAA tournament, Nova was unranked and certainly not expected to advance more than a couple of rounds, let alone contend for a national title. But, as so many national champions have done in the past, the Wildcats got hot at the right time, proving their mettle by knocking out powers Michigan, North Carolina and Memphis State en route the national championship game. Facing 10-point favorite Georgetown led by Patrick Ewing, Nova executed what many referred to as a "perfect game." They shot an astounding 78.6 percent from the field, managing to outscore the Hoyas, who shot 55 percent from the field — nothing to sneeze at. Nova remains the lowest seed ever to win the tournament.
1982 National Championship Game — North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62: Longtime North Carolina coach Dean Smith sweat for his first national title. The contest between the two national powers featured 15 lead changes, the final of which came on a shot from the wing by freshman Michael Jordan — his first high profile clutch moment. With 17 seconds remaining, Georgetown had a chance to win it, but guard Fred Brown threw the ball to James Worthy, and the rest is history. Along with Jordan and Worthy, the game's most notable competitors included Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd and Sam Perkins. That assemblage of talent is something we rarely see these days thanks to the "one-and-done" rule.
It was truly a back-and-forth affair. The matchup between the undefeated, star-studded Running Rebels and disciplined Blue Devils was highlighted by 17 ties and 25 lead changes, and ended with Duke handing UNLV its only loss of the season. The defending champs were considered one of the greatest teams of all time, relying on the skill and athleticism of Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt. On the other side, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley proved they were every bit as good — Laettner's 28 points and Hurley's aggressive defense and late three served as revenge for UNLV's 103-73 thumping of Duke in the previous year's national championship game.
1987 National Championship Game — Indiana 74, Syracuse 73: The 1987 Hoosiers may have been Steve Alford's team, but it was Keith Smart who took over the remaining minutes of the national championship game. Smart scored 12 of Indiana's final 15 points, including the game-winning 17-foot jumper from the baseline with five seconds left. The unforgettable performance earned him the Most Outstanding Player award and permanent spots in Indiana and college basketball lore. It was Bob Knight's third national title and Syracuse's first national title game appearance. Sixteen years later, Jim Boeheim would win his first national championship in the same setting, the New Orleans Superdome, and in similarly close fashion. His comments after the game: "I'm just glad we won for Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly, Sherman Douglas, all those guys."
1990 East Regional Final — Duke 79, UConn 78 (OT): Laettner's epic shot against Kentucky wasn't his first East Regional game winner. Two years earlier, he hit a leaning double-clutch jumper against UConn, capping off a game featuring 16 ties and 17 lead changes. The best performance of the night, however, belonged to Alaa Abdelnaby, a key component of the 1990 Final Four squad who tallied 27 points and 14 rebounds. The heartbroken Huskies were just two days removed from defeating Clemson on a controversial Tate George buzzer beater. UConn was denied its first Final Four appearance and Duke reached its fourth in five seasons.
2005 Chicago Regional Final — Illinois 90, Arizona 89 (OT): While pursuing college basketball's first undefeated season since Indiana's run in 1975-76, Illinois encountered an equally talented foe who almost ended their dream prematurely. With a two point lead after the first half, the Illini coasted for much of the second half, falling behind 75-60 with just four minutes remaining. Led by guards Deron Williams and Luther Head, they proceeded to sink a flurry of threes, outscoring Arizona 20-5 and forcing the game into overtime. The improbable comeback is best remembered for Williams' game-tying three-pointer with 38 seconds left in regulation, which galvanized the mostly pro-Chicago crowd.
1989 First Round — Georgetown 50, Princeton 49: Another big game from the 1980s and another appearance from Georgetown. This time, they avoided the biggest upset in the history of the tournament — and being the first No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed — by outlasting the relentless Tigers. Princeton's potent backdoor cut was executed to perfection throughout the game as they exploited Georgetown's formidable defense anchored by future NBA All-Star center Alonzo Mourning. His two blocks in the waning seconds secured the one-point victory, but didn't diminish the valiant effort put forth by the Ivy League underdogs.
2008 National Championship Game — Kansas 75, Memphis 68: Despite its talent, Memphis was hampered by one fundamental flaw in 2008 — free throw shooting. That's what did them in versus Kansas, a team composed of opportunistic, mostly veteran players who were capable of performing in high-pressure situations. Up 60-51 with less than two minutes remaining, the Tigers refused to put the game away. Chris Douglas-Roberts missed three free throws and Derrick Rose missed one that could've given Memphis a four point lead with 10.8 seconds remaining, enabling Kansas's Mario Chalmers to sink the game-tying three with 2.1 seconds remaining. In reality, that's when the game ended. The Tigers fell behind early in overtime and Kansas went on to win its first national championship in 20 years.