10 Shocking NCAA Tourney Moments!

We’ve been watching the NCAA Tournament for 40 years now. It’s been a wild wide, with ups and downs and memorable moments and, of course, some moments players would like to forget because of the agony. The NCAA began seeding teams in 1979, the year the country got hooked on March Madness because of one Earvin Johnson (Michigan State) and Larry Bird (Indiana St.). That NCAA Final is still the most watched college basketball game, ever.

We take a trip back down memory lane 40 years to 1985, when the tournament was expanded to 64 teams and Villanova upset Georgetown and prevented a repeat title. Villanova shot nearly 79 percent from the field, something that would never happen in future title games since that was the final NCAA tourney played without a shot clock.

Here are the 10 most shocking moments of the big dance over the last 40 years.

UNLV Fails To Repeat

After the defending champs from Nevada-Las Vegas defeated Arkansas down in Fayetteville in a regular season showdown, the 1990-91 UNLV team looked unbeatable. It ran into a confident Duke team in the national semifinals, however, that it walloped the year before in the 1990 title game. Duke pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament in the modern era of seeding teams, and reinforced the notion anything can happen in a one-game setting. Duke was plenty better than it was the year before and perhaps UNLV was not as good as we thought in real time. The Rebels didn’t have a real back-up point guard to Greg Anthony (who fouled out vs. Duke) and didn’t have great depth without the services of Ed O’Bannon, who didn’t sign a Letter-of-Intent locking him into UNLV and instead went to UCLA, where he didn’t play his freshman season anyway because of an ACL injury.

Anti-Duke Sentiment Reaches A Ferver Pitch

After beating UNLV in 1991 and repeating as champions in 1992 over Michigan’s FAB 5, Duke's Christian Laettner, the first player to appear in four Final Fours, became the most hated player in NCAA history and progressively that hatred for Duke built up after Laettner moved on to the NBA following the 1991-92 season. Basically, many fans didn’t like Duke because of their success and the perceived notion it got the benefit of referee calls. Never was that ani-Duke sentiment stronger than it was in 2000-2001, when Duke defeated Maryland in the semifinals and Arizona in the championship at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. All the neutral crowd there heavily booed calls that went against Maryland. It was very noticeable and almost an embarrassing moment for the NCAA Tournament. Maryland coach Gary Williams was visibly upset, and there was a few non-calls vs. point guard Jason Gardner that really hurt Arizona in the title game. That fever pitch died down after that even though it occasionally flared up, but if it would have got any worse than 2001 it could have been a major turn off for fans of March Madness.

Chris Webber’s Timeout

Michigan’s FAB 5 didn’t play great against Duke as freshmen in the 1992 NCAA title game, but the Wolverines were a much better team in 1992-93. Michigan took on North Carolina in the title game and it came down to the wire at the Louisiana Superdome. Webber, Michigan’s best player, scored on an offensive rebound put back as Michigan trialed by one with under 40 seconds to go. North Carolina’s Pat Sullivan shot free throws with 20 seconds remaining, and missed the second. Michigan didn’t have any timeouts and Webber tried to outlet the rebound, but traveled right in front of the Carolina bench and it wasn't called. Already panicking, he started dribbling towards the Michigan bench and trialing by two, called a timeout his team didn’t have. It was a crushing moment for him, FAB 5 fans and youth basketball players who looked up to the trend-setting team. That Michigan team had ton of influence, even though its back-to-back championship appearances were later vacated by the NCAA. The timeout is also a painful reminder that the FAB 5 failed to win a national title or a Big Ten title.

Tyus Edney’s Mad Dash

Remember when Ed O’Bannon, the nation’s top recruit in 1990, missed his freshman year at UCLA? That meant he was eligible for the 1994-95 season as a redshirt senior and he made the most of it. UCLA was upset by Tulsa in the 1994 tournament and O’Bannon already knew he was coming back to school and on a senior season mission. UCLA was on the ropes in the second round vs. Missouri, trailing by one point when senior point guard Tyus Edney went the length of the court in 4.8 seconds and coverted a running lay-up to give UCLA a 75-74 win over Missouri. It was one of those tourney moments where fans will always remember where they were or what they were doing when it happened. After that game, it seemed UCLA was a team of destiny and one got the feeling the Bruins were likely to win it all. They did over defending champion Arkansas with O’Bannon leading the way, 89-78. Ironically, Edney did not play in the title game because of a wrist injury and it remains UCLA only NCAA title of the past 50 years.

Bill Self Beats The Odds

Kansas winning the 2022 NCAA title over North Carolina, 72-69, was a big moment for Blue Blood basketball and also for Kansas’ head coach. If you recall, Kansas’ program was at the center of the 2017–18 basketball corruption scandal that involved many schools associated with sportswear giant Adidas, plus some other schools. The FBI was involved and announced the arrest of 10 individuals associated with the sport, including four well-known assistant coaches. Self escaped with his job in-tact, as did Arizona’s Sean Miller, and Kansas’ title in 2022 highlighted how no one person is bigger than the sport, how the train continues to roll down the track and how mundane many NCAA regulations are. Much of the public sentiment surrounding these 10 individuals was the group did not deserve federal charges, even though a majority felt there was some punishment due to breaking of NCAA regulations (although not so much law breaking). Kansas’ title highlighted two main things that came out of the curruption scandal. One, the FBI and the media never had the smoking gun that would have made the general public be concerned about what was going on behind closed doors and two, he public really doesn’t care if basketball players get compensated for their abilities or for potential Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) value.

Bo Ryan Knocks Off Big Blue Nation

In the 2014-15, Kentucky entered the Final Four riding a 38-0 record with a star-studded team filled with McDonald’s All-Americans and five-star recruits, including freshman Karl-Anthony-Townes. Wisconsin had a terrific team led by Sam Dekker, but not one expected it to beat the Wildcats. Bo Ryan’s boys pulled off the upset, 71-64, to end the Wildcats’ season at 38-1. The 38 wins is tied with the 2012 Kentucky team for the most wins in men’s DI history. Duke went on to win the fifth and final title of the Mike Krzyzewski era over Wisconsin, but the upset highlighted how having star-studded teams or the best recruiting classes in the one-and-done era didn’t always mean success in the NCAA Tournament. The 2012 title is the only one for Kentucky coach John Calipari despite having recruiting classes over the past 15 years that are unparellel in the history of the sport.

Kris Jenkins’ 3-Pointer Beats Carolina

In a terrific-played title game, Villanova defeated North Carolina, 77-74, in the 2016 final on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by forward Kris Jenkins. Jenkins took the ball out of bounds and trailed the play and made a terrific clutch shot to give coach Jay Wright his first of two NCAA titles as coach of the Wildcats. Jenkins’ shot and the game highlighted two things. One, in the era of social media, coaches decisions are overly-criticized and over analyzed as fans and pundits pondered how the Tar Heels should have defended the play. (They didn’t pressure the inbounder Jenkins). Two, it highlighted that there was terrific basketball still being played despite the lack of star power caused by so many players with college eligibility no longer part of the playing field following Kevin Garnett opening up the prep-to-pro floodgates in 1995. The talent level has never been the same since KG's decision, but the college game remains strong, nonetheless.

Derek Anderson’s Free Throws

During the 1997 Final Four, Kentucky’s Derek Anderson shot two foul shots in the Wildcats’ semifinal victory over Minnesota. Anderson had tore his ACL in January and would be unable to play, unless there was a technical foul shot situation. Kentucky went on to lose the title game to Arizona, 84-79, in overtime. Kentucky’s 1996 team is the best one we’ve seen in the past 40 years, and perhaps if Anderson wasn’t injured Kentucky would have won three straight NCAA titles. Most of the reserves on the 1996 team made up the core of the 1998 title-winning team. The 1996 team was that deep and good, and Anderson’s free throws are a reminder Arizona is the last team in the West Region to win the NCAA title.

Danny and The Miracles

Sometimes a star can carry a team, but it wasn’t probable Kansas would win the 1988 NCAA title. The Jayhawks has the best player in the country in senior forward Danny Manning, but they were playing a juggernaut in Oklahoma, which was heavily favored to win over its Big Eight Conference rival in the title game. After all, the Sooners averaged over 102 points per game and beat Kansas by eight points twice during the regular season. All that didn’t matter in the title game, as Manning capped off a memorable six-game run with 31 points and 18 rebounds. Most fans don’t know Kansas’ other four starters, but it was a reminder that sometimes the best high school recruits eventually make all the difference in the world and recruiting is the bloodline of the sport. Manning was a three-time all-American and led Kansas to the Final Four as a sophomore in 1986. Head coach Larry Brown shrewdly hired his father, Ed Manning, to the Kansas staff while his son was a rising high school senior and it paid off. Manning’s performance is a reminder of what it takes to win at the highest level.

UConn Dominance

It’s not easy to win six games in a row. Many great coaches have never been to a NCAA Final Four, much less win the whole thing. UConn won three NCAA titles under the guidance of Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun. The Huskies won their fourth title under first year coach Kevin Ollie in 2014 and are now dominant under coach Danny Hurley. UConn won the 2023 title in dominant fashion, winning every game by double-digits and covering the point spread in each game. Entering this year’s Elite 8 game versus Illinois, the top seeded Huskies are 9-0 vs. the spread in the last two tournaments. How great is this UConn team? It doesn’t matter. It only has to be better than who is in front of them and so far Hurley’s bunch has been much better. Some pundits have been trying to compare this team to some of the all-time great teams or even how it may do against a NBA team. The NBA thing is laughable, as we’re not sure this year’s UConn team or last year’s would last the first weekend of an all-time seeded NCAA Tournament involving any eligible team. Teams from yesteryear just had more older, NBA-bound talent than teams of the past 20 years. As we said, that doesn’t matter as March Madness is as popular as ever. Bottom line is, UConn is that program many NCAA basketball fans think their program is.

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores


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