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Who are the Top Scorers in March Madness History? 

Publish Date:03/14/2023
Fact checked by: Allan Howe

March Madness basketball pitch

Following the Sunday Selection Show for the NCAA Men’s D1 basketball tournament, we’ll know which teams will take the court for March Madness.

But we won’t know who the stars will be. That will require more than 60 games in over three weeks of tournament play presented across the country.

The NCAA tournament is the most anticipated tournament-style sporting event in North America, drawing sports fans and non-sports fans alike to the thrilling, single-game elimination nature of the buzzer-beating drama.

With 68 teams making “The Dance,” March Madness, that means more than 600 players have a chance to emerge as the next hoops heartthrob. Who will claim March Madness 2023 as their stage for greatness? Can any of the basketball players from this year’s tournament challenge the all-time records for March Madness play?

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Top Single Tournament Scoring Leaders in March Madness

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament began in 1939. Since 1985, the field has been set at least 64 teams, making what we know today as “March Madness” a three-week tournament where one stumble, one loss ends your season.

These players made sure their teams had a deep run in the tournament with exceptional ability at putting the rock in the net.

Glen Rice, 1989 Michigan Wolverines, 184 points

It may seem as if Michigan has won oodles of NCAA basketball titles, but the school actually only has one. That came in 1989 when Rice, a former star at Flint Northwestern High School outside of Detroit, coalesced into a nearly unstoppable scoring machine in the postseason tournament.

Under interim head coach Steve Fisher, Rice was set loose, using his patented high ranging jump shot to pump in 184 points in six games. As a result, Michigan won the title, defeating Seton Hall in OT, 80-79. Rice scored 30 points four times, including 31 with 11 rebounds in the title game. For his play, the senior was named NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player (MOP).

6 games, 30.7 PPG

Bill Bradley, 1965 Princeton Tigers, 177 points

Yes, believe it or not, there was a time when the Ivy League’s Princeton was a national powerhouse in basketball. When you have a gifted performer like Bill Bradley in uniform, it makes it easier to win. Bradley was a sneaky-quick, smart, and tenacious basketball star. He was an All-American despite being undersized (even for Princeton), and considered somewhat slow. But Bradley’s basketball IQ was through the gym roof.

Bradley put on a show in his senior year in the 1965 NCAA Tournament. In the national semifinal game against Michigan, he scored 41 points before fouling out, a situation that likely led to the Tigers loss to the Wolverines. At that time there was a consolation game for the two losing Final Four teams. In that contest against Wichita State, Bradley scored 58 points, which still stands as the single-game scoring mark in the history of March Madness.

5 games, 35.4 PPG (highest for a single tournament)

Elvin Hayes, 1968 Houston Cougars, 167 points

When it comes to toughness, few athletes compare to Hayes, who was known to everyone as “Big E.” In the 1967-68 season, he played 33 games for the Cougars, averaging an astounding 36.8 PPG. In the tournament he opened with 49 points against overmatched Loyola (IL), and followed with 35 and 39 in his next two games, wins over Louisville and TCU. But in the national semifinal against UCLA and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hayes was limited to 10 points. He was still named to the all-tournament team. He’s a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Hayes scored 328 points in the March Madness tournament in his college career, the second-highest total in history.

5 games, 33.4 PPG

Danny Manning 1988 Kansas Jayhawks, 163 points

After playing high school ball in Lawrence, Kansas, Manning took the short walk to the campus of KU to become a Jayhawk. That was one of the best decisions any college ballplayer ever made. In his senior season (1987-88), the lean forward timed his best for March Madness. He scored at least 25 points in four of his six tourney games. In the 1988 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship game, Manning put up 31 points, 18 rebounds, 5 steals, and 2 blocked shots. He was naturally named MOP of March Madness. Later, after a successful NBA career, Manning brought his magic fairy dust back to Lawrence and won a title with the Jayhawks as an assistant coach.

6 games, 27.2 PPG

Jerry West, 1959 West Virginia Mountaineers, 160 points

Long before he served as the model for the NBA logo, Jerry West was a high-scoring backcourt player for the Mountaineers. In the 1959 NCAA tournament, West darted and weaved his way to the rim, scoring 36 in the regional semifinal, 33 in the regional finals, and 38 more in the national semifinals. In the championship game against Cal, West and his teammates fell one point short of the title, with Jerry putting in 28 on 10-of-21 from the floor.

5 games, 32.0 PPG

Hal Lear, 1956 Temple Owls, 160 points

Talk about making his hometown happy: Lear was a Philadelphia native who led Temple to the Final Four. He scored 40 in the ZOwls win over UConn in the regional semifinal, which was played in Philly. One week later in the title game, Lear poured in 48 to lead Temple to its only national championship. For his tremendous efforts, Lear was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament. He was later drafted by the 76ers, which meant he could basically eat his mom’s cooking and still be a pro hooper.

5 games, 32.0 PPG

All-Time NCAA Tournament Scoring Leaders

The leading scorer for March Madness all-time is the Duke frontcourt star Christian Laettner, who played in four Final Fours for the Blue Devils. He averaged 17.7 points per game and was a member of two national championship teams. In 1992 he was the NCAA player of the year in his senior year.

  1. Christian Laettner … 407 points in 23 games
  2. Elvin Hayes … 358 points in 13 games
  3. Danny Manning … 328 points in 16
  4. Oscar Robertson … 324 points in 10 games
  5. Glen Rice … 308 points in 13 games
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