I love the NCAA Tournament and I want to shout it from the rooftops. The brackets. The gambling. The rapid fire action. The Cinderella stories. And did I mention the gambling?
By the way, for those of you looking to get in on the action, here’s our complete March Madness betting guide. Included is need-to-know info before filling out your bracket and locking in your bets.
The NCAA Tournament is annually one of America’s most compelling sporting events and a big reason why is because of the buzzer-beaters. The games aren’t just hotly contested, almost without fail one or two games every year is decided at the horn on a “wow” play. With that, I thought it would be fun to look at the best of the best when it comes to NCAA Tournament’s buzzer-beaters. To do this, I spent minutes researching these plays, minutes that required multiple YouTube and Wikipedia searches to construct this very scientific top five list. I hope you enjoy it.
Let’s get a popular point of contention out of the way right off the bat. I’m not putting Christian Laettner’s last-second shot that lifted Duke over Kentucky in the 1992 Elite Eight on this list. I don’t care that it was at the Spectrum, and I don’t care that it’s commonly referred to as “The Shot.” I don’t care that it came in overtime of what was one of the best tournament games of all-time. And I also don’t care that the Blue Devils went on to get a natty out of it. Hot take alert: Grant Hill’s 79-foot pass was way more impressive than Laettner’s shot, and that’s why it’s not going on the list. Don’t @ me. Actually, please do @ me. Let’s cultivate a positive dialogue, and, perhaps, follow each other.
5. Tyus Edney’s Full-Court Sprint Saves the Bruins
Is this really, truly one of the tournament’s best buzzer-beaters? I don’t know. Hard to say. But the beauty of this exercise is that it’s my list, so I can do whatever I want. I was nine when this happened, and I remember watching this game with my friend Steve Browne after school (Hey Steve, Sup?). It was the first time I realized the tournament was awesome. Pretty sure I was like, “Holy shit. This is cool. Do you think your mom will let me have another Ecto Cooler?” I think I started betting pogs on the tournament that year and lost some good slammers in the process. Anyway, with under five seconds to go in its second-round matchup with Missouri, UCLA trailed by one. Bruins guard Tyus Edney raced the length of the floor and finished with a layup at the buzzer that saved UCLA’s season and propelled the school to the 1995 NCAA National Championship.
4. Jesperson Dials Long Distance to Hook Texas
This shot makes the list because I CLOBBERED Northern Iowa as a 4.5-point underdog in this game and I decided that night that if I ever had the opportunity to make a Top 5 buzzer-beaters list that I would reward them with a spot on it. Plus, it’s justified. Small school knocks off big school. Last-second momentum swings. A true half-court shot. Just beautiful. So what if Northern Iowa blew a 12-point lead with 35 seconds remaining against Texas A&M in the next round? We’ll always have Jesperson’s improbable prayer, and I’ll always have that $100 I lost later that night.
3. Heavy Underdog North Carolina State Wins A Title at the Buzzer
You’ve surely scene this play before. It was an iconic moment in the sport’s history, and it’s synonymous with coach Jim Valvano’s legacy. Valvano, of course, later used his prominence as a sports figure to spur the “V Foundation for Cancer Research.” What you may not have known is that with the score tied at 52-52, the Wolf Pack bled the final 44 seconds of the clock before Dereck Whittenburg’s woefully short three-point attempt fortuitously fell into the hands of Lorenzo Charles. He dropped it in the basket to beat the buzzer and sink Clyde Drexler (who almost stole a pass earlier in the sequence), Akeem Olajuwon, and the rest of the heavily-favored Houston Cougars.
2. Bryce Drew Seals the Upset Win
When I think of the NCAA Tournament and Cinderella stories, I think about Valparaiso and Bryce Drew. I know Valpo is somewhat of a household name these days, but you have to remember that in 1998 people were like, “What is a Valparaiso?” and (not) watching shows like Dharma and Greg.
No. 13 seed Valpo trailed No. 4 seed Ole Miss 69-67 with only 2.5 seconds remaining in a first round game. The Crusaders’ Jaime Sykes inbounded the ball across midcourt to Bill Jenkins who then got the Ball to Drew. He launched a 23-foot dagger. Game. Blouses. Valparaiso would go on to upset Florida State in overtime in the second round before falling to Rhode Island in the Sweet 16.
1. Kris Jenkins Wins Villanova a National Championship
A deep three. At the the horn. To win a championship. I have to give the nod to Villanova’s walk-off win over North Carolina that won the 2017 National Championship. Also, my boss graduated from Villanova, so what exactly did you expect? In all seriousness, other than that it wasn’t a do-or-die heave because the game was tied, Kris Jenkins’ shot has all the ingredients of the perfect buzzer-beater. Pressure? Check. Shot difficulty? Check. Relevance? Check.
North Carolina’s Marcus Paige knocked down a clutch game-tying three to knot the game with 4.7 seconds left to play. Ryan Arcidiacono then picked the ball up out of the net, raced down the court, and flipped to Kris Jenkins. The rest was history.