Maybe I’m a just sick and horrible person who loves to watch the world burn, but there’s something special to me about watching college kids cry whenever they lose in heartbreaking fashion during the NCAA Tournament. Let me also say that my school, the University of South Carolina, has never had to deal with that type of heartbreak, because up until recently our basketball program has basically been nonexistent. Anyways, back to me being a sociopath. The tears I’m looking for come from a gut-wrenching buzzer beater, one that ends their teams season in the blink of an eye and that’s part of the pageantry of March Madness.
Watching a buzzer beater in real time is a special moment, because even if it’s an easy shot, it’s still crazy to see the ball go through the hoop, and crushing the hopes and dreams of a single team, while the winning team is on top of the world for that very moment in time. The NCAA Tournament is my absolute favorite sporting event of the year, and it’s not even close. I’m more of a football fan than a basketball fan, and while don’t get me wrong, there are definitely thrilling finishes in football, but none compare to March Madness.
I’ve been watching the NCAA Tournament for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see numerous buzzer beaters. The tournament kicks off next week, so naturally, I expect there to be a few more buzzer beaters for us to remember for the rest of our lives because that’s just how the tournament goes. So being that the generous person that I am, I decided to go ahead and rank the five best buzzer beaters that ever occurred during the NCAA Tournament.
5. 2016: Northern Iowa vs Texas – 1st Round
Our first buzzer beater comes from as early as last year in the first round of the tourney. While it was only the first round, it doesn’t get more heartbreaking than that for Texas fans. To go from tying up the game with under three seconds left to having your season end on a half-court shot from 11 seed Northern Iowa is just brutal. On the flip side, it gets no better than that if you’re a Northern Iowa fan. To not only pull off the upset but the way in which you pulled off the upset is something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
4. 1998: Valparaiso vs Ole Miss – 1st Round
The Bryce Drew Shot. It’s one of those shots that they show in every NCAA Tournament video and will continue to show for the rest of time. 13 seed Valpo had no business even making this game close with Ole Miss, who was sneaky good with 22 wins that year. Even though this was just a first round game, everyone knows that the first and second round games usually provide some of the best games of the tournament. The degree of difficulty of the shot was absolutely insane. Having to inbound the ball from under your own basket with two seconds left on the clock down two, the only chance you’d have is to get off a perfect pass, which Valpo did, then found an open Drew who had to get the shot off as soon as it touched his hands, which he did. I love that shot and I love seeing it every March
3. 2016: Villanova vs North Carolina – National Championship
I should have this higher because I feel like third on this list doesn’t do this shot justice. North Carolina’s Marcus Paige had just hit one of the craziest shots in tournament history to tie up the ball game with just under five seconds left and I think probably would have won the game in overtime. Unfortunately for Tar Heel fans, they had to suffer through one of the most crushing losses in the history of all of college sports, as Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a three-pointer at the buzzer, giving the Wildcats their first championship since 1985, and got the monkey off of head coach Jay Wright’s back. It was also an awesome shot because I got to see it in real time, which is always electric, and I had money on Villanova, which was even more exciting. This will be a highlight that’s in every March Madness video for the rest of time.
2. 1992: Duke vs Kentucky – Elite 8
This is probably the most iconic shot in the history of the NCAA Tournament and should be first on the list, but because it wasn’t in the Final Four or championship game, it is not. Anyway, this game between two of the most iconic programs in college basketball history gave us an ending that fans all wanted. Reigning national champion Duke was down one with two seconds left on the clock, and much like the Bryce Drew Shot, Duke forward Grant Hill had to get off a perfect pass inbounding from under his own basket to give the Blue Devils any shot. And sure enough, he hit everyone’s least favorite Blue Devil ever in Christian Laettner, who turned around to hit a shot at the buzzer, advancing Duke to the Final Four, and eventually their second straight national title. It was forever known as “The Shot” and is shown every March. If you’re a Kentucky fan, that shot shakes you to your core.
1. 1983: NC State vs Houston – National Championship
Unless you’re a fan of the team that’s the favorite, everyone loves an underdog, and there was no greater underdog than the 1983 NC State Wolfpack, who had absolutely no business being in this game. The Houston Cougars, with their Phi Slama Jama, were arguably one of the most talented college basketball teams in the history of the sports, with players such as Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. They were one of the four one seeds going into the 1983 NCAA Tournament, and a heavy favorite to win the whole thing. NC State almost didn’t even make the tournament that year, and if they didn’t win the ACC Tournament to get the automatic bid, they probably wouldn’t have. The six seed Wolfpack made their way through the tourney, and took on the heavily favored Cougars, and played them tough all game. With seconds left on the clock, NC State had the ball with a tie game and a chance to win. Jason Whittenburg put up a three-pointer that came up short, but in comes Lorenzo Charles who catches the shot under the hoop and puts it back in at the buzzer, pulling off the monumental upset. The image of head coach Jim Valvano running around on the court looking for someone to hug is one of my favorite moments in sports history.