Lasting Memories: 10 Most Magical Moments in NCAA Playoff History

If it's March, it's time for Madness to take center stage. For those who adore basketball, this is an invigorating time, commencing at postseason conference tournaments and climaxing at the Final Four. It's a month-long tantalizing tableau energizing you, making one wish the charm and intensity of playoff basketball would last forever.

The fanfare leaves memories etched indelibly in your mind. One can't possibly forget on-court excellence stemming from North Carolina's triple-overtime win against Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas; Villanova's stunning upset of Georgetown; Indiana becoming the last undefeated champion; Danny (Manning) and the Miracles at Kansas; Bill Walton's 21 of 22 field-goal shooting against Memphis State during UCLA's string of championships; Jack Givens' scoring outburst for Kentucky against Duke; Bobby Joe Hill's layups after steals to spur Texas Western's all-black regular rotation to a victory over Kentucky's all-white lineup; ballyhooed matchup between Indiana State's Larry Bird and Michigan State's Magic Johnson, and mid-major Butler's back-to-back Cinderella trips to title tilt.

Off the court, it's difficult to forget watching scalpers maneuver at the Final Four, announcer Brent Musburger's firing by CBS on April Fool's Day, a scheduling dilemma after the unsettling assassination attempt on President Reagan, and the emotional award presentations for the USBWA's Most Courageous Athlete.

Still, the aforementioned don't possess a single defining moment leaving a perpetual image describing the action. That's because the great moments in sports don't arrive gradually. They just happen spontaneously, in what seems like one unforgettable soaring second. They touch onlookers and leave an everlasting imprint. What were those impressionable moments in the NCAA playoffs making your brain holler "Freeze It!" like impassioned analyst Dick Vitale?

Naturally, most of them stem from replays occurring since TV gained a foothold on the extravaganza. There must be an abundance of spectacuiar moments when the final cut doesn't include U.S. Reed's halfcourt game-winning basket for Arkansas in the 1981 Midwest Regional and Providence playmaker Ernie DiGregorio's mind-numbing behind-the-back pass that traveled more than half the length of the court at the 1973 Final Four. Here is CollegeHoopedia's view of the 10 most magical moments in NCAA Tournament history (in reverse order):

Great Scott! Rallying from a 10-point second-half deficit against Duke in the heart of ACC country (Charlotte, N.C.) at the 1994 NCAA final, the pressure couldn't have been more intense on Arkansas' Scotty Thurman at the moment he received a pass on the right wing from teammate Dwight Stewart. The shot clock was winding down and the score tied (70-70) with 40 seconds remaining when the swingman lofted a three-point attempt over 6-8 Antonio Lang that hit nothing but net.

Thurman attributed his ability to get off such a high arc shot to an age-old drill shooting over a defender with a broomstick his coach at Ruston (La.) High School employed during practices.

"He's a class player," Duke guard Chris Collins said of Thurman after the Razorbacks' 76-72 victory. "He made a great play. The national championship, less than a minute left, tie game - he made a great shot."

The national title was at stake with three seconds remaining in overtime in 1989 when Michigan guard Rumeal Robinson stood at the free-throw line in Seattle. But what is the pressure of a one-and-one opportunity for a 65.6 percent free-throw shooter after he has gone one-on-one with the street?

Robinson will forever live in the hearts of Wolverine fans after converting two free throws to give Michigan an 80-79 victory over Seton Hall. Previously, the Jamaican-born Robinson had no place to live at all. He was a 12-year-old street urchin deserted by his mother after they moved to Cambridge, Mass., a Boston suburb.

"Somewhere along the line," Robinson said. "I think I was blessed. I feel no bitterness. I have not been cheated. I do not know why my mother did not want me. I do not know why my biological father died the day before I was to meet him. But I also do not know why I was so lucky to find my adoptive parents. It is not so much bad luck or good luck. It is ... only how it is ... how God wants it."

The NCAA final capped a bizarre series of events for the Wolverines. Just prior to the start of the tourney, Michigan coach Bill Frieder announced that he would become head coach at Arizona State the following season. Miffed Michigan athletic director and former football coaching legend Bo Schembechler promptly announced that assistant Steve Fisher would take over for the duration of the playoffs. Fisher inherited a squad including Robinson and three other future NBA first-round draft choices--Glen Rice, Terry Mills and Loy Vaught.

Robinson's heroics obscured a marvelous performance by Seton Hall guard John Morton. In the first overtime final since 1963, Morton had the highest scoring output (17 of game-high 35 points in the last eight minutes of regulation) for any player from a losing team in an NCAA championship game.

Robinson's storybook tale didn't have a happy ending, however. He was sentenced in early 2011 to 6 1/2 years in jail for financial fraud. The charges against him were bank bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and making a false statement to a financial institution. The two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection borrowed more than $700,000 from a bank in Iowa in 2004, claiming it was for a business. Robinson used the money for personal purposes instead (buying a condomium, cars, furniture and investing in an energy company). Sparking outrage in his Cambridge, Mass., hometown, he reportedly caused his adoptive mother to be forcibly removed from her home after being tricked into signing a deed that sold a house to Robinson's business associate while receiving no money.

The most indisputable playoff upsets come when a team ranked in the top three or four of a national poll is eliminated before it reaches a regional semifinal. Five teams seeded No. 1 in a regional lost their opening playoff game since the seeding process started in 1979.

DePaul was the nation's top-ranked team in back-to-back seasons when the Blue Demons lost their opening tournament game each year (77-71 against UCLA in the 1980 West Regional and 49-48 against St. Joseph's in the 1981 Mideast Regional). Unanimous first-team All-American forward Mark Aguirre, who averaged 24.5 points and 7.9 rebounds in his three-year DePaul career, collected a total of 21 points and four rebounds in the 1980 and 1981 opening-game tourney setbacks.

Philadelphia-based St. Joseph's gained its only lead in the second half when an inexcusably unguarded Hawks player named John Smith sank a layup with three seconds left after DePaul's most accurate foul shooter, Skip Dillard, the guy they called "Money" because when he shot 'em, they were as good as in the bank, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12 seconds remaining.

DePaul did not score a point or take a shot in the final 6 1/2 minutes. A stunned Aguirre, the national player of the year, didn't even throw the ball inbounds and finished the game with one rebound, one assist, no blocked shots, no steals and the only sub-10 scoring output of his college career (eight points). He must have saved his energy for throwing the game ball into Dayton's Great Miami River after the game.

Smith, a Philly native, felt no remorse for Aguirre and venerable DePaul coach Ray Meyer. "Aguirre? Why should I? I know one thing, he didn't light us up, did he? And, he did all the (trash) talking. That made me want to dig in and put it to this guy. Who in the hell does he think he is? He sure wasn't doing anything."

The Blue Demons also lost their opening playoff game as a No. 1 seed in the 1982 Midwest Regional (82-75 against Boston College) when they were ranked second nationally behind eventual champion North Carolina. Dillard and forward Terry Cummings were DePaul starters all three years. Dillard, who made a school record 45 free throws in a row, subsequently saw his life really turn sour when he was sentenced to serve time in federal prison for attempted bank robbery.

He was Michael Jordan before there was a Michael Jordan. It's inconceivable to think that North Carolina State would have won the 1974 crown if high-flying David Thompson didn't recover from a nasty fall to the floor after attempting to block a shot by Pitt in the East Regional final. Thompson, cartwheeling over the shoulders of a teammate, landed with a sickening thud on the back of his head and did not move for four minutes. He regained consciousness, was taken to a hospital and, after getting 15 stitches to mend a head wound, was permitted to return to the arena and watch the end of the Wolfpack's 100-72 romp.

The mild concussion didn't keep him from being ready for the Final Four, where the junior forward was named Most Outstanding Player. Thompson is the only undergraduate non-center to average more than 23 points per game for an NCAA titlist (26 ppg). A 76-64 NCAA final win against Marquette in N.C. State's home state (Greensboro) was almost anticlimatic. In the national semifinals, the Wolfpack avenged an 18-point loss to UCLA earlier in the season on a neutral court in St. Louis by ending the Bruins' 38-game playoff winning streak (80-77 in overtime). N.C. State erased an 11-point deficit midway through the second half and a seven-point deficit in the extra session behind Thompson's 28 points and 10 rebounds to halt UCLA's string of seven consecutive NCAA championships.

"It was the most disappointing, embarrassing event of my life," Bruins All-American center Bill Walton said. "I think about it almost daily. If I had one week to bring back and live over, that would be it."

As for Thompson, he went on to disappointing/embarrassing incidents involving a well-publicized involvement with cocaine, accusations of assaulting his wife, filing for bankruptcy and suffering a knee injury in a dispute at Studio 54 in New York.

Colorful Al McGuire made a tearful farewell in Atlanta. The first 38 NCAA national champions, from Oregon (29-5 record in 1938-39) through Indiana (the last unbeaten team with a 32-0 mark in 1975-76), averaged barely over two defeats per season. None of the titlists sustained more than six setbacks until Marquette's McGuire-coached squad won the 1977 title with a 25-7 worksheet.

McGuire's eight previous teams incurred fewer defeats and he professed to believe his team wouldn't receive an at-large bid to the tourney after lost five home games, including its last three in Milwaukee Arena, where during one period McGuire's teams were 145-7, including an 81-game winning streak. But given a reprieve, Marquette overcame halftime deficits to win their first three playoff games against Cincinnati, Kansas State and Wake Forest before trailing most of the second half against UNC Charlotte in the national semifinals.

The Warriors blew a 12-point halftime lead against North Carolina in the final before recovering to win 67-59. McGuire, leaving the bench before the game was even over with tears running down his cheeks, pulled away from a hug by long-time assistant Hank Raymonds and made his way to the silence of the locker room.

"I want to be alone," McGuire said. "I'm not afraid to cry. All I could think about at the end was--why me? After all the jocks and socks. All the odors in the locker room. All the fights in the gyms. Just the wildness of it all. And to have it end like this ..."

In a six-game surge that propelled Indiana to the 1987 NCAA championship, the Hoosiers had at least four starters score in double figures in every game, five in two contests. The squad was coach Bob Knight's first to have all five starters average in double digits. The team's fifth-leading scorer with 11.2 points per game was junior college recruit Keith Smart. He didn't receive even honorable mention in voting by coaches for the All-Big Ten team. But the 6-1 guard scored 15 per game in the NCAA playoffs and supplied 21 in a 74-73 final against Syracuse, including a basket that will live forever--a game-winning jumper from the left baseline with five seconds remaining.

Smart, who tallied 12 of the Hoosiers' last 15 points, is the only former junior college alumnus to become Final Four Most Outstanding Player. Indiana looked to All-American Steve Alford for the final shot, but he was covered.

"I wasn't surprised I got the ball," Smart said. "I was surprised it went in." The biggest surprise might have been that he ever enrolled at a major college. As a junior in high school in Baton Rouge, La., he was only 5-3. He grew to 5-7 as a senior, but that season ended early when Smart broke his wrist.

Before attending Garden City (Kan.) Community College, he spent a year flipping hamburgers at a fast-food restaurant. Currently, he's flipping lineups as coach of the NBA's Sacramento Kings trying to give them a smarter shot at winning.

Chris Webber's baffling call for a timeout with 11 seconds remaining after dribbling down the court in the 1993 title game when Michigan was out of timeouts prevented the Wolverines from having an opportunity to tie the score or take the lead against North Carolina. Actually, Webber should have been assessed for traveling after grabbing a missed free-throw attempt. The Tar Heels wound up winning, 77-71, despite Webber's team-high 23 points and game-high 11 rebounds.

Webber's family accepted the well-chronicled boner in stride and showed time heals all wounds when his father, Mayce, acquired a vanity license plate saying "Timeout," a reference to his son's excruciating blunder.

"It's no big deal," the younger Webber said shortly before he became the first pick in the 1993 NBA draft after leaving college early. "I'm not happy it happened. But I know it's going to help me in some way. It made me a man. It made me grow up a lot faster than if it hadn't happened."

But Webber's penchant for controversy surfaced again when he forced a trade from projected playoff contender Golden State to a moribund Washington franchise. Moreover, it certainly was a big deal when Webber was subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury in Detroit in September, 2002, on four felony counts of conspiracy to obstruct justice and lying to federal investigators regarding money laundering linked to a shady Wolverines booster convicted of tax evasion and robbery.

Georgetown guard Fred Brown's errant pass directly to North Carolina forward James Worthy prevented the Hoyas from attempting a potential game-winning shot in the closing seconds of the 1982 championship game. Brown's untimely pass came moments after freshman guard Michael Jordan's jumper from the left wing put North Carolina ahead, 63-62.

The site of massive Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. embracing and encouraging Brown after the game showed a sensitive dimension to his occasionally volatile character. Two years later, they embraced again after a game, but this time it stemmed from the jubilation of a national crown.

"I enjoy what I'm doing," Thompson said. "I'm not a person that's going to run around and say `I'm here for the children.' I run from people like that. I try and deal with the relationships and responsibilities I have with the players."

Lorenzo Charles, a muscular sophomore forward averaging a modest 8.1 points per game for North Carolina State, converted guard Dereck Whittenburg's off-line desperation shot from well beyond the top of the free-throw circle into a decisive gentle dunk in a 54-52 championship game victory over heavily-favored Houston in 1983. Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano pranced all over the court looking for someone to hug as stunned fans at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M., and the millions watching on TV had witnessed a miracle.

No one gave the Pack a chance against the Phi Slamma Jamma Cougars in the title game. Joe Henderson of the Tampa Tribune said before the game, "Blindfold? Cigarette? Last Words? Sayonara, N.C. State. There'll be no reprieve. The noose drops at 9:12 p.m. (starting time)."

N.C. State was an overwhelming underdog after Houston's dunkathon in a 94-81 triumph over Louisville in the semifinals. In the second half alone against the Cardinals, Houston accounted for 22 points on stuffs. After a mind-boggling flight of fancy by the Cougars' Clyde Drexler, longtime Notre Dame publicist Roger Valdiserri passed this note along press row: "Welcome to the 21st Century." Oddly, Drexler and Charles each scored a mere four points in the final.

N.C. State, the first school to require six victories to earn the crown and the first champion with a double-digit loss total, became the only team ever to have as many as four playoff games decided by one or two points en route to a title. The Wolfpack capitalized on its six victims combining to shoot an anemic 56.8% from the free-throw line.

Sadly, Charles was working for a limousine and bus company based in Apex, N.C., when he was killed in June 2011 after the charter bus the 47-year-old was driving with no passengers aboard crashed along Interstate 40 in Raleigh.

Christian Laettner, who helped Duke compile a 21-2 playoff mark in his four years, stomped on Kentucky literally and figurately when he scored his playoff high of 31 points against the Wildcats in a 104-103 overtime victory in the 1992 East Regional final. Laettner capped a flawless offensive performance, hitting all 10 of his field-goal attempts and all 10 of his free throws, by scoring Duke's last eight points in overtime, including a dramatic 18-foot turnaround jumper at the buzzer after catching teammate Grant Hill's pass from the baseline on the opposite end of the court. A flaw in Laettner's abrasive personality that affected his NBA career surfaced, however, in what many believe was the greatest game of all-time when he intentionally stepped on a prone UK player.

It wasn't the first time Laettner supplied a buzzer-beating basket to win a playoff game in overtime. He hit what probably was an even more difficult shot to give Duke a 79-78 win against Connecticut in the 1990 East Regional final. Laettner became the NCAA Tournament's all-time leading scorer and teammate Bobby Hurley became the tourney's all-time leader in assists as the Blue Devils became the first school to win back-to-back titles since UCLA in 1973.

Laettner scored 28 points in a 79-77 victory over previously undefeated UNLV in the 1991 semifinals to avenge a 30-point loss against the Rebels in the 1990 final. Hurley took up the slack with 26 points when Laettner was limited to eight points in an 81-78 decision over Indiana in the 1992 national semifinals.

Laettner's ability to survive pressure-packed situations recently was put to the test again. He and Duke teammate Brian Davis faced huge financial and legal hudles stemming from a loan their real estate company failed to repay nearly $700,000 to former Duke captain/assistant coach and current Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. Court documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal indicated that Laettner and Davis were defendants in several civil lawsuits seeking repayment of about $30 million.