Best Shots in March Madness History
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The NCAA men's basketball tournament, better known as March Madness, stands out from other spectacles in sport due to the unprecedented levels of drama and upsets it serves up.
Adding to the event's unpredictability is the tendency of the players to hit cold-blooded shots at the end of games that range from the improbable to seemingly impossible. Not only that, but such Haily Mary throws often decide who moves onto the next round or even who wins a national championship.
These five shots, in particular, are arguably the best in the history of the tournament, combining the high levels of skill from the players involved with the ability to make the shots when they are needed most.
1. Paul Jesperson - Northern Iowa vs. Texas (2016)
What made this shot so impressive was the sheer spontaneity of it all. Northern Iowa could have called time out to draw up a play, but chose not to, with Jesperson getting the ball in an awkward position and having to figure out on the fly how he was going to get his shot off. But with his composed half-court buzzer-beater, he was able to secure the victory and etch his name into tournament history.
2. Bryce Drew - Valpo vs. Ole Miss (1998)
Unlike the Jesperson buzzer-beater that was all about being able to improvise, this incredible shot was all about pre-planned execution by an entire team. The Valparaiso Crusaders, a 13-seed in the 1998 tournament, found themselves down by two points to fourth-seeded Ole Miss with less than three seconds to play. With the length of the floor left to travel, Valpo drew up an interesting play, where the intended target of the first pass was not the one designed to shoot the ball.
Instead, the first pass led to a touch pass to the diminutive Bryce Drew, who received the ball and took an off-balance three that was as good as could be. The play design was brilliant, in that it played off of the instinct of the Ole Miss defenders to go for the ball rather than to stay with their man, and it paid off in a major way. Valpo ended up winning once more in the tournament and had a memorable run to the Sweet 16 as one of the true Cinderella stories of March Madness history.
3. TJ Sorrentine - Vermont vs. Syracuse (2005)
Before UMBC became the first 16-seed to knock off a one-seed in the 2018 tournament, the America East Conference's one shining moment came when the Vermont Catamounts stunned the Syracuse Orange in the first round in 2005. Led by big man Taylor Coppenrath, the 13-seed Catamounts were one of the few lower seeds who couldn't be bullied by bigger teams from power conferences. But it was a little guy who stole the headlines in this game by hitting a shot from the parking lot.
Up by one in overtime, Vermont let the shot clock run all the way down with Sorrentine handling the ball up top. Instead of initiating an offensive set, Sorrentine just pulled up from what felt like miles away and plunged a dagger into the title hopes of the Orange, with Gus Johnson's iconic call celebrating the heroic shot.
4. Christian Laettner - Duke vs. Kentucky (1992)
Christian Laettner wasn't the most well-liked college basketball player of all-time, but he certainly could play. This shot, in particular, was one of the most impressive in tournament history, not because of how far away it was, but because of just how ruthlessly skilled a player has to be to pull off the series of things he did to make it.
Laettner, with a spot in the Final Four on the line, had to catch a pass that traveled three-quarters of the way across the court against a defender from mighty Kentucky. He then had to turn around, get enough separation to get his shot off, and make that shot. And he had to do all of it in roughly two seconds with most of the basketball-watching world glaring at him. It was grace under pressure, it was incredible technique, and it was one of the best shots in tournament history.
5. Kris Jenkins - Villanova vs. North Carolina (2016)
In a tie game in the 2016 national championship game between Villanova and North Carolina, the Villanova Wildcats were essentially playing with house money. They had a possession with a chance to win the game, and if that was unsuccessful they knew that they still had a chance to get the job done in overtime. Kris Jenkins didn't let the game go to overtime, though, as he buried maybe the most important single shot in tournament history when he scored with no time left on the clock to seal the entire tournament for the Wildcats.
This game had clutch shots, wild momentum swings, and everything you could want in a championship game. But it was this final shot, where Jenkins trailed Ryan Arcidiacono after inbounding the ball to him, that made it one of the best finals ever. And Jenkins, who wasn't always the most-talked-about player on his Wildcats team, would become college basketball royalty as a result.