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March Madness is one of the best sporting events of each year, with teams looking to become a part of their school's history forever by making runs through the tournament. There is no such thing as a bad NCAA Tournament thanks to all of the intense games to be found throughout. But there are some tournaments that stand out above the rest, thanks to memorable moments and incredible upsets that make the competition so special. These three tournaments in particular top the list of the best NCAA Tournaments that have ever been played.
The 2011 NCAA Tournament was filled with drama, as there wasn't a single one-seed to get to the Final Four in Houston. That is a rarity in itself, but that wasn't even the wildest thing to happen in the tournament, as 2011 saw two Cinderella teams reach the Final Four in the same season. Those two Cinderella stories were Butler and Virginia Commonwealth, who played each other in the semifinal round to guarantee a Cinderella finalist.
In addition to the Rams and Bulldogs playing for a trip to the national championship game, this tournament saw Kemba Walker cement his status as a college basketball legend. His stepback jumper to beat Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament earlier that season is still replayed often to this day, but that shot was only made more impressive in hindsight knowing that Walker followed it up by carrying the UConn Huskies to the national title.
In 1983, upsets weren't quite as frequent as they are today now that the playing field in college basketball has leveled out somewhat. So for a six-seed to make a run all the way through the NCAA Tournament was something truly special, especially given the competition that NC State had to defeat in order to make it happen. They had to defeat the legendary Houston Cougars, who featured several talents that ended up playing legendary careers as professionals.
Known as Phi Slamma Jamma, Houston had to beat a team led by Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, who also spent time with the Houston Rockets as professionals. And with a buzzer-beating putback, NC State managed to slay that giant to claim one of the most unlikely championships in the history of the tournament. Coach Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug in celebration remains one of the lasting images of the tournament as a whole, with this tournament going down in history as one of the most unpredictable with the most satisfying of endings.
If there was a tournament that really embodied the madness of March Madness, it would have been the 2018 NCAA Tournament. This edition of the dance featured a run to the Final Four by little Loyola Chicago. And from that run was berthed the celebrity of Sister Jean, who led the team in prayer before games and became the unofficial team mascot in the process.
But Sister Jean and Loyola have nothing on the ultimate upset pulled off by 16-seed UMBC. For the first time in 136 tries, the 16-seed Retrievers knocked off top-seeded Virginia in a blowout victory. And, as if that wasn’t enough, they were in a tight game in the next round and nearly made the Sweet 16.
In 2018, the NCAA Tournament was as unpredictable as it had ever been. The best teams weren’t safe, while the teams whose dreams were never thought to be possible managed to upend conventional wisdom to feel like champions, even if it was the elite Villanova program that ended up cutting down the final nets.