The Sweet 16 has concluded, and the field is set for the Elite Eight this weekend. As March Madness progresses, the games usually get crazier and crazier. To anticipate the insanity that will no doubt ensue during this year’s Elite Eight, we bring you, the reader, the 8 best Elite Eight Moments in tournament history.
8. Wisconsin vs. Arizona, 2014 edition
This game didn’t have a buzzer-beater, but it was an extraordinarily close game, with neither team leading by more than three throughout nearly the entire second half. The game featured three future lottery picks in Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky posted 28 points and 11 rebounds as the game went to overtime and the Badgers pulled it out by one point. Coach Bo Ryan gave an emotional post-game interview as the win came on his late father’s birthday. An incredible game with special meaning.
7. Patrick Sparks heaves a three to tie Michigan State, it goes in
The year was 2005, and Michigan State was up by three against Kentucky with a trip to the Final Four hanging in the balance. Kentucky bricks two three-point attempts before the ball ends up in the hands of Patrick Sparks. He launches a wild, off-balance shot… the ball hits the rim, then the backboard, then the rim a few more times… and rolls in. Kentucky would eventually lose the game, but Sparks’ buzzer-beater goes down as one of the craziest shots in Elite Eight history.
6. Scottie Reynolds goes the length of the floor to beat Pitt
Villanova has recently emerged as a basketball powerhouse, but that wasn’t always the case. In 2009, they were big underdogs vs. Pitt, and it seemed their run had come to an end when the Panthers sunk a free throw to put Nova down by one with 5.5 seconds left. But there goes Scottie Reynolds in his comically large shorts, flying down the court to lay it in with less than a second left and lift Nova to the Final Four.
5. Aaron Harrison lifts Kentucky over Michigan
Not much has been heard from him since, but Harrison’s 2014 run for Kentucky is the stuff of legends. He hit gigantic shots in three straight games, including this deeeeeep three to send Kentucky to the Final Four. He was ice-cold, and Kentucky doesn’t win a title without him.
4. John Lucas III knocks off St. Joe’s
Oklahoma State might’ve been the more athletic team that day, but St. Joe’s had gone undefeated and featured the best player in college basketball that season. This one was back and forth all game, and Lucas III drilled a three off a broken play to give OSU an unlikely Final Four berth.
3. Deron Williams leads an insane Illinois comeback over Arizona
In one of the best comebacks in tournament history, Illinois went down by 15 with four minutes to play before mounting a furious comeback, and at the forefront was future third overall pick Deron Williams. They forced the game into overtime and eventually pulled away to put an exclamation point on an epic game.
2. George Mason upsets UConn
One of the greatest David v. Goliath stories of all time occurred in the 2006 Elite Eight. George Mason, an 11-seed, took on college powerhouse UConn and took the game into overtime. Mason missed a free throw with 5 seconds left and U-Conn went on the break, only to miss the game-tying attempt and gave George Mason their first-ever Final Four. George Mason was the original Cinderella team, lending credibility to the idea that, if they get hot at the right time, any team can make a deep tournament run. Without George Mason, we might not have last year’s Loyola Ramblers, or the UMBC Golden Retrievers, or any other memorable, unlikely run.
1. Christian Laettner’s “The Shot”
As great as George Mason’s run was, and as much as we all now dislike Duke, it’s impossible to match Laettner’s buzzer beater. It spawned a nationwide dislike for not only the university but for Laettner personally, played a large part in his placement on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, and was the true beginning of Duke’s dominant run as a college basketball perennial power. Many dubbed this game as the greatest college game to ever be played, and they have a pretty good argument, too. Kentucky was making a dramatic run fresh off a two-year probation period for recruiting violations, Duke was defending their first title, and the game came down to a three-quarters-court heave with two seconds left. Grant Hill threw it, Laettner caught it, and the rest is history.