Shiningest moments ever: The best NCAA hoops finishes
Kris Jenkins' national-title-clinching 3-pointer barely had cleared the bottom of the net late Monday night when confetti started raining down on Villanova and the NRG Stadium's makeshift gym floor.
Accompanied by hyperbole.
Villanova 77, UNC 74 ... instant classic. ESPY winner. Greatest title game finish ever. Most shining moment since Edison screwed in the first light bulb.
Face it, perspective and rational thought are casualties in this age of instant analysis (aka social media). Jenkins' watershed 23-footer might very well rank as the greatest end to a men's NCAA championship game, but can we at least discuss it? Can we allow our knees to stop jerking long enough to deliberate rationally?
Here are some other magical finals finishes. You decide which is the greatest. (Note: We're talking only title games, which disqualifies Christian Laettner's 1992 prayer against Kentucky).
N.C. State 54, Houston 52, 1983
Probably the stiffest challenger to Jenkins' title-clinching trey, and still the signature moment of March Madness 33 years later. In real time, it was a surreal blur: With the Cardiac 'Pack tied 52-all with prohibitive favorite Houston in the waning seconds, Dereck Whittenburg's desperation heave falls short, only to be retrieved in mid-air by Lorenzo Charles and dunked -- alley-oop style -- at the buzzer. The world embraced the Wolfpack that night, even as their coach found no one to hug.
Loyola (Chicago) 60, Cincinnati 58 (OT), 1963
In The Ultimate Book of March Madness, written earlier this decade by Tom Hager, this contest ranks as the greatest in NCAA Tournament history. Well before the shot clock era, Loyola held the ball for a final overtime possession against the two-time defending champion Bearcats. Les Hunter took the final shot just inside the paint and missed, but Vic Rouse was there for the put-back at the buzzer (Check out the 1:45 mark of this YouTube clip). Incidentally, Rouse, Hunter and the other three Loyola starters played the entire game without substitution.
Indiana 74, Syracuse 73, 1987
Keith Smart's 18-footer near the left baseline wasn't a buzzer beater in the truest sense, but Smart still probably doesn't have to pay for a drink in Bloomington to this day. Smart, who along with teammate Dean Garrett were the first two transfers to enroll at Indiana in the Bob Knight era, hit his game-winner with around five seconds to play. Syracuse immediately called for a time-out, but officials inexplicably waited a few seconds before granting it. As a result, the Orangemen had to settle for a Hail Mary-style inbounds pass intercepted at the buzzer by -- you guessed it -- Smart.
Utah 42, Dartmouth 40, 1944
The first NCAA title-game buzzer beater also provided arguably the first tournament Cinderella. Like many programs, the Utes' roster had been decimated during wartime, leaving it with only one scholarship player at the season's outset. After losing in the first round of the NIT (a really big deal back then), Utah was a "substitute" entry in the NCAAs, where it clinched the final on Herb Wilkinson's set shot at the top of the key with three seconds to play. Two days later, the Utes played NIT champ St. John's in a benefit game and won 43-36 to claim the "mythical" national title.
Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT), 2008
We haggled over whether to include this game because the actual finish -- an overtime dominated by the Jayhawks -- was anticlimactic. But we simply can't ignore Mario Chalmers' OT-forcing 3-pointer at the regulation horn. Think about it: Had Jenkins missed his shot Monday night, Villanova still would've had life. A Chalmers miss, and Bill Self remains arguably the greatest coach never to win it all.