Top 5 moments of a 2018 NCAA tournament full of drama and buzzer-beaters

There were two Final Fours this past weekend. One had three games decided by double-digits. The other had two 3-pointers in the final 10 seconds, two overtimes and two unforgettable buzzer-beaters.

When it came to NCAA basketball national semifinals and finals in 2018, the women outdid the men. Arike Ogunbowale’s buzzer-beating double, first to take down mighty UConn, then to beat Mississippi State, will go down in sports history as two of the greatest back-to-back clutch performances ever. And the 2018 women’s Final Four might never be topped.

But the 2018 men’s tournament, over the first two weekends, had more than its fair share of moments. It will be remembered for Villanova, and for the Wildcats’ dominance – their six wins by 10 points or more, and second national title in three years. But a few moments on the road to the Final Four were unforgettable. Here, in descending order, are the top five.

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5. Kansas beats Duke in Elite Eight thriller

In a tournament full of upsets, the last game en route to San Antonio was a rare blue-blood battle. And it was a thriller. Duke vs. Kansas might have been the best of the 67 games start to finish. With less than 30 seconds remaining, Svi Mykhailiuk tied it at 82 with a 3. Then Grayson Allen came within inches of being a hero:

Instead, his outstanding but tumultuous, complicated and polarizing Duke career ended in overtime, with Malik Newman scoring 32 points to send Kansas to the Final Four.

4. Nevada’s insane comeback

After erasing a 14-point deficit in the first round to beat Texas in overtime, Nevada found itself down 22 with 11 minutes remaining in its second-round game against Cincinnati. Incredibly, it charged back – into the Sweet 16, and into the record books – with Josh Hall’s game-winning floater sealing the deal:

The comeback was more improbable than Patriots over Falcons. It tied Duke’s over Maryland at the 2001 Final Four for the second-biggest ever in the NCAA tournament. But Duke’s 22-point deficit and BYU’s 25-point deficit against Iona, the largest ever overcome, were in the first half. Nevada’s comeback ranks right up there with Texas A&M’s over Northern Iowa as the greatest in March Madness history.

3. Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater

Michigan was Villanova’s opponent on Monday night. But two weeks and two days earlier, its season was on life support with 3.9 seconds remaining in its second-round matchup with Houston. The Wolverines trailed 63-61. They had the ball on the baseline after two missed Cougars free throws. They needed a hero.

Jordan Poole, a little-known freshman, volunteered:

And then he ran the length of the court, boomeranged back to the baseline underneath the basket his game-winner had fallen through, and inadvertently gave us one of the most indelible images of March:

2. Loyola’s game-winner(s)

There wasn’t one single moment that defined Loyola’s remarkable run to the Final Four. That’s because there were multiple moments that belong on this list. The Ramblers needed a buzzer-beating 3 from Donte Ingram to get out of the first round:

They needed a game-winning shot from Clayton Custer – and some generosity from a Dallas rim – to get out of the second round:

They needed yet another clutch shot from Marques Townes to advance past the Sweet 16. Their Elite Eight win over Kansas State was a relative cruise, but it was special for other reasons. It was accompanied by pandemonium and disbelief back on campus. And it topped off a Cinderella story that won’t soon be forgotten.

1. UMBC shocks Virginia

One hundred-and-thirty-five overmatched 16-seeds had tried; 135 had failed. UMBC, the 136th, delivered the unfathomable – and undoubtedly the top moment of the 2018 NCAA tournament.

The second half was almost surreal. No. 16 seeds had held slender second-half leads before, only to see them inevitably slip away. Millions watch the underdog Terriers expecting to see the same. Instead, a team that lost 85-39 to Albany in January didn’t just take down No. 1 overall seed Virginia; it rolled into the history books by 20 points.

No. 16 seeds had tried 135 times before. And they had failed 135 times. At the 136th time of asking, UMBC delivered the unfathomable – and undoubtedly the top moment of the 2018 NCAA tournament

And then it enjoyed 48 hours of unprecedented fame. The spotlight found everyone, from players to sassy tweeters to the thousands of high schoolers who’ll apply to the university despite never having heard of it before that Friday night. The dream ended two days later, but those 48 hours will leave an indelible mark on the school. And they’ll be remembered by sports fans forever.

Michigan players celebrate Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater as Houston’s Devin Davis lies face-down on the court. (Getty)
Michigan players celebrate Jordan Poole’s buzzer-beater as Houston’s Devin Davis lies face-down on the court. (Getty)

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Henry Bushnell covers soccer and basketball for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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