Now that the nation has finally caught its collective breath following a March Madness tourney that featured Cinderellas, upsets galore, and a first-time NCAA tournament champion in the Baylor Bears, I think it is now time to fairly assess Jalen Suggs’ wild shot to sink UCLA in the Final Four in a historical context. As a brief refresher in case you’ve been living under a rock, Suggs set the college basketball world ablaze the night of Saturday, April 3, when he raced down the floor with Gonzaga and UCLA tied at 90 and drilled a bank shot from just inside half court to put the cherry on top of what undoubtedly will go down as one of the tournament’s greatest-ever games.
Before embarking on the most definitely objective and non-controversial task of ranking Suggs’ shot among the all-time greats, a few important caveats have to be set in place. First of all, this is a ranking of March Madness shots ONLY. That means no Christian Watford, no Austin Rivers, no Evan Turner, no Stephen F. Austin, and no Kemba Walker. Secondly, the shot does not have to be a buzzer-beater or game-winner, although the list is naturally going to favor them. Let’s begin with the greatest shots that just missed the cut.
Michael Jordan comes up clutch for the Tarheels and a legend is born
North Carolina vs. Georgetown
1982 National Championship
Luke Maye one-ups Malik Monk’s late-game heroics
North Carolina vs. Kentucky
2017 Elite Eight
U.S. Reed’s prayer is answered from beyond half court
Arkansas vs. Louisville
1981 Second Round
The 10 Greatest Shots in March Madness History:
10. Jordan Poole | Michigan vs. Houston | 2018 Second Round
If Jordan Poole hesitated for an instant, Michigan’s run to the national championship game against Villanova would have never happened. Down by two points with 3.6 seconds remaining, Michigan pushed the ball to midcourt. Poole, seeing a small window to shoot, called for the ball and flung it towards the rim from deep without even setting his feet. The awkward-looking shot, his his legs splayed out to either side, ended up being the most effective one. Poole drained the shot with a defender in his face as time expired to send the Wolverines to the Sweet Sixteen.
9. Keith Smart | Indiana vs. Syracuse | 1987 National Championship
Smart’s baseline shot may not be as enduring as some of the others on this list, but it deserves to be here for its historical context and underrated difficulty. Indiana ran down the clock and worked the ball to Smart. Smart faded towards the baseline and hit the shot to nip Syracuse 74-73 at the horn to capture the most recent of the program’s five national championships and its third under Bob Knight. Smart’s impressive dexterity and hang time make the shot appear almost easy, despite the pressure of an expiring clock and the eyes of a nation focused on him.
8. Chris Chiozza | Florida vs. Wisconsin | 2017 Sweet Sixteen
A difficult off-balance three from Chiozza was a fitting finish to a wacky four-seed Florida vs. eight-seed Wisconsin Sweet Sixteen matchup in an even wackier tournament. Down 84-82 with four seconds left, Chiozza took the inbound pass from his own baseline. From there, Chiozza snaked down the floor past Wisconsin defenders, who impeded him just enough to force him into a tough running three. With no time to stop his forward momentum, Chiozza stumbled into a leaning floater from behind the arc that dropped perfectly through the net as time ran out to send Florida to its fifth consecutive Elite Eight.
7. Paul Jesperson | Northern Iowa vs. Texas | 2016 First Round
After six-seed Texas hit a floater to tie the game at 72 with 2.7 seconds remaining, 11-seed Northern Iowa head coach Ben Jacobson made a surprising move by opting to inbound the ball right away instead of calling his final time out. The decision allowed Northern Iowa to get the ball to Jesperson at near half court before Texas could get organized. The headstart may have very well made the difference for the Panthers in the upset as Jesperson was able to get off a half-court heave between two defenders for the win. Although Northern Iowa fell in the next round, the game-winning shot will forever be remembered as an iconic moment in one of the wildest tournaments in recent memory.
6. Bryce Drew | Valparaiso vs. Ole Miss | 1998 First Round
The pristine execution behind this shot might be the greatest in March Madness history. It would place near the top of this list if it took place deeper in the tournament. Leading by two points in the final seconds, Ole Miss could ice the game at the free-throw line. Yet, the Rebels missed both attempts, giving 13-seed Valparaiso head coach Homer Drew one last chance to draw up a play for the win. With 2.5 seconds to play, the inbounder chucked the ball from under his own basket to Bill Jenkins at midcourt. Somehow, Jenkins came down with the pass in traffic. In midair, Jenkins twisted his body and popped the ball to Bryce Drew as he streaked down the right side of the court. Drew rose up to hit the open three at the buzzer and complete the legendary upset over the four-seed Ole Miss.
5. Mario Chalmers | Kansas vs. Memphis | 2008 National Championship
Chalmers’ three with 2.1 seconds remaining only sent this game to overtime, where Kansas won easily, but it places so highly on this list because of the dramatic comeback that preceded it. The Tigers led by nine with just over two minutes to play in the game when Bill Self instructed his team to start intentionally fouling to exploit Memphis’ poor team free-throw shooting. The plan worked, and Kansas incrementally cut the Memphis lead down to only three with 10.8 seconds left. Kansas had made only two three-pointers in the game before Chalmers sunk one over Derrick Rose’s outstretched arm. Sherron Collins nearly lost the ball on the dribble, but was able to tip it back to Chalmers to allow the Jayhawks to win their first national championship under Bill Self.
4. Christian Laettner | Duke vs. Kentucky | 1992 Elite Eight
While it didn’t come in a Final Four or national championship game, Laettner’s turnaround jumper to beat Kentucky and keep Duke’s hopes of repeating as champions alive is ubiquitously known as “The Shot” for a reason. Everyone can picture the play itself: Grant Hill launched a football pass downcourt to Laettner, who expertly boxed out a defender to highpoint the ball at the opposite free-throw line. Laettner then took one dribble, spun around, and splashed the midrange shot with zeroes on the clock. The added context, a buzzer-beater that marked the fourth lead change in the last 30 seconds of a double-overtime Elite Eight battle between the bluest of blue bloods, makes the play as close as it gets to a perfect ending to a basketball game.
3. Jalen Suggs | Gonzaga vs. UCLA | 2020 Final Four
I don’t think it is recency bias in the slightest to rank Suggs’ shot this high. It was that spectacular of a finish to an instant classic. Although Gonzaga didn’t fit the bill as the traditional small-school underdog, the 11-seed Bruins were the darlings of the tournament after narrowly scraping out wins against Michigan State in the play-in game, Alabama in the Sweet Sixteen, and Michigan in the Elite Eight. It truly felt like UCLA had the magic to pull out another unlikely upset against a juggernaut Gonzaga team. The Bruins' apparent momentum made Jalen Suggs’ shot that much more stunning. Suggs banked in the game-winning three from near half court before anyone had time to process Johnny Juzang’s game-tying lay-in at the other end. Gonzaga may not have completed its undefeated season, but Suggs’ bomb will ensure that it will never be forgotten in March Madness lore.
2. Lorenzo Charles | NC State vs. Houston | 1983 National Championship
Houston’s “Phi Slamma Jamma,” armed by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, were the heavy favorites. The Cougars were in the midst of a 26-game winning streak leading up to the national championship game. Yet, the sixth-seeded Wolfpack completed one of the greatest upsets in tournament history in the most improbable of ways when Lorenzo Charles dunked home Dereck Whittenberg’s desperate-heave-turned-alley-oop as time expired. The late great Jimmy Valvano’s iconic mad dash onto the court in search of a hug says it all.
1. Kris Jenkins | Villanova vs. North Carolina| 2016 National Championship
Who else could it be? March Madness has had more difficult shots, but what makes Jenkins’ catch-and-shoot triple the greatest play in tournament history is its execution and context. The narrative of Villanova finally getting over the hump, Marcus Paige’s preceding incredible game-tying double-clutch three, the brilliantly executed inbounds play “Nova” to get Jenkins open, the perfectly timed confetti, Jay Wright’s casual celebration, and Michael Jordan’s head nod of respect. The moment was a storybook ending that will not be topped for a long time.