March Madness: Top 10 ACC Games in NCAA Tourney History

Special to, by Max Skinner

By definition, madness is a state of frenzied or chaotic activity. For many college basketball fans, March is the platform for such madness.  Every year, millions of Americans fill out their respective NCAA Tournament brackets. Hardly any of these people can accurately predict the madness that will unfold.  If history has taught us anything, it is that ACC teams have participated in their fair share of madness. Here are the top 10 ACC games in NCAA history:


1.) 1992 East Regional Final (Duke 104, Kentucky 103 in OT)

Duke’s narrow 104-103 victory over Kentucky in the 1992 East Regional Final is considered to be one of the greatest college basketball games ever played. With 2.1 seconds remaining, Duke’s Grant Hill threw a pass the length of the court to Christian Laettner who dribbled once, turned around, and hit one of the most famous shots in basketball history. “The Shot” is engrained in every college basketball fan’s mind. For that reason, this game has to be number 1 on our list. 


2.) 1983 Championship Game (North Carolina State 54, Houston 52)

The 1983 NC State Wolfpack, nicknamed the “Cardiac Pack,” put together one of the most memorable and inspiring Tournament runs we may ever see. After pulling off upset after upset all the way to the championship, Jim Valvano’s squad faced its biggest hurdle. Top-seeded Houston, which featured players such as Hakeem Olajuwan and Clyde Drexler, were riding a 26-game winning streak entering the Championship game. However, NC State pulled off the miracle through a buzzer-beating dunk by Lorenzo Charles off what appeared to be long air ball by teammate Dereck Whittenburg. That play was undoubtedly one of the best moments in tournament history.


3.) 1982 Championship Game (North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62)

The 1982 National Championship game between UNC and Georgetown provided a snippet of what basketball fans would see for years to come: Michael Jordan being clutch. With 16 seconds left, the North Carolina freshman guard swished a 16-foot jumper from the left side to take a 63-62 lead over the Hoyas. This shot would consequently win the Tar Heels the 1982 National Championship, following a James Worthy interception in the closing seconds. 


4.) 1957 Championship Game (North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 in 3OT)

Another extremely close National title game comes next on our list. In 1957, UNC defeated Kansas in a historic 3OT game. Down by a point, Carolina’s Joe Quigg sank two free throws with six seconds remaining to give the Tar Heels a one-point lead. The Heels would hold on by that decisive point to beat Wilt Chamberlain’s Jayhawks, 54-53.

5.) 1991 National Semifinals (Duke 79, UNLV 77)

Coming in at number 5 is Duke’s shocking victory over defending champion UNLV in the 1991 Final Four. Duke’s win over UNLV was the Runnin’ Rebels’ lone defeat, led by Christian Laettner’s 28 points for the Blue Devils.

This game ushered in a new era of college basketball as it led to Coach K’s first national championship. On the other side, UNLV legendary coach Jim Tarkanian would eventually leave the Runnin’ Rebels the following year. 


6.) 1957 National Semifinals (North Carolina 74, Michigan State 70 in 3-OT)

You may be asking yourself, is that 3-OT game a typo? Nope. The Tar Heels had yet another exhausting 3 overtime game during their 1957 Championship run. This time, it came in the semifinals against another historic program, Michigan State. 

This game featured 31 lead changes, and the score was tied 21 times. Michigan State’s Jack Quiggle made a halfcourt shot that came just after the final buzzer in regulation. MSU’s Johnny Green missed a free throw with 11 seconds remaining in the first overtime that would have sealed the deal for the Spartans. Instead, UNC’s Pete Brennan grabbed Green's miss and hit a game-tying jumper just to the right of the foul line at the buzzer.

UNC went on to win this thrilling semifinal matchup. If only the Tar Heels knew they would have to face another 3 OT contest against Kansas in the Championship…


7.) 1974 National Semifinals (North Carolina State 80, UCLA 77 in 2OT)

NC State’s 80-77, 2-OT, victory over UCLA in the 1974 Semifinals was both thrilling and historic. Thrilling in the fact that the Wolfpack erased an 11-point deficit midway through the second half, as well as a seven-point deficit in the second overtime.

Behind David Thompson’s 28 points and 10 rebounds, NC State ended John Wooden’s UCLA string of seven consecutive NCAA Championships. This victory will go down as one of the best wins in ACC and NCAA history. 


8.) 1990 East Regional Final (Duke 79, Connecticut 78 in OT)

As the Beatles’ John Lennon would say, “Instant Karma’s gonna get you, gonna knock you right on the head.” Well, for Jim Calhoun’s 1990 Connecticuit Huskies, karma was a fickle ACC fiend.

Two days after UConn barely escaped the claws of the Clemson Tigers on a controversial last-second shot, Duke turned the tables on the Huskies. Christian Laettner inbounded the ball with 2.6 seconds remaining, received a return pass and sank a leaning jumper from the left side of the buzzer. What goes around comes around in the ironic world of college basketball.


9.) 1993 Championship Game (North Carolina 77, Michigan 71)

How could anyone forget this game? UNC made four huge plays in the final three minutes of the 1993 National Championship game. However, one play would go down as one of the biggest bonehead moments in the history of sports.

After the Michigan Wolverines rallied to trim UNC’s lead to 73-71, Carolina’s George Lynch and Derrick Phelps trapped Michigan star, Chris Webber, near the sideline. With just 11 seconds remaining, Webber called a fateful timeout, one in which his team did not have.

Consequently, the Tar Heels went on to comfortably win the 1993 Championship 77-71. Every one will remember that infamous timeout, rather than the outstanding play by the Tar Heels.


10.) 1983 West Regional Final (N.C. State 63, Virginia 62)

On the way to their improbable championship run, the Cardiac Pack had to slay the giant that was Ralph Sampson's Virginia team. After defeating UVa in the ACC Tournament Championship game less than two weeks before, no one thought N.C. State could do it again. Little did they know, the 6-seed Wolfpack would go on to defeat the 1-seed Cavaliers in an epic battle.


Honorable Mention:

1992 Midwest Regional Second Round (Georgia Tech 79, USC 78)

With 0.8 seconds left on the clock, down two points, Georgia Tech's James Forrest nailed a game-winning three-pointer as time expired. If you haven't seen this shot, look it up ASAP.

2001 National Semifinals (Duke 95, Maryland 84)

Man, Maryland and Duke really had some memorable matchups in the early 2000s. No other matchup could compare to the battle between the Blue Devils and Terps in the 2001 Final Four.

Duke overcame a 22-point deficit, led by Mike Dunleavy Jr.’s three consecutive 3-pointers in a 45-second span. The Blue Devils’ comeback would subsequently become the biggest comeback in Final Four history.

1983 West Regional First Round (N.C. State 69, Pepperdine 67 in 2OT)

NCAA champion-to-be N.C. State defeated Pepperdine in two overtimes after trailing by six points with 24 seconds remaining in regulation.