Commentary

Where do Chalmers' NCAA tourney theatrics rank?

Originally Published: July 9, 2008
By Pat Forde | ESPN.com

One pass. Eight increasingly frantic dribbles. Another pass. One last dribble for balance.

And then Mario Chalmers rose off the floor in San Antonio.

Big Shots

What are the biggest shots in NCAA tournament history? Pat Forde counts them down …

1. Christian Laettner: Duke vs. Kentucky, 1992 regional final
2. Tyus Edney: UCLA vs. Missouri, 1995 second round
3. Keith Smart: Indiana vs. Syracuse, 1987 national championship
4. Mario Chalmers: Kansas vs. Memphis, 2008 national championship
5. Michael Jordan: North Carolina vs. Georgetown, 1982 national championship
6. Lorenzo Charles: NC State vs. Houston, 1983 national championship
7. Vic Rouse: Loyola-Chicago vs. Cincinnati, 1963 national championship
8. Jerome Whitehead: Marquette vs. UNC-Charlotte, 1977 national semifinal
9. Tony Branch: Louisville vs. Kansas State, 1980 second round
10. Pete Brennan: North Carolina vs. Michigan State, 1957 national semifinal

Check out the zoom photo gallery of the top 10 biggest shots.

Rank the 10 shots

That was the preamble to the biggest shot in Kansas basketball history, launched April 7 in the Alamodome when all national championship hope appeared lost.

Darnell Jackson made the inbounds pass to Sherron Collins, who took eight urgent bounces up court under defensive duress before half-shoving, half-passing the ball to Chalmers curling inward from the right sideline. Chalmers managed one last dribble of the ball before elevating, cocking and firing.

The result will live on forever in Lawrence, Kan., and in Memphis, Tenn., for all the wrong reasons. Chalmers' steeply arched 3-pointer over the fingertips of Memphis guard Derrick Rose rippled cleanly through the net, capping a desperate comeback and sending the NCAA tournament final into overtime. From there the Jayhawks squeezed the life out of the shell-shocked Tigers to win the title.

Within moments the race was on to judge the shot's place in college hoops history. I figured top five at the time. Given a few months to think about it and consult the record books, I'd still place it among the five biggest shots in NCAA tournament history.

Was it as perfectly executed as the extraordinary play perpetrated by No. 13 seed Valparaiso in the 1998 tournament first round to beat fourth-seeded Mississippi? The one when Jamie Sykes threw a 65-foot inbounds pass under pressure to Bill Jenkins, who caught it and passed it in mid-air to Bryce Drew, who hit the leaning 3-pointer to win the game?

No, the Chalmers shot was not as perfect.

Was it as difficult as the play Western Kentucky pulled off to beat Drake in the first round this year? The one when point guard Tyrone Brazelton hustled the ball up court and pitched it back to Ty Rogers for a contested 26-footer that splashed at the buzzer?

No, the Chalmers shot was not as difficult.

Was it bigger than both?

Yes. Unquestionably.

Both the Drew and Rogers shots were incredible and indelible, but ultimately they were just thrilling moments. Just colorful parts of the peerless March tapestry. Neither play had an impact on how the season ended.

The Chalmers shot helped decide the national title, and that's the aim here: to list and rank the biggest shots in terms of enabling someone to win it all.

Clutch Charity Work

National championships are won and lost at the free-throw line, too. Here are the biggest free throws in NCAA tournament history:

1. Michigan guard Rumeal Robinson, a 64-percent foul shooter, hit a pair with three seconds left in overtime against Seton Hall in the 1989 national championship game. The free throws gave the Wolverines the go-ahead points for an 80-79. Robinson's appearance at the line came courtesy of a borderline call from otherwise excellent official John Clougherty.

2. North Carolina center Joe Quigg made a pair for the go-ahead points with six seconds left in triple overtime for a 54-53 win over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in the 1957 national championship game. Len Rosenbluth was the Carolina star, but Quigg (a career 68 percent shooter from the line) delivered the first NCAA title in ACC history.

3. Duke center Christian Laettner hit a pair with 12.7 seconds left to score the go-ahead points for a 79-77 win over UNLV in the 1991 national semifinal. The Laettner free throws capped one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history, over an undefeated UNLV juggernaut that had beaten the Blue Devils by 30 in the 1990 title game. Neither Vegas nor Duke has been the same since that game.

--Pat Forde, ESPN.com

This is strictly big-game hunting: find and prioritize the 10 biggest shots in NCAA tournament history. (Within reason. There probably was a vital shot made in Utah's 42-40 overtime triumph over Dartmouth to win the 1944 title, but it ain't exactly a YouTube staple.) If it didn't directly enable a team's championship run, it doesn't rank.

There also is a segregation of field goals and free throws here. The chronically underrated foul shot has been responsible for many titles won and lost -- ask Memphis about that -- but the goal was to rank title-enabling shots that actually were contested. (See the ancillary lists of the biggest free throws made.)

The choice for No. 1 hasn't changed in the last 16 years. When Christian Laettner ended the Greatest Game Ever by beating Kentucky 104-103 with a turnaround 17-footer at the overtime buzzer in 1992, NCAA tournament drama reached a new high. Despite all the thrills since then, no single play has risen to that ethereal level. Which is why we still see it a dozen times each March.

After that it becomes debatable. For sheer difficulty, I gave the runner-up nod to Tyus Edney for his second-round drive against Missouri. With only 4.8 seconds left, he covered an incredible amount of ground and literally did it by himself. If you disagree, feel free to choose Indiana's Keith Smart, North Carolina State's Lorenzo Charles or a certain North Carolina freshman of note, circa 1982.

The fascinating detail about Michael Jordan's "Hello, world" shot to beat Georgetown can only be seen in one particular baseline angle of the shot. It shows Jordan elevating, and in the background you can see the Georgetown staff on their feet, several of them with their arms raised. Meanwhile, behind Jordan, the Carolina staff is seated with hands folded, as if watching the pregame layup line.

To me, that picture always defined the unnatural calm of Dean Smith. He'd been the head coach at Carolina for 21 years at that point without winning it all. His entire legacy was riding on a teenager's jumper.

But that's the great thing about Jordan's shot, or Laettner's or Edney's or Smart's or Charles'. You never know when fate and fame are going to double-team the wrong guy and leave you open for the chance to change history.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.