THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- One Manning Show: Welcoming back the NCAA Tournament with the best individual performances in history

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

OK, I’ll take what I can get. 

After a year with no NCAA Basketball Tournament, the 2021 version will just have to do. Traditions like multiple sites across the country are gone. There won’t be any large crowds and a packed dome when the Final Four takes place at the end of the month. 

But one thing we can still have is great individual performances. Since the tournament began in 1939 with the Oregon Ducks taking the crown, a team has to go on a magical run to reach the prize. It takes some luck, the right match ups and a player stepping up to the occasion. 

This week The Best Sellers’ List is going to rank the 10 best NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Individual runs of all time. Before I dive into my list of Main Men of March, what will be different about this year’s NCAA Tournament. 

Because this year’s event will all take place in Indiana, the overall seed list will be the main determination for the bracket. The overall seed list is a ranking of all 68 teams in the tournament. There will be 37 at-large selections this season, one more than the usual 36. The Ivy League is not playing this season, meaning there will be 31 automatic qualifiers.

Host sites for 2021 are Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, along with Mackey Arena in West Lafayette and Assembly Hall in Bloomington. 

The First Four will be played on one day in 2021, on Thursday, March 18. First- and second-round games will be played out over two days each, though shifted one day. For 2021, the first round is set for Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20. The second round is scheduled for Sunday, March 21 and Monday, March 22. In the past, the first and second rounds lasted Thursday through Sunday.

The Sweet 16 will be played on Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28, with all eight games played at separate times. In the past, regional semifinal games had some overlap. The Elite Eight will be held Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30.

So most of the tournament will be played in March and will make somebody else eligible to be on my list in the near future. 

10A. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1967-69)

This man made it look too easy when his name was Lewis Alcindor. In three seasons at UCLA, Alcindor continued the Bruins dynasty under the guidance of John Wooden. Alcindor had three great runs in March winning three national championships and won three Most Outstanding Player awards. 

It would have been four titles if they allowed freshmen to play back then. So to make this quick, the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 26.5 points in 1967, 25.8 points in 1968 and 23.8 points in 1969. 

10B. Larry Bird (1979)

He didn’t win the national title (just stay tuned into this list) but Larry Bird had a fantastic 1979 season. His Indiana State Sycamores were 33-0 entering the championship game against the Michigan State Spartans. 

That night was the birth of Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson. In the title game, Bird had a solid game with 19 points and 13 rebounds but MSU won 75-64. But Bird is on this list in large part to his national semifinal performance. 

The Sycamores won by two points over No. 6-ranked DePaul Blue Demons. Bird hit 16 of 19 shots, scored 35 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. He missed a triple double by one assist in the 76-74 victory. 

9. Dwyane Wade (2003)

We still didn’t know we were watching a future NBA champion, All-Star, legend and future Hall of Famer. Marquette’s Dwyane Wade became an NCAA icon in 2003 by guiding his team to the Final Four. It was one game that cemented Wade’s legendary Golden Eagle status. 

Wade took down college basketball powerhouse Kentucky. He scored 29 points, had 11 rebounds, and dished out 11 assists against the Wildcats. It was the fourth triple-double in NCAA Tournament history.

8. Stephen Curry (2008)

Another guy who would go onto NBA greatness and success was Stephen Curry. Prior to his championship run with the Golden State Warriors in the 2010s, Curry was a baby-face assassin. In 2008, Curry led the No. 10-seeded Davidson Wildcats to the Elite Eight. He was one shot from going to the Final Four that season in a classic against the Kansas Jayhawks. 

What were Curry’s numbers that season? The sophomore averaged 34.3 points, 3.7 assists and 4.0 steals while shooting 50.8 percent from the field. 

We know Curry for his three-point shooting. Don’t worry, he was good back in 2008 too. He shot 52.8 percent from downtown during a three-game stretch. 

7. Glen Rice (1989)

Michigan Wolverine icon Glen Rice led the school to the crown averaging almost 30 points while snatching down 6.5 assist. Rice shot nearly 60 percent from the field at 57.3 percent. 

The Wolverine star scored 184 points during the Wolverines’ six-game run to the national title in 1989, most in tournament history. 

Rice averaged 25.6 points per game during his senior season, connecting on 99 three-pointers at an absurd 51.6 percent clip. Rice worst output during the tournament was 23 points. He dropped 36 points against South Alabama. Rice had another 30-point game against Seton Hall for the title in Seattle. He tallied 31 points in a 80-79 win. 

6. Kemba Walker (2011)

A star was born back in 2011. The berth of Kemba Walker as a household basketball name started a few days before the NCAA Tournament began back in 2011. Walker shined during that year’s Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden. His step-back jumper to win a game put him on the radar. 

With the help of Jeremy Lamb in the post, Walker was the face-pace guard that was the spark plug for the Huskies in 2011. He was the heart and soul of that UConn team. 

Walker was simply consistent during the tournament averaging 23.5 points. He added 6 rebounds a game and 5.7 assists. After posting a 9-9 record in conference play, UConn entered the Big East tournament as the No. 9 seed. The Huskies ran the table, winning five games in five days with Walker averaging 26 points and 38 minutes per game.

So it took a miracle run just for UConn to make the tournament and eventually win the title. Walker ran with the baton and became a star till this day. 

5. Bill Walton (1973)

Back to the heydays of the UCLA Bruins. The dynasty was alive and well in the 1970s. Us Memphians know tis fact all too well because of one man’s performance in the 1973 national championship game. Bill Walton had a performance for the ages. 

In 1973 Walton led UCLA to a national championship averaging 23.8 points per game and 14.5 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament. Against my beloved Memphis Tigers (then Memphis State) Walton saved his best for last. He scored 44 points against the Tigers in the national championship game and set the scoring record that stands to this day. He went 21 of 22 from the field that night in St. Louis. 

4. Carmelo Anthony (2003)

When did the one-and-done era start in college basketball? If it was about 2010, Syracuse freshman standout Carmelo Anthony was the grandfather of the movement. 

In 2003, Anthony led the Orange to the crown with 20.2 points a game, 9.8 rebounds a contest while shooting 47.5 percent from the field. Prior to the 2002-03 season starting, Syracuse faced a lot of questions. Leading scorer Preston Shumpert and point guard DeShaun Williams were gone. 

The team as unranked and people wondered could a freshman even get them to the tournament. The Orange didn’t even enter the rankings until Jan. 14. On the big stage in New Orleans, Anthony exploded for 33 points and 14 rebounds against Texas. Then he nearly had a triple double to beat Kansas in the championship game. 

3. Magic Johnson (1979)

It took some magic to stop Larry Bird in 1979. Or it just took Magic Johnson and his MSU Spartans. Known as one of the best passers in basketball history, Johnson will drop double-digit dimes in a game with ease. Against Indiana State he dished out only five assists. But he scored 24 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in the 9-point victory. 

Throughout the tournament, Magic averaged 21.8 points a game. He did average 10 assists for the tournament and grabbed 8.8 rebounds. 

He kicked off his tournament run with a 13-point, 17-rebound, 10-assist game against Lamar. Penn was another victim of a Johnson triple double with  29-point, 10-rebound and 10-assists.

2. Christian Laettner (1992)

If you decided to stay at a school for all four years of eligibility, it will be rare for an individual player to reach the Final Four each season. Duke’s Christian Laettner was able to reach that accomplishment. 

Throw in two national titles and two Regional game-winning shots, and one could declare you are the greatest college basketball ever. 

Laettner’s final run with the Blue Devils ended in thrills and a title. He was the steady heartbeat of his team shooting 55.7 percent. He dropped in 19.2 points a game with a star-studded lineup. 

What has Laettner ranked No. 2 on this list in one game. It was the East Regional championship game against the Kentucky Wildcats in 1992. That night in Philadelphia has gone down as one of the best games in history. 

Laettner put the elite in Elite Eight winning the overtime classic with a buzzer-beater for the ages. Laettner shot a perfect 10-of-10 from the floor and 10-of-10 from the free throw line for 31 points in 43 minutes of action.

1. Danny Manning (1988)

Who is the face of this countdown? Who defines the meaning of special March run?

Kansas Jayhawk icon Danny Manning became a school and NCAA legend 33  years ago. 

In that tournament, he average 27.2 points, 9.3 rebounds with 2.3 blocks a game. 

Manny’s road to Kansas City’s Kemper Arena was paved with three Big 8 Player of the Year awards.  In Manning’s senior season, the Jayhawks were 21-11 and they were given a 6-seed for the tournament. Kansas was even unranked entering the Big Dance. 

That must have motivated Manning. Below are the stats of his run to the title over the Oklahoma Sooners. 

◦vs. Xavier: 24 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks

◦vs. Murray St.: 25 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block

◦vs. Vanderbilt: 38 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block

◦vs. Kansas St.: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 1 block

◦vs. Duke: 25 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks

◦vs. Oklahoma: 31 points, 18 rebounds, 2 blocks

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas@magicvalleypublishing.com.