NBA

March Madness: The most memorable individual NCAA Tournament runs from current NBA players

kemba-melo-curry-ftr.jpeg
Kemba Walker, Carmelo Anthony, Stephen Curry [Getty Images]

After a year hiatus, March Madness is back!

To match the excitement behind the return of the highly anticipated NCAA Tournament, we take a look back at some of the most memorable individual March Madness runs from current NBA players.

Take a trip down memory lane at moments that likely either elevated or busted your bracket.

Melo-Syracuse
Carmelo Anthony [Getty Images]

2003 – Carmelo Anthony, Syracuse

Stat line: 20.2 PTS, 9.8 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.8 STL, 47.5% FG, 47.6% 3PT

Best game: Final Four vs. Texas: 33 points (12-19 FG, 3-4 3PT), 14 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 assist

Beginning the season unranked, Syracuse wasn't even on the radar to win the 2003 National Championship before their freshman top recruit, Carmelo Anthony, began to show flashes that he could one day become one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen.

Anthony was actually held under 20 points in the Orangemen's first three NCAA Tournament games before the No. 2-ranked high school prospect completely took over and carried his team to its first-ever NCAA title.

He went on to record a 20-point double-double against Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, then dropped 33 points and 14 rebounds to defeat Texas in the Final Four. In the National Championship, he had a near-triple-double of 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists to knock off Kansas, earning the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.

Despite only spending one season at Syracuse, Melo is widely renowned as one of the greatest players in college basketball history for this title run.

Horford-Florida
Joakim Noah, Al Horford [Getty Images]

2006 & 2007 – Al Horford, Florida

2006 stat line: 11.8 PTS, 10.0 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.0 BLK, 56.9% FG

Best game: Sweet Sixteen vs. Villanova: 12 points (6-12 FG), 15 rebounds,

2007 stat line: 13.5 PTS, 11.3 REB, 2.2 AST, 1.7 BLK, 60.5% FG

Best game: National Championship vs. Ohio State: 18 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks

Horford gets two separate runs pointed out here because he played a vital role in back-to-back National Championships for the Florida Gators.

In typical Horford fashion, he wasn't the most glamorous player on either championship team - recently retired Joakim Noah and long-time veteran Corey Brewer take those honours - but he was the perfect glue guy to make both title runs happen. And if it's any indicator of how integral Horford was to Florida's success, he won SEC Tournament MVP in each of these seasons.

Horford and Noah were one of the best defensive frontcourts in NCAA history and as we've seen from Horford's NBA career, he was able to do anything the Gators needed from him to win consecutive championships. If that meant scoring in double figures - which he did in nine of Florida's 12 NCAA Tournament games over those two seasons - he did just that. If it meant ripping down rebounds (six double-digit rebound games) and playing locking down on defence (seven games with multiple blocks or steals), he could do that too.

Horford was never rewarded with the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player award, but being selected third overall in the 2007 NBA Draft shows just how dominant he was.

Love-UCLA
Kevin Love [Getty Images]

2008 – Kevin Love, UCLA

Stat line: 19.8 PTS, 10.6 REB, 4.0 BLK, 2.2 AST, 57.1% FG, 33.3% 3PT

Best game: Sweet Sixteen vs. Western Kentucky: 29 points (10-14 FG), 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks

Although Love's run came up short of the National Championship game, it doesn't take away from how unstoppable he was during March Madness. Notching three double-doubles in five games, only falling one rebound shy of achieving the feat in the other two games, Love was a monster in the paint and on the glass.

While the highlighted Sweet Sixteen outburst against Western Kentucky may have been his best stat line, going for 19 points, 11 rebounds and seven blocks in a win over Texas A&M in the Round of 32 was equally as impressive.

His interior dominance was a sign of what he would become his first few seasons in the NBA, prior to transforming his skillset to fit the direction of the modern game.

Curry-Davidson
Stephen Curry [Getty Images]

2008 – Stephen Curry, Davidson

Stat line: 32.0 PTS, 3.5 AST, 3.3 REB, 3.3 STL, 46.7% FG, 44.2% 3PT

Best game: Round of 64 vs. Gonzaga: 40 points (14-22 FG, 8-10 3PT), 5 steals, 3 rebounds, 2 assists

Curry's March Madness run was legendary, exploding onto the scene to give the nation a taste of how diabolical he could be in the future. A 10-seed beating a 7-seed isn't an uncommon upset, but it was the way that Curry destroyed Gonzaga that took the world by shock. Erupting for 40 points with eight 3-pointers, Curry quickly became dubbed the "Baby-faced Assassain."

When you thought it may have just been a typical one-game March Madness magic show, Curry went off again the very next game, scoring 30 points to upset a loaded Georgetown team, led by Roy Hibbert, that many expected to compete for a National Championship.

His magic didn't run out there, dropping 33 points on six 3-pointers to pull off another upset over the No. 3-seeded Wisconsin, advancing the unlikely Davidson Wildcats to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

Curry would come up one shot shy of dethroning the eventual-National Champion Kansas Jayhawks, scoring 25 points in a two-point loss, bringing his historic tournament run to an end.

Even amidst that impressive stretch in 2008, who would have guessed the baby-faced guard from a mid-major school would eventually change the way the game is played forever?

Rose-Memphis
Derrick Rose [Getty Images]

2008 – Derrick Rose, Memphis

Stat line: 20.8 PTS, 6.5 REB, 6.0 AST, 1.3 STL, 51.8% FG, 33.3% 3PT

Best game: Elite Eight vs. Texas: 21 points (7-10 FG), 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 1 steal, 1 block

On the other side of the bracket, the very same year Curry was making his improbable tournament run, Rose and the heavily-favoured Memphis Tigers were tearing through the field.

Entering March Madness with a 33-1 record, Rose was already stating his case as the perennial No. 1 overall pick for the upcoming NBA Draft. His performance in the NCAA Tournament only furthered that notion.

In a second-round scare against Mississippi State, it was Rose's near-triple-double of 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists that kept the Tigers going. He went on to score 27 points in the next game to lead a breezy win over Michigan State, followed by 21 points, nine assists and six boards to knock off D.J. Augustin and Texas. Memphis' toughest test of the season would come in the Final Four against Love, Russell Westbrook and UCLA, to which Rose elevated his game with 25 points and nine rebounds against two top NBA prospects to take a 38-1 record into the national title game.

Rose had 18 points, eight assists and six rebounds in the National Championship, and if not for a meltdown as a team at the free throw line down the stretch, Memphis may have turned out as champions in 2008.

However, the very next year, Memphis' season and wins would be vacated due to an NCAA rules violation regarding its top prospect Rose.

Griffin-Oklahoma
Blake Griffin [Getty Images]

2009 – Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Stat line: 28.5 PTS, 15.0 REB, 2.3 AST, 78.0% FG

Best game: Round of 32 vs. Michigan: 33 points (14-20 FG), 17 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block

Griffin's NCAA Tournament performance in 2009 may not be remembered the way most of the other players on this list are, but that doesn't mean it's not worth mentioning.

Griffin missed one single shot in the Sooners' first-round matchup against Morgan State, scoring 28 points to go with 13 rebounds while shooting 11-for-12 from the field. And for those who wanted to attribute that to just beating up on a mid-major team, he was just as good, if not better, the next three rounds.

Griffin went for 33 points and 17 rebounds to knock off Michigan in the Round of 32. In the Sweet Sixteen, he tortured Syracuse's patented 2-3 zone to the tune of 30 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 12-for-15 from the field. Even in the Elite Eight, against the eventual National Champion North Carolina Tar Heels and former Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, Griffin shined by going for 23 points and 16 rebounds while shooting 9-for-12 from the field.

In what was seen to be a deep and talented draft class, Griffin's tournament run, capped off by handling Hansbrough (even in a losing effort), helped solidify himself as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft

Ellington-UNC
Wayne Ellington [Getty Images]

2009 – Wayne Ellington, North Carolina

Stat line: 19.2 PTS, 5.7 REB, 2.7 AST, 55.0% FG, 53.1% 3PT

Best game: Final Four vs. Villanova: 20 points (7-14 FG, 5-7 3PT), 9 rebounds, 4 assists

Playing on a loaded North Carolina team alongside the likes of Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Danny Green and Ed Davis, to name a few, it may have been easy to forget how great Ellington was during the their title chase.

Ellington was a sniper in the NCAA Tournament, showcasing his ability as one of the best shooters in the country, the skillset that has given him a long-lasting 11-year career in the NBA. Ellington scored 20 or more points in three of UNC's six March Madness games, going for 19 points in two other contests. Shooting 5-for-7 from 3-point range in the Final Four against a tough Villanova team helped the Tar Heels reach the National Championship, then he scored 19 points while going 3-for-3 from 3 to help his team bring home the title.

Even with two college superstars like Hansbrough and Lawson on his team, Ellington's efforts in their run to the championship earned the sharpshooter the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.

Walker-UConn
Kemba Walker [Getty Images]

2011 – Kemba Walker, UConn

Stat line: 23.5 PTS, 6.0 REB, 5.7 AST, 1.5 STL, 40.2% FG

Best game: Sweet Sixteen vs. San Diego State: 36 points (12-25 FG, 4-8 3PT), 3 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals

Walker's March Madness run just might be the greatest of all-time, and it started before the NCAAs, leading UConn to a Big East championship at Madison Square Garden. His memorable step-back, buzzer-beating jumper ignited what would become five-consecutive wins behind averages of 26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 2.8 steals per game to take home the conference title.

It was the birth of Cardiac Kemba.

His momentum carried right over into the NCAA Tournament, where he would put UConn on his back to win another six-straight games, going over a month without losing.

He played an unselfish role in a first-round blowout, going for 18 points and 12 assists to get the ball rolling. From there, Walker would have consecutive 30-point performances, going for 33 points in a win over Cincinnati before out-doing himself with his tournament-best 36-point game in a close win over Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State in the Sweet Sixteen.

Most impressively, that win over SDSU tipped off a stretch where Walker played all 40 minutes in three-consecutive games to will his team to the National Championship game. He went for 20 points and seven assists to defeat Arizona in the Elite Eight, then followed that up with 18 points and seven assists in a narrow win over Kentucky in the Final Four.

After playing an average of 38.4 minutes per game over UConn's previous 10 games, Walker ran out of steam a bit in the title match, but still produced 16 points and nine rebounds to fend off a cinderella Butler team led by his future head coach Brad Stevens to take home the NCAA championship.

Walker's efforts were rewarded with the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.

Davis-Kentucky
Anthony Davis [Getty Images]

2012 – Anthony Davis, Kentucky

Stat line: 13.7 PTS, 12.3 REB, 4.8 BLK, 3.0 AST, 1.2 STL, 51.0% FG

Best game: Final Four vs. Louisville: 18 points (7-8 FG), 14 rebounds, 5 blocks, 2 assists, 1 steal

Davis put together a Melo-like run as a true freshman in his one and only season at Kentucky, solidifying himself as the sure-fire No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick that he would become.

While he wasn't the scorer that he eventually evolved into in the NBA, Davis completely dominated the interior of every college game he played in. Taking home every Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honour available to him, he shouldered heavy expectations going into the NCAA Tournament.

He made a statement in the first game of March Madness, blocking seven shots against Western Kentucky to warn his competition to stay out of his paint. Davis would go record double-digit rebounds in five of the six games he played, registering three double-doubles.

In the Elite Eight against a strong Baylor team, he had 18 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks. In the Final Four, he continued to anchor Kentucky's defence, swatting five shots in another big double-double effort of 18 points and 14 rebounds. And although he struggled to score in the National Championship game against Kansas (he only scored six points), Davis still stuffed the stat sheet with 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals and six (!) more blocks.

His 29 blocks in a single NCAA Tournament is the second-most all-time, tying Joakim Noah's record from 2006. (Ironically, Kansas' Jeff Withey, in the very same tournament as Davis in 2012, recorded 31 blocks for a March Madness record.)

Davis' total control on the defensive end and on the glass earned him the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player award.

Kaminsky-Wisconsin
Frank Kaminsky [Getty Images]

2015 – Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Stat line: 22.0 PTS, 9.3 REB, 2.2 AST, 51.8% FG, 53.3% 3PT

Best game: Final Four vs. Kentucky: 20 points (7-11 FG, 1-3 3PT), 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks

Kaminsky may have come up short of a National Championship, but he helped his team handle one of the toughest tasks the NCAA Tournament has seen in recent memory.

The National Player of the Year averaged 22.8 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 62.5 percent from 3-point land through the first four rounds to reach the Final Four. Waiting for Kaminsky and Wisconsin in the Final Four... one of the greatest teams that college basketball has ever seen.

The 2015 Kentucky Wildcats were loaded with NBA prospects and veteran talent. Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein and Trey Lyles manned the starting lineup, while future superstar Devin Booker came off the bench as a Sixth Man! They were a perfect 38-0 before the Final Four, where Kaminsky lead the Badgers to an unforgettable upset.

The senior centre had 20 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and two blocks to defeat the Wildcats, leaving Big Blue Nation stunned. Wisconsin would fall to an equally-as-loaded Duke team in the National Championship, but Kaminsky showed out with 21 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal.

Carsen-Edwards-Purdue
Carsen Edwards [Getty Images]

2019 – Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Stat line: 34.8 PTS, 4.8 REB, 2.0 AST, 7.0 3PG, 45.9% 3PT

Best game: Elite Eight vs. Virginia: 42 points (14-25 FG, 10-19 3PT)

Just two years ago - the last March Madness tournament played prior to this upcoming 2021 tournament - Edwards put on a historic scoring clinic.

He eased his way into the tournament with a light 26 points in the first round, which would end up being his lowest scoring output of his March Madness run. The fiery junior guard then exploded onto the scene against the defending champion Villanova Wildcats, erupting for 42 points on nine (!) 3-pointers to lead Purdue to the Sweet Sixteen. He hardly cooled off in the next round, going for 29 points to advance the Boilermakers to the Elite Eight.

Just when you thought you'd seen all Edwards has to offer, he went ballistic for another 42-point outing, this time knocking down 10 3-pointers against the eventual National Champion Virginia Cavaliers. If not for a miracle buzzer-beater that sent the game into overtime where Virginia would outlast Purdue, Edwards' unprecedented run would have continued.

His 28 3-pointers set an NCAA Tournament record, surpassing Glen Rice, who hit 27 3s in six games (two more games than Edwards). His 7.0 made 3s per game also set an NCAA Tournament record and he became the first player in NCAA history to make nine or more 3s in multiple games. His 34.8 points per game were the most March Madness has seen since 1990.

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