The 5 Biggest NCAA Basketball Tournament Controversies

Published 02/14/2021, 6:44 AM EST


The NCAA Division I tournament has seen plenty of drama and controversies since its inception. Basketball is an intense sport but there is always room for human errors or even technical glitches that can cause trouble during a game. 

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There are several controversial moments that still reside in the hearts of die-hard college hoops fans. NCAA Basketball always lives up to its standard, but there are moments when things went completely wrong in a lot of aspects. 

Five biggest controversies that transpired in the NCAA Division I tournament 

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  • Seton Hall vs Michigan – 1989 Championship Game

Seton Hall and the Michigan Wolverines faced off in an epic clash in the 1989 championship game at Seattle, Washington. The game went so close and the teams eventually pushed it into overtime, which is when a very questionable moment happened. 

Seton Hall was leading 79-78, but official John Clougherty called a late foul on Gerald Green who practically didn’t do anything against Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson who was driving into the lane, attempting to make a pass. 

The official fouled Green for bumping into Robinson, which awarded the latter a couple of free-throws. Robinson converted them and gave Michigan the lead, following which Seton Hall had only three seconds to convert a basket. 

They failed to do it in their last possession, which handed the Michigan Wolverines their first-ever National Championship. Following the game, Rumeal Robinson explicitly mentioned that he thought the foul call was a bit soft and that Green hadn’t done anything wrong. 

  • Kentucky vs Wisconsin – 2015 Final Four 

It was a big-time Final Four game between the unbeaten Kentucky Wildcats and the Wisconsin Badgers. With just 2:44 remaining on the clock, Wisconsin, who were trailing by two points, got an inbound from Kentucky’s end with just three seconds remaining on the shot clock. 

Badgers’ Nigel Hayes received possession from the inbound pass, lost it at the paint, but retrieved it and quickly converted the two-pointer. Wisconsin got back on level terms with Kentucky, but the Wildcats players were screaming about a shot clock violation.

The officials didn’t heed to Kentucky’s pleads, but replays later showed that Wisconsin had violated the shot clock as Hayes released the ball after the timer had expired. But a technical glitch made it go unnoticed, and Wisconsin largely benefited from it and went on to win the game. 

  • Wisconsin vs Duke – 2015 National Championship 

The Duke Blue Devils were leading by five points against Wisconsin when there were less than two minutes to play in the National Championship game. 

Badgers’ Bronson Koenig made an effort for a layup in the dying minutes which was blocked by Jahlil Okafor, after which there was a scrum for the rebound.

The ball eventually went out of bounds and the officials awarded the possession to Duke, thinking it was a Badgers player who got the final touch. Time quickly flew by and Duke won the game 68-63. 

However, a controversy stirred up post-game when alternate replays accused Okafor of getting the final touch of the ball. The officials did not look at this angle when awarding the call due to which they faced massive scrutiny. 

It should’ve been Wisconsin’s possession for that play, but the officials made a blunder with their call. 

  • Tennessee vs Purdue, 2019 Sweet 16

This remains to be one of the most controversial moments in the NCAA tournament history. The Purdue Boilermakers blew an 18-point second-half lead against the Tennessee Volunteers, and they were down by two with less than ten seconds of regulation remaining. 

Purdue’s Carsen Edwards made an effort from the three-point line to seal the game for his team, but missed the shot and was fouled by Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner in the dying seconds. 

Turner was called for hip-checking which in turn awarded Edwards three crucial free-throws. He made two out of three which sent the game into overtime. But even before the game progressed to that stage, the internet was bursting with videos that disproved the call against Turner who did nothing to commit the foul. 

Purdue then went on to win the game 99-94 in OT, but the foul call remains extremely controversial to date. 

  • Michigan vs North Carolina – 1993 Championship game

Who can ever forget Chriss Webber’s infamous timeout call during the 1993 NCAA Championship game between the Michigan Wolverines and the North Carolina Tar Heels? The moment, which is regarded as ‘The Timeout,’ took place on April 5, 1993, and about 33 million people were watching the game. 

Michigan’s Chris Webber secured a defensive timeout with just 11 seconds remaining on the clock and attempted to call for a timeout when his team didn’t have any.

The Wolverines were trailing 71-73, and when Webber saw that the play was going on, he traveled with the ball and then was double-teamed at the wing, after which he screamed for another timeout. 

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This time, the officials intervened and called a technical foul on Webber which effectively ended the game and Michigan’s hopes of winning the National Championship. North Carolina made all the free throws it got in the final seconds and soared to a six-point victory. 

Chris Webber’s infamous timeout call is one of the most iconic moments in NCAA history. A lack of mental awareness led to Webber calling for timeout multiple times, but it ended in agony for him and the Michigan Wolverines. 

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Arjun Athreya

1928 articles

Arjun Athreya is a senior writer at Essentially Sports and has been contributing since early 2020. Having developed an avid interest in sports at an early age, he pursued a Journalism degree and graduated from Madras Christian College. Arjun manages the Golf division and its content, and primarily covers news pertaining to the NBA as well.

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