March Madness has long been reserved for the storylines of Danny Manning, Christian Laettner and Cinderella, but quick hands on the defensive end of the floor are a way for any college basketball player to steal the spotlight – literally.

In the men’s basketball tournament, teams turn up the defensive pressure to simply survive and advance, and it often leads to thievery at its finest. A picked pocket or a tipped pass can create a steal and prove how, in reversing the adage, the best offense is a good defense.

Make that great defense with the players and teams that have recorded the most steals in a single game.

We dive into the NCAA Division I record book to explore who has done it best in the NCAA Tournament.

T-1. 8 – JD Notae, Arkansas vs. New Mexico State, Second Round (March 19, 2022)

While the guard’s name is pronounced No-Tay, it was more “No Way” for New Mexico State ball handlers. He finished with 18 points (hitting 7 of 8 on free throws) and eight steals in a 53-48 victory. One game later, Notae poured in a team-high 21 points as the Razorbacks took down No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

Arkansas guard JD Notae, right, closes in on New Mexico State’s Johnny McCants. (Associated Press)

T-1. 8* – Russ Smith, Louisville vs. North Carolina A&T, First Round (March 21, 2013)

Smith told Louisville coach Rick Pitino that he played like a blender – just moving around and around. He hit on four of his field-goal attempts and assisted on a teammate’s dunk directly off his career high in steals, finishing with a game-high 23 points in the Cardinals’ 79-48 rout.

T-1. 8 – Ty Lawson, North Carolina vs. Michigan State, National Championship (April 6, 2009)

Five months earlier, Lawson had seven steals in a regular season win over Michigan State. He then picked the right time to one-up the performance with a career-high eight as the Tar Heels again beat the Spartans 89-72 to claim the fifth of their program’s six national championships. Lawson sank 25 free throws in two Final Four wins, posting game-high point totals against Villanova (22) and Michigan State (21).

UNC’s Ty Lawson had a team-high 75 steals in the 2008-09 national championship season. (Associated Press)

T-1. 8 – Duane Clemens, Ball State vs. UCLA, First Round (March 16, 2000)

Ball State had a lead over UCLA five minutes into the second half, but it failed to hold on for an upset, falling 65-57. Still, Clemens set the tone on defense while finishing off a productive career in second place on the Cardinals’ career steals list (249). Keeping with the theme above, Clemens also led his team in scoring with 16 points.

T-1. 8 – Grant Hill, Duke vs. California, Second Round (March 20, 1993)

Duke was the two-time reigning national champion and had been to the Final Four in each of the previous five seasons when it was stunned 82-77 by a Cal squad which featured Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray. Hill’s ability to produce steals was part of his two-way excellence, as he received the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ defensive player of the year award that season.

T-1. 8 – Darrell Hawkins, Arkansas vs. Holy Cross, First Round (March 18, 1993)

Arkansas’ famed “40 Minutes of Hell” full-court pressure defense forced Holy Cross into a whopping 30 turnovers, with the 6-foot-5 forward Hawkins leading the way with eight steals among the Razorbacks’ 18 overall. Hawkins’ total wasn’t even Arkansas’ season high as Robert Shephard had nine steals against Arizona in the regular season.  

  • T-7. 7 – Tommy Amaker, Duke vs. Old Dominion (March 15, 1986)
  • T-7. 7 – Tommy Amaker, Duke vs. Louisville (March 31, 1986)

A large group of players have each collected seven steals in an NCAA Tournament game. Notably on the list is Amaker, who had seven steals twice in a span of five games in March 1986 – against Old Dominion in the second round and in a loss to Louisville in the national championship game.

  • T-7. 7 – Reggie Miller, UCLA vs. Wyoming (March 14, 1997)
  • T-7. 7 – Delray Brooks, Providence vs. Austin Peay, OT (March 14, 1987)
  • T-7. 7 – Ricky Grace, Oklahoma vs. Iowa, OT (March 20, 1987)
  • T-7. 7 – Mookie Blaylock, Oklahoma vs. Kansas (April 4, 1988)
  • T-7. 7 – Scott Burrell, UConn vs. Xavier (March 16, 1991)
  • T-7. 7 – Ted Ellis, Manhattan vs. Oklahoma (March 16, 1995)
  • T-7. 7 – Kawika Akina, Northern Arizona vs. Cincinnati (March 12, 1998)
  • T-7. 7 – T.J. Ford, Texas vs. Oregon (March 22, 2002)
  • T-7. 7 – Zakee Wadood, ETSU vs. Wake Forest (March 21, 2003)
  • T-7. 7 – Jamon Gordon, Virginia Tech vs. Illinois (March 16, 2007)
  • T-7. 7 – Darryl Proctor, UMBC vs. Georgetown (March 21, 2008)
  • T-7. 7 – Brent Arrington, Mississippi Valley State vs. Western Kentucky (March 13, 2012)
  • T-7. 7* – Edgar Padilla, Massachusetts vs. UCF (March 14, 1996)

(*Program vacated wins due to NCAA infractions)

20* – Louisville (2013)

Smith led the way in the 2013 victory over North Carolina A&T as Louisville collected the most steals in an NCAA Tournament game (Wayne Blackshear and Peyton Siva added four each). The Cardinals went on to capture the national title, but five years later, their program was forced to vacate the title and wins in their 2011-12 through 2014-15 season due to NCAA infractions. As a result, the NCAA recognizes 19 steals as the team high in an NCAA Tournament game.

19 – Washington (2006)/Providence (1987)/UConn (1990)

Delray Brooks had seven of Providence’s 19 steals in an overtime win over Austin Peay in the 1987 second round and UConn had the same total in a first-round win over Boston U. in 1990, with Scott Burrell and Tate George collecting four each. Mike Jensen and Jamaal Williams had four steals each as Washington totaled 19 against UConn in 2006, but it occurred in a regional semifinal loss.

  • 18 – Xavier vs. Kansas (March 18, 1988)
  • 18 – Arkansas vs. Holy Cross (March 18, 1993)
  • 18 – Louisville vs. Tulsa (March 15, 1996)
  • 18 – Mississippi Valley State vs. Georgetown (March 15, 1996)
  • 18 – Penn State vs. North Carolina (March 18, 2001)

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