Top 10: Best NCAA Championship Games

North Carolina’s Michael Jordan shoots down Georgetown for 1982 NCAA title.

Since the NCAA basketball tournament began in 1939, there have been great dynasties like UCLA, which won 10 titles in 12 years beginning in 1964. There have been great players like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton,  Larry Bird and Magic Johnson,  Michael Jordan and Christian Laettner.

There have been watershed games that changed the sociological face of America and enhanced the popularity of the college game, bringing words like March Madness and Final Four into the American lexicon.

There have been seven overtime games, including a triple overtime classic between North Carolina and Kansas in 1957.  Six games have been decided by a single point.

UCLA has won the most titles with 11, following by Kentucky with 7, Indiana with 5 and North Carolina with 4.

Here are the 10 most memorable games in NCAA basketball history:

1. 1979 — Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64 — Many call this the most important college basketball game ever played; with a 24.1 Nielsen rating it is the highest rated basketball game ever. It was the game that put college basketball, March Madness and the Final Four on the map. Oh yes, and Magic Johnson, shown right, outscored Larry Bird 24 to 19 in Michigan State’s win.

2. 1966 — Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 — Another watershed game, as an all-black Texas Western starting five surprised Kentucky. Soon after, Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. the Baron, began recruiting black players, breaking down barriers throughout the South. In 2006, the film “Glory Road” dramatized the game and Texas Western coach Don Haskins.

3. 1957 — North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 (3OT) — The unbeaten Tar Heels outlasted Wilt Chamberlain and the Jayhawks in the longest game in NCAA championship game history. Two free throws by Joe Quigg with six seconds left made the difference. UNC also played three overtimes in the semis, beating Michigan State.

4. 1983 — NC State 54, Houston 52 — The Wolfpack, sixth seeded with 10 losses during the season, won when it mattered most as Lorenzo Charles putback dunk, pictured below, at the final buzzer upset Houston’s heavily favored Phi Slama Jama. Few will ever forget  the site of NC State coach Jim Valvano racing around the court looking for somebody to hug after the final buzzer.

5. 1985 — Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 — In a shocker, the Wildcats shot a tournament record .786 percent. They attempted 10 field goals in the second half and made nine. Georgetown was defending champion and the top seed, but fell short against eighth-seeded Villanova after beating another Big East foe, St. John’s, in the semis.

6. 1982 — North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62 –– This was Michael Jordan’s coming out party,  and the freshman hit the game-winning shot, a 16-foot jumper with 15 seconds left, to give Tar Heel coach Dean Smith his first national championship. “I was all kinds of nervous,” Jordan said, “but I didn’t have time to think about doubts. I had a feeling it was going to go in.”

7. 1950 — CCNY 71, Bradley 68 — City College of New York (CCNY) legendary coach Nat Holman, a New York native and a star with the Original Celtics,  led the Beavers to wins against Bradley in both the NCAA and the NIT, both at Madison Square Garden. CCNY remains the only team to win both the NCAA and the NIT in the same season.

8. 1987 — Indiana 74, Syracuse 73 — Keith Smart’s 16-foot baseline jumper with five seconds remaining gave the Hoosiers a victory in a matchup of Hall of Fame coaches, Indiana’s Bob Knights versus Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Seven three-point baskets by IU’s Steve Alford combined with the Orangemen’s futility from the foul line were just enough to give Indiana the win.

9. 1973 — UCLA 87, Memphis State 66 — UCLA won its seventh NCAA championship  behind center Bill Walton, shown right, who made 21 of 22 shots for 44 points as the Bruins waltzed to another victory. Overall, the UCLA dynasty would capture 10 crowns in 12 years under coach John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood.

10. 1944 — Utah 42, Dartmouth 40 (OT) — Utah originally turned down an invitation to the NCAA tournament, but was given a second chance after losing in the NIT, and after Arkansas pulled out of the tourney after two players were injured in an automobile accident.  The Utes were the youngest NCAA champion in history; the team’s average age was 18 years, six months.

Overtime…5 More Minutes, 5 More Classics

2008 — Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT) — Kansas was down with 2:12 left in regulation but missed Memphis free throws left the door open, and the Jayhawks finally tied  the score on Mario Chalmers three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining. Kansas then dominated the overtime to win its first championship in 20 years.

1997 – Arizona 84, Kentucky 79 (OT) – Guards Miles Simon and Mike Bibby combined for 49 points to give Arizona the championship. Coach Lute Olson’s fourth-seeded Wildcats became the first team to beat three No. 1 seeds en route to a title.

1989 — Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 (OT) — Rumeal Robinson made a pair of free throws with three seconds left following a controversial foul call to give the Wolverines the win in the NCAAs first overtime game since 1963. Seton Hall rallied from a 12-point deficit to send the game into overtime on John Morton’s three-pointer with 24 seconds left in regulation.

1963 – Loyola of Chicago 60, Cincinnati 58 (OT) – Down 15 with 12 minutes to play, the Ramblers scrambled back to force overtime. Then Vic Rouse’s rebound basket with one second left gave Loyola the championship.

1961 — Cincinnati 70, Ohio State 65 (OT) — In an all-Ohio finale, Cincinnati, minus the great Oscar Robertson, who had graduated, beat defending champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes roster included Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. The Bearcats would go on to repeat in 1962, once again beating OSU.

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5 Comments on “Top 10: Best NCAA Championship Games”

  1. blask22 says:

    Sorry but I think your way off.

    Number 1 cant be the Larry Bird vs Magic game it wasn’t even that good of a game. It was never close because they knew how to stop Bird. That game from last year between Memphis and Kansas needs to crack your top 10 as well as the Seton Hall game in 1989.

  2. sportslifer says:

    Thanks for your comment. Certainly there were better games than Magic vs. Bird, but none more memorable. The 1979 final put the NCAA tournament on the map.

  3. Larry Galardi says:

    This is pretty good collection of all-time great games. And I certainly agree with your list of Bill Russell, Wilt the Stilt, the Big O, Jerry West, Kareem, that dork, Bill Walton, Bird, Magic, Michael, and Christian Laettner. That said, if you could cite Mike Bibby (a fantasy hoops bust this year), then I have to provide one addendum with even more Final Four star power.

    Consider Patrick Ewing. While at Georgetown University, he led the Hoyas to the NCAA Finals three times and won the NCAA Championship in his junior year (1984). Ewing was named the NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, the Sporting News College Player of the Year, and he was awarded the Naismith Award that year as well. While he lost the games you cited above, there’s no denying his presence in the 1984 Final Four.

    Thanks Mr. Sportslifer.

  4. sportslifer says:

    Thanks for the response Larry. You make a good point about Ewing — he’s one of many I could have added to the list, and he did play in three championship games — beating Houston and losing in dramatic fashion to both North Carolina and Villanova. Some of those other centers were two-time winners, ie Russell, Alcindor, Walton and Laettner.

  5. […] Blog: Top 10 Championship Games in Final Four History Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Highlights of Northern Iowa’s win over […]


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