As college basketball fans gear up for tonight’s NCAA championship game between Villanova and Michigan, here’s a little history lesson.
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, followed by Kentucky with 8, North Carolina with 6 and Indiana and Duke with five apiece.
Here are the 10 most memorable championship 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. 2016: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 – Kris Jenkins hits a dramatic three pointer at the buzzer on a feed from Ryan Arcidiacono to give the Wildcats the win and their first championship in 31 years. UNC’s Marcus Paige had tied the game on a three with just 4.7 seconds left
4. 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.
5. 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 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.”
8. 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.
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.
10. 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.
Overtime…5 More Minutes, 6 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.
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.
This week, for the first time in more than 53 years, Madison Square Garden will play host to March Madness.
In the day the old MSG, located on the west end of Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets, was the mecca of college basketball. Between 1943 and 1950, seven NCAA championship games were held at the Garden. Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma State (twice), Holy Cross, Kentucky and CCNY were the winners. CCNY also won the NIT in 1950, the only team to win both tournaments in the same year.
- Wyoming’s Kenny Sailors, pioneer of the jump shot, led the Cowboys to the 1943 title over Georgetown. Wyoming then beat NIT champion St. John’s in a benefit game for the Red Cross.
- In the 1944 title game, Utah edged Dartmouth, which survived the East Regionals, also at Madison Square Garden. Utah was invited to participate in the NCAA tournament after an Arkansas coach was killed and two players were seriously injured in a car accident.
- Oklahoma State, then known as Oklahoma A&M, won back-to-back championships at the Garden in 1945 and 1946. Center Bob Kurland was named the outstanding player each year, playing for coach Hank Iba.
- In 1947, the Crusaders of Holy Cross defeated Oklahoma in the championship game at the Garden. Coached by Alvin “Doggie” Julian, the Cross was led by tournament outstanding player George Kaftan and a freshman point guard named Bob Cousy.
- Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats defeated Baylor in 1948, the first of four national titles for the Baron.
- The NCAA finals were held in Seattle in 1949, and returned to the Garden in 1950, where Nat Holman’s CCNY squad made history.
The following year, the NCAA tournament expanded from eight to 16 teams, and the Eastern Regional finals were held in New York for the last time.
On March 14, 1961, a first round tripleheader was held at Madison Square Garden. Princeton defeated George Washington, St. Bonaventure topped Rhode Island, and in the final game, Wake Forest trampled St. John’s. The Demon Deacons were led by Billy Packer, who was featured on the program cover that day and later made his mark as a CBS commentator.
St. Joseph’s (PA) won the East that year, but the NCAA later forced the Hawks to relinquish their third place finish in the tournament because of alleged student athlete involvement with a gambler.
All told, Madison Square Garden played host to 71 tournament games between 1943 and 1961, fourth on the all-time list behind the University of Dayton Arena (87), Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City (82), and the Jon M. Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City (81). MSG’s seven national championship games are second only to Kansas City’s 10.
The old Garden closed in early 1968, when MSG moved to its current location atop Penn Station.
If Kentucky wins the NCAAs, you can count on a Yankee parade down Broadway this fall.
The last six times Kentucky has won the NCAA men’s basketball title, the Yankees have gone on to win the World Series.
The Wildcats have won seven titles overall, second only to UCLA’s 11 and by far the most of any team in this year’s Final Four. Kansas has taken three, Louisville two and Ohio State one.
Kentucky won its first championship in 1948, the year the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Braves to win their last World Series.
Kentucky repeated in 1949, beating Oklahoma State in the final, under the tutelage of immortal coach Adolph Rupp, the “Baron of the Bluegrass.”
Rupp, fourth all-time with 876 victories, would go on to win in 1951 (against Kansas State) and 1958 (against Seattle) for a total of four championships.
Meanwhile the Yankees were winning five World Series in a row between 1949 and 1953 under another legendary leader, Casey Stengel. In 1958, the Yankees rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Braves.
It took Kentucky 20 years to return to the mountaintop, when coach Joe B. Hall’s Wildcats defeated Duke for the 1978 national championship. That fall, the Yankees rallied to knock off the Red Sox on Bucky Dent’s home run, then repeated against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Rick Pitino, now the head coach at Louisville (which meets Kentucky in a Final Four intra-state rivalry on Saturday), coached the Wildcats to the NCAA title in 1996. Two years later, coach Tubby Smith guided Kentucky to its last championship, against Utah.
Meanwhile, Joe Torre piloted the Yankees to World Series wins in 1996 (vs. the Braves) and 1998 (vs. the Padres).
Of the other Final Four finalists, Kansas won its first championship in 1952, followed by a Yankee win over the Dodgers. Ohio State’s only title occurred in 1960, the year the Yankees lost the Series to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates. And although the Yankees didn’t win the World Series following Louisville’s 1986 title run, the Mets did.
Kentucky is heavily favored to cut down the nets Monday night. And if they do, the Yankees can start planning a parade down Broadway
Get a load of these 10 potential Final Fours. Hey, it’s March Madness, anything is possible.
Wonderful World of Color Final Four
Duke Blue Devils
Alabama Crimson Tide
Carolina on My Mind Final Four
NC — Asheville
Top Cat Final Four
Kansas State Wildcats
Been There, Done That Final Four
UNLV (1 championship)
Marquette (1 championship)
Syracuse (1 championship)
Michigan (1 championship
Been There, Done That Redux Final Four
Kentucky (7 championships)
Florida (2 championships)
Cincinnati (2 championships)
North Carolina (5 championships)
Bless Me Father Final Four
Larry Bird Final Four
Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
What’s That Supposed to Mean Final Four
Saint Louis Billikens
Ohio State Buckeyes
Like Father, Like Son Final Four
Duke — Austin Rivers, Seth Curry
Missouri — Matt and Phil Pressey
Gonzaga — David Stockton
Michigan — Tim Hardaway Jr.
C What I Mean Final Four
Throughout history, the NCAA basketball tournament has been dominated by teams from the six major conferences — ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC. In fact, 61 of the 71 total championships — more than 85 percent — have been won from teams from one of these six conferences.
Not surprisingly, the Pac 10 is the overall leader with 15, led by UCLA. The Bruins have won 11 NCAAs overall — 10 under John Wooden, including seven in a row from 1967 through 1973.
The ACC is next with 11 titles, led by five by North Carolina, three from Duke and two from NC State.
The Big East, Big 10 and SEC are even with 10 total titles apiece. Multiple winners are Kentucky (SEC) with seven; Indiana (Big 10) with five, and Michigan State (Big 10), Florida (SEC) and Cincinnati, Louisville and UConn (all Big East) with two apiece.
Kansas has won three of the five Big 12 NCAA championships and Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) the other two.
CCNY Now in CUNY
The other 10 championships are divided amongst the Mountain West (Wyoming, Utah and UNLV); West Coast (San Francisco twice); and Patriot League (Holy Cross); CUNY (CCNY); Atlantic 10 (LaSalle); Horizon (Loyola of Chicago); and Conference USA (Texas Western, now UTEP).
CCNY, which remains the only team to win both NCAA and NIT championships in the same year, 1950. The Beavers now face the likes of Baruch, Lehman and Hunter in the City University of New York (CUNY) Athletic Conference.
Butler could join the Ramblers of Loyola Chicago as the only Horizon League champions. Loyola Chicago beat two-time champion Cincinnati in overtime to win the crown in 1963.
Duke aims for its fourth championship overall and first since 2001 — all under Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K is looking to tie Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp for second all time behind Wooden with four championships.
Footnote: Of course, many of these conferences did not exist when Oregon won the first NCAA tournament in 1939. The championship tallies above are based on where the schools play today.
Do the math. The Boston Celtics have won 16 NBA titles, the Los Angeles (nee Minneapolis) Lakers 14. When the 62nd NBA Finals are completed in a few weeks, the Celtics and the Lakers will have combined for 31 titles, exactly half of the 62 championships. This is their 11th meeting in the finals, another NBA record.
What about the other sports?. Who are the champions of championships?
It starts with the New York Yankees, the king of champions. The Yankees have won 26 World Series, the most in any of the North American team sports. That’s more than double the number of championships won by the St. Louis Cardinals (10) and Philadelphia-Oakland A’s (9).
In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers have each won five Super Bowls. The Green Packers have won nine total NFL titles and the Chicago Bears 7 since the first NFL championship game in 1933.
In hockey, the Montreal Canadiens, Les Habitants, are far away the ring-leaders with 23 Stanley Cups. The Habs are followed by the Toronto Arenas-St. Pats-Maple Leafs with 13 and the Detroit Red Wings with 11, including this year’s Stanley Cup.
UCLA has won 11 NCAA basketball championships and Kentucky seven since the advent of the NCAA tournament in 1939. Kentucky also won a national championship in 1933.
Notre Dame is the king of college football with 13 national championships, including nine since the polls were first instituted in 1936. In the so-called “early years” of college football (1869-1935), Yale won 18 championships and Princeton 17. All told, Alabama and USC have each won 10 total football championships, seven apiece since 1936.