Rating the top 10 title games in NCAA tournament history means spanning the first 80 years to find the exciting finishes, the big-time upsets and most of all the moments that still stand tall over time. As entertaining as the past couple of weeks of this year’s NCAA tournament have been, it will take a lot for Monday’s national championship game to crack this list:
1957: Tar Heels defeat Wilt’s Jayhawks in three OTs
Nearly 10 years before five black players made history to win the title, Wilt Chamberlain literally towered over college basketball with his long arms and 7-1 frame, but North Carolina won its first championship and went undefeated after a 54-53 triple-overtime victory.
1966: Texas Western breaks racial barriers
Adolph Rupp and Pat Riley, two of the most prominent names in basketball history, were both part of this historic game, but on the losing side for Kentucky. Texas Western became the first team to win the NCAA title with a starting lineup of all black players — smashing the stereotype that existed in that period of segregation.
1979: Magic vs. Bird
Michigan State’s Magic Johnson vs. Indiana State’s Larry Bird — it’s hard to imagine a more intriguing individual matchup ever coming along. It’s still the most watched championship game in the sport’s history. Johnson, with the Lakers, and Larry Bird, with the Celtics, went on to become legendary rivals in the NBA.
1982: MJ before MJ
Before he was Air Jordan, Michael Jordan was a talented freshman on a North Carolina squad led by Sam Perkins and James Worthy. In maybe the first true glimpse of his greatness, Jordan’s jumper from the left wing with 17 seconds left beat Patrick Ewing and Georgetown 63-62.
1983: North Carolina State pulls off a miracle
How do you beat a Houston team led by two future Hall of Famers and with maybe the coolest nickname of all time in Phi Slama Jama? The answer is get Clyde Drexler in foul trouble and then foil Akeem (later Hakeem) Olajuwon on a buzzer-beater. Dereck Whittenburg’s desperation heave went short, but Lorenzo Charles was there for the winning putback dunk. We can still picture Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano running around the court trying to find someone to hug.
1985: Eighth-seeded Nova over top seed Georgetown
Before the term “Cinderella” became embedded in college hoops-speak in March, Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Villanova team knocked off John Thompson’s No. 1-ranked Georgetown team led by All-America Patrick Ewing, shooting 78.6 percent from the field. Villanova remains the lowest seed to win the NCAA tournament, which expanded that year to 64 teams.
1987: Smart’s pull-up jumper shocks Syracuse
Not many Indiana legends get bigger than Keith Smart, whose jumper with four seconds remaining beat Derrick Coleman-led Syracuse. That would be the last of Bobby Knight’s four NCAA titles.
1989: Before the Fab Five
There has been so much talk about the Fab Five in the past 25 years that it’s easy to overlook the great Michigan team that came before them — and actually won the national title. Glen Rice’s outside shooting and NCAA tournament-record 184 points in six games helped fuel the Wolverines. But it was Rumeal Robinson’s two free throws in overtime against Seton Hall that iced it for then-interim coach Steve Fisher’s squad.
2008: Kansas beats Memphis in overtime
The last 2.1 seconds of regulation will go down as one of the most exciting moments in history with Jayhawks guard Mario Chalmers providing his own shot for the ages, a three-pointer to send the game into overtime. Timberwolves guard Derrick Rose was on the losing end with Memphis, 75-68.
2016: Villanova and ‘The Shot’
The Wildcats never seemed to be able to recapture the magic in the NCAA tournament in the decades after winning it all in 1985. Their national championship drought would finally end, though, with another memorable game and Kris Jenkins’ now-classic last-second three-pointer to beat North Carolina in the first of two Jay Wright titles in the span of three seasons.