In my bracket, I had Kentucky and UNC. The two best teams, I figured, should meet again to determine the 2012 championship. Then Kendall Marshall was taken out in the air by a lumbering big man in the round of 32, and everything was turned on its head. Kentucky might look like runaway favorites tonight with a top six that could probably play with any core group of any college team in the past 20 years. But we’ve seen upsets before. In college basketball, sometimes talent can be trumped by experience, and Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson have a history together. It’s not likely they’ll lead Kansas to yet another championship upset over John Calipari. But it’s not out of the question either.
I’m just hoping for a great game. There’s enough talent to make it memorable. But to become one of the best championship games, it’ll take more than talent.
Here are the 10 best NCAA Championship Games ever.
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10. 1997: Arizona vs. Kentucky
The ‘Cats were my favorite college team of all time, so since this is my list, I’m including them over Butler/Duke in 2010 (Even though it was almost the most improbable champion ever) and UNC/Kansas in 1957 (Even though Wilt Chamberlain was involved in this three overtime game. Too bad hardly anyone even scored in the overtime periods.). This Arizona team is the only team to ever beat three No. 1 seeds in the tournament, and included a backcourt of Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson with Jason Terry off the bench. In this game, ‘Zona pulled off the upset in overtime behind Tournament MOP, Simon.
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9. 1989: Michigan vs. Seton Hall
Somewhat overlooked because it lacked a defining moment, this was still one of the best championship games of all time, and definitely in the top three or four of the past 23 years. Rumeal Robinson made two free throws to lift the Wolverines to a one-point overtime win, but it was Glen Rice who was the difference. He took time off from banging Sarah Palin to drop 31 points.
8. 1987: Indiana vs. Syracuse
Even as a graduate of ‘Cuse, I realize how spectacular this game was. It was Bobby Knight‘s third championship, and featured a number of well-known players: Steve Alford, Dean Garrett, Derrick Coleman, Rony Seikaly and Sherman Douglas. It ended up being Indiana’s Keith Smart who was the difference, his corner jumper winning it for Knight, 74-73. Still, I can’t condone calling this “The Shot.” There’s only one shot in basketball history that deserves that nickname. You should know who I’m talking about…
7. 2008: Memphis vs. Kansas
I once played on an intramural team that was eerily similar to the 2008 Memphis squad. We destroyed everyone all year; no one came close to beating us. We were just better: more athletic and more skilled. But then we had a weekend tournament for the right to go to Boston for the national championships, and lost after blowing a nine-point lead in the last two minutes and overtime. That’s exactly what happened here. Memphis was up nine with barely two minutes to go before forgetting how to make a free throw (At least this wasn’t a fluke. They had problems from the stripe all season.). Then after Mario Chalmers made a game-tying triple, the Jayhawks used overtime to kill Derrick Rose (who looked unreal for parts of the game) and the Tigers’ near-perfect season.
6. 1999: Duke vs. UConn
In terms of name recognition, this classic was one of the best March Madness championship games of the past 20 years. UConn was headlined by players like Richard Hamilton (before the mask), Ricky Moore and Khalid El-Amin. Duke came into the game at 37-1, and as EASILY the best team in America. They were so good and so talented that Corey Maggette was coming off the bench. I remember watching the introductions thinking, “There’s no way anyone can beat Duke.” William Avery and Trajan Langdon went on to be first round busts in the NBA, but as Dukies, they were seemingly unflappable. Yet on this night, that backcourt was dominated by Moore and El-Amin. In the closing seconds, UConn’s pudgy point guard (everyone forgets how loveable he was) hit a floater, and Moore ripped Langdon off the bounce to win it 77-74.
5. 1982: UNC vs. Georgetown
Of course, it’s hard to top a game that comes down to a final shot, a jumper that propelled a young, skinny freshman towards eventually becoming the greatest player of all time. If you grew up at any time in the ’80s or ’90s, then you were probably an MJ fan, and if you were a fan of No. 23, then you’ve probably seen him swish that 17-footer on Patrick Ewing and John Thompson‘s Hoyas at least 100 times. This game gets extra credit for having a crazy start (Ewing goal-tended five shots in the first few minutes) and a crazy ending (Fred Brown threw the ball right to James Worthy on the game’s biggest possession).
4. 1966: Texas Western vs. Kentucky
You might’ve seen the Hollywood version before. “Glory Road” documented the history that was made on a Saturday night, March 19, 1966, in the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House. Texas Western’s coach, Don Haskins, started five black players that night even as Kentucky fans waved a Confederate flag in the stands. It was the first time ANYONE had ever done that, and they backed it up with a seven-point win. Friends of the Kentucky coach have said that Adolph Rupp was so upset he carried the loss with him to his grave.
3. 1985: Villanova vs. Georgetown
Georgetown was a 10-point favorite coming in against No. 8-seeded ‘Nova. But when any team – even if they were just an eight seed – misses one shot over the entire second half, as well as shooting 22-for-28 for the game, the predictions go out the window. Ed Pinckney (16 points) and the ‘Cats became the lowest-seeded team to EVER win a championship, 66-64.
2. 1979: Michigan State vs. Indiana State
Once the game tipped off, the drama dissipated. Okay, so the Spartans won by 11 and were clearly the better team. You might be wondering why exactly then is this game the second-best NCAA Championship ever. Two names: Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Those two were nearly the sole reasons this game is still the highest rated college basketball game ever. Documentaries were made about this night. Commercials were spawned. And perhaps most importantly, a rivalry was conceived in Michigan State’s 75-64 win that would go on to change professional basketball forever.
1. N.C. State vs. Houston
It doesn’t get anymore classic than Lorenzo Charles dunking home an air ball and Jim Valvano racing around the court searching for something to hug. The second half of the 1983 NCAA Championship began with a predictable 15-2 spurt from the favorites of “Phi Slamma Jamma” fame, which put them in a position to wrap up the title that was meant for them. The Wolfpack slowed the game down, and eventually came through with perhaps the greatest upset in NCAA Championship history.
What do you think was the best NCAA Championship?
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