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The 10 Best NCAA Championship Games in History

Sean BielawskiContributor IIIJanuary 10, 2017

The 10 Best NCAA Championship Games in History

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    Tonight, Louisville and Michigan will meet in one of the more anticipated NCAA championship games in recent memory.

    Throughout the history of the tournament, there have been fantastic performances with great drama on the sport's biggest stage. From last-second shots to late-game gaffes, NCAA tournament title games have produced plenty of memorable moments.

    The Cardinals and Wolverines have their work cut out for them if they want to make it on this list.

    Here are the 10 best NCAA championship games in the tournament’s history.

10. 1979 Michigan State vs. Indiana State

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    Result: Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64

     

    Why It is Remembered

    This game was the beginning of the rivalry between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and it was a matchup that captivated the masses, bringing college basketball into the mainstream.  It's still the most-watched college basketball game in history with over 35.11 million viewers, h/t Yahoo.

    Indiana State entered the game undefeated, but Michigan State proved to be too much for the Sycamores. Johnson had 24 points and seven rebounds on his way to being named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

    Bird had 19 points and 13 rebounds, but he made just 7-of-21 from the field.

9. 2008 Kansas vs. Memphis

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    Result: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT)

     

    Why It is Remembered

    Memphis led by nine points with just over two minutes to go in regulation, and it looked like John Calipari was on his way to winning his first national title. However, the Tigers struggled from the free-throw line, missing four of their last five attempts in regulation.

    Kansas took full advantage, scoring 12 points in the final two minutes to overcome the deficit. With 10.8 seconds left, Memphis freshman point guard Derrick Rose made one of two free throws to push the lead to three. Kansas then raced the ball down the court, and Sherron Collins handed it off to Mario Chalmers. He drained a three with 2.1 seconds left to send the game to overtime.

    The Jayhawks proceeded to score the first six points of overtime and won their first national title since 1988.

8. 1966 Texas Western vs. Kentucky

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    Result: Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65

     

    Why It is Remembered

    Texas Western made history, becoming the first team to win a national title while starting five black players. The Miners defeated Adolph Rupp and top-ranked Kentucky, led by Louie Dampier and Pat Riley.

    The win was hardly a fluke. Texas Western entered the NCAA tournament ranked No. 3 in the country, and with the win, the Miners finished the season 28-1.

    While the game itself was not as riveting as some on this list, it was yet another example of sports playing a role in breaking down racial barriers and stereotypes.

7. 1993 North Carolina vs. Michigan

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    Result: North Carolina 77, Michigan 71

     

    Why It is Remembered

    Michigan and the Fab Five were in their second straight national title game. They faced a 73-71 deficit but had the ball with just over 20 seconds to go after Chris Webber rebounded a Pat Sullivan missed free throw.

    From that point, nothing went right for Webber. First off, he dragged his pivot foot as he was about to pass to the guards who deserted him in the backcourt. That "traveling violation" was not called, and he proceeded to dribble the ball up the floor.

    Webber took the ball all the way down to the right wing where he was trapped. He then called a timeout, but unfortunately, the Wolverines had already used their allotment of timeouts. The result was a technical foul, and the Tar Heels went on to win, 77-71, for Dean Smith’s second and final national title.

6. 1989 Michigan vs. Seton Hall

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    Result: Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 (OT)

     

    Why It is Remembered

    Prior to the NCAA tournament, Michigan coach Bill Frieder announced he was heading to Arizona State after the season. That did not sit well with Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler, so he fired Frieder. Steve Fisher, Frieder’s top assistant with no collegiate head coaching experience, was then appointed interim head coach.

    From there, Glen Rice put Michigan on his back, scoring 184 points over six games to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. In the title game against Seton Hall, Rice had 31 points.

    However, it was Rumeal Robinson who hit two free throws with three seconds left in overtime to push Michigan past the Pirates.  

5. 1987 Indiana vs. Syracuse

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    Result: Indiana 74, Syracuse 73

     

    Why It is Remembered

    Indiana’s Keith Smart, a junior college transfer, will forever be remembered in the college basketball world for his performance against Syracuse in the national title game.

    Smart, the team’s fifth-leading scorer on the season, scored 17 second-half points and hit a jumper from the left baseline with under five seconds left to put the Hoosiers ahead by a point.

    Smart’s performance earned him Most Outstanding Player honors. It also gave Indiana coach Bob Knight his third and final national championship. 

4. 1957 North Carolina vs. Kansas

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    Result: North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 (3OT)

     

    Why It is Remembered

    North Carolina entered the national title game undefeated, but Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain were standing in the way of the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament title.

    Tar Heels coach Frank McGuire famously sent 5’11” Tommy Kearns to face Chamberlain in the opening jump ball, putting his other four players in a zone defense underneath the basket.

    The overtimes featured plenty of stalling as each team scored just two points in the first two extra periods. Then, North Carolina outscored Kansas 6-5 in the third overtime, eventually pulling ahead thanks to a pair of late free throws by Joe Quigg.

3. 1982 North Carolina vs. Georgetown

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    Result: North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62

     

    Why It is Remembered

    The 1982 title game featured plenty of star power. Georgetown was led by Patrick Ewing while North Carolina had Sam Perkins and James Worthy.

    However, it was a freshman who stole the spotlight late in the game when young Michael Jordan hit a shot from the left wing with 17 seconds left to put the Tar Heels ahead, 63-62.

    What happened next was one of the more strange plays in Final Four history. Georgetown rushed the ball up the court, but Hoyas guard Fred Brown mistakenly threw the ball right to Worthy.

    Worthy missed both free throws, but Georgetown was only able to get off a desperation heave that fell short, giving Dean Smith his first national title.

2. 1983 N.C. State vs. Houston

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    Result: N.C. State 54, Houston 52

     

    Why It is Remembered

    The Wolfpack were heavy underdogs against Houston’s high-flying attack known as “Phi Slama Jama.” The Cougars were led by Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, and they had just beaten second-ranked Louisville in the national semifinals.

    N.C. State had several close calls on its way to the Final Four. The Wolfpack beat Pepperdine by two in double overtime in the first round, UNLV by one in the second round and Virginia by one in the Elite Eight.

    With the score tied against Houston, Dereck Whittenburg put up a desperation shot from about 30 feet with seconds left on the clock. The shot was way off, but Lorenzo Charles nabbed the ball out of the air and dunked it home right before the buzzer sounded for the win.

    The result was one of the most iconic moments in NCAA tournament history, as Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano ran around the floor desperately looking for someone to hug.

1. 1985: Villanova vs. Georgetown

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    Result: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64

     

    Why It is Remembered

    The 1985 national title game capped off the most improbable run in NCAA tournament history as Villanova won the national title as a No. 8 seed in the first year the tournament expanded to 64 teams. The Wildcats are still the lowest seed ever to cut down the nets.

    As for the game, Villanova played as close to perfect as a team can play to upset the Hoyas, who were looking for their second consecutive national title. The Wildcats shot 78.6 percent for the game and missed one shot the entire second half.

    Villanova’s Ed Pinckney was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He had 16 points and six rebounds in the championship game.

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