One Shining Moment: NCAA Tournament's Top 5 Championship Finals

Danny WaldoContributor IApril 3, 2011

One Shining Moment: NCAA Tournament's Top 5 Championship Finals

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    Kentucky clipped the nets in 1998.Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    They call it March Madness. After three weeks of clutch plays, heart-stopping action and upsets galore, narrowing down the field through three weekends of nail-biters, the college basketball season culminates with one last spectacle: the Final Four.

    Though much of the early action in the tournament gets the most recognition, with lower seeds knocking off power conferences with more regularity these days, the finals have been grounds for some instant classics as well.

    There have been buzzer beaters, colossal upsets and unlikely comebacks.

    As we head into Monday night's match-up between UConn and Butler, here's a look at the top five NCAA finals.

5. 1998 Comeback 'Cats

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    The 1998 finals matchup between the Kentucky Wildcats and Utah Utes was notable for a couple of reasons. First, the Utes knocked off a favored North Carolina Tar Heels in the National Semifinals to reach the finals.

    But more importantly, the "Comeback 'Cats" continued their ability to overcome double-digit deficits to win their seventh National Championship, coming back from 10 points down at halftime to win 78-69.

    Prior to the '98 title game the largest halftime deficit any team had overcome was eight points.

    Earlier in the tournament the Wildcats came back from 17 points down in the Regional Finals to defeat Duke and earn a trip to the Final Four.

4. Michael Jordan: A Legend Is Born

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    The legend of Michael Jordan was officially born with his game-winning shot against the Georgetown Hoyas in the 1982 finals.

    In a back and forth battle between the Hoyas and 'Heels, a game that included future Hall of Famers James Worthy and Patrick Ewing, it was the freshman Jordan who stole the show.

    Down 62-61, Jordan hit what would be the game winning jumper with 17 seconds to go. The Tar Heels went on to win 63-62.

    Ironically, it was the only title Jordan won during his time in Chapel Hill.

3. Villanova Wildcats: The Original Cinderella

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    In the first year the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, the Villanova Wildcats became the lowest seed ever to win the championship as a No. 8 seed.

    Facing pre-tournament favorite, Georgetown, and their all-everything center, Patrick Ewing, the Wildcats were able to play the "perfect game" to knock off the Hoyas 66-64.

    Georgetown was a 10-point favorite coming into the title tilt, but Villanova shot an improbable 78.6 percent from the floor, while holding Georgetown to 55 percent.

    Villanova remains the lowest seed to win the tournament.

2. Jim Valvano and the "Cardiac Pack"

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    In what was supposed to be a formality, crowning No. 1 Houston as champions, Jim Valvano and the North Carolina State Wolfpack shocked the basketball world by upsetting the Cougars 54-52.

    Left for dead by many of the college basketball elite, NC State was to play the role of doormat for the top-ranked Houston Cougars, who had already knocked off No. 2 Louisville, but someone forgot to tell the Wolfpack.

    After hanging around all game long, the 'Pack pulled off the miracle on a 30-foot alley-oop by Lorenzo Charles on an air ball by Dereck Whittenberg as time expired.

    The world was left with the lasting image of the late Jim Valvano racing around looking for somebody to hug.

1. Don Haskins and Texas Western: The Ultimate Champions

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    Don Haskins and his tiny, unknown Texas-Western Miners shocked the college basketball world in more ways than one. They not only upset power Kansas to get to the National Championship, but they also started the first all-African-American lineup in college basketball history.

    A rarity for sure, but even more contrasting when paired up against the all-white line-up of the legendary Adolf Rupp and his Kentucky Wildcats.

    Given little chance to compete against the basketball machine employed by Rupp, Coach Haskins and his boys raced past the Wildcats 72-65, displaying an athleticism never-before seen and forever changing the game.