The 25 Greatest Games in NCAA Tournament History

Alan Rubenstein@@uarubyAnalyst IIIMarch 15, 2012

The 25 Greatest Games in NCAA Tournament History

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    We all remember where we were during the greatest games in NCAA Tournament history. From Bird vs. Magic, Laettner shot and Mario Chalmers game tying three. Many of these moments define a player, coach, school or generation. It's what has made the NCAA Tournament into the most unifying sporting event in the United States annually other than the Super Bowl. Who will surprise us this year and become immortal? Its impossible to predict which player or team will have their One Shinning Moment. 

25) 1977 Final Four, Marquette 52 UNC-Charlotte 50.

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    Tied at 50 with seconds remaining, Marquette’s Jerome Whitehead grabbed Butch Lee’s long pass headed toward the basket and laid the ball in at the buzzer. The play has been largely forgotten, but it was 15 years before Laettner to Hill.

24) 1982 NCAA Championship Game, North Carolina 62, Georgetown 61

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    The first championship game played in a dome, Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Sleepy Floyd battled UNC’s James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Freshman Michael Jordan. 

    Jordan hit a shot from the wing to put the Tar Heels up one with 17 seconds left to Give UNC a 62-61 lead. Georgetown worked the ball upcourt. The Hoyas Fred Brown mistook UNC’s James Worthy for a teammate. Worthy was fouled with two seconds remaining. He missed the free throws, but Georgetown was unable to get off a good shot. Dean Smith won his first National Championship. 

23) 1994 NCAA Championship Game, Arkansas 76 Duke 72

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    Duke was making its fourth championship game appearance in five years and trying to win its third title in the last four years. Behind Nolan Richardson’s 40 minutes of hell, the Razorbacks finished third in the nation in scoring and first in scoring margin and winning percentage. 
    Arkansas overcame a ten point second half deficit and rallied to win their first National Championship. A Scotty Thurman three-pointer with the shot clock winding down with about a minute left gave the Razorbacks a one point lead. Nolan Richardson became the second African-American coach to win a NCAA Championship and the first to win a junior college championship and the NIT and NCAA.

22) 1989 NCAA Championship Game, Michigan 80 Seton Hall 79 (OT)

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    Michigan had one of the most incredible runs in NCAA Tournament history. At the outset of the tournament, Bill Frieder announced he was leaving Michigan for Arizona State. Michigan Athletic Director Bo Schembechler fired Frieder and promoted Steve Fisher to Head Coach. Glen Rice set a tournament scoring record with 184 points in the six games. Rumeal Robinson sank two free throws with two seconds remaining in overtime to give the Wolverines an 80-79 victory and the school’s first ever national championship. It was also the first game to go to overtime since 1963. John Morton scored 35 points for the Pirates in defeat.

21) 2003 National Championship Game, Syracuse 81 Kansas 78

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    Freshman Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara led the way for the Orange scoring 38 of Syracuse’s 80 points. With 1.5 seconds remaining, Syracuse sophomore Hakim Warrick blocked Kansas’ Michael Lee’s shot to preserve Jim Boeheim’s first National Championship. It was his third appearance. Anthony earned the tournament Most Outstanding player by scoring 53 points in the two Final Four games.

20) 2008 National Championship Game, Kansas 75 Memphis 68 (OT)

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    Memphis’ Achilles heel, their poor free throw shooting had been questioned all season. John Calipari said that when it counted, his players would come through on the line. Memphis missed four of five down the stretch and blew a nine point lead in the last two minutes. KU’s Mario Chalmers hit a three-point field goal with 2.1 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime. The Jayhawks scored the first six points in the extra session to give them their first National Championship since Danny (Manning) and the miracles 20 years earlier.

19) 1986 NCAA Championship Game Louisville 72 Duke 69

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    This game was all about never nervous Pervis Ellison. Louisville was playing in its fourth final four in seven seasons. Senior Guard Milt Wagner was on three of those teams. Ellison outplayed Duke’s Senior post players Mark Alarie and Jay Bilas scoring 25 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to give Denny Crum his second title. This was Mike Krzyzewski’s first Final Four.

18) 1995 West Region Second Round (UCLA-Missouri)

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    UCLA entered the 1995 NCAA Tournament 25-2 with arguably its best team since the Wooden era. Against eight seeded Missouri, the Bruins trailed 74-73 with 4.8 seconds remaining. Tyus Edney took the inbounds pass, raced the length of the floor and layed the ball in at the buzzer setting off a wild celebration and preserving UCLA’s title run. 

17) 1998 East Regional Semifinals (UConn-Wash)

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    Eleventh seeded Washington was a surprise team in the Sweet 16. Making their first trip to the Sweet 16 in 14 years and only their second since 1951, UW led favored UConn with eight seconds remaining, it took Connecticut three shots before a Richard Hamilton buzzer beater sent them to a meeting with North Carolina in the East Regional Final. 

16) 1983 First Round (NCST-Pepperdine)

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    The game that started NCST on its run to an improbable national championship. The Wolfpack had possibly the greatest comeback in the history of the tournament. Trailing by six with less than a minute remaining in regulation, the Pack had to foul. Pepperdine’ Dane Settle, the Waves all-time leading scorer twice missed the front end of one and ones. A Cozell McQueen basket with eight seconds left in overtime tied it and rallied to win 69-67 in double overtime.

15) 1974 National Semifinals (NCST80 UCLA 77 2OT)

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    David Thompson scored the game winning field goal with 53 seconds remaining in regulation and the Wolfpack ended UCLA’s 38 game Tournament winning streak. NCST’s Tom Burleson scored 20 points and had 14 rebounds. It his last true collegiate game (UCLA played in the consolation game, but Walton only played 20 minutes) Bill Walton scored 29 points and had 18 rebounds. 

14) 2002 Sweet 16 Indiana 74 Duke 73

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    After falling behind by 17 points in the second half, Indiana rallied and had a four point lead in the waning seconds. Jay Williams connected on a three-point attempt and was fouled in the process.  Williams was only a 67.7 percent free throw shooter on the season. He missed a free throw that would have tied the game. Carlos Boozer’s follow missed and the Hoosier upset was sealed. Duke’s season ended at 29-4. IU’s run continued all the way to the National Championship game where they fell to Maryland

13) 1997 NCAA Championship Game, Arizona 84 Kentucky 79 (OT)

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    Arizona entered the National Championship game on an improbable run. The Wildcats had defeated top ranked and overwhelming favorite Kansas in the regional semifinals and East Number one seed North Carolina in the National Semifinals. As had been the case throughout the Tournament, Arizona’s backcourt led the way. Tournament MOP Miles Simon scored 30 and Freshman Point Guard Mike Bibby scored 19 and UA knocked off defending National Champion Kentucky. Arizona scored all of their points in overtime from the free throw line. In defeating Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky, Arizona not only became the first school to defeat three number one seeds in a single tournament, they also knocked off the three winningiest programs of all-time.

12) 1989 First Round Georgetown 50 Princeton 49

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    Princeton very nearly became the first 16 seed to knock out a one. Alonzo Mourning hit a free throw with 15 seconds left gave the Hoyas a one point lead. Mourning blocked a shot and then the Tigers Kit Mueller missed at the buzzer to prevent the epic upset. Many at the time expected a foul, plenty of boos were heard the at Providence Civic Center, but the Hoyas won two more games to advance to the Elite Eight before losing to Duke

11) 1983 Mideast Regional Final Louisville 80 Kentucky 68 (OT)

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     Louisville and Kentucky had not faced each other since a 76-61 Louisville victory in the 1959 Mideast Regional Victory. With a 24 year gap between meetings, it was only fitting the game would go to overtime. Louisville used it quickness and scored the first 14 points of the overtime to cruise to victory. The win setup a meeting with Houston in the Final Four. 

10) 1987 NCAA Championship Game, Indiana 74 Syracuse 73

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    Syracuse’s Derek Coleman missed the front end of a one and one with 28 seconds remaining and the Orangemen leading by one. That set the stage for Keith Smart to make a corner jump shot with two seconds remaining to give IU a 74-73 victory. This was the third and final NCAA Championship for Bob Knight. 

9) 2003 NCAA West Region Second Round (Arizona 96 Gonzaga 85 2OT)

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    Arizona coach Lute Olson summed up this game perfectly when he said "If you did not care who won, it was a great college basketball game” Arizona survived multiple chances for Gonzaga to win the game. The Wildcats needed a Luke Walton leaner with 4.1 seconds remaining to regulation to force the game to a second overtime. Salim Stoudamire’s short jumper with 2:05 remaining gave Arizona the lead and provided the final margin. 

8) 1979 NCAA Championship Game, Michigan St. 75 Indiana State 64

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    The most anticipated game in college basketball history and its most watched ever. This game was the first matchup between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. The game itself didn’t live up the hype as MSU won its fifth straight game by double digits in a 75-64 victory to claim the school’s first national title.

    What it meant to college basketball lands it a spot in the top 25.

    This was the game that launched college basketball to national prominence and gave birth to one of the NBA’s greatest rivalries. Magic scored 24 points and eight rebounds, while Greg Kelser had 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. The Sycamores remain the last team to take an undefeated record into a national championship game. 

7) 1997 NCAA Southeast Regional Semifinal Arizona 85 Kansas 82

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    Arizona entered their regional semifinal meeting with Kansas as a double digit underdog and not many people giving them a chance to win. After extending their lead to 75-62 with under four minutes left, Arizona had to survive three KU three-point attempts in the waning seconds to knock off 34-1 Kansas led by Paul Pierce and Raef LaFrentz. 

6) 1963 NCAA Championship Game, Loyola 60 Cincinnati 58 (OT)

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    Cincinnati was the two defending NCAA Champion and seeking to become the first team ever to win three straight title. The Ramblers were the first team to start a predominantly African-American lineup. The Ramblers rallied from a 15 point deficit in the second half to force overtime. A Vic Rouse tip-in at the buzzer gave, the Ramblers the upset. 

5) 1985 NCAA Championship Game Villanova 66 Georgetown 64

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    Georgetown entered the game as one of the most most prohibitive favorites in championship game history. A year before the shot clock was instituted in college basketball, Villanova slowed the pace to perfection. The Wildcats shot 22 of 28 for 77.8 percent on the game to pull one of the biggest upsets in the history of college basketball. 

4) 1983 NCAA Championship game NCSt 54 Houston 52.

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    The enduring vision of the 1983 NCAA Championship game is Jim Valvano running around after victory. With the clock winding down, Dereck Whittenberg had the ball tipped away from him. Once he chased it down, he threw up a prayer with seconds remaining. Amazingly, Lorenzo Charles jumped up and grabbed the ball and dunked it for one of the most improbable victories in the history of college basketball. 

3) 1957 NCAA Championship Game North Carolina 54 Kansas 53 (3OT)

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    Kansas entered the National Championship game with a 24-2 record and Wilt Chamberlain’s gaudy averages of 29.8 PPG and 18.9 RPG. North Carolina was trying to complete an undefeated season. UNC had to play a night after winning their semifinal game in triple overtime. 

    Two Joe Quigg’s free throws with six seconds remaining in the third overtime gave Frank McGuire his first title

2) 1992 East Regional Final, Duke 104 Kentucky 103 in Overtime.

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    Considered by many to be the greatest game in the history of college basketball, Kentucky and Duke battled to the very end. The Blue Devils were the defending national champions. They were attempting to become the first team since UCLA in 1972 and 1973. 

    After a Sean Woods runner in the lane put Kentucky up one with 2.3 seconds remaining, Duke had to go the length of the floor to keep their dream alive. 
    Grant Hill threw the ball to the Blue Devil free throw line where Christian Laettner caught the ball at the free throw line turned around and drained a 15 footer to give Duke a 104-103 victory.

1) Duke 79 UNLV 77 1991 National Semifinal

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    UNLV won its regular season and Big West Tournament games by an average of 27.5 points and they were expected to become to the first team to repeat as NCAA Champions since UCLA in 1973. 

    Christian Laettner hit two free throws with 12 seconds to give the Blue Devils a 79-77 lead. Anderson Hunt missed a shot on UNLV’s next possession, Duke secured the rebound and a place in history. Duke would win the National Championship two nights later and repeat in 1992. This was the first of Duke and Mike Kryzewski’s National Championships.