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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 10 NCAA Basketball Championship Games of All-Time

Top 10 NCAA Basketball Championship Games of All-Time

The greatest championship games ever!
Publish Date: 04/08/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

The most incredible month-long sports event is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Each year, the games become bigger and bigger. Today we will count down the top 10 National championship games ever played.

Criteria

This is pretty self-explanatory as we need a classic finish, and we need both teams playing at a high level for the Championship game. A classic finish doesn’t hurt!

10) 1957 North Carolina over Kansas

North Carolina, coached by Frank McGuire, won the national title with a 54-53 triple-overtime victory in the final game over Kansas, coached by Dick Harp. Wilt Chamberlain of Kansas was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. When watching the film of this game today basketball looks darn near like a different sport, but through the first 40 years of tournament games it was considered the greatest game, so with a triple-overtime supporting it and throwing in the legendary Wilt Chamberlain, this game cracks the top 10.

Video: 1957: The Year of McGuire's Miracle - UNC Tar Heels

1957: The Year of McGuire’s Miracle – UNC Tar Heels

9) 1989 Michigan over Seton Hall

 Michigan, coached by Steve Fisher, won the national title with an 80–79 overtime victory in the final game over Seton Hall, coached by P.J. Carlesimo. Glen Rice of Michigan set an NCAA tournament record by scoring 184 points in six games and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Check out the best basketball betting sites.

Just prior to the start of this tournament, Michigan coach Bill Frieder had announced that he would accept the head coaching position at Arizona State University at the end of the season. Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler promptly fired Frieder and appointed top assistant Fisher as interim coach, stating famously, that “a Michigan man is going to coach a Michigan team.” This game is highly overlooked by people who rate championship games; the game’s pace was very high and the level of play was even higher.

Video: phantom foul

phantom foul

8) 1988 Kansas over Oklahoma

In another very underrated game Kansas, coached by Larry Brown, won the national title with an 83–79 victory in the final game over Big Eight Conference rival Oklahoma, coached by Billy Tubbs.  This was the last national championship game to feature two schools from the same conference. Danny Manning of Kansas was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Even though the Final Four was contested only 40 miles from its campus in Lawrence, Kansas, Kansas was considered a long shot against the top-rated Sooners because Oklahoma had previously easily defeated the Jayhawks twice that season — at home in Norman, Oklahoma and on the road in Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse. Kansas’s upset was the third biggest point-spread upset in Championship Game history. After this upset, the 1988 Kansas team was remembered as “Danny and the Miracles.”

Video: Danny Manning's dominant 1988 NCAA title game

Danny Manning’s dominant 1988 NCAA title game

7) 2010 Duke vs Butler

This could be the only national championship game ever remembered for a missed shot at the buzzer. No. 5 seed and underdog Butler rose to become America’s darling with an NCAA Tournament run to the title game in Indianapolis, cutting a late five-point deficit down to one but never got closer as No. 1 seed Duke held firm. Unfortunately for Butler star Gordon Hayward’s halftime court heave at the buzzer, which missed just off the iron, Duke held on for their win despite Butler star’s heroic effort at the buzzer.

Video: Butler vs Duke || 2010 National Championship || Full Game Highlights

Butler vs Duke || 2010 National Championship || Full Game Highlights

6) 2008 Kansas over Memphis

Memphis and Kansas advanced to the national championship game. Memphis’s victory in the semifinals gave them a record-setting 38 for the season, beating the mark set by Duke in 1999 (Kentucky later matched this record in 2012 and 2015). Kansas, however, spoiled their national championship hopes by handing the Tigers their second loss of the season, winning the game in overtime, 75-68. The NCAA later vacated Memphis’s entire season due to eligibility concerns surrounding freshman guard Derrick Rose. Check out our guide to betting on March Madness!

Video: Kansas vs Memphis 2008 National Championship Full Game Highlights

Kansas vs Memphis 2008 National Championship Full Game Highlights

5) 1982 North Carolina over Georgetown

North Carolina, coached by Dean Smith, won the national title with a 63-62 victory in the final game over Georgetown, coached by John Thompson. James Worthy of North Carolina was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. This is the game were the world was introduced to a freshman guard named Michael Jordan, Jordan hit what would end up being the game winning shot. What people forget is that Georgetown ended up with one more possession, in the closing seconds Fred Brown of Georgetown made one of the biggest mistakes in championship game history when he mistakenly throw a pass to James Worthy to seal the game for North Carolina.

Video: Michael Jordan's game-winner vs. Georgetown (1982) | FINAL MINUTE

Michael Jordan’s game-winner vs. Georgetown (1982) | FINAL MINUTE

4) 1987 Indiana over Syracuse

Indiana, coached by Bob Knight, won the national title with a 74-73 victory in the final game over Syracuse, coached by Jim Boeheim. Keith Smart of Indiana, who hit the game-winner in the final seconds, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. This was an outstanding back and forth battle between two teams that came down to the buzzer. The biggest difference in this game came down to the free-throw line, which played into the hands of Indiana a great free-throw shooting team.

Video: 1987 NCAA Mens Basketball Final Four Highlights

1987 NCAA Mens Basketball Final Four Highlights “Hoosier Hysteria”

3) 1983 North Carolina State over Houston

North Carolina State, coached by Jim Valvano, won the national title with a 54–52 victory in the final game over Houston, coached by Guy Lewis. The ending of the final is one of the most famous in college basketball history, with a buzzer-beating dunk by Lorenzo Charles, off an air ball from 30 feet out by Dereck Whittenburg.

Both Charles’s dunk and Valvano’s running around the court in celebration immediately after the game have been staples of NCAA tournament coverage ever since. North Carolina State’s victory has often been considered one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history and is the fourth biggest point-spread upset in Championship Game history.

Video: Lorenzo Charles dunk to win 1983 National Championship

Lorenzo Charles dunk to win 1983 National Championship

2) 2016 Villanova over North Carolina

Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer at the buzzer lifted the Wildcats in tournament history’s most thrilling championship games. The game had everything and this was the first game since the 83 championships to be won on a buzzer-beater. The winning basket came after an almost-as-spectacular three-pointer from the Tar Heels’ Marcus Paige, who double-pumped, then fired, tying the game at 74 with 4.7 seconds left. A lot of times I think people overreact right after a great game, this is one time I agree with them, in my opinion, the 2016 NCAA championship game is the greatest in history! Check out our preview for Tonights NCAA Championship game.

Video: Villanova vs. North Carolina: Final minutes of national title game

Villanova vs. North Carolina: Final minutes of national title game

1) 1985 Villanova over Georgetown

In my opinion, the greatest upset in a championship game was when eighth-seed Villanova, coached by Rollie Massimino, won their first national title with a 66–64 victory in the final game over Georgetown, coached by John Thompson. Ed Pinckney of Villanova was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The game is often cited among the greatest upsets in college basketball history and is the second biggest point-spread upset in Championship Game history. This Villanova team remains the lowest-seeded team to win the tournament. The game is also notable as the last played without a shot clock. Villanova seemed like every shot they took went in and they still only won by two points, sub Harold Jensen came off the bench and did everything right.

Video: HBO Documentaries: Perfect Upset: Villanova vs. Georgetown

HBO Documentaries: Perfect Upset: Villanova vs. Georgetown

Honorable Mentions

1966 Kentucky vs Texas Western

Texas Western made history, becoming the first team in history to win a national title while featuring five black players. They defeated Adolph Rupp’s top-ranked Kentucky, led by Louie Dampier and Pat Riley, came up short in their quest for the title.

Texas Western’s win wasn’t just any ordinary triumph. Entering the NCAA tournament ranked No. 3 in America; they finished their season 28-1 with a victory.

Though not as captivating as some on this list, it served to demonstrate how sports can help break down racial barriers and stereotypes.

1979 Indiana State vs Michigan State

This game marked the beginning of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s rivalry, captivating millions with college basketball’s acceptance into mainstream culture. To this day, it remains the most-watched college basketball matchup in history, with 35.11 million viewers.

Indiana State entered the game undefeated, but Michigan State proved too much for the Sycamores. Johnson finished with 24 points and seven rebounds to be named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Check out our March Madness betting trends.

Bird finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds, but he shot just 7-of-21 from the field.

1976 Indiana vs Michigan

The 1975-76 Hoosiers remain the last Division I team to go an entire season undefeated. Led by stars Scott May (26 points), Kent Benson (25 points, nine rebounds), and Quinn Buckner (16 points, eight rebounds, five steals, four assists), Indiana erased a six-point halftime deficit. Still, it rebounded and shot 52.5 per cent during their decisive championship-game victory over rival Michigan to complete an unparalleled campaign.

1975 UCLA vs Kentucky

No experience can compare to that of retiring on top. John Wooden, known as “The Wizard of Westwood,” won his 10th national championship after coaching UCLA to victory against Kentucky on March 31, 1975. A record that likely will never be broken, the Bruins were led by stars Dave Meyers and Richard Washington.

1994 Arkansas vs Duke

No. 1 Arkansas and 30-game winner Duke were locked in an exciting national final against No. 2 seed Duke. Grant Hill’s three-pointer tied the game with 1:30 left in regulation. Still, as time ran out, Scotty Thurman’s three gave Arkansas a 73-70 lead with 50.7 seconds left to play, and they never trailed again to capture their first basketball national championship in school history.

1961 Cincinnati vs Ohio State

Cincinnati’s back-to-back national championships against in-state rival Ohio State in 1961 marked an extraordinary accomplishment. At that time, Ohio State was considered college basketball’s gold standard; however, Coach Ed Jucker’s Bearcats entered on a 21-game winning streak and slowed down their opponent’s loaded lineup – including Hall-of-Famers John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas – enough for them to prevail in overtime.

2003 Syracuse vs Kansas

Freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony powered Syracuse as they defeated No. 1 seeds Oklahoma and Texas to reach the national championship game. In that contest against No. 2 Kansas, Anthony led Syracuse with 20 points, ten rebounds, and seven assists. Syracuse made 11 three-pointers (six from Gerry McNamara) and got a crucial block from Hakim Warrick in the closing seconds to claim its first — and only — national title.

Video: Syracuse vs Kansas| 2003 NCAAM Basketball Championship Highlights

Syracuse vs Kansas| 2003 NCAAM Basketball Championship Highlights

1997 Arizona vas Kentucky

On their way to winning their first national championship, fourth-seeded Arizona upset three No. 1 seeds – including Kentucky – but needed overtime for the victory. After a closely fought game throughout, Miles Simon finally pulled away with 14 of his game-high 30 points from the free-throw line as Arizona pulled away in extra time.

Video: Arizona vs Kentucky | 1997 NCAAM Basketball Championship Highlights

Arizona vs Kentucky | 1997 NCAAM Basketball Championship Highlights

1959 California vs West Virginia

West Virginia fans still dread the memory of this game. In the only national final in program history, Jerry West’s Mountaineers failed to hold onto a 13-point first-half advantage as Cal rallied for victory on Darrall Imhoff’s basket with 17 seconds left in regulation. West finished with 28 points and 11 rebounds in an unbearable loss that has plagued him for years.

2019 Virginia vs Texas Tech

Virginia had an exciting championship run in 2019. To beat Purdue in the regional final, three late Kyle Guy free throws helped Auburn pull away for an unbelievable comeback win in the Final Four. In the national final, Texas Tech erased a 10-point deficit to take a three-point lead before star De’Andre Hunter (27 points, nine rebounds) hit a 3-pointer to force overtime and help Virginia capture their first national title. Hunter continued his stellar play during extra session as Virginia easily pulled away to secure its first national.

1963 Loyola-Chicago vs Cincinnati

Fans of college basketball history will remember the iconic “Game of Change” matchup between Loyola and Mississippi State during the 1963 NCAA Tournament, known as “The Game of Change”. But, ultimately, Loyola completed their national championship run with a fantastic overtime win against two-time defending national champion Cincinnati. Loyola started four black players, while Cincinnati had three starters – an exceptional rarity then. Trailing by 15 at halftime, Loyola turned on full-court pressure to shock Cincinnati and get back into the game. Jerry Harkness scored all 14 points after halftime, helping the Ramblers pull away for a tremendous upset victory!

1993 North Carolina over Michigan

North Carolina, coached by Dean Smith, won the national title with a 77–71 victory in the final game over Michigan, coached by Steve Fisher. Donald Williams of North Carolina was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. The most memorable play in the championship game came in the last seconds as Michigan’s Chris Webber tried to call a timeout with his team down by 2 points when double-teamed by North Carolina. Michigan had already used all of its timeouts, so Webber’s gaffe resulted in a technical foul. Without the Weber mistake, this game goes down to the last second and with the level of play in this game, it would have finished no doubt in the top 5 all-time.

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