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Best national title games in college basketball history

NCAA Men's Final Four - National Championship - Villanova v North Carolina

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats shoots the game-winning three pointer to defeat the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 in the 2016 NCAA Men’s Final Four National Championship game at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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Do you need a list of college basketball’s best national title games? Because I do.

Today would be the day that we would be watching the college basketball national title game.

Instead, we are going to have to watch reruns of last night’s Wrestlemania.

That’s what live sports in 2020 exists as.

Anyway, since I know you need your fix, here is a list of the top ten best national title games in the history of college basketball.

If this isn’t enough to feed your need, check out our posts on the first weekend and the Sweet 16.


10. 1988: KANSAS 83, OKLAHOMA 79

This game doesn’t often get mentioned in the pantheon of the best national title games ever played, and I’m not sure why.

Kansas, a No. 6-seed, tied the record set by Villanova in 1985 as the biggest Vegas underdog to ever win a national title game. They were eight-point dogs against a powerhouse Oklahoma team, but Danny Manning carried the Jayhawks to a stunning win with a line of 31 points, 18 boards, five steals and two blocks.

What’s the most impressive thing about this game is that the first half was an absolute bonanza. The game, heading into the break, was tied at 50 before Kansas and head coach Larry Brown pulled away down the stretch.

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9. 1999: UCONN 77, DUKE 74

UConn shocked the world!

The Huskies were the biggest underdogs to ever win a national title game in 1999, when Rip Hamilton and Ricky Moore carried them to a national title over a juggernaut Duke team.

We spent 75 minutes on the most recent college basketball talk podcast breaking the game down. Listen in!

8. 1989: MICHIGAN 80, SETON HALL 79 OT

Michigan’s run to the 1989 national title is one of the wildest college basketball stories that is never discussed. Bill Frieder, Michigan’s head coach, announced before the tournament that he would be leaving the Wolverines to take over at Arizona State. Michigan’s AD did not like that, so he fired Frieder and plugged in Steve Fisher as the interim head coach.

Fisher did what all smart coaches do and let his otherworldly talent take over. Glen Rice averaged 30.7 points in six games, including 31 in the title game, while Rumeal Robinson hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left in OT to win the title.


What this game actually is remembered for is Michael Jordan.

He was the freshman star that hit a pull-up jumper with 17 seconds left to give a UNC team led by James Worthy and Sam Perkins a 63-62 lead. What it probably should be remembered for is Georgetown point guard Fred Brown inexplicably throwing the ball to Worthy on the ensuing possession, giving the Tar Heels the win.

It was Dean Smith’s first national title.

6. 2008: KANSAS 75, MEMPHIS 68 OT

This game is known for Mario Chalmers’ game-tying shot.

With a nine-point lead and less than two minutes remaining, Memphis opted to stop trying to make their free throws, instead missing four of five down the stretch while leaving the door open for the Jayhawks to make their run.

Regulation, as I’m sure you remember, ended like this:

And the Jayhawks were able to pull away in the extra frame, winning Bill Self his only NCAA tournament title.


Prior to UConn upsetting Duke in the 1999 national title game, Villanova’s win over Georgetown -- and Kansas knocking off Oklahoma in 1988 -- featured the biggest upset, from the perspective of the Vegas lines, in the history of the national title game.

Villanova played a perfect game. Rollie Massimo, Ed Pinckney and the Wildcats capped off the most improbable run through the NCAA tournament in the history of the event, winning the title as a No. 8 seed in the very first year that the event was expanded to 64 teams. They shot 79 percent for the came, and they are still the lowest-seeded team that has ever won a title.

4. 2019: VIRGINIA 85, TEXAS TECH 77 OT

A game between the two best defenses in college basketball turned into one of the best-executed second halves of basketball I can ever remember seeing.

This is what happens when you have elite coaches and high-level, veteran players on the court at the same time. They figured out how to exploit each other’s weaknesses, both teams went full small-ball -- De’Andre Hunter was the biggest guy on the floor by the end of the game -- and it turned into a thrilling, compelling finish. Texas Tech erased a 10-point deficit in the final 10 minutes and took the lead in the final minute only to see Hunter bang home a game-tying three with 12 seconds left.

The Wahoos pulled away in the extra frame, completing maybe the greatest story in the history of college basketball: Becoming the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed to winning a national title.

3. 1987: INDIANA 74, SYRACUSE 73

This game is known for the shot that Keith Smart hit with just four seconds left in the game.

With Steve Alford being face-guarded by Sherman Douglas, Smart found a way to get open for a 15-footer on the baseline that gave Bob Knight his third and final national title. Smart scored 12 of the final 15 points for the Hoosiers, and while the next two games on this list are better known title-winning buckets, Smart’s is the only one that was hit when his team was trailing.

2. 1983: N.C. STATE 54, HOUSTON 52

For my money, this game will go down as one of the worst beats in college basketball history.

Watch the final possession of the game.

Do it.

Right now:

Houston has to defend for 45 seconds. They nearly force a turnover twice in the final 15 seconds. They don’t allow the Wolfpack to get within 18 feet of the rim at any point. The shot that N.C. State gets to win the game is a 30-footer with four seconds left on the clock that’s an airball, and the only reason that the Cougars lost in regulation was because Whittenberg’s shot was an airball.

If that bounces off the front of the rim, Lorenzo Charles’ put-back dunk doesn’t happen. If Whittenberg gets a better look and has a normal miss, Jim Valvano would have to beat one of the best college basketball teams that we have ever seen to win his national title.

That, of course, is not the way it played out.

N.C. State pulled off one of the biggest and most exciting upsets in the history of the NCAA tournament, giving Jimmy V a national title and helping build his name cache so that his fight against cancer -- and the hundreds of millions that have been raised since his lost his battle -- became a national news story every December.

Maybe it’s true that everything happens for a reason.



I’m not sure this is even debatable.

Considering the stakes involved, Villanova-North Carolina was the best college basketball national title game that I’ve ever seen. It was well-played throughout. It featured a stretch of North Carolina dominance, a stretch of Villanova dominance, a wild comeback in the final five minutes by the Tar Heels and the most exciting finish that we have ever seen in a title game.

Everyone remembers the shot that Kris Jenkins hit to win the game at the buzzer, but what seems destined to be lost to the annals of history is the fact that Marcus Paige hit one of the greatest shots in NCAA tournament history with just 4.7 seconds left. His double-clutch, floating three-ball would be on par with the threes hit by Mario Chalmers in 2008 and De’Andre Hunter in 2019 if Kris Jenkins hadn’t won the game at the buzzer.