Will this year's Final Four match the excitement that the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament have produced?
Few sports moments are as exciting as the road to the Final Four when we watch the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament whittle down to the last four teams standing. What makes it so exciting is that in some years — ahem, 2018 — one of those teams is 11-seed Loyola (Chicago). If the Ramblers win Saturday night against Michigan, it will be one of the greatest moments in Final Four history. Until then, here are the 10 biggest moments for me.
10. The Wizard Goes Out on Top
March 31, 1975 (San Diego)
After UCLA head coach John Wooden announced his retirement following a dramatic come-from-behind win in the national semifinals over Louisville, the Bruin players gave him the best goodbye present possible. UCLA beat Kentucky 92-85 in the title game, giving “The Wizard of Westwood” his 10th national championship in 12 years.
9. The Battle of the Unrankeds
April 7, 2014 (Arlington, Texas)
Both Connecticut and Kentucky had mediocre seasons by their standards and entered the Tournament unranked in the AP poll as respective No. 7 and No. 8 seeds. Both caught fire in the Big Dance and made the final game, where UConn won 60-54.
8. Kansas Rallies
April 7, 2008 (San Antonio)
Memphis led Kansas 60-51 with two minutes remaining in regulation, but the Jayhawks managed to close the gap to 62-60 with 10 seconds left. The Tigers’ Derrick Rose went to the foul line and hit one of two free throws to give his team a 63-60 lead but Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit a three-pointer to send the game into overtime. Kansas then held Memphis to five points to win its first national championship since 1988.
7. Kevin Ware Inspires Louisville to Victory
April 8, 2013 (Atlanta)
After attempting to block a shot in the regional championship against Duke, Louisville guard Kevin Ware landed awkwardly and suffered a compound fracture in his right leg. Despite the gruesomeness of the injury, which was captured on television and shook up everyone who saw it, Ware said, "I'm fine, just win the game.” Louisville did just that and in the Final Four, Ware joined his teammates in full uniform to cheer them on as the Cardinals won the championship.
6. The Duke Dynasty is Born
March 30, 1991 (Indianapolis)
After coming up short in three consecutive Final Fours, Duke upset undefeated UNLV in the semifinal and then beat Kansas in the national championship game. Since that upset of the Runnin’ Rebels, the Blue Devils have been the most successful program in college basketball, winning five national titles since 1991.
5. Chris Webber Calls Timeout
April 5, 1993 (New Orleans)
The saddest part about this moment is that Webber was the main reason this game was close, scoring 23 points and snagging 11 rebounds. Yet when double-teamed and down 73-71 to North Carolina in the final seconds of the game, the Fab Five sophomore called a timeout that he didn’t have. It gave the Tar Heels a technical foul and the national title and one of the most exciting eras in college basketball history ended with a whimper.
4. Kris Jenkins Wins Title with Buzzer-Beater
April 4, 2016 (Houston)
North Carolina battled back from a 10-point deficit with less than five minutes remaining to tie Villanova 74-74 in the final seconds. With 4.7 seconds left, Wildcat guard Ryan Arcidiacono took the ball down the court and tossed it to Kris Jenkins, who sunk a three-pointer as time expired to win Villanova’s second title. It is perhaps the most exciting finish in national championship game history.
3. Magic and Bird Meet for the First Time
March 26, 1979 (Salt Lake City)
The two best players during the 1978-79 college basketball season were Michigan State’s Magic Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird. Their first meeting in the national championship, in which the Spartans won 75-64, garnered the highest television ratings for any college basketball game. Both players went to the NBA the next season and either Magic’s Los Angeles Lakers or Bird’s Boston Celtics were in the Finals every season of the 1980s.
2. Villanova Upsets Georgetown
April 1, 1985 (Lexington, Ky.)
College basketball has had its fair share of low-seeded Cinderella stories, but the only team whose carriage never turned back into a pumpkin was the 1985 Villanova Wildcats. The No. 8 seed shocked the college basketball world by making the final and then played a game for the ages to upset top seed and defending national champion Georgetown.
1. Don’t You Want Somebody to Hug
April 4, 1983 (Albuquerque, N.M.)
North Carolina State’s championship run was the most dramatic in history and ended with an alley-oop slam dunk by Lorenzo Charles that defeated Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma attack 54-52. After the win, head coach Jim Valvano ran onto the court looking for a player to hug. No moment in Final Four history has ever been more moving or memorable.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Jim Valvano photo courtesy of Getty Images)