Top 10 NCAA Championship Games in Modern Tournament History

What were the most memorable and dramatic NCAA title games since 1985?

The Connecticut Huskies are champions.

Kevin Ollie, in just his first year eligible to make the tournament and just his second as a head coach, led his team to the top of the college basketball mountain. All UConn and Ollie did was become the first No. 7 seed to ever win the NCAA championship and the lowest seeded champ since Kansas (No. 6) topped Oklahoma in 1988.

Their defense was excellent and Shabazz Napier was downright brilliant once again. That said, Kentucky's fabulous freshmen should hold their collective head high after a tremendous effort on the other side of the court. It was a much better game than two teams with an NCAA record for combined total seeding in a title game (15).

But was last night's 60-54 showdown in North Texas one of the 10 best national championship games of the modern era? 

Limiting the time scope to the modern tournament era — aka, 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams — here are the 10 best national championship showdowns. (And five that totally flopped.)

1. (8) Villanova 66, (1) Georgetown 64
When: 1985 Where: Lexington, Ky.

It might be the most important basketball game ever played on any level. Villanova pulled the biggest championship upset in tournament history — later broken by UConn in 1999 — when the eighth-seeded Wildcats shot 22-of-28 from the floor to topple Big East rival and Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown. Nova is still the lowest-seeded team to win the NCAA championship and helped make the first 64-team tournament a huge success — in particular for the Big East. St. John's joined Nova and G-Town in the Final Four in '85 as the only year a conference has landed three teams in the Final Four.

2. (1) Kansas 75, (1) Memphis 68 (OT)
When: 2008 Where: San Antonio, Texas

For the first time in modern tourney history, all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. Both Kansas (who defeated a Roy Williams-coached North Carolina team) and Memphis (UCLA) cruised to the title game where John Calipari's Tigers overcame a five-point halftime deficit to take a nine-point lead with just over two minutes to play. Memphis, a notoriously poor free-throw shooting team, couldn't knock down freebies in the closing minutes and Kansas had a chance to tie it on the final possession. Veteran guard Mario Chalmers delivered with the game-tying three-pointer with 2.1 seconds to go. The Jayhawks cruised to the first six points in overtime and eventually won its first title in two decades.

3. (1) Indiana 74, (2) Syracuse 73
When: 1987 Where: New Orleans, La.

The last tournament in which teams were allowed to play in their home gyms also was the first in which the three-point shot was used. Bob Knight's Hoosiers topped Jim Boeheim's Orangemen on the back of a Keith Smart last-second baseline jumper. Smart was named the MOP because of his late heroics but current UCLA head coach Steve Alford actually led IU with 23 points in the game. The win gave Knight his third and final NCAA national championship and he would return to the Final Four only once more in his career after Smart's historic jump shot (1992).

4. (3) Michigan 80, (3) Seton Hall 79 (OT)
When: 1989 Where: Seattle, Wash.

Rumeal Robinson knocked down two free throws with three seconds left in overtime to give Michigan its first national title since 1963. The Wolverines outlasted a furious rally from the Cinderella Pirates and John Morton’s 35 points. Head coach Steve Fisher moved to 6-0 on the season after taking over for Bill Frieder just before the NCAA Tournament got started. Even though Robinson hit the game winners, future NBA star Glen Rice was named tourney MOP with 31 points in the title game and an NCAA-record 184 points in six games. 

5. (4) Arizona 84, (1) Kentucky 79 (OT)
When: 1997 Where: Indianapolis

Rick Pitino and his defending national champions entered the title game on a roll at 35-4 on the season. But Miles Simon scored a career-high 30 points on 14-of-17 from the free-throw line, including four in the final 41 seconds, to earn tournament MOP in a huge title game upset. The Wildcats didn’t make a field goal in overtime but outscored Kentucky 10-5. Arizona was the first team in history to defeat three No. 1 seeds in the same tournament.

6. (6) Kansas 83, (1) Oklahoma 79
When: 1988 Where: Kansas City, Mo.

Playing just 40 miles from campus, Danny (Manning) and the Miracles capped a historic season by avenging two regular season losses to the Sooners in the season’s final game. Oklahoma, a team that averaged 103.5 points per game, was held to less than 80 points and had an 11-minute drought with just two baskets late in the second half. Manning, the tourney MOP, scored 31 points and snagged 18 rebounds in the win. En route to the championship, the sixth-seeded Jayhawks beat No. 11 Xavier, No. 14 Murray State, No. 7 Vanderbilt and No. 4 Kansas State to get to the Final Four. It was just the third meeting of conference opponents in an NCAA championship game.

7. (1) Louisville 82, (4) Michigan 76
When: 2013 Where: Atlanta, Ga.

It had everything a national championship game should provide. Two historic brands coached by two of the game's greats in an epic battle with highlight-reel dunks, clutch shot-making and future NBA stars. After 39 furious minutes of end-to-end action, Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, Luke Hancock, Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng stood above National Player of the Year Trey Burke, Mitch McGary and two legacies in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. Rick Pitino won his second national title nearly two decades after winning his first with Kentucky. There wasn't a game-winning buzzer beater in the final seconds but, from start to finish, there have been few national title games more entertaining this one.

8. (1) Arkansas 76, (2) Duke 72
When: 1994 Where: Charlotte, N.C.

Arkansas, powered by coach Nolan Richardson's "40 minutes of hell" style of play, earned a spot in the Final Four much to the delight of No. 1 Hogs fan President Bill Clinton. The Hogs dispatched Arizona in the semi finals to meet Duke, who had won back-to-back titles in 1991-92. With the Commander-in-Chief in attendance at the Charlotte Coliseum, MOP Corliss Williamson paced Arkansas with 23 points and eight rebounds, but still needed a rainbow three by Scotty Thurman with less than a minute remaining to hold off a pesky Blue Devils team. The win gave Arkansas its first (and only) national title, a victory that certainly got the presidential seal of approval. 

9. (1) North Carolina 77, (1) Michigan 71
When: 1993 Where: New Orleans

Vacated wins or not, Michigan's Fab Five led the Wolverines all the way to the national championship game for the second straight season. Unfortunately, it ended with one of the most infamous and recognizable plays in NCAA tourney history. After racing up court down by two points, Chris Webber calls timeout with 11 seconds left in the game. However, since the Maize and Blue had no timeouts left, the play resulted in a technical foul and Webber's gaffe has gone down in history. Dean Smith claimed his second and final national championship.

10. (2) Louisville 72, (1) Duke 69
When: 1986 Where: Dallas, Texas

Duke was the No. 1 team in the nation with a sterling 37-2 record and the Naismith College Player of the Year Johnny Dawkins. And this also represented Mike Krzyzewski’s first-ever Final Four appearance. But Never Nervous Pervis Ellison played the game of his young career by scoring 36 points and grabbing 24 rebound in two Final Four games (25 and 11 against Duke) to earn Most Outstanding Player — the first freshman to do so since 1944 (Arnie Ferrin) and just the second freshman ever to win the honor. It was Denny Crum’s second national title in six seasons.

Just missed the cut:

11. (3) Syracuse 81, (2) Kansas 78
When: 2003 Where: New Orleans

Marquee stars Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade stole the hearts and minds of hoops enthusiasts en route to the Final Four. But Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim stole the headlines in the title game. Behind hot shooting from freshman guard Gerry McNamara (six three-pointers in the first half), the Orange took a lead that was sealed when Hakim Warrick blocked Michael Lee's attempt at a game-tying three-pointer to end the game. It was Cuse’s first national title as Melo, just a freshman, was named the MOP with 21 points in the win.

12. (1) Duke 61, (5) Butler 59
When: 2010 Where: Indianapolis

Butler beat No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Kansas State and No. 5 Michigan State en route to an improbable showdown with top-seeded Duke. Playing in its home town for the first time since 1968 UCLA and led by a rising coaching star in Brad Stevens, Butler battled the more talented and deeper Blue Devils to the wire. Gordon Heyward missed a half-court heave by inches that would have been the greatest shot in American basketball history. Coach K won his fourth NCAA championship.

13. (1) North Carolina 75, (1) Illinois 70
When: 2005 Where: St. Louis

After both teams survived unlikely scares in the Elite Eight against Wisconsin and Arizona respectively, the Tar Heels took a commanding early lead. But the Illini — led by Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head — rallied and tied the game at 70. Bruce Weber’s bunch had plenty of chances to take the lead and Raymond Felton calmly sunk free throws in the waning moments to give Roy Williams his first NCAA title.

14. (1) UConn 77, (1) Duke 74
When: 1999 Where: St. Petersburg, Fla.

The Blue Devils stormed through the tourney to reach the finals against a UConn team that was a then-record 9.5-point underdog. Clutch shooter Richard Hamilton won Most Outstanding Player with 27 points and Khalid Al-Amin ran the show with four assists. It was the biggest upset in a national title game in the history of the tournament.

15. (3) Duke 72, (2) Kansas 65
When: 1991 Where: Indianapolis

Duke’s win over unbeaten UNLV in the Final Four gets all of the headlines but the seven-point win over Kansas was a doozy as well. Christian Laettner was named MOP with 18 points, 10 rebounds on the strength of 12-of-12 shooting from the free-throw line. After nine Final Four trips and five national title game appearances, Duke wins its first national title.

The Final Flops:

(1) UNLV 103, (3) Duke 73
When: 1991 Where: Denver

(1) North Carolina 89, (2) Michigan State 72
When: 2009 Where: Detroit

(3) UConn 53, (8) Butler 41
When: 2011 Where: Houston

(3) Florida 73, (2) UCLA 57
When: 2006 Where: Indianapolis

(1) Duke 71, (6) Michigan 51
When: 1992 Where: Minneapolis

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