Nothing is better than watching your favorite team win an NCAA championship. Even if your home team didn’t make it to the title game, most basketball fans can find a team to cheer for and get behind, especially come NCAA tournament time. One thing is for sure, all college basketball fans hope to see the best NCAA basketball championships of all time – regardless of the teams playing.
But, if your team is playing, and winning a championship, a recent study suggests that the health benefits can be enormous. A recent study by researchers at The Ohio State University finds that sports fans experience a self-esteem boost days after seeing their favorite team win, and it doesn’t need to be a championship win, either.
Regardless of your team’s success, and your subsequent mood boost, we can all agree that filling out a bracket is one of the best parts of March Madness. If you love filling out a bracket to try to win prizes or just beat your friends, then you might want to keep this next piece of information to yourself. Data scientists from the University of Illinois suggest that your best chance to choose the winners in your next NCAA bracket is by filling out your bracket backward, choosing the winners first, and working backward. Scientists also suggest that your best chances of winning include diversifying your brackets and choosing your Final Four participants first.
So what games have made college hoops history? For our list, we consulted 10 sports-related websites in an effort to find the best NCAA basketball championships of all time. Our list is comprised of the five most touted games across these sites. As always, feel free to share your picks with us in the comments section below!
The List: Best NCAA Championships of All Time, According to Sports Experts
1. 2016: Villanova vs. North Carolina
Leading the pack of the best NCAA championships ever is the 2016 title game featuring Villanova against North Carolina. This game took the top spot across 30 percent of the sites we referenced and for anyone who remembers this matchup, the 2016 Nova vs UNC NCAA championship game was truly unforgettable.
“Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer at the buzzer lifted the Wildcats in the most thrilling championship games in tournament history. 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,” explains the Grueling Truth.
That 2016 NCAA championship game had one of the most thrilling endings to any basketball game in sports history, making it easy to forget the explosive beginning of the game.
“The greatest ending to a national championship also had one of the best starts. Through the first 19 minutes of the game, neither team led by more than five points. UNC managed a seven-point lead with 40 seconds left in the first frame, then led 39-34 at halftime. The second half offered much of the same, until with 5:29 left in the game, Villanova took a 10-point lead and looked poised to coast to the program’s second national title,” adds NCAA (.com).
Sure Nova looked to be in a position to win, but that was until UNC came storming back. In typical Tar Heel fashion, UNC rallied back in the final stretch of the game. Part of what made this game so fun to watch was the way each team rallied to close the other team’s lead.
“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,” adds NBC Sports.
Final minutes of the greatest NCAA Championship game, ever. (2016) pic.twitter.com/TUhyMantsC
— ThrowbackHoops (@ThrowbackHoops) November 6, 2020
2. 1983: N.C. State vs. Houston
Up next on the list is the 1983 title game between NC State and Houston. The 1983 championship game made a case for the top spot and for good reason. Houston was a heavy favorite and featured their Phi Slama Jama lineup, one of the best in college basketball history, but NC State staged one of the biggest underdog victories of all time.
“The most memorable air ball in college basketball history led to one of the sport’s most unforgettable dunks — and certainly the greatest finish of an NCAA Tournament championship game. Upstart, 10-loss North Carolina State stunned heavily favored Houston (complete with its dunk-filled Phi Slama Jama lineup), thanks to some strong defense, but specifically, on Lorenzo Charles’ catch and dunk off a Dereck Whittenburg-short three-pointer at the buzzer,” explains Yardbarker.
As a result of the catch and dunk, this game is responsible for one of the most memorable finishes and ensuing scenes in sports history, not just college basketball.
“The result was one of the most iconic moments in NCAA tournament history, as Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano ran around the floor desperately looking for someone to hug,” writes Bleacher Report.
“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 [he] lost his battle — became a national news story every December,” adds NBC Sports.
Lorenzo Charles’ buzzer-beating dunk in the final seconds of the 1983 @NCAA championship game is remembered as one of the most famous in college basketball history. Celebrate the 40th anniversary of our National Championship team at tomorrow’s @PackMensBball game vs. @WakeMBB. pic.twitter.com/0fJr3FqYDw
— NC State Alumni (@NCStateAlumni) February 21, 2023
3. 1985: Villanova vs. Georgetown
The third most-memorable matchup is the 1985 title game featuring Villanova and Georgetown. This game is historic for many reasons but mostly because the 8-seed Nova team is the lowest-seeded team to ever win a national championship.
“The 1985 national title game capped off the most improbable run in NCAA tournament history as Villanova won the national title as a No. 8 seed in the first year the tournament expanded to 64 teams. The Wildcats are still the lowest seed ever to cut down the nets,” writes Bleacher Report.
Despite the stunning feat pulled off by the Villanova Wildcats, this game was still close throughout. But, if you go back and watch this game, you’ll notice something missing right off the bat.
“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,” explains The Grueling Truth.
If it seemed as though every Nova shot went in, that’s because it practically did.
“But when any team – even if they were just an eight seed – misses one shot over the entire second half, as well as shooting 22-for-28 for the game, the predictions go out the window,” adds Uproxx.
— Big East Rewind & Hoops 24/7 (@bigeastrewind) October 24, 2018
4. 1982: North Carolina vs. Georgetown
North Carolina and Georgetown in the 1982 title game created a long-standing fandom. This game is historic for plenty of reasons, but if you examine the starting lineups for each squad, you’ll see how this game had the potential for greatness. And the ending was pretty good, too.
“The 1982 title game featured plenty of star power. Georgetown was led by Patrick Ewing while North Carolina had Sam Perkins and James Worthy. However, it was a freshman who stole the spotlight late in the game when young Michael Jordan hit a shot from the left wing with 17 seconds left to put the Tar Heels ahead, 63-62,” explains Bleacher Report.
This was the moment that kickstarted Michael Jordan’s all-time legacy. “If you grew up at any time in the ’80s or ’90s, then you were probably an MJ fan, and if you were a fan of No. 23, then you’ve probably seen him swish that 17-footer on Patrick Ewing and John Thompson‘s Hoyas at least 100 times,” adds Uproxx.
Although Jordan hit what would eventually be the game-winning shot, this game ended on an all-time blunder by the Georgetown Hoyas.
“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,” explains The Grueling Truth.
40 years ago today, Michael Jordan showed us no moment was too big for him.
The UNC freshman hit the game-winner to capture the 1982 NCAA men's national championship. pic.twitter.com/fnNkxknUcF
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 29, 2022
5. 1957: North Carolina vs. Kansas
This 1957 title game features two of college basketball’s all-time powerhouse programs – North Carolina and Kansas. You may have heard of Kansas’s best player, too.
“North Carolina entered the national title game undefeated, but Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain were standing in the way of the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament title. Tar Heels coach Frank McGuire famously sent 5’11” Tommy Kearns to face Chamberlain in the opening jump ball, putting his other four players in a zone defense underneath the basket,” writes Bleacher Report.
This game was historic for several reasons, but the finish of the 1957 NCAA championship game is something college basketball fans haven’t really seen since, and probably never will again.
“A triple-overtime championship game between blue bloods that featured Wilt Chamberlain and was decided by a point—had to be a classic, right? Well, not really. The score of the first overtime was 2-2. The score of the second overtime was 0-0. It wasn’t until the third OT that the teams got back to playing basketball, with the Heels winning on two free throws by Joe Quigg with six seconds left,” adds Sports Illustrated.
Perhaps the overtimes weren’t as exciting because both teams played their respective Final Four games the day before. And UNC had another grueling basketball game that day, too. “Two free throws by Joe Quigg with six seconds left made the difference. UNC also played three overtimes in the semis, beating Michigan State,” explains SportsLifer.
In just 13 months, William Felton Russell won an NCAA Championship, Olympic Gold Medal, and the 1957 NBA Title. He had expunged any lingering doubts of his ability while earning the fellowship of his coach and teammates. Red Auerbach knew he would revolutionize basketball. pic.twitter.com/wW0NrcNtgP
— Hoop History (@H00PHISTORY) July 3, 2022
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- Bleacher Report
- NBC Sports
- Sports Illustrated
- The Grueling Truth
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