March Madness is one of the most watched sporting events of the year. From the rapid fire drama of the opening week to the intensity of the championship game, there isn’t anything else in sports quite like it. Since the tournament was first formed in 1939, we have seen champion games that feature everything in sports — blowouts, upsets, buzzer beaters, and plain ol’ great matchups that added to (or created) bitter college ball rivalries.
With March always just around the corner, we combed through the history of the tournament and selected 10 games that are must-see viewing for any basketball fan. If you aren’t already familiar with these national championship tilts, set aside some time to watch these clips, featuring some of the best games in March Madness history.
10. Michigan State 75 Indiana State 64 – 1979
The outcome of this game was irrelevant, considering the massive television audience and the fact it pitted two future NBA stars against each other — the Spartans’ Earvin “Magic” Johnson and the Sycamores’ Larry Bird. Johnson, a very tall point guard (listed a 6’9″), was brilliant in the Spartans’ victory, which is said to have spawned the term “March Madness” because of the anticipation and 20 million viewers it garnered. Johnson scored 24 on 8-of-16 shooting, to go with seven rebounds and five assists. Bird was a rebounding machine, grabbing a game-high 13, but he was too erratic from the floor, hitting just seven of his 21 attempts (way below his tournament average) and five of eight free throws for a team-high 19.
9. North Carolina 77 Michigan 71 – 1993
Not even the “Fab Five,” in the their second consecutive championship game, had an answer for the Tar Heels in this one. And the leader of the five, Chris Webber, had a lot to do with the Wolverines dropping their second consecutive title game. With just 20 seconds to go and down 73-71, Webber had the ball and proceeded to make one of the most absent-minded gaffes in the annals of sport. Webber rebounded a missed free throw from UNC’s Pat Sullivan, dragged his feet, but wasn’t called for a travel, luckily. So, unencumbered by a whistle, he dribbled the ball down the right side, only to get trapped. He did the next logical thing in that situation and called for a time-out. Only Michigan was out of time-outs and Webber got Tee’d Up, effectively handing the Tar Heels and legendary coach Dean Smith yet another championship.
8. Kansas 75 Memphis 68 (OT) – 2008
In the only tournament that featured all No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, the veteran-laden Jayhawks, under coach Bill Self subdued the Tigers, led by John Calipari (in his one and only season as Memphis’ bench boss). With future NBA superstar and MVP Derrick Rose in the line-up, Calipari and the Tigers looked like they were going to pull it off. Rose had already scored 18 and had eight assists to help put Memphis up 60-51 with just 2:21 left to play. But, the pressure of the moment got to Rose and his teammates, especially at the free-throw line where they missed several attempts. In fact, Rose had made one of two with 10.8 ticks left on the clock to put his team up 63-60. However, tournament Most Outstanding Player Mario Chalmers was able to drop a three-pointer to send the game into overtime, where the Jayhawks would prevail for their first tournament win in 20 years.
7. UConn 77 Duke 74 – 1999
While it wasn’t exactly a David vs. Goliath scenario — both teams were No. 1 seeds – it certainly felt like the little guys slayed the monster in this classic. The Blue Devils under Coach K came into the title match at 37-1, with a 38th win guaranteeing a NCAA record and of course a third national title. The Huskies, who lost to Duke on a Christian Laettner buzzer-beater in the 1990 Elite Eight, were a team on the cusp of greatness and in their first ever national final. And Huskies’ All-American Richard Hamilton paved the way to UConn’s first championship, scoring 27 points. Otherwise, the Huskies got a huge defensive stop from Ricky Moore, who forced Duke’s star guard Trajan Langdon into a late-game traveling violation and two key free throws from Khalid El-Amin (putting UConn up 77-74 with 5.2 seconds left, effectively sealing the deal).
6. Michigan 80 Seton Hall 79 (OT) – 1989
Before the “Fab Five” at Michigan, there was Glen “G Money” Rice and coach Steve Fisher, who was handed the coaching job by Wolverines athletic director Bo Schembechler just a day before March Madness began in 1989. Schembechler fired coach Bill Frieder after Fisher — a Michigan native — announced he was taking a head coaching job at Arizona State the next year, to which the legendary old football coach replied “A Michigan man will coach Michigan.” Rice, who would also go on to win a NBA title with the Lakers, scored an amazing 184 points in six tournament games, which still stands as the most ever in tournament history. Rice would score 31 in the final, where two free throws from not-so-hot charity stripe shooter Rumeal Robinson (he was 64 percent that season) in the dying seconds of overtime gave Michigan the triumph.
5. North Carolina 54 Kansas 53 (3 OT) – 1957
Sixty years ago, the Tar Heels faced one gigantic obstacle on their way to their first ever national title. That obstacle being Kansas Jayhawks’ center Wilt Chamberlain. In what could only be described as a bit of comic relief mixed with strategy, UNC coach Frank McGuire actually sent out 5’11” guard Tommy Kearns to take the opening tip-off against 7’1″ Chamberlain. Otherwise, the remaining four Tar Heels were posted in a zone defense under the basket. Incredibly, the two teams would score just two points each in the first two overtimes, until the Tar Heels outscored the Jayhawks 6-5 in the third extra period, highlighted by a pair of late free throws from Joe Quigg. Chamberlain, for the record, was everything he was supposed to be, scoring a game high 23 points and 14 rebounds.
4. N.C. State 54 Houston 52 – 1983
In the end, Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma – aka Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler — were no match for Jim Valvano’s Wolfpack and their bag of tricks. N.C. State actually had to win the ACC tournament that year just to qualify, and then make it through a first round OT nail-biter against Pepperdine on the way to the final. The Wolfpack denied Phi Slamma Jamma any quarter in the first half and took a 33-25 lead into the locker room. In the second, however, the Cougars went on a 17-2 run to build a 42-35 lead, only to be undone by extremely poor foul shooting. Valvano had instructed his charges to foul Houston freshman guard Alvin Franklin with 1:08 left and the score tied 52-52 sending him to the charity stripe for a one-and-one. He missed, the Wolfpack recovered and called time out with 44 seconds left. N.C. State then made an unending series of passes before Dereck Whittenburg tossed up a bomb with about five seconds left. It looked to sail wide, but miraculously, Lorenzo Charles came out of nowhere to slam dunk an apparent miss for the win.
3. Villanova 66 Georgetown 64 – 1985
Being the de facto underdog is nothing new to the Villanova Wildcats. The Wildcats were seeded eighth in 185, and had already lost twice to Big East rival Georgetown that season, heading into the national championship showdown. The Hoyas and Patrick Ewing sailed through the Big Dance, downing Big East rival St. John’s 77-59 in the Final Four. Villanova, meanwhile, beat Memphis State 52-45 to punch their ticket. In the final, Ewing wasn’t much of a factor, scoring just 14 points and grabbing five rebounds, while Villanova’s Most Outstanding Player Ed Pinckney (16 points, six rebounds, five assists) and the rest of his team shot an incredible 78.6% from the field to record the shocking upset.
2. Indiana 74 Syracuse 73 – 1987
This one was more about who was coaching — Indiana’s legendary Bobby Knight vs. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim — than who was actually playing. Controversial firebrand Knight would actually win his third and last national championship, largely due to the contributions of unheralded players Steve Alford (who scored 23) and Keith Smart, who scored a memorable jumper (two of his 20 points) with just a few seconds left for the victory. The Orange, on the other hand, had a star-studded cast of future NBA players like “General” Sherman Douglas (20 points, seven assists), Rony Seikaly (18 points, 10 rebounds) and Derrick Coleman (19 rebounds).
1. North Carolina 63 Georgetown 62 – 1982
If ever a national title game was given No. 1 status for involving future Hall of Famers, the 1982 contest wins, hands down. On the Tar Heels side was none other than His (future) Airness, Michael Jordan, as well as James Worthy (Hall of Fame 2003 class) and Sam Perkins. Suiting up for the Hoyas was freshman Patrick Ewing, who we all know went on to bigger and better things despite being on the losing end of two national title games with Georgetown. On the sidelines were revered coaches John Thompson of Georgetown and Dean Smith of UNC. Worthy would cop Most Outstanding Player honors, pouring in 28 points, while Jordan supplied — naturally — a late game jumper to that put the Tar Heels ahead for the win.