The 25 most memorable NCAA men’s national championship games


It’s always a special moment when the NCAA Tournament championship game lives up to the hype. The ones that leave lasting memories and keep fans talking years after the final buzzer sounded. 

Here’s our ranking of the 25 best national championship game moments.


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25. North Carolina 75, Illinois 70 (2005)

North Carolina 75, Illinois 70 (2005)

Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

This 2005 title-game matchup between the top two teams in the nation doesn’t always get the praise it deserves. The Illini, who brought just one loss into the championship game, trailed by 13 at the half and 15 in the second half but fought back to tie the contest twice over the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation. However, the Tar Heels, paced by 26 points and 10 rebounds from star Sean May, regained control and kept Illinois scoreless over the final 2 1/2 minutes to win coach Roy Williams his first national championship.


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24. Cincinnati 70, Ohio State 65 (OT) (1961)

Cincinnati 70, Ohio State 65 (OT) (1961)

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This was the first of Cincinnati’s back-to-back national championships that also happened to come against in-state rival Ohio State, which won its own title in 1960. The Buckeyes were college basketball’s gold standard at the time, but Cincinnati entered on a 21-game winning streak. Coach Ed Jucker’s Bearcats were able to successfully slow down the pace against a loaded Ohio State lineup that featured Hall-of-Famers John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas, and eventually outlast the favorites in overtime.


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23. Arkansas 76, Duke 72 (1994)

Arkansas 76, Duke 72 (1994)

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22. Syracuse 81, Kansas 78 (2003)

Syracuse 81, Kansas 78 (2003)

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Paced by freshman phenom Carmelo Anthony, third-seeded Syracuse beat No. 1 seeds Oklahoma and Texas to reach the national championship game. Against No. 2 Kansas in the title contest, Anthony shined with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists as Syracuse made 11 three-pointers (six from Gerry McNamara) and got a key block from Hakim Warrick in the final seconds to win the program’s first — and only — national championship.


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21. Arizona 84, Kentucky 79 (OT) (1997)

Arizona 84, Kentucky 79 (OT) (1997)

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En route to the program’s first national championship, fourth-seeded Arizona took down three No. 1 seeds — the only school to do so. The last being Kentucky, but Arizona needed overtime to seal the deal. A tight contest throughout, Arizona was finally able to pull away in the extra session, thanks to the play of Final Four Most Outstanding Player Miles Simon, who scored 14 of his game-high 30 points from the free-throw line.


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20. CCNY 71, Bradley 68 (1950)

CCNY 71, Bradley 68 (1950)

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The City College of the City University of New York enjoyed much success in 1950. In addition to beating Bradley for the eight-team NCAA Tournament championship, CCNY also claimed the NIT title that year. The Beavers were led by Irwin Dambrot, who had 15 points in the tournament final and was the beneficiary of a late “non-call” on what seemed like a foul on Bradley’s Gene Melchiorre, that could have put the Braves in position to win the game. This same CCNY team was part of the infamous college basketball point-shaving scandal of the late 1940s and into 1950. Which ultimately led to the Division I demise of the program


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19. California 71, West Virginia 70 (1959)

California 71, West Virginia 70 (1959)

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This is still a game West Virginia fans cringe at when thinking about. In the only national final in program history, the Jerry West-led Mountaineers failed to hold a 13-point first-half advantage. Cal, meanwhile, fought all the way back to pull out the victory thanks to Darrall Imhoff’s bucket with 17 seconds remaining in the contest. West finished 28 points and 11 rebounds in a loss that reportedly haunted him for years.


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18. Duke 61, Butler 59 (2010)

Duke 61, Butler 59 (2010)

Ryan McKee/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

This might be the only national championship game ever to be remembered for a missed shot at the buzzer. No. 5 seed and underdog Butler became America’s darling with an NCAA Tournament run to the national title game in its hometown of Indianapolis. Riding a 25-game winning streak, Butler cut a late five-point deficit to one but never got closer as the No. 1 seed Blue Devils held firm. However, Duke’s win was not secured under Bulldogs star Gordon Hayward’s halftime-court heave at the buzzer banked just off the iron.


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17. Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79 (1988)

Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79 (1988)

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Paced by star Danny Manning, Larry Brown’s sixth-seeded Jayhawks, which carried 11 losses into the NCAA Tournament, became known as “Danny and Miracles.” After knocking off No. 2 seed Duke in the national semifinals, Kansas shot a remarkable 63.6 percent and benefited from Manning’s 31 points, 18 rebounds, and five steals in beating Big 8 rival and favorite Oklahoma — which beat the Jayhawks twice during the regular season. That still remains one of the great individual title-game performances in NCAA Tournament history.


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16. Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 (OT) (1989)

Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 (OT) (1989)

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Michigan was a No. 3 seed with an interim coach in Steve Fisher. That did not matter, as the Wolverines caught fire in the NCAA Tournament. The case was relatively the same for Seton Hall, but for the interim coach. The entertaining and competitive matchup went to overtime, where the Wolverines trailed by three with less than a minute remaining. However, Terry Mills canned a turnaround jumper and, after a defensive stop, Rumeal Robinson was fouled and made two free throws with 3 seconds left to give Michigan its first national title.


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15. Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77 (OT) (2019)

Virginia 85, Texas Tech 77 (OT) (2019)

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports

It was quite an adventurous championship run for Virginia in 2019. The Cavaliers needed overtime to beat Purdue in the regional final then three late Kyle Guy free throws to improbably rally by Auburn in the Final Four. In the national final, Virginia saw Texas Tech erase a 10-point deficit to take a three-point lead before star De’Andre Hunter (27 points, nine rebounds) knocked down a 3 to force overtime. Hunter starred again in the extra session to help the Cavaliers win their first national title.


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14. UCLA 92, Kentucky 85 (1975)

UCLA 92, Kentucky 85 (1975)

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There’s nothing like going out on top. Arguably the greatest coach in college basketball history, John Wooden, aka the “Wizard of Westwood,” won the last game he coached for UCLA — this national final against Kentucky on March 31, 1975. Wooden, who announced his retirement following the Bruins’ semifinal victory over Louisville, claimed his 10th national championship, thanks to a combined 52 points and 33 rebounds from stars Dave Meyers and Richard Washington, over a 12-year span with UCLA — a mark that likely will never be broken. 


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13. Indiana 86, Michigan 68 (1976)

Indiana 86, Michigan 68 (1976)

Courtesy of the NCAA

The 1975-76 32-0 Hoosiers are still the last Division I team to go an entire season undefeated. Though we’re waiting to see about Gonzaga’s pursuit of perfection in 2021. Led by stars Scott May (26 points), Kent Benson (25 points, nine rebounds), and Quinn Buckner (16 points, eight rebounds, five steals, four assists), Indiana erased a six-point halftime deficit, but regrouped and shot 52.5 percent during what ended up a decisive championship-game victory over rival Michigan to complete the perfect campaign.


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12. Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT) (2008)

Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT) (2008)

San Antonio Express-News/ZUMA Press/Icon Sportswire

In what remains one of the most memorable comebacks in NCAA Tournament history, Kansas overcame a nine-point deficit against Derrick Rose and Memphis with a little more than two minutes to play in regulation. The rally was highlighted by Mario Chalmers’ heavily contested three-pointer off the dribble with 2.1 seconds left to force overtime. The Jayhawks then outscored the Tigers 12-5 in the extra session. Talk about clutch, especially since it came in the biggest game of the year.


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11. UCLA 87, Memphis State 66 (1973)

UCLA 87, Memphis State 66 (1973)

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Sometimes one player can take over a game and lead their team to victory. That was the case when UCLA capped its 30-0 season of 1972-73 with a 75th consecutive victory and seventh straight national title, beating Memphis State. Most impressive about that win was the performance from Bruins big man Bill Walton. He scored an NCAA Tournament championship game-record 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting and recorded 13 rebounds in 33 minutes. It’s perhaps the most dominant all-time individual performance ever in the NCAA Tournament.


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10. North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 (3OT) (1957)

North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 (3OT) (1957)

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The Tar Heels were 31-0 entering this title contest against Wilt Chamberlain and the Jayhawks. But, Carolina needed a triple-overtime to get past Michigan State in the national semifinals. Kansas, which had two losses, was actually favored in the game. The Tar Heels rallied to force the first overtime, where each team scored a field goal. Following a scoreless second overtime, Joe Quigg made two free throws in the final seconds to give North Carolina the victory that capped its perfect season.


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9. Indiana 74, Syracuse 73 (1987)

Indiana 74, Syracuse 73 (1987)


Hoosiers fans are so hungry for a sixth national title, that they still talk about the exhilarating finish to 1987’s national championship game as if it was yesterday. Keith Smart was often overshadowed by Steve Alford during his brief time with the Hoosiers, but he’ll forever have a place in Indiana basketball lore. Smart’s jumper from the corner as time expired gave the Hoosiers’ the one-point win over Syracuse. Smart finished with 21 points, six assists, five rebounds, and two steals.


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8. North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62 (1982)

North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62 (1982)

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

This classic 1982 national final was known not for one, but two memorable moments. Though, Georgetown fans like to forget the one involving its squad. Freshman Michael Jordan’s go-ahead jumper in the final seconds of regulation ultimately gave North Carolina the championship. It remains one of the most memorable shots in NCAA Tournament history. Shortly after Jordan’s bucket, however, came perhaps the most memorable turnover of all time. Georgetown’s Fred Brown dribbled and, lost among the moving bodies, inadvertently passed the ball right to Carolina’s James Worthy, who dribbled down court and was fouled, securing the title for the Tar Heels. 


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7. Loyola, Chicago 60, Cincinnati 58 (OT) (1963)

Loyola, Chicago 60, Cincinnati 58 (OT) (1963)

Loyola University Chicago

Fans of college basketball history are well aware of the historical significance of Loyola’s regional semifinal matchup with Mississippi State — known as the “Game of Change” in the 1963 NCAA Tournament. But, the Ramblers capped their national championship run with a thrilling overtime victory against two-time defending national champion Cincinnati. Loyola started four black players while Cincinnati had three in its starting lineup, an extreme rarity at the time. The Ramblers trailed by 15 in the second half but turned on the full-court pressure to rattle Cincinnati and get back in the game. Loyola star Jerry Harkness scored all 14 of his points after halftime and Ramblers ultimately outlasted the Bearcats for the upset.


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6. Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64 (1979)

Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64 (1979)

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The rivalry between college stars Ervin “Magic” Johnson of Michigan State and Indiana State’s Larry Bird began in the championship game of the 1979 NCAA Tournament. Though the Sycamores entered the game undefeated, Johnson had 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists to help the Spartans beat Bird (19 points, 13 rebounds, five steals) for their first title in what’s still the highest-rated televised college basketball game. 


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5. North Carolina 77, Michigan 71 (1993)

North Carolina 77, Michigan 71 (1993)


Led by the “Fab Five,” who were now sophomores, Michigan reached the national championship game for a second consecutive season. While the game was highly entertaining, it will also be remembered for Wolverines star Chris Webber calling that infamous timeout the team didn’t have amid a close contest. A technical was assessed, the Tar Heels got the ball and ultimately the championship. What’s often forgotten is that Webber posted 23 points, 11 rebounds, and blocked three shots in what was his final collegiate game.


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4. Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 (1985)

Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 (1985)

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Going into the 1985 national championship game, it was said Villanova had to play the perfect game to upset fellow Big East foe and national power Georgetown. The eighth-seeded Wildcats pretty much did. Villanova shot a Final Four-best 78.6 percent, and forward Ed Pinckney (16 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals) outplayed Hoyas star Patrick Ewing to help his team pull off one of the great upsets in tournament history — and give the school its first national championship. The Wildcats are still the lowest seed to ever win a national championship.


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3. Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 (2016)

Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 (2016)

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Villanova’s next visit to the national final was perhaps even more memorable for Wildcat fans. In one of the most competitive and entertaining title games in NCAA Tournament history, North Carolina guard Marcus Paige’s leg-splitting three tied the game with 4.7 seconds left. Then Kris Jenkins went one better, hitting perhaps the greatest three-point shot ever attempted, at the buzzer, to give Villanova the emotional victory and stun the Tar Heels.


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2. Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 (1966)

Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 (1966)

Rich Clarkson/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

College hoops fans of any age, really, should know the story of Texas Western’s 1966 national final win over an all-white Kentucky team. It’s not only one of the greatest moments in sports history but also a significant event in terms of the American civil rights movement. Coached by Don Haskins, who didn’t see color, but only talent, when it came to his athletes, Western was the first squad to win a national championship with five black starters. It beat Kentucky, among the country’s great programs and one that, as often reported, sided with conformity when it came to the racial perspective of the times. Bobby Joe Hill scored 20 points to lead Texas Western, which shot 45 percent from the field and went 28-of-34 from the free-throw line.


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1. North Carolina State 54, Houston 52 (1983)

North Carolina State 54, Houston 52 (1983)


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. Plus, who can forget the image of Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano scrambling on the floor of The Pit looking for a hug?

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago. You can follow Jeff at @jeffm401.


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