It was a shot every kid who grows up playing basketball in America dreams of making. For Villanova forward Kris Jenkins, that dream, the one so many of us have had, became an almost unthinkable reality last night. And we, as basketball fans, were treated to one of the greatest athletic competitions, of any kind, last night in the process.
So with the endorphins from last's night thriller still buzzing, let’s take a look at the 10 greatest NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship Games in history.
1) Villanova vs. North Carolina, 2016
What better place to start than last night’s instant classic between Villanova and North Carolina? It’s already being called by many the greatest game in college basketball history, and with good reason. Along with being a back-and-forth contest throughout the entire game, the last 30 seconds of Nova vs. UNC was basketball at its most exciting.
Prior to Jenkins' game-winner, UNC guard Marcus Paige hit a breathtaking double-clutch three-point shot to tie the game at 74 all. Unfortunately for Paige and Tar Heels fans, that three-pointer will be one of the greatest shots basketball fans fail to remember.
Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beating three-pointer a few seconds later was a moment that will live forever. There’s an old saying in basketball that the inbounder is most dangerous man on the court. That typically doesn’t apply when a team has to go the length of the court to make a shot. But typically speaking, national championships aren’t won at the buzzer.
Kris Jenkins was the inbounder on last night’s final play.
2) Duke vs. Wisconsin, 2015
After last night’s excitement, it’s easy to forget that last year’s title game was also a thriller. Duke and Wisconsin battled in a game that featured 13 lead changes in the first half alone.
After Duke fell behind by nine points in the second half, relatively unknown freshman guard Grayson Allen led Duke on a rally in which it would reclaim the lead with a little more than five minutes to play. Duke was then able to fend off Frank Kaminsky and his Badgers, taking home the national championship trophy with a tightly contested 68-63 win. It was the fifth national title of the Mike Krzyzewski era.
3) Duke vs. Butler, 2010
Duke won its fourth national championship five years earlier, defeating the Cinderella Butler Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament Final. Or to put it more accurately, Duke JUST BARELY beat the Cinderella Butler Bulldogs in the NCAA Tournament Final.
The game had the potential to go down as the greatest ever with the greatest buzzer-beater of all time — however, Butler star Gordon Hayward was unable to make a game-winning three-point shot from half court as time expired. Hayward’s shot went off the backboard and popped off the top of the rim, giving Duke a 61-59 win and that year’s national championship.
Had Hayward made that shot, it would have likely gone down as the greatest moment in tournament history. But alas, it just wasn’t meant to be for Butler.
4) Kansas vs. Memphis, 2008
John Calipari’s Memphis Tigers faced off against Bill Self’s Kansas Jawhawks in the 2008 national title game. The game was an instant classic. Led by future NBA MVP Derrick Rose, Memphis appeared to have the game in hand with a nine-point lead and less than two minutes remaining in regulation.
The Jawhawks, led by Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur, would rally to cut the lead to three points with 10 seconds remaining. Chalmers then stepped up to the plate and hit an improbable three-pointer to tie the game at 63 apiece with two seconds remaining.
The game then went to an overtime period in which Kansas took a stranglehold on the game. Memphis would cut the Jayhawks' OT lead to three points, but Kansas made its free throws down the stretch to win its first championship since 1988.
5) Michigan vs. North Carolina, 1993
The 1993 national championship game between Michigan and North Carolina was a frantic, back-and-forth matchup between two teams that were evenly matched. But the only thing most basketball fans remember from this game was a blunder for the ages by Michigan sophomore Chris Webber.
Down by two points with 20 seconds remaining, C-Webb took the ball into the frontcourt and was trapped in the corner by UNC’s defense. Webber then did what just about any player would do in that situation: He called a timeout. The problem was the Wolverines didn’t have any timeouts remaining. The subsequent penalty from Webber calling a timeout his team didn’t have effectively ended the game.
Michigan lost to UNC 77-71, and what could have been one the greatest moments of Chris Webber’s life turned into a nightmare.
6) Michigan vs. Seton Hall, 1989
It hasn’t been all bad news for Michigan basketball, however, as the Wolverines defeated Seton Hall 80-79 in the 1989 national title game. Led by Glen Rice and Rumeal Robinson, the Wolverines sank two free throws with three seconds remaining in overtime to give Michigan its first ever national championship in basketball.
Although it was easily one of the greatest title games in tourney history, the following years in which the “Fab Five” took over Michigan basketball have caused many fans to overlook this thriller.
7) Indiana vs. Syracuse, 1987
Say what you will about Bob Knight, but there’s no denying the success he had during his tenure as head coach of the Indiana University. Perhaps Knight’s finest moment as the Hoosiers coach came in 1987 when his team defeated Syracuse in the national title game.
The Hoosiers and Orangemen were neck and neck with each other through the entire 40-minute contest. With the Hoosiers trailing by one point in the final seconds, Indiana guard Keith Smart buried a baseline jumper with four seconds remaining to give his team the lead. The Hoosiers then stole the ensuing inbounds pass and won their fifth national championship in school history.
8) NC State vs. Houston, 1983
If there is any national title game that can truly rival what we witnessed last night in Houston, it would be the 1983 matchup between North Carolina State and the University of Houston. The Houston Cougars, led by Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, were heavy favorites to end NC State’s dream run. But the Wolfpack, led by an upstart coach by the name of Jim Valvano, had other plans.
Tightly contested throughout, NC State found itself down by one point with the final seconds remaining in regulation ticking away. Wolfpack guard Derek Wittenberg heaved a desperation shot from well over 30 feet out. The shot was offline, but Houston forgot to box out Wolfpack center Lorenzo Charles. Charles grabbed Wittenberg’s miss mid-air and dunked it home as time expired.
The Cinderella run from the Wolfpack was complete. Jim Valvano leaped into the air and ran around the court like a madman looking for anyone to hug. And just like the end of last night’s national title game, it was a moment those who witnessed it will never forget.
9) North Carolina vs. Georgetown, 1982
The 1982 national title game between North Carolina and Georgetown saw a shooting guard by the name of Michael Jeffrey Jordan introduce himself to the basketball world. Like he would do so many times in his NBA career, Jordan hit a legendary shot along the baseline with 17 seconds remaining to give UNC a 63-62 lead it would not relinquish. Jordan’s heroics gave famed Tar Heels head coach Dean Smith his first national championship victory.
10) North Carolina vs. Kansas, 1957
Unless you’ve been watching college basketball since the Eisenhower administration, you probably weren’t expecting the 1957 title game between North Carolina and Kansas to be on this list. But considering the game went into triple-overtime, this game deserves to be remembered.
The Kansas Jawhawks, led by some guy named Wilt Chamberlain, had a chance to win the game in the final seconds of the third overtime. But a pass intended for Chamberlain in the low post was under-thrown and stolen by UNC guard Tommy Kearns. Kearns then threw the ball up in the air as high as he could, and time expired on the Jawhawks. By the score of 54-53, the Tar Heels had taken down Chamberlain and the Jawhawks.