Best national title games in college basketball history

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Do you need a list of college basketball’s best national title games? Because I do.

Today would be the day that we would be watching the college basketball national title game.

Instead, we are going to have to watch reruns of last night’s Wrestlemania.

That’s what live sports in 2020 exists as.

Anyway, since I know you need your fix, here is a list of the top ten best national title games in the history of college basketball.

If this isn’t enough to feed your need, check out our posts on the first weekend and the Sweet 16.


10. 1988: KANSAS 83, OKLAHOMA 79

This game doesn’t often get mentioned in the pantheon of the best national title games ever played, and I’m not sure why.

Kansas, a No. 6-seed, tied the record set by Villanova in 1985 as the biggest Vegas underdog to ever win a national title game. They were eight-point dogs against a powerhouse Oklahoma team, but Danny Manning carried the Jayhawks to a stunning win with a line of 31 points, 18 boards, five steals and two blocks.

What’s the most impressive thing about this game is that the first half was an absolute bonanza. The game, heading into the break, was tied at 50 before Kansas and head coach Larry Brown pulled away down the stretch.

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9. 1999: UCONN 77, DUKE 74

UConn shocked the world!

The Huskies were the biggest underdogs to ever win a national title game in 1999, when Rip Hamilton and Ricky Moore carried them to a national title over a juggernaut Duke team.

We spent 75 minutes on the most recent college basketball talk podcast breaking the game down. Listen in!

8. 1989: MICHIGAN 80, SETON HALL 79 OT

Michigan’s run to the 1989 national title is one of the wildest college basketball stories that is never discussed. Bill Frieder, Michigan’s head coach, announced before the tournament that he would be leaving the Wolverines to take over at Arizona State. Michigan’s AD did not like that, so he fired Frieder and plugged in Steve Fisher as the interim head coach.

Fisher did what all smart coaches do and let his otherworldly talent take over. Glen Rice averaged 30.7 points in six games, including 31 in the title game, while Rumeal Robinson hit a pair of free throws with three seconds left in OT to win the title.


What this game actually is remembered for is Michael Jordan.

He was the freshman star that hit a pull-up jumper with 17 seconds left to give a UNC team led by James Worthy and Sam Perkins a 63-62 lead. What it probably should be remembered for is Georgetown point guard Fred Brown inexplicably throwing the ball to Worthy on the ensuing possession, giving the Tar Heels the win.

It was Dean Smith’s first national title.

6. 2008: KANSAS 75, MEMPHIS 68 OT

This game is known for Mario Chalmers’ game-tying shot.

With a nine-point lead and less than two minutes remaining, Memphis opted to stop trying to make their free throws, instead missing four of five down the stretch while leaving the door open for the Jayhawks to make their run.

Regulation, as I’m sure you remember, ended like this:

And the Jayhawks were able to pull away in the extra frame, winning Bill Self his only NCAA tournament title.


Prior to UConn upsetting Duke in the 1999 national title game, Villanova’s win over Georgetown — and Kansas knocking off Oklahoma in 1988 — featured the biggest upset, from the perspective of the Vegas lines, in the history of the national title game.

Villanova played a perfect game. Rollie Massimo, Ed Pinckney and the Wildcats capped off the most improbable run through the NCAA tournament in the history of the event, winning the title as a No. 8 seed in the very first year that the event was expanded to 64 teams. They shot 79 percent for the came, and they are still the lowest-seeded team that has ever won a title.

4. 2019: VIRGINIA 85, TEXAS TECH 77 OT

A game between the two best defenses in college basketball turned into one of the best-executed second halves of basketball I can ever remember seeing.

This is what happens when you have elite coaches and high-level, veteran players on the court at the same time. They figured out how to exploit each other’s weaknesses, both teams went full small-ball — De’Andre Hunter was the biggest guy on the floor by the end of the game — and it turned into a thrilling, compelling finish. Texas Tech erased a 10-point deficit in the final 10 minutes and took the lead in the final minute only to see Hunter bang home a game-tying three with 12 seconds left.

The Wahoos pulled away in the extra frame, completing maybe the greatest story in the history of college basketball: Becoming the first No. 1-seed to ever lose to a No. 16-seed to winning a national title.

3. 1987: INDIANA 74, SYRACUSE 73

This game is known for the shot that Keith Smart hit with just four seconds left in the game.

With Steve Alford being face-guarded by Sherman Douglas, Smart found a way to get open for a 15-footer on the baseline that gave Bob Knight his third and final national title. Smart scored 12 of the final 15 points for the Hoosiers, and while the next two games on this list are better known title-winning buckets, Smart’s is the only one that was hit when his team was trailing.

2. 1983: N.C. STATE 54, HOUSTON 52

For my money, this game will go down as one of the worst beats in college basketball history.

Watch the final possession of the game.

Do it.

Right now:

Houston has to defend for 45 seconds. They nearly force a turnover twice in the final 15 seconds. They don’t allow the Wolfpack to get within 18 feet of the rim at any point. The shot that N.C. State gets to win the game is a 30-footer with four seconds left on the clock that’s an airball, and the only reason that the Cougars lost in regulation was because Whittenberg’s shot was an airball.

If that bounces off the front of the rim, Lorenzo Charles’ put-back dunk doesn’t happen. If Whittenberg gets a better look and has a normal miss, Jim Valvano would have to beat one of the best college basketball teams that we have ever seen to win his national title.

That, of course, is not the way it played out.

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 his lost his battle — became a national news story every December.

Maybe it’s true that everything happens for a reason.



I’m not sure this is even debatable.

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.

Everyone remembers the shot that Kris Jenkins hit to win the game at the buzzer, but what seems destined to be lost to the annals of history is the fact that Marcus Paige hit one of the greatest shots in NCAA tournament history with just 4.7 seconds left. His double-clutch, floating three-ball would be on par with the threes hit by Mario Chalmers in 2008 and De’Andre Hunter in 2019 if Kris Jenkins hadn’t won the game at the buzzer.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.