National championship games are not always close, fun-to-watch games between the two best teams in the country. Sometimes they just seem like a regular season game, but there have been many finales that have outshone the others. Here are the highlights and stories behind some of the most exciting final games in the history of the tournament:
Villanova vs. UNC (2016)
This matchup was not a surprise to anyone who watched college basketball in the 2015-2016 season. UNC was at the top of the ACC all season, which was not an easy feat. The ACC had seven teams in the tournament although it should have had eight (Louisville placed a postseason ban on themselves despite their outstanding program). Villanova was highly ranked all season, even taking the number one spot for a short while in the middle of the season. The entire championship game was back-and-forth between the Wildcats and the Tar Heels. UNC led at halftime, but Villanova played very well during the second half and had the lead going into the final minute. An impossible three-pointer by Marcus Paige tied it up, forcing a Villanova timeout. With 1.7 seconds left on the clock, the Wildcats got the ball in to point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono passed to teammate Kris Jenkins, who released the ball with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. In what was maybe the most exciting finish to a championship game ever, the shot went in, and Villanova won.
Michigan vs. Seton Hall (1989)
Michigan went 30-7 in the 1988-1989 season. They had a sudden coaching change before the tournament when Coach Bill Frieder was fired. Assistant coach Steve Fisher replaced him and led Michigan to their national championship. Seton Hall was coached by P.J. Carlesimo, a much-loved coach who led the Pirates both to their first NCAA tournament and to their first NCAA championship game. This game was decided in overtime by a pair of free throws. 64% free throw-shooter Rumeal Robinson was fouled and sent to the line with three seconds remaining. Robinson hit both free throws to put the Wolverines in the lead 80-79. It was an ending that forces the losing team to kick themselves; two made free throws earlier in the game could have won it for Seton Hall.
NC State vs. Houston (1983)
The 1983 season had already been a wild ride for the Wolfpack. They beat Michael Jordan’s Tar Heels in the ACC championship game to get in the tournament. As a six-seed, no one expected them to make it as far as they did, much less win the championship. Houston, on the other hand, was the favorite to win the championship. Nicknamed Phi Slamma Jamma, the Cougars were a team of dunking superstars. No team they played stood a chance. However, NC State hung with them, and it was a tied ball game when the final seconds were ticking away. Wolfpack point guard Dereck Whittenburg jacked up a pass to Lorenzo Charles at the basket. Charles leapt, grabbed the ball, and dunked it to win 54-52. It was a poetic finish, especially because of Houston’s penchant for dunking.
These are just three examples of many exciting national championship games, and it is safe to say that there will plenty more.