Do you have any idea what today is? I know that the calendar has tended to blend together the past few weeks with everything that is going on. But today was the day scheduled for the NCAA men’s basketball championship, culminating all that is great about March Madness. But no, the game will be silent, just like sports has been for the past few weeks. I am missing all of the excitement of the game of basketball, as I’m sure everyone that is reading this is. So, let’s take a stroll down memory lane and take a look at the greatest men’s basketball championships.
Number Five: Michigan Beats Seton Hall 80-79 on OT on April 3, 1989
There was a lot of drama surrounding the Wolverines entering the tournament. Head coach Bill Frieder accepted the same position at Arizona State just days before Michigan was slated to begin their tournament game. He thought he would remain the coach throughout the postseason, but Athletic Director Bo Schembechler had other ideas and let Frieder go, giving the job to Steve Fisher. All Fisher did was coach the Wolverines all the way to the title game. And what a game it was. The Pirates were a formidable team, going 31-6 and winning their tournament games by an average margin of 15.2 points. The game was a classic battle, especially the last minute with clutch shot after clutch shot. Overtime was equally sensational as Seton Hall led by one with three seconds left. Michigan’s Rumeal Robinson went to the free-throw line and calmly hit both shots, giving Michigan the win. Fisher had a national title with only six games under his belt.
Number Four: Indiana Beats Syracuse 74-73 on March 30, 1987
This was one of the classic tournament games. There were 19 lead changes and 10 ties during this game and appropriately, it came down to the last moments. With 30 seconds remaining, Syracuse led by one with Derrick Coleman headed to the free-throw line. He missed the front end of a one-and-one. Indiana got the rebound and patiently brought the ball up the floor. It made sense to get the ball to Keith Smart, who had scored 12 of the last 15 Hoosier points. He pulled up from 18 feet out and swished the game-winner with four seconds remaining. Smart also intercepted the ball during Syracuse’s rush up the floor after the basket, ensuring the national championship. It was certainly a clutch performance and the game was one of the greatest men’s basketball championships.
Number Three: North Carolina Beats Michigan 77-71 on April 5, 1993
This game is most known for a massive screw up, but it was also a great championship game. With the Tar Heels leading 73-71 with 20 seconds remaining, Michigan’s Chris Webber rebounded a missed free throw and brought the ball up court looking for the game-winning shot. From there, it was all downhill for Webber and the Wolverines. Webber took the ball to the right-wing, where he was trapped by North Carolina. He then called a time out, which Michigan didn’t have. A technical was called and the ball was given to the Tar Heels. They hit their free throws and went out to win the championship. It was Dean Smith’s second and last title. Webber went on to a solid NBA career, but he will never escape his error in New Orleans.
Number Two: Kansas Beats Memphis 75-68 in OT on April 7, 2008
An overtime game is always an outstanding masterpiece and this was no exception. The Tigers looked like they were on their way to a title, leading by nine points with just over two minutes to go. But because of poor free-throw shooting, it was not to be. Memphis missed four of their last five attempts from the charity stripe and Kansas took full advantage. They scored 12 points down the stretch to get back in the game. Derrick Rose did hit one out of two from the line to give Memphis a three-point lead. That was when Mario Chalmers hit one of the clutchest clutch shots of all time, a three-pointer with 2.1 seconds to play to send the game into overtime. The Jayhawks scored the first six points in the extra period and went on to win. This game definitely qualifies as one of the greatest men’s basketball championships.
Number One: Villanova Beats North Carolina 77-74 on April 4, 2016
Speaking of clutch shots, it doesn’t get any better than this game. There have been plenty of pressure packed baskets in championship history, but this game had not just one, but two. With the Wildcats up three with seconds on the clock, Marcus Paige hit the above shot to tie the score. Paige said after the game that he saw an open player under the basket, realized he needed three points and double clutched the shot into the basket. If North Carolina had won the game, it would certainly be remembered as one of the greatest shots ever. But Kris Jenkins one upped him. Coming out of a time out, Jenkins put the ball up just over the half court line. Unbelievably, it went in, giving Villanova the title. Given the magnitude of the two shots, there is no question this is the greatest men’s basketball championship game ever.
There is no question that we are in the middle of a sports white out. We need all of the distractions we can get. Hopefully, this walk down memory lane helps lessen the impact of the virus. Please feel free to give me your top games and we can all forget about the world for a while.