March Madness is undoubtedly one of the biggest sports events in the country. With an average of 10.5 million viewers per game in 2019, the final four marches of college basketball attracted many more viewers than many NFL and NBA games in the same year. This is in large part due to some of the historical college basketball games that take place.
Last year, NCAA games were canceled to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. The event was dearly missed, and many basketball fans couldn’t hide their disappointment. This year, March Madness returns on March 18. As we prepare for the event, here’s a recap of some of the best NCAA basketball matches ever played.
The Most Historical College Basketball Games
1. Duke Blue Devils vs. UNLV Rebels (NCAA Semifinals in 1991)
The year was 1991, and everyone thought the University of Nevada at Las Vegas would win back-to-back NCAA Championships. They had just completed the regular season and the Big West Tournament by winning games with an average of 27.5 points.
At the NCAA semifinals, though, the game wasn’t as clear-cut as some would have imagined. Both Duke and UNLV players came prepared to win. Duke put in more effort, though, and two free throws with 12 seconds to go secured a 79-77 victory for the Blue Devils’ men’s team. Duke went on to win the National Championship two days later and defended the title in 1992.
2. Duke Blue Devils vs. Kentucky Wildcats (Elite Eight in 1992)
Before Duke University defended their NCAA title, they toiled to get past the Kentucky men’s team in one of the most memorable college basketball games of all time. Like all great games, this match was won in the very last seconds.
The Wildcats were leading by one point with only 2.3 seconds to go. Then Duke took possession, and Christian Laettner threw the ball from the free-throw line to score a 15-foot game-winner that had everyone up on their feet. The game ended 104-103, and as we mentioned, Duke won the national title.
3. Villanova Wildcats vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (National Championship in 2016)
2016 was a wild year for the NCAA. The Athletic Association was pushing to keep sports betting illegal. And it was also fighting the idea of paying college players for their skills. It has since lost both of these battles. This guide talks more about sports betting, especially live betting. To be clear, you can bet on NCAA games in many, mainly matches that don’t involve your state’s local colleges.
That said, 2016 was also the year the Villanova Wildcats shocked college fans by defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels to win the national title game. It was a buzzer-beater that handed Villanova the trophy, a well-executed shot that entered this game into the annals of history.
Although many people will remember Kris Jenkins’ winner, one thing that makes the 2016 national tournament memorable is that it had multiple great moments. Think of the shot by Marcus Paige, a double-clutch three-ball executed with just 4.7 seconds left. Then there’s the comeback by North Carolina that almost ruined the party before Jenkins scored the winner.
4. N.C. State Wolfpack vs. Houston Cougars (National Championship in 1983)
During the 1983 National Tournament, one team came with an all-attack mindset. The other did little more than play defense. Of course, N.C was at the heart of the attack, often pushing to score with long-range shots. Houston was also fighting hard.
But it was the last minute of the game that genuinely confirmed North Carolina State deserved the championship. The Cougars were defending fiercely, at one point keeping the Wolfpack 18-feet away from their rim. Then, the Wolfpack made a three-point attempt with four seconds into the last whistle, and it paid off.
5. Kansas Jayhawks vs. Oklahoma Sooners (National Championship in 1988)
The final game of the 1988 Final Four Championships was wild. Shots were made left, right and center, and by the time the game reached halftime, Kansas and Oklahoma were both tied at 50. The second half was equally explosive, with Danny Manning leading Kansas with 31 points and 18 assists. His teammates, especially Milt Newton and Kevin Pritchard, also helped seal the victory 83-79.
To be clear, the Kansas Jayhawks were a six seed. And, at the time, teams seeded below number five had never won the NCAA Championship game, and many of them had trouble upsetting the Number One seeded team.
6. Connecticut Huskies vs. Duke Blue Devils (National Championship in 1999)
In 1999, the Blue Devils were favorites to lift the NCAA Championship. They had won all but one game in the regular season and were the top seed in the East Region. Most people also forgot UConn was the top seed in the West Region.
Connecticut had never won the NCAA Championship at this point, while the Blue Devils had won multiple championships. In light of that information, it’s easy to understand why everyone thought Duke would win. Duke was a 9.5-point favorite, according to oddsmakers.
As history would have it, though, victory belonged to the underdogs, and they certainly deserved it. The Huskies played solid defense all-night, holding Elton Brand of Duke to eight shots. And when they took control of the attack, they never looked back, winning the first-ever championships through one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.
7. Purdue Boilermakers vs. Virginia Cavaliers (Elite Eight in 2019)
You know a game was great when the Most Outstanding Player comes from a losing team. It was the first such award for Carsen Edwards, who scored 42 points and drained ten three-pointers in a losing game at the hands of Virginia, 80-75.
When you think about it, Edwards would most probably have preferred a victory to lead Purdue to the Final Four. But the Cavaliers were too good for the Boilermakers.
8. North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Kentucky Wildcats (Elite Eight in 2017)
Another Elite Eight NCAA game that could rank amongst the most historical college basketball games of all time is the 2017 game between North Carolina and Kentucky. Both teams were good enough to qualify for the Final Four. But one of them had to go out at the Elite Eight Stage.
The University of Kentucky unfortunately lost point guard De’Aaron Fox to a mid-season injury. And this cost them a number one seed. As a result, they had to play UNC, which handed them a 75-73 defeat earned through an upset in the game’s final minute.