The annual NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament finale has provided college sports fans with some of the greatest basketball games ever seen. One need only recall the legendary championships won with last-ditch buzzer-beaters by the Villanova Wildcats in 2016 and the North Carolina State Wolfpack in 1983. NC State’s win over Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler’s Houston Cougars was so incredible that it ranks among the most dramatic moments in sports history.

Today’s list features 10 of the greatest March Madness men’s championship games, which include performances by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Patrick Ewing. The last game played in each year’s NCAA bracket is one of the most anticipated sporting events each year, and it rarely fails to live up to the hype.

When is the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game?

The 2023 NCAA championship final will take place at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on Monday, April 3. A time has not yet been set for the game.

The Final Four tips off two days prior on Saturday, April 1, at the same stadium, which seats just over 72,000 fans. Given the venue’s imposing size, the 2023 NCAA basketball championship game is sure to be a major spectacle. The arena has a great track record, too. The last time NRG Stadium hosted the Final Four was in 2016, when Villanova became the first team to win a championship on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game History

The NCAA men’s basketball championship game dates all the way back to 1939, when Oregon defeated Ohio State 46-33 in the inaugural tournament’s final matchup. That game -- played at the Patten Gymnasium in Evanston, Ill. -- drew an estimated crowd of roughly 4,000 to 5,000 fans.

The 2022 championship game was a reminder of just how far the tournament has come. Some 69,423 fans attended last year’s final between UNC and Kansas, in which the four-time champion Jayhawks won their first title since 2008. More than 18 million people viewed the game’s broadcast on television and streaming apps – setting a cable TV record for an NCAA championship game.

UCLA has the most championship-game wins in NCAA tournament history, having claimed 11 titles. That includes a miraculous run between 1964 and 1975, when the Bruins won 10 of their 11 championships. The other one came in 1995.

Since the 3-point line arrived at the tournament in 1987, the average score of an NCAA basketball championship game has been 77-68. Historically, the championship’s final scores have increased over time due to the introduction of 3-pointers, the addition of a shot clock, and other ways in which the game of basketball has evolved.

Ranking the Top 10 Best NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Games in March Madness History

  1. 1957 NCAAB championship: North Carolina vs. Kansas

Closing NCAAB betting lines: N/A
Final score: North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 (3OT)

North Carolina was undefeated entering the 1957 NCAA championship game at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium. At 31-0, the Bruins were ranked No. 1 in the country, but they would run into a Wilt Chamberlain-fueled Kansas Jayhawks team looking to spoil their party. Although the Tar Heels were unbeaten, Chamberlain’s Jayhawks were the pregame favorites.

UNC took an early lead and led by seven at the half, but the rejuvenated Jayhawks stole the lead in the second half. It all came down to the final minute -- when North Carolina leveled the score and forced the game into the first of what would eventually be three overtime periods. A total of just 15 points were scored across the three OTs, the second of which was completely scoreless.

It would end up being UNC guard Joe Quigg who broke the deadlock with two free throws in the dying moments of the third overtime. The Tar Heels won the first national championship in school history under coach Frank McGuire, finishing their season a perfect 32-0.

  1. 1987 NCAAB championship game: Indiana vs. Syracuse

Closing NCAAB betting lines: Indiana - 4.5
Final score: Indiana 74, Syracuse 73

In the 1987 March Madness finale, head coach Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers managed to beat head coach Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orangemen in a remarkable and impressive manner. The final was played at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, adding to the excitement and intensity of the event.

The game was close throughout, as Indiana, the Midwest’s No. 1 seed, went up against the East’s No. 2 seed on the big Superdome stage. Indiana’s Keith Smart would emerge as the hero against Syracuse, scoring 21 points and sinking the game-winning jumper with just four seconds left on the clock.

Syracuse called a timeout, looking to run one final play to regain the lead, but by the time the clock stopped only one second remained. Smart intercepted a long pass attempt and hurled the ball into the stands as time expired.

Boeheim would have to wait until 2003 to win his first title with Syracuse, and the legendary coach remained at the school until this year, when he retired as one of the all-time longest-serving NCAA coaches.

  1. 1973 NCAA Basketball championship: UCLA vs. Memphis State

Closing NCAAB betting lines: N/A
Final score: UCLA 87, Memphis State 66

The 1973 March Madness title game in St. Louis might not have been as close as some others on this list, but it is memorable for the legendary talent displayed by college superstar Bill Walton.

Walton had helped UCLA to the national title in 1972, and the Bruins were back to try and defend their championship reign. Walton would go on to score 44 points in the 1973 final against Memphis State -- the highest-scoring total in NCAA championship game history. The Bruins’ big man shot 21-for-22 from the floor with 13 rebounds in what is considered among the most dominant performances in college basketball history.

The win completed a perfect 32-0 season for the Bruins and stretched their overall unbeaten streak to 75 games, as UCLA claimed its seventh consecutive championship under legendary coach John Wooden. The UCLA dynasty’s championship streak will likely never be repeated by another NCAA team.

  1. 1963 championship: Loyola Chicago vs. Cincinnati

Closing NCAAB betting lines: N/A
Final score: Loyola Chicago 60 Cincinnati 58 (OT)

The 1963 championship-game upset at Louisville’s Freedom Hall is one of the great stories on today's list.

Loyola Chicago had played against Mississippi State in the now famous ‘Game of Change’ that saw the Ramblers endure racial discrimination for starting four African-American players. They would win that historic game against the all-white Bulldogs to reach the final against a Cincinnati team with three black players in its starting five -- another rare lineup at the time.

The Ramblers rallied from a 15-point deficit in one of the biggest comebacks in national championship history to overcome both the Bearcats and all the discrimination they had faced at the tournament. They were crowned NCAA men’s champions in a game that marked an incredible moment of progress for men's college basketball.

  1. 1982 NCAAB championship game: North Carolina vs. Georgetown

Closing NCAAB betting lines: N/A
Final score: North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62

The 1982 NCAA men’s basketball championship game was among the earliest defining moments in the legendary career of Michael Jordan.

The Tar Heels were led by future NBA superstar James Worthy that year, as Jordan was just a freshman at the time. UNC had gone 31-2 and entered the championship game riding a 15-game winning streak. They were ready for their showdown with a Georgetown Hoyas team led by freshman All-American Patrick Ewing.

Jordan sank a jumper from the left side that put the Tar Heels in front with 14 seconds remaining -- making for one of the most memorable moments in college basketball history. However, the moment that followed became even more significant. Georgetown still had time to win the game as Fred Brown dribbled over the half-court line looking for an open teammate. In the pressure of the moment, Brown threw a touch pass directly to Worthy -- as if he were his Hoyas teammate – to ice the game in UNC’s favor.

The Louisiana Superdome went ballistic over the dramatic final seconds that are still remembered as one of the most bizarre and fascinating endings in the tournament's history.

  1. 1979 NCAA championship: Michigan State vs. Indiana State

Closing NCAAB betting lines: N/A
Final score: Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64

The 1979 NCAA basketball title game at Salt Lake City, Utah, featured two future NBA stars who would become icons of the professional game on their way to the Hall of Fame. Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird led the Indiana State Sycamores against Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans in one of the most anticipated finals in college basketball history.

Bird had helped the Sycamores put together an undefeated 33-0 season, while Michigan State had gone 25-6. Johnson came out on top in the first major encounter between the two greats -- scoring 24 points with five assists and seven rebounds in the Spartans’ championship win.

The two legends met three more times in the NBA Finals during the years that Bird played for the Celtics and Magic was with the Los Angeles Lakers.

  1. 1985 NCAA championship: Villanova vs. Georgetown

Closing NCAAB betting lines: Villanova +8
Final score: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64

Perhaps the most interesting NCAA men’s basketball championship game of the 64-team bracket era took place in the bracket’s inaugural 1985 season. That year, an eighth-seeded Villanova Wildcats team made it all the way to the final against a Georgetown Hoyas team trying to repeat as NCAA champions.

The defending 1984 NCAA champs were led by senior Patrick Ewing, who was looking to cap his phenomenal Hoyas career with back-to-back titles. Ewing was one of the best college basketball players in history, but Villanova denied him that second crown. The upstart Wildcats shot a remarkable 79 percent from the floor to pull off the improbable upset for their first championship.

Villanova’s 1985 team remains the lowest seed to win an NCAA men’s basketball tournament. They did it at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., in what will always be remembered as one of the best games in March Madness history.

  1. 1966 NCAA championship: Texas Western vs. Kentucky

Closing NCAAB betting lines: N/A
Final score: Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65

The 1966 championship game, played at Cole Field House in College Park, Md., is a marvelous piece of history, thanks to Texas Western head coach Don Haskins.

That finale saw Haskins become the first coach to start five black players in an NCAA tournament championship game. The Texas Western coach said he never considered starting five black players, but just wanted his five best men out on the court. His efforts marked a major milestone in basketball, breaking the color barrier and contributing to the eradication of segregated teams in Southern states.

Texas Western beat all-white Kentucky team, coached by Adolph Rupp, to author one of the NCAA tournament’s greatest stories. Their historic accomplishment is chronicled in the 2006 movie Glory Road.

  1. 2016 NCAA championship: Villanova vs. North Carolina

Closing NCAAB betting lines: Villanova +2
Final score: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74

The top three games on this list could all rank No. 1, since each has its own unique historic element.

The 2016 final at NRG stadium in Houston, Texas, was one of the most thrilling basketball games I have ever been fortunate enough to see. North Carolina, under legendary coach Roy Williams, was favored to win, but a thrilling turn of events in the dying moments saw Villanova claim its first title in 31 years.

UNC went ahead with just four seconds remaining, and as the clock ticked down on the final play, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono found forward Kris Jenkins, who hit a straight-on 3-pointer as time expired to claim the win. The stadium erupted, and confetti fell on one of the greatest spectacles the tournament has ever produced.

  1. 1983 NCAA Basketball championship: NC State vs. Houston

Closing NCAAB betting lines: NC State +7.5
Final score: NC State 54, Houston 52

Perhaps the biggest upset in an NCAA basketball championship game was the 1983 NC State Wolfpack’s win over the Houston Cougars. That year, head coach Jim Valvano and his Wolfpack gave us one of the best Cinderella stories in March Madness history.

Houston was the clear favorite. The Cougars had gone 31-2 that season and posted a 16-0 record against their Southwest Conference opponents. They boasted a star-studded lineup that included two future Hall of Famers in center Hakeem Olajuwon and forward Clyde Drexler.

Olajuwon was named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament despite the loss. He had dominated his opposition, but the final at The Pit in Albuquerque, N.M., did not go as he and his teammates had hoped.

NC State entered the game with a 25-10 record and was a heavy underdog, yet against all odds, the Wolfpack still had a chance to win at the final buzzer. In that fateful moment, NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg put up a shot/pass that fell short of the hoop. However, it was abruptly pulled in by center Lorenzo Charles, who dunked the ball with just one second left on the clock.

Charles’ heroic dunk sent the Wolfpack fans into a frenzy. NC State’s victory remains one of the biggest upsets in March Madness history and is among college basketball’s most beloved stories.

Parameters for Ranking

These all-time college basketball national championship games were ranked based on multiple factors, including the intensity of the game and standout performances by star players. A games’ historic significance, such as the Texas Western victory in 1966 that helped to break the color barrier in college basketball, also led to its ranking in this list.

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