2016: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74
Villanova lost five times during the 2015-16 year. The first of those five came early in December, a convincing 23-point victory for Oklahoma in Hawaii. Four months later, the No. 2 seeded Wildcats returned the favor on the biggest stage, walloping the Sooners 95-51 — the most lopsided victory in a Final Four game ever, and a microcosm of what Villanova did so well all year long: respond. With wins over Duke, Virginia (and Indiana) in the past month, Roy Williams and North Carolina were playing at their best when it mattered most, and it showed again on April 4th in Houston. The game itself will of course be remembered for the finish, but also the work that Jay Wright and his group did to get to that buzzer-beater three, shot by Kris Jenkins, who only played four minutes of the first 20. Out of the break, Nova stormed back in front off a 13-2 run, and led by a game-high 10 with under five to play – responding. This came even after trailing at halftime, and failing to capitalize on UNC’s 32% shooting on two-point attempts. North Carolina favored in the game? Three of the starting five who would soon be chosen in the NBA Draft? It didn’t matter. Villanova reacted with enough gusto, as the Wildcats had all year, playing in the same trademark way they have ever since Wright arrived.
The longer the wait, the sweeter the kiss. I think that’s how it goes? He’s one of — if not the most — excellent and outstanding coaches we’ve seen in the last 50 years. And still, it took Wright 14 tries, three Big East conference titles, and even a trip to the Final Four in 2009 before he could officially live up to such a name. For that reason and many others, Villanova’s second-ever NCAA title remains the sweetest in recent memory. Wright took a decade-plus trying to finish the job in Eastern PA, and finally, he did. It was the metaphorical monkey off his back, all at once allowing Wildcat fans to finally be OK with enthusiastically embracing their guy for what he had spent so long building. A program-high 35 wins. Tagged as perhaps the most dominant tournament run all time – it certainly may have been from a statistical perspective. More than 14 years later, Jay Wright called it one of the greatest games he’d ever been a part of. It certainly was one of the greatest we’ve ever seen. — Connor Hines
2008: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT)
Though I was only eight years old, this game has to be my favorite national championship game of my lifetime. I admit I was a big band-wagon fan of Kansas during that era, but guys like Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush and Darell Arthur were so much fun to watch. It was back and forth for the majority of the game and showcased some of the best players in college basketball that season. And who could forget the Mario Chalmers buzzer-beater to force overtime? Eight year old Jack was going crazy. Memphis had a chance to lock up the game, but missed free throws left the door open for Kansas. Throughout my elementary school years and even into middle school, I loved to imitate Chalmers coming off the screen, squaring up and nailing a three-pointer.
Though I was rooting hard for the Jayhawks, I was also a big Derrick Rose fan because of his Chicago ties. Rose played at Simeon in high school and was one of the best high school players to ever come out of Chicago. Another reason I look back at this game fondly is because the Bulls, my favorite NBA team, ended up drafting Rose with the No. 1 pick later that summer. It is hard to believe that a game 12 years ago still ranks as my favorite national championship game, but something about the nostalgia of that game and the players involved keep it atop my rankings. — Jack Ankony
2010: Duke 61, Butler 59
Hello, my name is Drake Garbacik, I grew up in Indiana, and I am a Duke basketball fan. Please feel free to send me hate mail. Long story short, before I was born my grandfather once sat next to Coach K on a 10 hour flight, from that moment on he loved Duke basketball. I was raised not being able to differentiate who was more important, Coach K or the President.
Because of this, my favorite national title easily was the 2010 title game in which Duke outlasted Cinderella Butler and Hayward’s heave. This was a game for the ages and an instant classic, regardless of anyones’ affinity. But for me, an Indiana kid, getting to see a small time Indiana squad go up against the Goliath (and my favorite team) on the national stage was incredible. In addition, two of the three Plumlee’s (Warsaw, IN natives) headlined that Duke squad, along with my personal favorite players Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. — Drake Garbacik
My fondest memory of the NCAA National Title would be one that is both amazing and heartbreaking. As an Indy area native, and my dad being a former Butler baseball player and alum, I had a lot invested in this game. My family and I were so amazed and enthralled by the Bulldog’s run to the title game and it made it even more special that it was held in Indianapolis.
My dad was lucky enough to go while I watched at home, but even though I wasn’t there it was still amazing to watch. The game was intense from start to finish and had about as dramatic of an ending as it gets. It was so painful for Hayward’s last shot to be just off.
I always wonder about what would have happened had it gone in. Nonetheless, the title run was incredible and it put Butler on the map nationally. I’ll never forget that special run. — Jackson Yeary
2018: Notre Dame 61, Mississippi State 58 (WBB)
The 2018 Women’s Basketball Final Four will go down as one of the best the sport has ever seen. The tournament went complete chalk leading up to the Final Four, with all four No. 1 seeds making it to Columbus, Ohio. Louisville, Notre Dame, UConn, and Mississippi State were undoubtedly the best four teams in college basketball that year.
Both national semifinals went to overtime with Mississippi State, the previous year’s national runner-ups, advancing past Louisville. In the second national semifinal, one of Notre Dame’s most unsung heroes, Arike Ogunbowale, stepped up to hit the biggest shot of her college career. With just under three seconds left, Ogunbowale pulled up from just inside the three-point line on the right side of the court to take the lead from Katie Lou Samuelson and undefeated UConn.
That was the biggest shot of her career, for two days. Two nights later in the National Championship, Ogunbowale played the hero again. Her three-pointer in the right hand corner against Mississippi State will go down as one of the greatest shots ever. It was a shot that left even Hall of Fame Coach Muffet McGraw stunned in utter disbelief. Notre Dame, who played just six players in the National Championship, was perhaps a year too early to the big stage. But with not one, but two game winning shots from Ogunbowale, the short-handed Fighting Irish secured the program’s second national title.
Adam Amin’s call of Ogunbowale’s heroics in the 2018 National Championship will live on forever. That’s why it’s my choice for the greatest National Championship of my lifetime.
2006: Florida vs. UCLA, 2010: Duke vs. Butler, 2015: Duke vs. Wisconsin
The last three national championships in Indianapolis all make for my favorites. I was at the 2006 title inside the RCA Dome when Florida downed UCLA for the first of two championships in a row. Some friends of a family friend who were there to see George Mason in the Final Four gave up their tickets, it was thrilling to experience a championship setting at age 8. I was hooked on those Gator teams and was doing the Gator Chomp by the second half.
Both Duke titles in Indy have been awesome too – 2010 against Butler is probably the best villain vs. hometown heroes game we will ever get. Everyone remembers the Hayward shot, but not many remember Duke’s big three of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Nolan Smith carrying them all season long. They had a good arc, especially after being written off by most of the country losing a blowout to Georgetown in December.
2015 Duke vs. Wisconsin was just a really good ball game — I also think the Indy 500 themed court/color scheme at Lucas Oil Stadium is underrated. Wisconsin was destined to win that game after knocking off 38-0 Kentucky two nights before, but Duke pulled it off. I’ll never forget listening to Coach K’s pre-game interview on national radio before and thinking “He knows it won’t be their night and they will lose.” Looking back I think he was really in tune with the process and that Blue Devil team’s detachment from the outcome led to them taking another title. We also met Grayson Allen in that game. — Sam Neidermann
2013: Louisville 82, Michigan 76
It’s the year that technically doesn’t have a national champion, but it was an incredible tournament run for Michigan, and an incredible championship game. Michigan was a four seed, making a magical run led by Naismith Player of the Year Trey Burke. He obviously hit the big shot against Kansas on the way to the national championship. Burke put up 24 points in the National Championship and Michigan led by one at the break. But his efforts came up just short.
Louisville got big contributions from an unlikely hero, Luke Hancock. The junior averaged 8.1 points per game on the season, but he was just waiting to unleash his full potential in the biggest game of the year. He knocked down five three pointers, including four in a row in the first half. He ended with 22 points and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2013 Final Four, the first non-starter to earn this award in the 75-year history of the award. That’s what made this game so fun. A guy who was supposed to come in and relieve a starter for a few minutes knocked down five threes and led his team to a National Championship. What a story.
A lot has happened since. Louisville no longer technically has the 2013 National Championship and Rick Pitino has gone to Greece and come back now to coach Iona. But, you can’t take the banner away from Louisville, and you can’t take that performance away from Luke Hancock. — Austin Render