Ranking the Top 7 NCAA Championship Games Post 2000
Updated: Apr 8, 2020
This is supposed to be the most magical month on the calendar. It’s a time for upsets that don’t make logical sense, or when you unintentionally (or maybe intentionally?) ignore your significant other. I know you’re struggling. I’m struggling too. But we’re going to get through this because that’s just what we do, we preserve and band together like Donnie Wahlberg and the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division. That was an obscure reference but only because Donnie isn’t Mark. Enough rambling. Let’s go down memory lane and rank the top 8 championship games since the year 2000. For simplicities sake.
7.) Kansas vs Syracuse, 2003
This game has always been underrated to me. It had some solid storylines surrounding and overall was a pretty entertaining tilt. A game that featured a young, budding star in Carmelo Anthony and one of my personal all-time favorite college players in Gerry McNamara. It’s crazy to say but neither Boheim or Roy Williams had won a championship by this point in their careers so in a lot of ways it became a legacy game. By the way, does Jim Boheim age? I mean seriously. This old fart looks the exact same as he did TWENTY YEARS AGO. The guys’ been at Syracuse since the Cuban Missile Crisis. RIP JFK.
Gerry went OFF in the first half hitting 6 threes to give Syracuse an 11-point lead heading into halftime. Nick Collison gave it all he had to try and get Kansas back in the game stuffing the stat sheet like it was Thanksgiving with 19 points, 21 (!) boards and 3 assists. But he got gassed and eventually fouled out. Kirk Heinrich misses on both opportunities to tie it at the end. Good for that curmudgeon Boheim (not really).
Winner: Syracuse 81 – 78
6.) Florida vs Ohio State, 2007
Florida was looking to go back to back for the first time since Duke in 91’ and 92’. Their roster was LOADED with 4 guys on the roster getting heavy NBA run. The key to this game in my opinion was Mike Conley picked up two crucial fouls early in the first half and struggled to find a rhythm. It also may have something to do with Jamar Butler being next to useless. He was a very good jump shooter throughout his career who was crafty in the pick & roll but couldn’t buy a bucket in this game. As a team they shot 17 percent from three. Nothing else really needs to be said. But I’m going to because I have nothing else to do and the people need content. Nobody on Florida could guard Greg Oden. Nobody. Not Al Horford. Not Joakim Noah. Not Chris Richard. Not even resurrected Wilt Chamberlain. Which is why it’s such a shame we never got to really see him healthy in the NBA. Florida ultimately proved to be too deep, even when Joakim went out in the 2nd half with foul trouble Billy Donavan was able to supplement his minutes with Chris Richard and Mo Speights without any let up. Florida goes back to back like they’re on the cover of Lethal Weapon.
Winner: Florida 84 – 75
5.) Duke vs Wisconsin, 2015
The funny part about this game is that I hate Duke and I refuse to compliment them under any scenario. My former 11-year-old self would be so disappointed in me if I did and I’m not about to let him down. Stick to your values people. But in all seriousness, this was a really good game. It was also an interesting contrast in styles, Wisconsin looked to play the half-court game and set up their pack line defense. Which makes sense because they statistically were an average transition team, and with the except of Nigel Hayes - white. This was also a coming out party for notoriously hated dookie Grayson Allen. With Wisconsin up 9 and ROLLING, Allen went on a 8 – 3 run by himself like he was a one man wolf pack to get Duke right back in it. The biggest shot of the game came with 4:08 left in the form of a pull up 3 from Tyus Jones. Ball Game. The bad guys win.
Winner: Duke 68 – 63
4.) Kansas vs Memphis, 2008
Two heavyweights. Ali vs Frazier. Wilder vs Fury. New York Strip vs Prime Rib. Both teams finished the year #1 and #2 in kenpom, and to be able to get that type of matchup in the championship game doesn’t usually happen. The landscape was completely different in 08’. Upsets were just that, upsets. All four #1 seeds made it to the final four, I don’t think it’s too unrealistic to say I may never see that again in my lifetime. The game delivered on the hype, tightly contested from tip to finish with no team leading more than Memphis up 9 with 2:12 to play. 12 years later and I still don’t know how the hell Kansas pulled it off. Maybe had something to do with C. D-R missing 2 free throws at the line with 16 seconds left. Kansas at this point had only hit on 2 three-pointers all night before Mario Chalmers went all Jack Bauer on us. That was certainly a thrilling finish.
Alright calm your tits Bill.
Winner: Kansas 75 – 68
3.) Louisville vs Michigan, 2013
This game sticks out to me particularly because Spike Albrecht aka the great white hope went bonkers in the first half. He went 4 of 5 from the three line and it felt like he hit them all consecutively in 20 seconds. SPOILER ALERT: if Michigan had won this game, Albrecht undoubtably would have been the feel-good story. Michigan threatened to really open this up in the first half up 12 but Luke Hancock channeled his inner Will Smith and hit 4 BOMBS from deep to keep it a 1-point deficit going into half. It sucked all of Michigan’s momentum out of the building. This was the type of game that even the most casual of fans enjoyed, both teams combined to shoot 49% from the field and 47% from three. Louisville started to pull away with 5 minutes left, but this game had just about everything you could ask for.
Winner: Louisville 82 – 76
2.) Butler vs Duke, 2010
Blue blood vs Cinderella. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say 95 percent of America was rooting for Butler in this game. Butler was the underdog in this contest but ironically had more NBA talent with Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack having prolonged professional careers. I think the emotional element to this game is what made it so good. Sure, Butler was a 5 seed and dubbing them a “Cinderella” may be over exaggerating but they literally played in the Horizon League. I’m sorry but that’s like two steps up from the MEAC or then PAC10. Shots fired. Everyone remembers Gordon Haywards heave at the buzzer that almost banked in but I remember the possession right before. Down 1 with 13 seconds left and isolated with Kyle Singler he shot a rainbow, baseline step back that looked all but in, it was crushing.
Winner: Duke 61 – 59
1.) North Carolina vs Villanova, 2016
In my opinion, the ending to this game rivals the Duke – Kentucky OT thriller in 92’ and all the old farts out there that think otherwise can kick the bucket. Because here’s why. Laettners shot never even happens if Jamal Mashburn didn’t foul out or if Rick Pitino wasn’t brain dead and put a defender on the inbounds pass. Getting back to the original point, this game was far more than just a great ending. These were two elite teams and it showed; they combined to shoot an absurd 62% from three and 50% overall. Both teams finished 1 and 2 respectively in kenpom. Marcus Paige hits thee most clutch shot that will never be remembered in college basketball history. An off balance, double clutch from 4 feet beyond the arc. 10/10 on the difficulty scale. Then with .4 left Kris Jenkins lets it rip after trailing Ryan Arcidiacono coming up the court on the inbounds. Bang. This was a battle of two titans and it gave us something that not every good movie does. A perfect ending. Jay Wright said after the game, "That was one of the greatest college basketball games we've ever been a part of. I just couldn't be prouder, couldn't be happier to see them fulfill this.” And I agree, it’s in the discussion of one of the greatest championship games of all time. I’m not gonna lie, it felt good to see Carolina fans with a knife jammed in their heart.
Winner: Villanova 77 – 74
If we stretched it out further some of these obviously wouldn’t be on the list but FWIW these games provided exactly what they needed to. Madness.