The three-point basket by Kansas' Mario Chalmers with two seconds left that forced overtime and paved the way for the Jayhawks' 75-68 win against Memphis for the national title Monday night is the latest example of why the NCAA tournament has become an exhilarating spectacle.
There have been a fistful of predecessors to last night's title game that make up the legacy of March Madness (even though the championship game has been played in April for quite a while now). And there are games others may feel belong in any list of thrilling finishes. For instance, Loyola (Ill.) beat Cincinnati, 60-58, also in overtime in 1963, and a handful of games were decided by a single point, such as Indiana beating Syracuse, 74-73, in 1987.
Here's one person's list of five top finishes (chronologically) that rival the one we just saw:
North Carolina 53, Kansas 52 – It was a much smaller starting field 51 years ago, just 23 teams, but North Carolina's road to the national title was almost as difficult as those traveled by more recent champions. The Tar Heels had to win two triple-over time games, the first one was the semifinal, 74-70 over Michigan State. Kansas was bigger featuring none other than Wilt Chamberlain, who North Carolina triple-teamed. The game was decided in the third OT when Carolina's center Joe Quigg hit a pair of free throws with six seconds remaining in the game. Some credit the Tar Heels victory .with helping to establish the ACC reputation as a basketball power.
North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62 – Different era but the same outcome for Carolina. This time the hero was His Airness, Michael Jordan, as a freshman, hitting a 16-foot jumper with 15 seconds left. It was a game filled with glittering names, such as James Worthy and Sam Perkins along with Jordan on the Carolina side and Patrick Ewing and Eric "Sleepy" Floyd for Georgetown. The bench duel was between Georgetown's John Thompson and Carolina's Dean Smith. After the Hoyas trailed most of the game, Georgetown closed to within a point on a basket by Ewing and went ahead on a Floyd jumper with less than a minute. That's when Jordan put his own stamp on the game as he would so many more times.
North Carolina State 54, Houston 52 – Underdog N.C. State's victory on Lorenzo Charles' dunk remains the definitive all-time buzzer-beater. Houston was the high-powered Phi Slamma Jamma of Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. At one point, Houston had a seven-point lead but then went into an uncharacteristic offensive slow-dwon. That allowed the Wolfpack to make up ground. The final play was really a bust all the way that turned into a miracle. A pass to N.C. State's Dereck Whittenberg was slapped away by Drexler but Whittenburg came up with it and chucked a 30-foot errant prayer that Charles answered with his catch-and-slam. Cue Jimmy V.
Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 – This game may not have featured the cliff-hanging climax of other games in this group but it remains a classic nail-biter. Villanova became the lowest-seeded team to ever win a national championship but even though the Wildcats played the so-called "perfect game" and shot 9-of-10 from the field in the second half, the lead changed hands nine times in the final 20 minutes. Harold Jensen put Villanova ahead for good on a jumper with about two-and-a-half minutes left but Georgetown wasn't done. A Patrick Ewing basket cut the Villanova lead to 61-58 to make the Wildcats sweat and forced them to hit their free throws down the stretch.
Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 (OT) – Rumeal Robinson won it on two free throws with three seconds left in overtime making Michigan's Steve Fisher the most successful interim coach of all time. The game teeter-tottered at the end of regulation. Seton Hall's John Morton tied it with a three-pointer with 24 seconds left to help force the OT. Robinson got his opportunity to score the winning points when he penetrated to the basketball and picked up a foul.