Forgotten NCAA Championship Games

Another NCAA title game is upon us!

Will Kansas vs. UNC be one of those cliched “instant classics?” Or will it be a game we immediately forget?

It’s hard to know sometimes. Luckily, I have a pretty good memory. Here are some championship games you may need a refresher on.

1986: Louisville 72, Duke 69; 1987: Indiana 74, Syracuse 73; 

1988: Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79; 1989: Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79

What happened: Four years, four games decided by four or fewer points. That’s like that Jeff Davis law commercial where all you have to remember is one number: four!

It’s hard to pick one game above that stands out more than the rest; they were all gems. I’m lumping them together because they’re sandwiched in between some of the biggest moments and greatest teams the NCAA has ever seen.

Why they’re worth remembering
: All these games have some kind of cool element to them. Louisville’s 1986 victory over Duke was the first tournament to use the shot clock — it debuted at 45 seconds — and it was also the last NCAA tournament game not to feature the three-point shot. In ’87, Indiana’s Keith Smart hit a jumper in the closing seconds to give Indiana a one-point win.

Danny Manning led his “Danny and the Miracles” Jayhawks in 1988 with 31 points and 18 rebounds in the third-largest upset in NCAA Championship–game history. That was the most recent championship to feature two teams from the same conference. Finally, 1989 was the first overtime game in 26 years, with heavy underdog Seton Hall committing a foul in the final three seconds that ultimately led to a title for Michigan.

1997: Arizona 84, Kentucky 79

What happened: This Wildcats-versus-Wildcats battle saw underdog Arizona topple Kentucky in an overtime clash. Miles Simon led the way with 30 points, and Mike Bibby chipped in 19. Kentucky featured a handful of NBA players you may remember, including Ron Mercer, Jamaal Magloire, and Nazr Mohammed.

Why it’s worth remembering: This is the lone championship in Arizona history and the only time a No. 4 seed has won the whole thing. Arizona also knocked off three No. 1 seeds en route to the title, which hasn’t ever happened since. And it featured two of the most entertaining guards of that era — Bibby and Jason Terry, both of whom chiseled out productive NBA careers.

2007 Florida 84, Ohio State 75

What happened: Three months earlier, Florida demolished Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game. This one was a bit closer, but the Gators still emerged victorious. Florida used a balanced attack ­— six players scored at least eight points — with Al Horford contributing 18 points and 12 rebounds. Ohio State got a combined 45 points from Greg Oden and Mike Conley, but it wasn’t enough as Florida won their second straight championship.

Why it’s worth remembering: Florida did something that had never been done: win back-to-back championships with the same starting five. The tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Corey Brewer, along with Joakim Noah, Lee Humphrey, Taurean Green and Horford, returned to win a second title with ease. Humphrey set a record for most three-pointers made during a tournament with 47.

The game had a bevy of future NBA veterans, too: Oden was the No. 1 draft pick that summer, Noah and Brewer played in the NBA until 2020, Marreese Speights still plays professionally overseas, and Horford and Conley are currently on NBA rosters.

2013: Louisville 82, Michigan 76

What happened: The Cardinals trailed by 12 in the first half before Luke Hancock came off the bench and drilled four threes in a row to trim the Michigan lead to one by halftime. In the second half, the Cardinals took control and never looked back, though Michigan kept things close, staying within 10 points before their furious rally came up just short.

Why it’s worth remembering: Louisville was playing for injured teammate Kevin Ware, who suffered a gruesome leg injury in the Elite Eight. With his leg propped up on the sidelines, Ware was the loudest cheerleader. Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino became the first coach to win championships at two different schools.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines roster featured several current NBA players, including reigning dunk champion Glenn Robinson III, but the most notable performance came from former deep sub Spike Albrecht. Albrecht scored a career-high 17 points in the first half, then spit some game at Kate Upton on Twitter. It didn’t get him a date, but it was worth a shot.

This victory has since been vacated after Louisville’s program attempted to pay a player to recruit them to the school. That strategy is considered “impermissible benefits,” and so record books don’t acknowledge the victory.

But Pitino got a tattoo on his back as a thank you to his team. And those last forever.