The essentials of Final Four history in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament are preserved here. We begin in 1976, the first year of the post-UCLA Dynasty era, and continue to the present day. The basics of each Final Four are here—results from all three games, the Most Outstanding Player, the seed number of the participating teams and a concise summary with the most important tidbits to remember.
The NCAA Tournament has evolved gradually into the cultural celebration we know as March Madness. The fall of the UCLA Dynasty, who won 10 national championships from 1964-75 was the biggest. Other key historical moments included bracket expansion, the introduction of seeding, the use of the shot clock and the three-point line. There are notes interspersed into this summary through the 1976-87 period where these changes were implemented and the NCAA Tournament became what we would recognize today.
Enjoy this ride through Final Four history. Bookmark this page for handy reference and visit our Pinterest board for a pictorial journey through the same timeframe.
The bracket is 32 teams.
The NCAA has just allowed more than one team per conference to make the field.
Saturday: Michigan 86 Rutgers 70, Indiana 65 UCLA 51
Monday: Indiana 86 Michigan 68
Outstanding Player: Kent Benson
Summary: Two teams came to Philadelphia undefeated. Indiana was one and they ended the UCLA Dynasty. Rutgers was the other and their dream died against Michigan. For the first time, two conference opponents would play for the national title. The Wolverines had come the closest of anyone to defeating the Hoosiers and led by six at the half, with key Indiana guard Bobby Wilkerson having left the game with an injury. But a dominant second half by IU capped off college basketball’s last perfect season.
Saturday: Marquette 51 UNC-Charlotte 49 North Carolina 84 UNLV 83
Monday: Marquette 67 North Carolina 59
Outstanding Player: Butch Lee
Summary: It wasn’t the best Marquette team Al McGuire ever coached, needing a late spurt to make the NCAA Tournament, an escape against Kansas State in the Sweet 16 and a dramatic last-second bucket by Jerome Whitehead in the national semis North Carolina was the favorite and led in the second half of the the title game. But Dean Smith took his foot off the gas too early, an injury to Phil Ford was too much to overcome and the game’s endearing image would be McGuire sobbing tears of joy as he went into retirement.
1978: St. Louis
Saturday: Kentucky 64 Arkansas 59, Duke 90 Notre Dame 86
Monday: Kentucky 94 Duke 88
Outstanding Player: Jack Givens
Summary: A Kentucky-Duke final conjured up different images in the world of 1978 than it would today. Duke was a program that had never won a national title—a Cinderella story. Kentucky was then what they are now—a program for whom nothing less than winning it all would be acceptable. Their season was called “the joyless ride.” Jack “Goose” Givens delivered one of the great title-game performances in tournament history, dropping 41 points on Duke and earning a Sports Illustrated cover saying “The Goose Was Golden.”
In 1979, the NCAA Tournament field is seeded for the first time.
The bracket expands to 40 teams.
1979: Salt Lake City
Saturday: (2)Michigan State 101 (9)Penn 67, (1)Indiana State 76 (2)DePaul 74
Monday: Michigan State 75 Indiana State 64
Outstanding Player: Magic Johnson
Summary: The nation wanted to see Magic Johnson and Larry Bird play and got what they wanted, although Indiana State was nearly upset by both Arkansas and DePaul. Michigan State, after some regular season hiccups, crushed #1-seed Notre Dame to get to the Final Four, then blew out Penn. Magic and Bird produced the highest TV ratings for any NCAA final in history, but it was not a game worthy of the stakes. Magic had the supporting cast that Bird lacked in a decisive victory for the Spartans.
In 1980, the bracket expands to 48 teams
The 1-4 seeds in each region get first-round byes
Saturday: (2)Louisville 80 (5)Iowa 72, (8)UCLA 67 (6)Purdue 62
Monday: Louisville 59 UCLA 54
Outstanding Player: Darrell Griffith
Summary:For the first time, the Final Four is gutted. No #1 seeds and only Louisville had been seeded in the national top 16. But two future coaching stars—Iowa’s Lute Olson and UCLA’s Larry Brown—got their teams here. Purdue came in carried by a great center in Joe Barry Carroll. Three of the teams—Purdue, Iowa and Louisville were all in close geographic proximity of Indy. The Cardinals were renowned as “The Doctors of Dunk” and gave Denny Crum his first national championship.
Saturday: (2)Indiana 67 (1)LSU 49, (2)North Carolina 78 (1)Virginia 65
Monday: Indiana 63 North Carolina 50
Outstanding Player: Isiah Thomas
Summary: Indiana’s run to the Final Four could be attributed to a gutted bracket and homecourt advantage for the regionals. But there was no dismissing what they did in Philly. With the field narrowed to four heavyweights, Indiana played two dominant second halves to win another crown for Bob Knight. The championship game was played with a pall of sadness looming over it after an assassination attempt on President Reagan. Only when word came the president was going to pull through, did the game go on as scheduled.
1982: New Orleans
Saturday: (1)North Carolina 68 (6)Houston 63, (1)Georgetown 50 (2)Louisville 46
Monday: North Carolina 63 Georgetown 62
Outstanding Player: James Worthy
Summary: Six times,Dean Smith had come to the Final Four. Six times he went away empty-handed. He came to New Orleans for try #7 with the nation’s top-ranked team and four experienced starters. In the semis, Smith beat Houston and its exciting freshman center Akeem Olajuwon. The North Carolina–Georgetown game was loaded with great players—James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Patrick Ewing and Sleepy Floyd. And an unknown freshman named Michael Jordan who hit the game-winner for Carolina, although it wasn’t over until Hoya guard Fred Brown had a mental lapse and threw the ball straight to Worthy on the final possession.
Saturday: (6)N.C. State 67 (4)Georgia 60, (1)Houston 94 (1)Louisville 81
Monday: N.C. State 54 Houston 52
Outstanding Player: Akeem Olajuwon
Summary: On one side of the bracket was Cinderella, with N.C. State and Georgia. On the other side were heavyweights Houston and Louisville and they staged a breathtaking dunk-a-thon that was poised to be what this Final Four would be remembered by. Until Monday Night. That’s when Jim Valvano’s “Cardiac Pack” produced the most stunning upset in the history of the NCAA finals, capped off by Lorenzo Charles dunking home Derek Whittenburg’s desperation try at the buzzer. The dunk and Valvano’s mad rush about the court rightly remain a staple of CBS’ tournament openings to this day.
Saturday: (2)Houston 50 (7)Virginia 48 (OT), (1)Georgetown 53 (1)Kentucky 40
Monday: Georgetown 84 Houston 75
Outstanding Player: Patrick Ewing
Summary: It was a war amongst the big men. Patrick Ewing and Georgetown rolled in with a ten-deep team and a defense that could smother. Akeem Olajuwon had Houston back on center stage. Kentucky was here thanks to the inside work of Sam Bowie and Mel Turpin. And Virginia, the Cinderella team was defined by the big man they made it here without—Ralph Sampson. Georgetown’s defense dominated Kentucky and there overall depth was the difference on Monday Night in the Ewing-Akeem showdown. John Thompson became the first African-American coach to win a title.
In 1985, the bracket expands to 64 teams.
Saturday: (8)Villanova 52 (2)Memphis 45, (1)Georgetown 77 (1)St. John 59
Monday: Villanova 66 Georgetown 64
Outstanding Player: Ed Pinckney
Summary: Not since the fall of UCLA had a team repeated, but Georgetown had all the ingredients. Ewing was back, the depth was intact and the smothering defense was still on display. The Hoya defense shut down three consecutive top scorers—Alfredrick Hughes of Loyola-Chicago in the Sweet 16, Mark Price of Georgia Tech in the Elite Eight and rival Chris Mullin of St. John’s in the Final Four. One more Big East foe remained—8th-seeded. Villanova. But the Wildcats shot the lights out and pulled off a 66-64 stunner that earned its place in the history books.
In 1986, the shot clock is introduced for tournament play
Saturday: (2)Louisville 88 (11)LSU 77, (1)Duke 71 (1)Kansas 67
Monday: Louisville 72 Duke 69
Outstanding Player: Pervis Ellison
Summary: There were three heavyweights and a Cinderella, with LSU being the lowest-seeded team to ever reach the Final Four, coming off the 11-line (a record that has since been tied, but never broken). Duke, with a starting center by the name of Jay Bilas, won a tough game over Kansas and sophomore forward Danny Manning. Monday’s title game was the last time on center stage for Louisville coach Denny Crum and the first time for Duke counterpart Mike Krzyzewski. The difference-maker was Cardinal freshman Pervis “Never Nervous” Ellison, who keyed his team’s second championship of the decade.
In 1987, the three-point shot is introduced for tournament play
The NCAA Tournament is we know it today is now in place
1987: New Orleans
Saturday: (2)Syracuse 77 (6) Providence 63, (1)Indiana 97 (1)UNLV 93
Monday: Indiana 74 Syracuse 73
Outstanding Player: Keith Smart
Summary:Three of the Final Four teams relied heavily on the three-point shot. UNLV had gunslingers like Freddie Banks who shot without conscience. Providence,with its feisty coach Rick Pitino and hard-nosed guard Billy Donovan made its living behind the stripe. And Bob Knight’s Indiana team featured sharpshooter Steve Alford. Providence couldn’t shoot its way past Syracuse, in the Final Four for the first time under Jim Boeheim. Indiana pulled out to a big lead, over Vegas and then hung on down the stretch. The Hoosiers won the championship on Monday on Keith Smart’s last-second jump shot. Knight had his third title.
1988: Kansas City
Saturday: (6)Kansas 66 (2)Duke 59, (1)Oklahoma 86 (1)Arizona 78
Monday: Kansas 83 Oklahoma 79
Outstanding Player: Danny Manning
Summary: It was a pedestrian Saturday, as the victories by Kansas and Oklahoma were more decisive than the scores suggest. It set up a Big Eight battle, appropriately staged in Kansas City for the national championship. Danny Manning had been carrying Kansas on his back all year and he found an even higher level on Monday Night. Manning went for 31 points/18 rebounds and completed the improbable path he and head coach Larry Brown walked to the title. “Danny & The Miracles” had their place in history.
Saturday: (3)Seton Hall 95 (2)Duke 78, (3)Michigan 83 (1)Illinois 81
Monday: Michigan 79 Seton Hall 78 (OT)
Outstanding Player: Glen Rice
Summary: For eight straight years, two #1 seeds had made the Final Four. No more. No less. This year, Illinois was the only team on the top line. Michigan was a feel-good story–abandoned by their coach prior to the tournament and led by interim Steve Fisher. Michigan nipped llini on a last-second putback. Seton Hall had eliminated Indiana and UNLV to make its first Final Four. Then they crushed Duke with a dominant second half. The title game was settled when Wolverine guard Rumeal Robinson was fouled going to the hoop and sank both free throws with three seconds left.
Saturday: (3)Duke 97 (4)Arkansas 83, (1)UNLV 90 (4)Georgia Tech 81
Monday: UNLV 103 Duke 73
Outstanding Player: Anderson Hunt
Summary: UNLV was ranked #1, and had rolled through an upset-wracked West bracket to give Jerry Tarkanian his third try at winning it all. Duke came up a #3 seed, but still won the East, beating newly emerged UConn on a buzzer beater by Christian Laettner. The Rebels and Devils took care of business on Saturday and set up a Monday night clash. It would prove to be the most lopsided NCAA final of the post-UCLA era. The game was the last one Brent Musberger would call for CBS, as the face of the network’s sports coverage was fired shortly before tipoff.
Saturday: (3)Kansas 79 (1)North Carolina 73, (2)Duke 79 (1)UNLV 77
Monday: Duke 72 Kansas 65
Outstanding Player: Christian Laettner
Summary: Duke and UNLV were both back. The Runnin’ Rebels were aiming at history—to win a repeat title and to complete the first unbeaten season since 1976. I was personally on hand for this one, albeit a bit hungover after a losing fight with a bottle of Jim Beam the night before. Duke stunned the world on Saturday night and the rest of the Final Four seemed almost incidental, although this was the first Final Four for Kansas coach Roy Williams and on Monday Night the nation was happy for Coach K—probably the last time that could be said.
Saturday: (6)Michigan 76 (4)Cincinnati 72, (1)Duke 81 (2)Indiana 78
Monday: Duke 71 Michigan 51
Outstanding Player: Bobby Hurley
Summary: Duke had been ranked #1 most of the season and their victory over Kentucky in the Elite Eight is what this tournament is most remembered for. Trailing by a point, with seconds on the clock, the Devils went the length of the floor for a turnaround jumper by Christian Laettner. Michigan had pulled off the astounding feat of reaching the Final Four with five freshmen starting. But one half on Monday was all the “Fab Five” had in them. Duke turned a one-point deficit into an easy win, and college hoops finally had a repeat champion.
1993: New Orleans
Saturday: (1)North Carolina 78 (2)Kansas 68, (1)Michigan 81 (1)Kentucky 78 (OT)
Monday: North Carolina 77 Michigan 71
Outstanding Player: Donald Williams
Summary: For the first time, three #1 seeds had lived up to their billing. The one team that didn’t—Indiana—had been hurt badly by a late-season injury. North Carolina beat Kansas in a rematch of their ’91 semi-final game. The Fab Five was back for another crack and the five sophomores won a great overtime battle with Kentucky. The finale was decided when Michigan called a timeout it didn’t have when trying to set up for the winning shot in the waning moments. It was a finish oddly reminiscent of UNC’s 1982 win.
Saturday: (1)Arkansas 91 (2)Arizona 82, (2)Duke 70 (3)Florida 65
Monday: Arkansas 76 Duke 72
Most Outstanding Player:Corliss Williamson
Summary:Arkansas was #1 in the country and eliminated Michigan, who had four of the Fab Five remaining. Arizona overcome a recent rash of first-round upsets to make the Final Four. Lon Kruger broke through with Florida and Duke was back. The championship game went down to the wire. In a tie game, Arkansas’ Scotty Thurman launched a rainbow trey with such arc it must have kissed the press box where Razorback alum and president of the United States Bill Clinton was sitting. It went down, and secured the school’s first basketball title.
Saturday: (1)UCLA 74 (4)Oklahoma State 61, (2)Arkansas 75(2)North Carolina 68
Monday: UCLA 89 Arkansas 78
Most Outstanding Player: Ed O’Bannon
Summary: UCLA was driven by a feeling of destiny after they narrowly escaped a Round of 32 upset by Missouri. In the semis, they beat Oklahoma State, who had gotten here by ousting Tim Duncan (Wake Forest) and Marcus Camby (UMass) in succession. Arkansas was making their run for a repeat championship, but the Bruins continued the magic on Monday. Senior forward Ed O’Bannon and guard Toby Bailey took over the game and won a surprisingly easy decision over the defending champs. The trophy had returned to Westwood.
1996: East Rutherford
Saturday: (4)Syracuse 77 (5)Mississippi State 69, (1)Kentucky 81 (1)Massachusetts 74
Monday: Kentucky 76 Syracuse 67
Most Outstanding Player: Tony Delk
Summary: Rick Pitino felt the pressure at Kentucky as sure as Joe B. Hall had in ’78 and the ‘Cats had a joyless run to a #1 seed and a Final Four appearance. In the semis, Kentucky beat newly emergent #1 seed Massachusetts and future friend John Calipari. On the other side, Jim Boeheim made a surprising run through the West, and his Syracuse team then upended dark horse Mississippi State in the national semis. But the Orange were no match for the hungry Wildcats who won easily and ended their eighteen-year drought.
Saturday: (4)Arizona 66 (1)North Carolina 58, (1)Kentucky 78 (1)Minnesota 69
Monday: Arizona 84 Kentucky 79 (OT)
Most Outstanding Player: Miles Simon
Summary: For the fourth time in the 1990s, the defending champ came in as the favorite to repeat. Kentucky hadn’t been as dominant as last year, but they were still a #1 seed and won the West. Arizona upended #1 overall seed Kansas and then beat 1-seed North Carolina . It set up an all-Wildcats championship game. For only the second time since 1975, the finale went overtime. And Arizona pulled the upset again, denying a repeat titlist, and marking its third win over a #1 seed—an achievement not seen before or since.
1998: San Antonio
Saturday: (3)Utah 65 (1)North Carolina 59, (2)Kentucky 86 (3)Stanford 85 (OT)
Monday: Kentucky 78 Utah 69
Most Outstanding Player: Jeff Sheppard
Summary: Rick Pitino left Kentucky for the Boston Celtics, but Tubby Smith came and kept Big Blue rolling. The Wildcats made a huge rally to beat #1 seed Duke in the regional final. With an overtime win over Stanford, UK’s third straight final game was a feat unprecedented since the Wooden Dynasty. Utah, led by colorful head coach Rick Majerus made a surprise run of their own and upset North Carolina in the. The Utes put forth a gallant effort on Monday night, leading into the second half. But Kentucky eventually asserted itself and won another national title.
1999: St. Petersburg
Saturday: (1)Connecticut 64 (4)Ohio State 58, (1)Duke 68 (1)Michigan State 62
Monday: Connecticut 77 Duke 74
Outstanding Player: Rip Hamilton
Summary: All season, UConn and Duke took turns with the #1 ranking and eyeing each other up. Each one took care of business, came to St. Petersburg and finished off a Big Ten team. The juiciest title game since 1984 was set. It was worthy of the stakes. In a back-and-forth game, the Huskies finally prevailed in a sizzling 77-74 ballgame. For Jim Calhoun it was his first title in his first Final Four—but that hadn’t come easy. Calhoun paid his dues with three losses in the regional finals before finally climbing to the top.
Saturday: (1)Michigan State 53 (8)Wisconsin 41, (5)Florida 71 (8)North Carolina 59
Monday: Michigan State 89 Florida 76
Outstanding Player: Mateen Cleaves
Summary: For the second straight year two Big Ten teams were on hand. Michigan State’s return was expected. Wisconsin’s arrival wasn’t. They stunned #1 seed Arizona and sailed into port after the rest of the big guns fell in the early rounds. The whole bracket was torn apart with upsets. #5 seed Florida won the East, and even being a #8 seed couldn’t stop North Carolina from traveling the road to Indianapolis. The Gators beat the Heels on Saturday, and MSU ended Wisconsin’s joy ride. The final game was all green, as the Spartans won their first championship post-Magic.
Saturday: (2)Arizona 80 (1)Michigan State 61, (1)Duke 95 (3)Maryland 84
Monday: Duke 82 Arizona 72
Outstanding Player: Shane Battier
Summary: Duke was still smarting from the ’99 loss and an unfulfilled #1 seed in 2000. This year they again got to the top line and this time cashed it in. Michigan State was not a heavy favorite the way recent champions had been on their return to the Final Four. It showed on Saturday, as Arizona won in a rout. The late game featured an astonishing turnabout—Duke turned a 22-point 1st half deficit into an 11-point win. The Blue Devils finished the job on Monday. Coach K joined his mentor Bob Knight in winning three national titles.
Saturday: (5)Indiana 73 (2)Oklahoma 64, (1)Maryland 97 (1)Kansas 88
Monday: Maryland 64 Indiana 52
Outstanding Player: Juan Dixon
Summary: Maryland left the floor the previous season hungry for a return, and they brought their key players back. Indiana made its first Final Four trip of the post-Knight era, with a big win over Duke being the one notable moment in an easy ride through a bracket marked by upsets. Maryland jumped out to a big lead on Kansas and hung on. The Terps then took over the last ten minutes of the championship game, and gave Gary Williams a well-deserved trip to the winner’s circle.
2003: New Orleans
Saturday: (2)Kansas 94 (3)Marquette 61, (3)Syracuse 95 (1)Texas 84
Monday: Syracuse 81 Kansas 78
Most Outstanding Player: Carmelo Anthony
Summary: Jim Boeheim and Roy Williams were each looking for their first championship. Boeheim led Syracuse through the East, relying on one-and-done standout Carmelo Anthony. Williams pushed Kansas past Duke & Arizona in the West bracket and then blasted Dwayne Wade’s Marquette team in the semis. Boeheim would win his long-sought title on the same floor of his most painful loss in 1987. Williams would be back—but not at Kansas. He left for Chapel Hill days after the game.
2004: San Antonio
Saturday: (3)Georgia Tech 67 (2)Oklahoma State 65, (2)Connecticut 79 (1)Duke 78
Monday: UConn 82 Georgia Tech 73
Most Outstanding Player: Emeka Okafor
Summary: Just as in 1999, UConn and Duke put on a great show for the nation. But unlike ’99, their game would be on Saturday and not Monday night. The Blue Devils had a big lead, but Duke’s foul trouble inside caught up to the them. UConn pulled off a rally and nipped the Devils 79-78. Oklahoma State ousted top seed St. Joseph’s from the East region. Georgia Tech was in the Final Four for the first time since 1990.Tech beat the Cowboys, but was overmatched by powerful UConn, who gave Calhoun another championship.
2005: St. Louis
Saturday: (1)Illinois 72 (4)Louisville 57, (1)North Carolina 87 (5)Michigan State 71
Monday: North Carolina 75 Illinois 70
Most Outstanding Player: Sean May
Summary: Roy Williams was back, this time with his alma mater. North Carolina looked destined all along for a title clash with Illinois. The Illini came within one basket of an undefeated regular season. They reached the Final Four with an astounding comeback from 15 down with five minutes left against Arizona. The final game was worthy of the stakes, but the Tar Heels held off the three-guard attack of Illinois. It was UNC’s third championship since the end of the Wooden era, but the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for their brilliant coach.
Saturday: (3)Florida 73 (11)George Mason 58, (2)UCLA 59 (4)LSU 45
Monday: Florida 73 UCLA 57
Most Outstanding Player: Joakim Noah
Summary: There are upset-laden brackets, and there are upset-laden brackets. This was an upset-laden bracket, with no #1 seeds surviving. Most astonishingly, George Mason won the hearts of the nation with an upset of top-ranked UConn. UCLA was back on center stage with a tough defense that led them into the final. But Florida had too much on Monday night. It would set the stage for another Florida title—this one in football—that would come just nine months later and mark the school as the first to win national titles in both sports in the same calendar year.
Saturday: (1)Ohio State 67 (2)Georgetown 60, (1)Florida 76 (2)UCLA 66
Monday: Florida 84 Ohio State 75
Most Outstanding Player: Corey Brewer
Summary: College basketball had another repeat champion and Florida followed a familiar path to get there. The victories over UCLA and Ohio State were title-game rematches from 2006—the Bruins in hoops, the Buckeyes in football. A group of exceptional big men gathered in Atlanta—Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Greg Odoen and Roy Hibbert. And UCLA had a reserve named Russell Westbrook. But it was Corey Brewer who knocked down a combined 32 points over the two games to lead the Gators.
2008: San Antonio
Saturday: (1)Kansas 84 (1)North Carolina 66, (1)Memphis 78 (1)UCLA 63
Monday: Kansas 75 Memphis 68 (OT)
Most Outstanding Player: Mario Chalmes
Summary: It’s the only time in history that all four #1 seeds made it through their regionals. Memphis, led by Derrick Rose, easily dispatched the UCLA team of Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook and Darren Collison. Memphis had Kansas down nine with two minutes left on Monday night. Then they started missing free throws. The Jayhawks made a stunning rally to tie it on a three-point shot by Mario Chalmers and the Memphis meltdown continued in overtime. Bill Self had trumped John Calipari in a battle for which coach would get his first ring.
Saturday: (1)North Carolina 83 (3)Villanova 69, (2)Michigan State 82 (1)Connecticut 73
Monday: North Carolina 89 Michigan State 72
Most Outstanding Player: Wayne Ellington
Summary: North Carolina was on a mission to avenge their upset Final Four loss to Kansas from 2008 and the Tar Heels were peaking in March. They rolled through their regional. They dispatched Villanova, who was here for the first time since the 1985 miracle. Michigan State had a feeling of destiny, playing the Final Four in Detroit for a state with an embattled economy during a recession. But the Spartans didn’t have UNC’s talent. Carolina had the championship game put to bed early and their NCAA run was as decisive as any seen since 1981.
Saturday: (5)Butler 52 (5)Michigan State 50, (1)Duke 78 (2)West Virginia 57
Monday: Duke 61 Butler 59
Most Outstanding Player: Kyle Singler
Summary: The Butler almost did it. Led by head coach Brad Stevens and forward Gordon Heyward—since reunited in Boston at the NBA level, Butler made an improbable run to the Final Four and then nearly stole the national title. Heyward’s last desperation shot rimmed out. “It almost went in” shouted a shocked Jim Nantz on the CBS broadcast. Instead, it was another title for Coach K, thanks to Kyle Singler going for 40 points/18 rebounds over the course of two games.
Saturday: (8)Butler 70 (11)Virginia Commonwealth 62, (3)Connecticut 56 (4)Kentucky 55
Monday: Connecticut 53 Butler 41
Most Outstanding Player: Kemba Walker
Summary: UConn closed the regular season at 21-9 and looked like a mid-level NCAA Tournament team. Then Kemba Walker led them on one of the most astonishing postseason runs of all-time. They won five games in five days at the Big East Tournament. They won six more to claim to the national title. Walker averaged nearly 25ppg over that 11-game win streak. The big story of the Final Four itself was another unlikely appearance from Butler and an even more surprising appearance from VCU, whose very inclusion in the NCAA field was met with widespread derision from pundits.
2012: New Orleans
Saturday: (1)Kentucky 69 (4)Louisville 61, (2)Kansas 64 (2)Ohio State 62
Monday: Kentucky 67 Kansas 59
Most Outstanding Player: Anthony Davis
Summary: Kentucky did it with an all-freshman lineup. The Wildcats were college basketball’s dominant team all year long and just like 1978 and 1996, it was a season marked by extreme expectations. They beat Louisville in a pretty good game and then thoroughly controlled Kansas in a title game not as competitive as the score makes it look. Over the two games, Anthony Davis got 30 rebounds, blocked 11 shots and left NBA scouts salivating. The one team that might have challenged UK wasn’t here—North Carolina’s chances had been derailed by an injury to point guard Kendall Marshall.
Saturday: (1)Louisville 72 (9)Wichita State 68, (4)Michigan 61 (4)Syracuse 56
Monday: Louisville 82 Michigan 76
Most Outstanding Player: Luke Hancock
Summary: Luke Hancock became the first non-starter of the modern era to capture MOP honors at the Final Four. He came off the bench to score 42 points in Louisville’s two wins, including 5-for-5 from three-point range on Monday night. Louisville needed a second-half rally to beat feisty Wichita, then won a sizzling championship game over Michigan and Player of the Year Trey Burke. In future years, NCAA violations would mar the legacy of this team, as the school officially vacated recognition of the title and the legendary Rick Pitino was forced out.
Saturday: (7)Connecticut 63 (1)Florida 53, (8)Kentucky 74 (2)Wisconsin 73
Monday: Connecticut 60 Kentucky 54
Most Outstanding Player: Shabazz Napier
Summary: By seed number, it was the most unlikely of championship game matchups. But then…how big of Cinderella stories could either UConn or Kentucky be at this point? Kentucky won four straight fabulous games to get here, beating undefeated Wichita, Louisville and Michigan in succession, then getting a three-point shot from Aaron Harrison in the closing seconds against Wisconsin. The Huskies did it with defense—the last three opponents, Michigan State, Florida and Kentucky all shot below 40 percent from the floor while Shabazz Napier was a poor man’s Kemba Walker in controlling the floor.
Saturday: (1)Duke 81 (7)Michigan State 61, (1)Wisconsin 71 (1)Kentucky 64
Monday: Duke 68 Wisconsin 63
Most Outstanding Player: Tyus Jones
Summary: Kentucky again had dynamic freshmen, including Karl Anthony-Towns and came to Indianapolis undefeated. Wisconsin also made it back, thanks to the hot shooting of Sam Dekker in the regional. In a rare Final Four rematch, the Badgers got their revenge when Dekker hit a big stepback three late in the game. When they led Duke by nine in the second half, it seemed like a title was coming to Madison. But the Blue Devils got a scoring burst from Grayson Allen off the bench, Tyus Jones knocked down 23 and yet another championship banner was coming to Durham.
Saturday: (2)Villanova 95 (2)Oklahoma 51, (1)North Carolina 83 (10)Syracuse 66
Monday: Villanova 77 North Carolina 74
Most Outstanding Player: Ryan Arcidiacono
Summary: Saturday was marked by blowouts—Villanova picked up where they left off in 1985, by shooting 71 percent from the floor against Oklahoma. North Carolina’s balanced attack pushed them by Syracuse without a problem. Whatever Saturday lacked in drama, Monday made up for. UNC trailed by double digits in the second half. The Tar Heels tied the game in the closing seconds on an impossible double-clutch three-point shot by Marcus Paige. Villanova immediately answered back with a walkoff three from Kris Jenkins that got the party started in Philadelphia.
Saturday: (1)Gonzaga 77 (4)South Carolina 73, (1)North Carolina 77 (3)Oregon 76
Monday: North Carolina 71 Gonzaga 65
Outstanding Player: Joel Berry
Summary: If you look at all three games collectively, this was as good a Final Four as there has been in the modern era. Gonzaga rallied in the second half to beat South Carolina. North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks was a hero against Oregon, twice rebounding missed Tar Heel free throws in the closing seconds and preventing the Ducks from getting a final shot. The title game was marred by excessive officiating—44 combined fouls called and both teams shot below 40 percent. But the sheer intensity of play made up for it and North Carolina was able to complete their redemption tour with another title.
2018: San Antonio
Saturday: (3)Michigan 69 (11)Loyola-Illinois 57, (1)Villanova 95 (1)Kansas 79
Monday: Villanova 79 Michigan 62
Outstanding Player: Donte DiVincenzo
Summary: Most of the tournament was about gutted brackets and Cinderella stories and none was bigger than Loyola-Illinois. Sister Jean, an elderly nun, sat behind the Loyola bench and became the media star in an improbable Final Four run. Loyola led Michigan by ten in the second half before the run ended. Another Jesuit school with a more conventional basketball pedigree took center stage. Villanova completely dominated Kansas and Michigan. Donte DiVincenzo came off the bench to score 31 in the championship game. A year of upsets ended with a statement of power.
Saturday: (1)Virginia 63 (5)Auburn 62, (3)Texas Tech 61 (2)Michigan State 51
Monday: Virginia 85 Texas Tech 77 (OT)
Outstanding Player: Kyle Guy
Summary: Virginia made a great redemption run, coming off a historic loss as a 1-seed in the Round of 64 a year earlier. This time they made history by winning the last three games despite trailing in the final minute. In a dramatic Saturday win over Auburn, Virginia got away with a doube-dribble and then Guy was fouled shooting a three-pointer with less than a second to play. He made all three free throws to win it. Guy scored 24 more on Monday, although the biggest shot of the championship game was DeAndre Hunter’s game-tying trey at the end of regulation.