Having used part of my last post to speak ill about today’s brand of basketball, while at the same speaking well about the play in this year’s NCAA tournament, I feel driven to write about some of the great moments in college hoops.
Simply put, when it comes to basketball, team play was better in the years before the mid-1990’s and remains better in college than in the pros. I was born in 1971 and my father took me to several University of South Florida games in the 1970’s; but it was from 1980 forward that I followed the game closely, and it just so happens that it was during those years that many classic championship games were played. I do not think I am blinded by my age when I say that the 1980’s were the golden age of college basketball.
This year’s tournament has given me hope that the game can regain its prior luster. While hoping for that to occur, here is a look back at what I consider the five greatest college basketball games in my lifetime, in no particular order.
1983 NCAA Championship Game
Every sports fan who was alive and watching remembers this one. NC State didn’t have a good enough season to even be invited to the tournament, but managed to secure an automatic bid by wining their conference tourney. On the other hand,
Fortunately for NC State, they believed in themselves when nobody else did. It was before the shot clock era, and Coach Jim Valvano drew up a slow, ball-control game plan that was designed to keep
In the waning seconds, Houston’s defenders kept Wolfpack guard Dereck Whittenburg from getting a good look at the basket or moving anywhere near it, and in desperation he heaved up a shot from 30 feet away. As the ball came down short of the hoop, Lorenzo Charles leaped up, grabbed it from the air, and dunked it home a fraction of a second before the final horn sounded.
Pandemonium ensued. To this day, 28 years later, the video of Valvano running around the court looking for someone to hug gets played over and over again every single season. At the time, it was the biggest upset in college basketball history…well, except maybe for this one:
December 24, 1982
Chaminade 77, Virginia 72
The Virginia Cavaliers were the #1 team in the AP poll, and the Chaminade Silverswords weren’t even members of the NCAA. Located in
But on Christmas Eve,
1985 NCAA Championship Game
This game was just as big an upset as NC State over
Everyone knew the Wildcats needed to play a perfect, once-in-a-lifetime game to give themselves a chance, and that is precisely what they did. In basketball, it is very good for a player to make 50 percent of his shots and very rare to make 60 percent -- but on this one night, the Wildcats shot an astonishing 79 percent as a team, missing only six shots the entire game. And they did that in spite of the fact they were playing against one of the best defensive teams in the history of college basketball.
1987 NCAA Championship Game
But of course, not every game is David vs. Goliath and most championship games are actually Goliath vs. Goliath. That was the case in 1987, when juggernauts
The Orangemen were ahead 73-70 with 38 seconds remaining when
Many great players were on the court that night, including some destined for the NBA. And both head coaches are considered to be among the best of the last 40 years. But mention the 1987 title game, and the only thing anybody says is “Keith Smart.”
March 28, 1992
This was the ultimate Goliath vs. Goliath match-up. Duke was the defending national champion and roughly a decade into its run as a year-in-year-out national power.
The game went back and forth from beginning to end, with both teams playing diligent defense and executing well on offense. Fittingly, it was tied at the end of regulation and went to overtime.
Sports Illustrated declared it the greatest college basketball game ever played, and it is hard to disagree. The game was so good on a team-vs.-team basis that people often forget it included what has to be the most impressive clutch performance by an individual: Laettner hit every single shot he took, finishing 10-of-10 from the floor and 10-of-10 from the free throw line.
This list could cause some controversy if anyone looks at it, because I excluded some classics that have taken place in my lifetime. Like the Bird-vs.-Magic showdown in 1979, and Chris Webber’s infamous time-out in 1993. Not to mention NC State’s victory over