There’s no question that the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament provide endless excitement and entertainment year after year. However, the same thing isn’t always true of the Final Four, where the pressure can sometimes get to teams, leading to uninteresting blowouts.
Fortunately, that’s not always the case and the basketball gods give us a game that’s worthy of the occasion. Having said that, let’s take a look at the most entertaining and compelling Final Four games in college basketball history.
Michigan vs Kentucky, 1993
This was the second year of the Fab Five and Michigan got a tough challenge from Kentucky when the Wolverines reached the Final Four. A controversial non-call helped the Wildcats send the game into overtime.
While Kentucky would lead in the extra session, buckets by Ray Jackson and Chris Webber in the final minute along with clutch free throws from Jalen Hill put the Wolverines ahead. While they would lose a heartbreaker to North Carolina in the final, Michigan survived the dual with Kentucky 81-78.
Wisconsin vs Kentucky, 2015
The Wildcats entered the game a perfect 38-0 and were obvious favorites to complete a 40-0 season as national champs. But National Player of the Year Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky and the Badgers had other thoughts.
The game was tight from wire to wire with neither team leading by more than eight points. However, Kentucky went cold offensively for five minutes late in the game, committing three shot-clock violations in a row. Sam Dekker hit the shot that put the Badgers ahead for good, helping give Wisconsin a thrilled and shocking 71-64 win.
Duke vs UConn, 2004
The Huskies were clearly the best team in the country during the regular season, but they were tested for 40 minutes against a Duke team with plenty of firepower with Luol Deng and J.J. Reddick.
After a quiet first half in which he didn’t score, Emeka Okafor led a late charge that saw UConn score 12 straight points, including the go-ahead score with less than 30 seconds left. The Huskies escaped 79-78 in what turned out to be the real title game, as UConn blasted Georgia Tech in the final.
Duke vs UNLV, 1991
UNLV was painfully close to completing an undefeated season and a second straight national championship. But the Blue Devils had a point to prove after losing to the Rebels by 30 points in the title game the previous season.
Down the stretch, UNLV point guard Greg Anthony fouled out while Duke’s Christian Laettner put the Blue Devils ahead for the 79-77 win, shocking the Rebels and ruining their perfect season.
NC State vs UCLA, 1974
At the time, the Bruins had won seven straight national championships, so this should have been a foregone conclusion. But NC State’s David Thompson came to play and gave the Wolfpack a fighting chance against Bill Walton and UCLA.
It took two overtimes, the Wolfpack ultimately outlasted the seven-time reigning champs 80-77. NC State then took care of Marquette in the title game, winning the most exciting game in Final Four history before claiming the national title.
Gonzaga vs UCLA, 2021
While it just happened, it’s possible that this game will go down as the best Final Four game ever. We can’t forget that the Bulldogs entered as 14-point favorites over UCLA, an 11-seed that barely escaped the First Four. Despite the spread, this game was as close as can be with over a dozen lead changes.
A charge call in the closing seconds prevented the Bruins from pulling off the upset over the previously undefeated Bulldogs. The game looked to be heading for a second overtime until Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs banked in a 40-foot runner to give the Bulldogs a 93-90 win in what will likely go down as a timeless classic.