11Alive Sports presents a countdown of the NCAA Tournament's greatest and most significant moments of Championship Monday – covering the last 40 years.
#8 – MAGIC JOHNSON vs. LARRY BIRD (1979)
Let's begin with the most important championship game of the last 50 years -- Bird vs. Magic.
In the late 1970s, college basketball was just finding its stride with national audiences. In fact, many could argue the college game offered more entertainment than the NBA, at this juncture.
As for 1979, the NCAA couldn't have staged a better title-game clash.
Michigan State, which struggled for long stretches of the Big Ten season, caught fire in the latter stages, with Magic, Greg Kelser and the Spartans eventually playing their way to a 2-seed ... and Championship Monday berth.
On the other side, the nation was captivated by Bird's Indiana State team, which entered the NCAA tourney undefeated ... and then produced thrilling wins over Arkansas, Oklahoma and DePaul in the earlier rounds.
One more thing: Thanks to NBC (no ESPN at the time), many college fans were getting their first-ever look at Bird's exploits with the Sycamores.
This matchup-within-the-matchup had the makings of a heavyweight fight, with the Bird-Magic tango bringing an absurd amount of hype to Salt Lake City (site of the Final Four).
The result: A classic battle ... and the highest TV ranking in college basketball history (35-plus million viewers; a whopping 24.1 Nielsen rating).
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- This year's Final Four was awash in controversy ... due to a player's wedding registry
#7 – MARIO CHALMERS' MIRACLE RAINBOW IN REGULATION (2008)
Since 1979, the top seeds have reached the Final Four just once – 2008.
In the opener, Kansas raced to a stunning 40-12 lead over North Carolina, before the Heels sparked a stellar comeback in the second half, cutting the Jayhawks' lead to five with nine minutes left.
But Kansas (led by Brandon Rush's 25 points) was superb from the free-throw line (11 of 14), stemming the UNC rally and cruising to an 84-66 victory.
For the nightcap, Derrick Rose (25 points, nine boards) and Chris Douglas-Roberts (game-high 28 points) were too much for UCLA's Russell Westbrook (22 points) and Darren Collison, as Memphis roared into the title game with a 78-63 win.
Two nights later, Kansas rallied from a big deficit in the final minute, forced overtime (thanks to Mario Chalmer's rainbow three-pointer) and eventually clinched the first national title for coach Bill Self.
#6 – VILLANOVA'S UPSET FOR ALL TIME (1985)
For my money, the 1983 Houston Cougars and 1985 Georgetown Hoyas were the greatest college basketball teams of the 1980s.
And yet, neither program claimed the national title for these special years, which speaks to the winner-take-all beauty of the NCAA championship game.
We'll address the fabulously talented Houston team later in the countdown; for now, though, let's talk about the '85 Hoyas:
**Georgetown had two eventual top-5 picks in the NBA draft (Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams).
**In today's college game, no one could fathom a dominant center remaining in school all four years, especially coming off a championship the previous season.
And yet, Ewing was determined to carve out a legacy that included three Final Four berths and two championships.
But alas, it wasn't meant to be.
**Villanova might have been an 8-seed in 1985. However, the Wildcats were a formidable foil to the Hoyas, losing two close meetings during the regular season.
As such, 'Nova didn't have any fear factor in playing Georgetown a third time ... for all the marbles.
**Amazingly, Villanova shot 79 percent from the field in the title game (including 90 percent in the second half) ... and won by only two points.
How did this happen? Well, Georgetown shot 55 percent from the field, a supreme number that doesn't get much attention, 30-plus years later.
Bottom line: If the Hoyas had faced any other opponent in the final ... they would have likely cruised to back-to-back championships.
#5 – MICHAEL JORDAN'S BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE (1982)
Long before Michael Jordan became the greatest player in NBA history (debatable) and the most prolific pitchman in league history (not up for debate), he was a precocious and humble freshman for North Carolina.
For the 1981-82 season, Jordan was essentially the fifth wheel on a Tar Heels squad that featured future NBA talent (James Worthy, Sam Perkins) and solid veteran leadership (Jimmy Black, Matt Doherty) at the other four spots.
But as time marched, Jordan slowly began to assert his dominance on the court. This amped-up hubris became in full view during the championship game (New Orleans Superdome) ... and the final seconds.
The first half might have belonged to Georgetown freshman Patrick Ewing (four early goaltending calls, establishing himself as a rim-protecting menace) and UNC's Worthy (game-high 28 points) ... but it was Jordan's over-the-top jumper that propelled North Carolina to its first championship of the Dean Smith era.
#4 – GRANT HILL'S MONSTER DUNK (1991)
When Duke upended undefeated UNLV on Final Four Saturday in 1991, pulling off one of the greatest upsets in tournament history, many wondered if the championship game would be anti-climactic for the Blue Devils, given all the energy expended to get revenge on the Runnin' Rebels (defending national champs).
Well, those fears quickly vanquished during the title game.
With Duke holding an early 5-1 lead, freshman Grant Hill rocked the basketball world with his are-you-kidding-me dunk off a Bobby Hurley pass that would have evaded the fingertips of every other human being walking the planet – minus Hill ... and maybe Michael Jordan.
Energized by this surreal dunk, Hill, Hurley and Christian Laettner subsequently cruised to the victory over Kansas, notching Mike Krzyzewski's first of five national titles at Duke (1991-92, 2001, 2010, 2015).
#3 – KEITH SMART HITS 'THE SHOT' (1987)
The 1987 Indiana Hoosiers enjoyed a storybook run to the NCAA crown, coinciding with Steve Alford's brilliant senior campaign (the first year of the three-point shot in college) and Keith Smart's emergence as one of the nation's most accomplished two-way talents.
Smart might have been a defensive whiz for the Hoosiers, but his tourney legacy rests with collecting 21 points and six assists in the championship bout versus Syracuse, including the title-clinching jumper with four seconds left.
While the world expected Alford (23 points, seven triples that night) to take the last shot, it was Smart who boldly grabbed a handoff pass from IU forward Daryl Thomas and seemingly hung in the air forever ... while posturing to bury the shot that would deliver Bobby Knight's third national championship with Indiana.
Funny thing about this classic: Of the 147 combined points, the Syracuse and Indiana starting fives accounted for all but seven points. Crazy.
#2 – VILLANOVA VS. NORTH CAROLINA (2016)
Kris Jenkins partakes in the ultimate give-and-go to help Villanova claim its first national championship in 31 years.
It's easily one of the greatest plays in NCAA history.
Unfortunately, it cannot match the grandeur of the No. 1 buzzer-beater from Championship Monday.
#1 – LORENZO CHARLES WINS IT ALL ... ON THE DUNK (1983)
The 1983 Houston Cougars might have been the most perfectly constructed team of the last 40 years, possessing depth, versatility, athleticism, experience and two future basketball Hall of Famers (Akeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler).
But on April 4, 1983, the night of the national championship game, the basketball gods had a different plan for the Cougars, who lost to NC State in heartbreaking fashion (54-52).
How painful was this defeat?
The final bucket (with the score tied) could have easily been a steal/breakaway dunk for Houston's Benny Anders.
Instead, the late, great Lorenzo Charles was the lucky benefactor to the greatest airball in NCAA Tournament history.
On the TV side, we also owe CBS analyst Billy Packer a debt of gratitude for uttering the six greatest words in basketball-broadcasting lore:
THEY WON IT...ON THE DUNK!