While spending your Monday watching Kris Jenkins’ 3-pointer (and Marcus Paige’s shot before it) over and over, the question is worth considering: where does this incredible shot stack up against the best finishes in NCAA Tournament title game history?
It’s so rare that we get true, at the horn buzzer-beaters — it’s the first one in a national title game since NC State in 1983 — and Jenkins’ shot came just after Paige’s off-balance 3-pointer to tie the game. We are blinded by recency bias I’m sure, but the Villanova game-winner is the best game-winner in title game history.
So before we dive into the rankings, remember what we’re ranking: it’s game-winners specifically in the national championship game. We’ve had incredible tournament finishes this season that we’ll rank against the best of all-time at some point (I promise), but right now we’re talking the best game-winning buckets with the title on the line.
1. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins at the buzzer to beat North Carolina (2016)
With 4.7 seconds left, Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono took the ball up the court, flipped it to Jenkins and created just enough space to drop in a long 3-pointer as time expired. We don’t get endings like that often, and we might not get another for a long time. The game had 9 ties and 9 lead changes and already felt big with North Carolina cutting into the Wildcats’ lead, but Jenkins’ shot only confirms that this hot-shooting Villanova team was meant for a title.
2. Lorenzo Charles caps incredible run for Jim Valvano, Cardiac Pack (1983)
Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler were denied the opportunity to win a national championship at Houston by the most significant offensive rebound in NC State basketball history. Dereck Whittenburg’s shot, corralled by Lorenzo Charles and dunked home in the final second of the game, was the last true buzzer-beating game-winner before Jenkins’ shot. While Villanova did not have the underdog status of NC State, both teams should be listed with the best tournament runs of all time.
3. A game-winner against Georgetown launches “Michael Jordan” at North Carolina
Michael Jordan was in attendance for Monday’s game as one the 50+ former North Carolina players in Houston to root on the Tar Heels. Jordan’s presence, of course, brought out the Crying Jordan’s once UNC lost, but it also gave MJ an opportunity to discuss the 1982 title.
The game-winning jumper against Georgetown turned freshman Mike Jordan into Michael Jordan, the Hall of Famer said. The 1982 team was led by National Player of the Year James Worthy, but Jordan was the star as an All-American selection the next two seasons and the National Player of the Year in 1984.
4. Loyola-Chicago storms back from 15-down to beat Cincinnati in overtime
Now I wasn’t alive for this one, so it’s placement in the power rankings is based on my knowledge and awareness of the events through history and such. Here’s what stands out about Loyola-Chicago’s finish and the win.
True Buzzer Beater? Check. A tip-in by Vic Rouse at the buzzer gave Loyola-Chicago a 60-58 win in overtime. Upset factor? Cincinnati was looking to win its third straight national championship. Thrilling game? The Ramblers trailed Cincinnati by 15 with 14 minutes to play and came back to force overtime before winning in the extra period.
That Loyola team, with four black starters, was part of the “Game of Change,” a racially impactful matchup against Mississippi State in the regional semifinals on the way to the title game and winning the championship.
5. Keith Smart gives Indiana the win against Syracuse
Smart’s shot was not a buzzer-beater, but it was a game-winner for Indiana in a huge matchup with Derrick Coleman and Syracuse in New Orleans. The Indiana championship was also the first title game to have “One Shining Moment” close the broadcast.