One Great Season has spent the last couple of months counting down the Top 10 National Championship games since 1979, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson squared off in Salt Lake City. Today's No. 1 is the 1983 thriller between upstart North Carolina State and heavyweight Houston at The Pit in Albuquerque.
By JOHN P. WISE
One Great Season
If you've seen one NCAA Tournament highlight more than Christian Laettner's buzzer-beating dagger to beat Kentucky in 1992, it's no doubt the Dereck Whittenburg airball slammed home by North Carolina State's Lorenzo Charles, also at the buzzer, to give the Wolfpack the 1983 national championship.
In most circles, this game or the 1985 championship matchup between Villanova and Georgetown are regarded as the two best title games in modern college basketball history. In both cases, a heavy favorite was upended by a team that seemingly had no chance to win. N.C. State's triumph, however, is more memorable because it ended on such a miraculous shot.
+ No. 3: Kentucky vs Arizona, 1997
+ No. 4: Syracuse vs. Indiana, 1987
+ No. 5: Kansas vs. Memphis, 2008
+ No. 6: Michigan vs. Seton Hall, 1989
+ No. 7: Syracuse vs. Kansas, 2003
+ No. 8: Georgetown vs. North Carolina, 1982
+ No. 9: Duke vs. Connecticut, 1999
+ No. 10: Indiana State vs. Michigan State, 1979
Also making the Wolfpack's run exciting was the dramatic fashion in which most of the team's tournament games ended. Not only was that Houston finish a nailbiter that kept this seventh-grader up long past bedtime, but Jim Valvano's bunch won three of its first four tournament games by a grand total of four points, including a 63-62 defeat of the West Region No. 1 seed Virginia and All-American center Ralph Sampson in the Elite Eight.
Meanwhile, Houston and its fraternity of high-flying dunk artists known as Phi Slamma Jamma, won its first four tournament games by a total of 48 games, reaching the 89-point mark in each of its last two outings before Valvano would instruct his team to slow the pace in the title game.
Whittenburg and point guard Sidney Lowe ran an efficient backcourt so impressive that I went to the local sporting goods store to get my very own knee brace to match Whittenburg's. The next few months when I played ball in the neighborhood, I hung out on the perimeter and banged home threes, announcing to my playmates something like, "Whittenburg does it again" or "Whittenburg cannot be stopped" or "Wise is taking over this game ... bum knee and all."
If the visual of the Whittenburg-to-Charles game-winner is forever etched in your memory, then so too must be the image of Valvano scrambling around in the frantic next moments, looking desperately for someone to hug.
And when the dust had settled, North Carolina State had shocked the college basketball world and given broadcasters an extension on the license to make frequent references to Cinderella or David and Goliath.