I’ve had the privilege of covering every Final Four since 1992. With Monday's announcement of the future sites from 2023-26, here are my power rankings of the dozen previous Final Fours I've covered that were hosted by the cities of Houston, Indianapolis, Phoenix and San Antonio.
Here you go:
1. 2016 — Houston: Villanova’s last-second, buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Kris Jenkins to beat North Carolina will go down as maybe the greatest ending ever. The previous Carolina possession was nearly as chaotic as Marcus Paige tied the game with a crazy 3-point shot. Final Fours can sometimes get a reputation of not feeling as intimate due to the dome stadium. But that was not the case here when Jenkins hit the game-winner. The building was bursting with euphoria. I was in the right place at the right time, too, with Villanova fans seated behind me so when Jenkins hit the shot he came running over to my area along with his teammates. The raw emotion was something I won’t ever forget.
2. 2010 — Indianapolis: I will always remember this Final Four for the shot that didn’t go in. I can still see Gordon Hayward’s 3-pointer sailing toward the basket, only to just miss dropping in and becoming the greatest shot in NCAA tournament history. Butler’s beautiful brand was officially born on this day, even in a loss. The Butler Way proved that anything is possible. Duke won, and deservedly so, but Butler is the team that I remember most from this event.
3. 2008 — San Antonio: This game was over. Memphis was going to win. That was until missed free throws and Mario Chalmers sent this game into overtime where Kansas prevailed. The Chalmers shot will forever be a part of Final Four lore as well as Kansas legacy. This Final Four should also be remembered for having four No. 1 seeds. It also spawned the budding competitive rivalry between Bill Self and John Calipari.
4. 2015 — Indianapolis: Duke held off Wisconsin late for the title. But the game that is etched in my memory is the semifinal win by the Badgers over previously undefeated Kentucky. The game was supposed to be a Kentucky coronation, with the Wildcats going 40-0. But Wisconsin stunned the Wildcats, and thousands of Badgers fans created their own fifth quarter celebration at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Beatles-like reception Wisconsin got back at the hotel elevated the team to rock-star status. Duke’s title win was also the debut on the national scene for Grayson Allen. His superb lift off the bench was the difference for Duke.
5. 2006 — Indianapolis: This was the first of two straight Florida national titles. The Gators' starting lineup stuck together for consecutive seasons, a throwback of sorts to another era. This was a fun team to cover and they helped Billy Donovan get his first of two national titles. This Final Four was also the start of UCLA’s three straight trips to the Final Four without a title.
6. 2000 — Indianapolis: The Flintstones got Tom Izzo his one and only national championship. Michigan State didn’t need a title to validate Tom Izzo’s program. But this certainly helped lift the national profile of the school.
7. 2017 — Phoenix: The two things that stand out for me here were North Carolina avenging the buzzer-beater loss the previous season (it's rare that you get that second chance with essentially the same key members of the team the previous season) and the breakthrough moment for Gonzaga and South Carolina. The Gamecocks got to a Final Four under Frank Martin, a validation of all his hard work. The Gonzaga appearance in the title game finally shut down all the noise of people questioning the Zags' recent tournament history. Gonzaga was an elite program before reaching the Final Four, but getting to the title game silenced any doubters.
8. 1997 — Indianapolis: This was a remarkable breakthrough moment for Lute Olson and Arizona. The Wildcats had been pushing for a long time to get over the hump as a national program and Olson finally had the team to do it. This was also the last Final Four/season for Rick Pitino at Kentucky, ending a brilliant run to get the Wildcats out of the probationary years and back to national relevancy. I’ll also never forget playing one of the more bizarre pickup games with me, my good friend the late Rick Majerus, Kevin Costner and Jaleel White (Urkel). I guarded Costner. Majerus was my teammate.
9. 1998 — San Antonio: Tubby Smith pulled off the first-year title at Kentucky after he replaced Pitino. He did it against Majerus and Utah, which had two stellar talents in Keith Van Horn and Andre Miller. Stanford also made the Final Four, giving then coach Mike Montgomery a Final Four berth after resurrecting the Stanford program and making it a national name on the court.
10. 2018 — San Antonio: Villanova’s dominating performance was a sight to see. But the game didn’t live up to the hype. Michigan was overmatched in the title game by the Wildcats’ offensive execution. Loyola-Chicago’s miracle run to the Final Four was as much a lasting memory as Nova’s domination to the title.
11. 2004 — San Antonio: UConn knocked off Georgia Tech for the title in what capped an amazing season by Emeka Okafor. This would be the second national championship for Jim Calhoun.
12. 2011 — Houston: Calhoun’s last title came here, the first time Houston had hosted the Final Four in its dome stadium. Butler made a remarkable second straight title game appearance. But the game dragged and excitement was at a premium.