Best Final Four Overtime Games in History

The NCAA men’s basketball tournament has earned the “March Madness” moniker over the past few decades’ worth of upsets, big moments, and buzzer-beaters.

The unpredictable nature of the single-elimination tournament plus the rise of office pools (and now legal online gambling) makes the 68-team tournament one of the biggest sporting events of the year. It all leads to the Final Four, which is the semifinal round of the tourney and championship game, held at a football stadium in front of 60,000 fans or more depending on the venue. 

Occasionally, the madness of March can’t be contained in a 40-minute contest. There have been several championship games over the years that have gone into overtime–along with some memorable Final Four semifinal games as well. 

In fact, while we know March Madness to be a more recent phenomenon in sports history, would you believe that one team had to withstand a triple-overtime game in both the Final Four round and championship game in back-to-back games in 1957?

We’ll get into the history of overtime games at the Final Four and get into betting strategies to employ when OT appears likely.

Final Four Betting

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College Basketball Overtime Rules

While college football’s history of overtime rules has been fluid, the format for college basketball’s overtime has been steady for generations.

Dating back to before the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, college basketball employs a five-minute overtime when a game is tied at the end of regulation. 

In the event of a tie at the end of the first overtime period, another five-minute OT is played. This process is repeated until there is a winner. 

Each period starts with a jump ball, and the team that doesn’t win the jump ball has the possession arrow in their favor. This means that if an official calls for another jump ball, the team with the possession arrow takes the ball. At that point, the arrow switches to the other team. 

Teams receive one extra time out per overtime period to go along with any they may have left from regulation. 

There is no special overtime designation for postseason play in NCAA basketball, as the same format is used whether it’s a non-conference game in November or the championship game at the Final Four. 

Current March Madness Matchups

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Western Carolina
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Best Final Four Overtime Games in History

#1 St. Joseph’s vs #1 Utah – March 25, 1961

Game: Third-Place Game
Coaches: Jack Ramsay, St. Joseph’s – Jack Gardner, Utah
Regulation: 89-89
Final: 127-120, St. Joseph’s
Overtimes: 4

Prior to 1981, a third-place game was contested between the teams that lost in the Final Four round. In 1961, St. Joseph’s and Utah played in the only four-overtime game in Final Four history and just the second one in the NCAA tournament altogether.

The Redhawks led by seven at halftime, but the Utes came back to tie things up at the end of regulation. After three overtime periods, the score was still knotted at 112. In the fourth OT, St. Joseph’s pulled away for the 127-120 win.

Jack Egan led the Redhawks with 42 points. For the Utes, Billy McGill was the high scorer with 34.

North Carolina vs Kansas – March 23, 1957

Game: National Championship
Coaches: Frank McGuire, North Carolina – Dick Harp, Kansas
Regulation: 46-46
Final: 54-53, North Carolina
Overtimes: 3

After being pushed to the brink against Michigan State (see below), the North Carolina Tar Heels squared off with the Kansas Jayhawks, featuring Wilt Chamberlain, in a defensive battle. After UNC had a 29-22 lead at halftime, things slowed down in the second half.

The game was tied at 46 apiece heading to overtime. After UNC missed a buzzer-beater attempt at the end of the first OT, it was 48-48. Incredibly, the second overtime was scoreless. With 6 seconds left in the third OT, UNC’s Joe Quigg was fouled and made both free throws for a 54-53 lead.

Quigg then helped steal a pass that was heading under thet basket to Chamberlain to end the only national title game to go into multiple overtimes.

North Carolina vs Michigan State – March 25, 1957

Game: National Semifinal
Coaches: Frank McGuire, North Carolina – Forddy Anderson, Michigan State
Regulation: 58-58
Final: 74-70, North Carolina
Overtimes: 3

North Carolina finished the 1956-57 season undefeated at 32-0, winning the first national championship in school history. To do it, however, the Tar Heels would have to win a pair of three-overtime games at the Final Four.

Before beating Kansas in 3 OTs, their national semifinal against Michigan State also took three extra periods to settle. The game was tied at 58 after regulation, knotted at 64 after the first OT, and it was 66-66 after double overtime.

The Tar Heels were able to prevail, 74-70, thanks to 31 points from leading scorer Lennie Rosenbluth.

#4 Arizona vs #1 Kentucky – March 31, 1997

Game: National Championship
Coaches: Lute Olson, Arizona – Rick Pitino, Kentucky
Regulation: 74-74
Final: 84-79, Arizona
Overtimes: 1

There has never been a double-overtime game at the Final Four. In addition to the 3 OT title game in 1957, seven other championship games needed overtime to determine a winner.

In 1997, Kentucky was going for back-to-back championships under Rick Pitino, while 4-seed Arizona was a seven-point underdog in the matchup of Wildcats. Arizona led by four points with one minute remaining, but a late Ron Mercer 3-pointer tied things up at 74. In the extra session, Arizona didn’t record a field goal but was 10 of 14 from the free throw line and won 84-79.

Miles Simon, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, had 30 points in the win. With the victory over top-seeded Kentucky, Arizona became the first team to beat three 1-seeds in the same tournament since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

In the national semifinal, Arizona defeated North Carolina to end head coach Dean Smith’s legendary career.

#1 Kansas vs #1 Memphis – April 7, 2008

Game: National Championship
Coaches: Bill Self, Kansas – John Calipari, Memphis
Regulation: 63-63
Final: 75-68, Kansas
Overtimes: 1

In getting to the Final Four, Kansas had to withstand 25 points from Davidson’s Stephen Curry to win by two points in the Elite Eight round.

Memphis, under star player Derrick Rose, had no trouble leading up to the national title game, winning each game by double digits. The Jayhawks led by five points at halftime, but the Tigers controlled much of the second half. In fact, Memphis led 60-51 with just over two minutes remaining.

Kansas then charged back to cut the deficit to two with 10 seconds left. Rose missed one of two free throws, opening the door for Mario Chalmers to tie the game with a 3-pointer with just 2.1 seconds left.

Kansas then controlled the extra period, cruising to a 75-68 win and their first national title in 20 years.

How to Bet on the Final Four When an Overtime is Possible

In terms of sports betting, overtime does count towards not only the overall score but in second-half lines as well. This is a general rule, so check the house rules where you’re placing a bet to be sure. 

The possibility of overtime clearly benefits a totals bet on the over because more game time will naturally lead to more points. It’s even more of a consideration in a second-half bet. If the first half is close, there is a greater chance at the second half will also be close and could lead to overtime.

If you think overtime is a possibility, you should also consider a pregame bet on the scoring for each half. In the Final Four, more betting options are available. One common bet is selecting which half will have more total points. Since overtime would count toward the second half, a game that goes into OT would have at least five more minutes of game time than the first half of the contest.

Conclusion

As you can see, it doesn’t happen too often, but when the most important college basketball games of the season do go into overtime, the stakes and excitement are never higher. Overtime rules in college basketball are simple and easy to follow, so a basketball OT game is a treat for both the casual hoops fan and the ardent sports bettor alike. 

College Basketball Betting Resources

  • College Basketball Betting Guide – Learn how to bet on college basketball with point spreads, totals, and moneylines, plus exotic bets like parlays and prop bets.
  • College Basketball Betting Sites – We’ve analyzed and reviewed the best legal sportsbooks for college basketball betting.
  • College Basketball Odds – Point spread, total, and moneyline odds for upcoming College Basketball games, including March Madness and the Final Four.
  • College Basketball Prop Bets – See prop betting lines and odds for upcoming College basketball games, including March Madness and the Final Four.
  • College Basketball Futures Odds – Learn more about how to bet on college basketball futures. Review odds to win the National Championship and key D1 college basketball conferences, plus odds to win the John R. Wooden Award.
  • Final Four Betting Odds – The latest Final Four futures odds, men’s basketball tournament schedule, matchup odds, and prop bets.
  • March Madness Betting Odds – Review odds to win the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament, then learn how to bet on the tournament with the latest matchup lines and odds.
  • Basketball Halftime Middling – Learn how to identify halftime middling opportunities that can help you make money betting on college basketball.
  • College Basketball Conference Futures Odds – See odds to win college basketball conferences, including the SEC, Pac-12, American, ACC, WCC, Big 10, Big East, and Big 12.
  • Undefeated College Basketball Teams – See which teams are still undefeated in the current regular season.
  • Early Season College Basketball Betting Tips – The first couple weeks of college basketball present a unique opportunity to get an edge as oddsmakers try to get their lines right. Learn a couple quick ways to improve your NCAA basketball handicapping techniques.