The 1979 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament involved 40 schools playing in single-elimination play to determine the national champion of men's NCAA Division I college basketball. It began on March 9, 1979, and ended with the championship game on March 26 in Salt Lake City. A total of 40 games were played, including a national third place game.
Michigan State, coached by Jud Heathcote, won the national title with a 75-64 victory in the final game over Indiana State, coached by Bill Hodges. Indiana State came into the game without a loss all season, but couldn't win their final game. Magic Johnson of Michigan State was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Michigan State's victory over Indiana State was its first over a number one ranked team, and remained its only victory over a number one ranked team until 2007 (Wisconsin).
The final game marked the beginning of the rivalry between future Hall of Famers Johnson and Larry Bird. As of 2016, it remains the highest-rated game in the history of televised college basketball. Both Johnson and Bird would enter the NBA in the fall of 1979, and the rivalry between them and their teams (respectively, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics) was a major factor in the league's renaissance in the 1980s and 1990s. The game also led to the "modern era" of college basketball, as it introduced a nationwide audience to a sport that was once relegated to second-class status in the sports world.
With the loss in the championship game, Indiana State has finished as the National Runner-up in the NAIA (1946 and 1948), NCAA Division I (1979), and the NCAA Division II (1968) making them the only school to do so.
This was the first tournament in which all teams were seeded by the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee. The top six seeds in each regional received byes to the second round, while seeds 7-10 played in the first round. It is also notable as the last Final Four played in an on-campus arena, at the University of Utah. (The most recent tournament to be held on a university's premises (i.e. not on the university's main campus, but on a satellite or branch campus) was in 1983, as the University of New Mexico (UNM) hosted that year's tournament in The Pit (then officially known as University Arena), which is located on the UNM South Campus.) It has, however, been played in a team's regular off-campus home arena two times since then: in 1985 at Rupp Arena, Kentucky's home court, and in 1996 at Continental Airlines Arena, then Seton Hall's home court. Given the use of domed stadiums for Final Fours for the foreseeable future, it is likely this will be the last Final Four on a college campus.
In the East, the Round of 32 was called Black Sunday because of Penn's upset of #1 North Carolina and St. John's upset of #2-seeded Duke, both in Raleigh. Penn went all the way to the Final Four before losing to eventual champion Michigan State. Both teams had to defeat higher-seeded opponents in the Round of 40 to have the chance to beat UNC and Duke. Penn beat three higher-seeded opponents to reach the Final Four, a feat which was later bettered in 1986 by LSU, 2006 by George Mason, and 2011 by Virginia Commonwealth, who each beat four higher-seeded opponents on the way to the Final Four.
* – Denotes overtime period