Duke, coached by Mike Krzyzewski, won a rematch of the previous year's national final matchup against undefeated UNLV 79–77 in the semifinal, then won the national title with a 72–65 victory in the final game over Kansas, coached by Roy Williams. This was the first National Championship game for Williams as a head coach. Kansas defeated Williams' mentor Dean Smith and North Carolina (where Williams now coaches) in the semifinal. Kansas made its first trip to the National Championship game since 1988 when they defeated Oklahoma, making it their second trip to the Championship game in four seasons. Christian Laettner of Duke was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
This tournament adopted the NBA's 10ths-second timer during the final minute of each period in all arenas.
For the first time, CBS Sports showed all 63 tournament games. In the first three rounds, games were shown on a regional basis, except for one game each on Saturday and Sunday in the second round. Usual start times were noon and 7:30 or 8 p.m. Eastern time on each of the Thursdays and Fridays. During the weekend of the second round, the national telecast began at noon, with the regional windows (three on Saturday, two on Sunday) following. Although the times would be adjusted, the same basic format was in place until 2010. As of 2011, the regional broadcasts have been replaced by simulcast feeds on non-broadcast networks owned by Turner Sports.
Duke's 79-77 win over UNLV in the Final Four became one of the biggest upsets in tournament history. Duke was an 8-point underdog in the game. UNLV's juggernaut 1990-91 squad ranked #2 on ESPN Classic's Who's #1? for Best Teams Not To Win a Title. UNLV was undefeated entering the 1991 tournament, which was unmatched until Wichita State in 2014 and Kentucky in 2015. (St. Joseph's went unbeaten in the 2004 regular season, finishing 27-0, but lost in their conference tournament before the NCAAs. Alcorn State went unbeaten in the 1979 regular season, but got invited to the NIT and lost to eventual winner Indiana in the 2nd round. Indiana is the last team to win the championship undefeated in 1976).
This was Duke's fourth consecutive Final Four trip, the first team to achieve such a feat since UCLA. Since freshmen were not eligible at the time of UCLA's run, Duke's Greg Koubek became the first player to play in four Final Fours, a record matched by Duke teammates Christian Laettner and Brian Davis the next year when the team repeated as national champions.
For the first time in tournament history a 15-seed defeated a 2-seed. Richmond defeated Syracuse 73-69. Since then this has happened six additional times: in 1993, Santa Clara defeated Arizona 64-61; in 1997, Coppin State defeated South Carolina 78-65; in 2001, Hampton defeated Iowa State 58-57, on the same day in 2012 Norfolk State defeated Missouri 86-84 and Lehigh defeated Duke 75-70, and in 2013 Florida Gulf Coast defeated Georgetown 78-68.
For bracketologists, this tournament is notable for several reasons. The first is the upset-heavy opening round, which led to every seed number except 16 being represented by at least one team in the second round. The East region, in particular, featured first round victories by seeds 9, 10, 12, 13, and 15. Two 11's and a 14-seed advanced in the other regions. The second round is equally remarkable because there were no upsets in this round whatsoever. The combination of these two anomalies led to an unprecedented occurrence in which a 10 (Temple), an 11 (Connecticut), and a 12-seed (Eastern Michigan) advanced to the Sweet Sixteen without any of the teams pulling off consecutive upsets. The reason for this was that the first round successes of 15-seed Richmond, 14-seed Xavier, and 13-seed Penn State led to Temple, Connecticut, and Eastern Michigan (respectively) being considered favorites for their second round matchups.
The Final Four was the first to include both halves of the North Carolina-Duke rivalry. Had both teams won, they would have faced each other for the national championship, but to this day, the teams have only faced each other once in the NCAA Tournament or NIT - the 1971 NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden, which North Carolina won 73-67.
This tournament featured three play-in games before the tournament field was announced. The results were: Saint Francis, PA (NEC) defeated Fordham (Patriot) 70-64, Coastal Carolina (Big South) over Jackson State (SWAC) 78-59, and NE Louisiana (Southland) over Florida A&M (MEAC) 87-63. These are not opening round games and the losers are not credited with a NCAA tournament appearance.