53 years later, NCAAs return to the Garden

This week, for the first time in more than 53 years, Madison Square Garden will play host to March Madness.

In the day the old MSG, located on the west end of Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets, was the mecca of college basketball. Between 1943 and 1950, seven NCAA championship games were held at the Garden. Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma State (twice), Holy Cross, Kentucky and CCNY were the winners. CCNY also won the NIT in 1950, the only team to win both tournaments in the same year.

  • Wyoming’s Kenny Sailors, pioneer of the jump shot, led the Cowboys to the 1943 title over Georgetown. Wyoming then beat NIT champion St. John’s in a benefit game for the Red Cross.
  • In the 1944 title game, Utah edged Dartmouth, which survived the East Regionals, also at Madison Square Garden. Utah was invited to participate in the NCAA tournament after an Arkansas coach was killed and two players were seriously injured in a car accident.
  • Oklahoma State, then known as Oklahoma A&M, won back-to-back championships at the Garden in 1945 and 1946. Center Bob Kurland was named the outstanding player each year, playing for coach Hank Iba.
  • In 1947, the Crusaders of Holy Cross defeated Oklahoma in the championship game at the Garden. Coached by Alvin “Doggie” Julian, the Cross was led by tournament outstanding player George Kaftan and a freshman point guard named Bob Cousy.
  • Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats defeated Baylor in 1948, the first of four national titles for the Baron.
  • The NCAA finals were held in Seattle in 1949, and returned to the Garden in 1950, where Nat Holman’s CCNY squad made history.

The following year, the NCAA tournament expanded from eight to 16 teams, and the Eastern Regional finals were held in New York for the last time.

On March 14, 1961, a first round tripleheader was held at Madison Square Garden. Princeton defeated George Washington, St. Bonaventure topped Rhode Island, and in the final game, Wake Forest trampled St. John’s. The Demon Deacons were led by Billy Packer, who was featured on the program cover that day and later made his mark as a CBS commentator.

St. Joseph’s (PA) won the East that year, but the NCAA later forced the Hawks to relinquish their third place finish in the tournament because of alleged student athlete involvement with a gambler.

All told, Madison Square Garden played host to 71 tournament games between 1943 and 1961, fourth on the all-time list behind the University of Dayton Arena (87), Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City (82), and the Jon M. Hunstman Center in Salt Lake City (81). MSG’s seven national championship games are second only to Kansas City’s 10.

The old Garden closed in early 1968, when MSG moved to its current location atop Penn Station.

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One Comment on “53 years later, NCAAs return to the Garden”

  1. Robert says:

    Excellent one… amazing to think how powerful the northeastern schools were in sports.


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