Top 10: Best NCAA championship games

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As college basketball fans gear up for tonight’s NCAA championship game between Villanova and Michigan, here’s a little history lesson.

Since the NCAA basketball tournament began in 1939, there have been great dynasties like UCLA, which won 10 titles in 12 years beginning in 1964. There have been great players like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton,  Larry Bird and Magic Johnson,  Michael Jordan and Christian Laettner.

There have been watershed games that changed the sociological face of America and enhanced the popularity of the college game, bringing words like March Madness and Final Four into the American lexicon.

There have been seven overtime games, including a triple overtime classic between North Carolina and Kansas in 1957.  Six games have been decided by a single point.

UCLA has won the most titles with 11, followed by Kentucky with 8, North Carolina with 6 and Indiana and Duke with five apiece.

Here are the 10 most memorable championship games in NCAA basketball history:

1. 1979 — Michigan State 75, Indiana State 64 — Many call this the most important college basketball game ever played; with a 24.1 Nielsen rating it is the highest rated basketball game ever. It was the game that put college basketball, March Madness and the Final Four on the map. Oh yes, and Magic Johnson, shown right, outscored Larry Bird 24 to 19 in Michigan State’s win.

2. 1966 — Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 — Another watershed game, as an all-black Texas Western starting five surprised Kentucky. Soon after, Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp. the Baron, began recruiting black players, breaking down barriers throughout the South. In 2006, the film “Glory Road” dramatized the game and Texas Western coach Don Haskins.

3. 2016: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74 – Kris Jenkins hits a dramatic three pointer at the buzzer on a feed from Ryan Arcidiacono to give the Wildcats the win and their first championship in 31 years. UNC’s Marcus Paige had tied the game on a three with just 4.7 seconds left

4. 1957 — North Carolina 54, Kansas 53 (3OT) — The unbeaten Tar Heels outlasted Wilt Chamberlain and the Jayhawks in the longest game in NCAA championship game history. Two free throws by Joe Quigg with six seconds left made the difference. UNC also played three overtimes in the semis, beating Michigan State.

5. 1983 — NC State 54, Houston 52 — The Wolfpack, sixth seeded with 10 losses during the season, won when it mattered most as Lorenzo Charles putback dunk at the final buzzer upset Houston’s heavily favored Phi Slama Jama. Few will ever forget  the site of NC State coach Jim Valvano racing around the court looking for somebody to hug after the final buzzer.

6. 1985 — Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 — In a shocker, the Wildcats shot a tournament record .786 percent. They attempted 10 field goals in the second half and made nine. Georgetown was defending champion and the top seed, but fell short against eighth-seeded Villanova after beating another Big East foe, St. John’s, in the semis.

7. 1982 — North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62 –– This was Michael Jordan’s coming out party,  and the freshman hit the game-winning shot, a 16-foot jumper with 15 seconds left, to give Tar Heel coach Dean Smith his first national championship. “I was all kinds of nervous,” Jordan said, “but I didn’t have time to think about doubts. I had a feeling it was going to go in.”

8. 1950 — CCNY 71, Bradley 68 — City College of New York (CCNY) legendary coach Nat Holman, a New York native and a star with the Original Celtics,  led the Beavers to wins against Bradley in both the NCAA and the NIT, both at Madison Square Garden. CCNY remains the only team to win both the NCAA and the NIT in the same season.

1987 — Indiana 74, Syracuse 73 — Keith Smart’s 16-foot baseline jumper with five seconds remaining gave the Hoosiers a victory in a matchup of Hall of Fame coaches, Indiana’s Bob Knights versus Jim Boeheim of Syracuse. Seven three-point baskets by IU’s Steve Alford combined with the Orangemen’s futility from the foul line were just enough to give Indiana the win.

10. 1973 — UCLA 87, Memphis State 66 — UCLA won its seventh NCAA championship  behind center Bill Walton, shown right, who made 21 of 22 shots for 44 points as the Bruins waltzed to another victory. Overall, the UCLA dynasty would capture 10 crowns in 12 years under coach John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood.

Overtime…5 More Minutes, 6 More Classics

2008 — Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT) — Kansas was down with 2:12 left in regulation but missed Memphis free throws left the door open, and the Jayhawks finally tied  the score on Mario Chalmers three-pointer with 2.1 seconds remaining. Kansas then dominated the overtime to win its first championship in 20 years.

1997 – Arizona 84, Kentucky 79 (OT) – Guards Miles Simon and Mike Bibby combined for 49 points to give Arizona the championship. Coach Lute Olson’s fourth-seeded Wildcats became the first team to beat three No. 1 seeds en route to a title.

1989 — Michigan 80, Seton Hall 79 (OT) — Rumeal Robinson made a pair of free throws with three seconds left following a controversial foul call to give the Wolverines the win in the NCAAs first overtime game since 1963. Seton Hall rallied from a 12-point deficit to send the game into overtime on John Morton’s three-pointer with 24 seconds left in regulation.

1963 – Loyola of Chicago 60, Cincinnati 58 (OT) – Down 15 with 12 minutes to play, the Ramblers scrambled back to force overtime. Then Vic Rouse’s rebound basket with one second left gave Loyola the championship.

1961 — Cincinnati 70, Ohio State 65 (OT) — In an all-Ohio finale, Cincinnati, minus the great Oscar Robertson, who had graduated, beat defending champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes roster included Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek. The Bearcats would go on to repeat in 1962, once again beating OSU.

1944 — Utah 42, Dartmouth 40 (OT) — Utah originally turned down an invitation to the NCAA tournament, but was given a second chance after losing in the NIT, and after Arkansas pulled out of the tourney after two players were injured in an automobile accident.  The Utes were the youngest NCAA champion in history; the team’s average age was 18 years, six months.

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Jesuit All-Stars: A team for the ages

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It was a battle for Jesuit supremacy when Marquette and Xavier met in the West Regional Final of the NCAAs last week. Marquette and Xavier are two of the 28 Jesuit universities in the United States, many of whom boast a proud and rich basketball heritage.

Jesuit schools have fared well in the tournament, winning six championships since the NCAAs began in 1939. In fact, five of the previous six Jesuit entrants in the Final Four wound up winning titles. The University of San Francisco, centered by Bill Russell, above, took back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956. Holy Cross won in 1947, Loyola of Chicago in 1963, Marquette in 1977 and Georgetown in 1984. Santa Clara made the tournament in 1952, but failed to reach the finals.

Gonzaga became the seventh Jesuit Final Four entry by beating Xavier, and could become the first Jesuit school to win the championship in 23 years.

The list of outstanding Jesuit college basketball players, many of whom went on to win the NCAAs, would stack up well against any competition.

All-Time Jesuit All-Star Five:

C – Bill Russell, San Francisco

F – Patrick Ewing, Georgetown

F – Elgin Baylor, Seatle

G – Bob Cousy, Holy Cross

G – John Stockton, Gonzaga

Jesuit Reserves:

C – Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown

C – Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown

F – Tommy Heinsohn, Holy Cross

F – Maurice Lucas, Marquette

F – David West, Xavier

G – Allen Iverson, Georgetown

G – KC Jones, San Francisco

G – Dwayne Wade, Marquette

G – Sleepy Floyd, Georgetown

G – Dana Barros, Boston College


Merry Christmas Dad

Dad, you are a hero. You were always my hero.

As you may know, in 1998 Tom Brokaw wrote a book called “The Greatest Generation” It was about a generation that transformed America and made it better for all us.

It was a generation that gave new meaning to the words courage, sacrifice and honor.

It was your generation. The Greatest Generation.

You lived through the Picture 059Great Depression. You fought for our country in World War II, preserving our freedom. Later you  married Mom and raised a family, teaching us good Catholic values and setting an example for all of us.

If there was a category in the Guinness Book of World Records for most weddings attended or christenings or first communions or graduations, you would surely hold the record. You were always there for us, looking out for us, always supportive.

You made sure each one of us was pointed in the right direction. You made life better for my family, for your grandchildren and great grands too. You defined the values, set the pace and then let us fly.

It was you that interested me in sports at an early age, and I’ve carried that passion through my entire life. Hey, they don’t call me SportsLifer for nothing.

You saw some of the most historic sports events in history, including a no-hitter, one of the major moments in TV history, and Roger Maris’ 60th home run to tie Babe Ruth’s record.

Monte Pearson’s no-hitter

On a steamy August Saturday afternoon in the summer of 1938, New York right-hander Monte Pearson pitched the first no-hitter in Yankee Stadium history. The Yanks beat the Cleveland Indians, 13-0, that afternoon to complete a doubleheader sweep.

Pearson, who was 16-7 that year and won exactly 100 games lifetime,  faced the minimum 27 batters, striking out seven. Tommy Henrich and Joe Gordon each homered twice.

In the opener that day, Joe DiMaggio’s third straight triple of the game plated two runs in the bottom of the ninth to cap a three-run rally and give the Yankees an 8-7 victory. A crowd of 40.959 was on hand as the Yankees increased their American League lead  to 12 games en route to their third straight championship.

First college football game ever televised

One year later come September, Fordham University defeated Waynesburg College of Pennsylvania, 34-7, at Randalls Island in New York. But that wasn’t the story. NBC filTVCollegeFootballmed the first college football game ever televised, as Bill Stern brought the play by play to viewers.

Waynesburg’s Bobby Brooks made history with a 63-yard touchdown run, the first televised TD. Reportedly, there was no victory dance in the end zone.

The W2XBS broadcast signal had about a 50-mile radius, and there were about a thousand TV sets in the New York metropolitan area at the time. The signal didn’t even reach Waynesburg, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh. So who saw the game? Who knows?

Columbia shocks Army
In October of 1947, Army was a huge favorite as the Cadets brought a 32-game winning streak into New York to face Columbia’s Lions. Army had not lost since 1943; Columbia was coming off losses to Yale and Penn.

Army led, 20-7, at the half, but the Columbia combination of quarterback Gene Rossides and received Bill Swiacki brought the Lions back for a stunning 21-20 victory.

60 for Maris

And in September of 1961, Roger Maris of the Yankees hit a long home run into the upper deck at the old Yankee Stadium against Baltimore’s Jack Fisher. The round-tripper was Roger’s 60th of the season, equaling the mark Babe Ruth set in 1927.  Maris hit number 61 on the final day of the season, setting a record that many feel still stands.

These events, interesting in of themselves, have something else in common. You were right there for each and every one. You was just 13-years-old at the Pearson no-hitter, with other family members. The decision was made to leave once the Indians got their first hit. That never happened.

You went to the Waynesburg-Fordham game with your cousin Bobby Pugliese, who was at that time the manager of a powerful Fordham team.  By the time Maris tied the Babe in 1961, you were a father of four, two boys and two girls, including me, the oldest.

Our first Yankee game

You took me to my first Yankee game nearly 60 years ago, vs. the White Sox on a brilliant Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Six Hall of Famers were in the lineup that day, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford, plus both managers, Casey Stengel and Al Lopez.

You also brought me to my first Giants game, also at Yankee Stadium, five days before JFK was assassinated in 1963. And to my first Knicks and Rangers games at the old Madison Square Garden on 8th Avenue and 49th Street. We once saw an NBA doubleheader.

We saw a Miami-Notre Dame game at the Orange Bowl in Miami, a Yankee game against the Rays in St. Pete, and some great Iona Prep football. Remember when you brought home some early VCR prototype in 1967 and taped the Thanksgiving Day game against New Rochelle with Marty Glickman doing the play by play on WPIX. That was mighty impressive..

You’ve always been there for me, whether it be coin, advice or a good meal. Over the years we must have spent 100,000 hours talking sports, and there’s still nothing I’d rather do. I treasure the times I spend with you always.

Merry Christmas, Dad. Love you always.


Yes, UConn: Home office of college basketball

Think back 20 some odd years ago. Who would have envisioned the tiny little state of Connecticut, third smallest in the union, would one day be the center of the college basketball universe. Yet following the twin wins by the UConn men and women in the NCAA Tournament, is there any doubt that Storrs, CT, is the hoop capital of the country.

On the men’s side, no, it’s not Kentucky, despite stellar programs at UK and Louisville. Sorry Dorothy, but Kansas doesn’t cut it. Nor do the ACC kingpins Duke and North Carolina or top-ranked Florida, which lost to UConn twice this year. UCLA is old news.

The UConn women’s team now clearly dominates the territory once ruled by Pat Summitt’s Tennessee Lady Volunteers, who won eight championships between 1987 and 2008. Baylor and Notre Dame have had strong women’s programs recently, but nothing close to the Lady Huskies.

Geno Auriemma’s UConn women have won nine championships since 1995. Included in that run are five undefeated seasons, capped by this year’s win over previously unbeaten Notre Dame in the title game that pushed UConn to 40-0. The UConn women have now won 46 games in a row, the third longest streak in school history — but far short of their NCAA record 90-game winning streak.

The UConn men have won four championships since 1999, three under Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun and the final under second-year coach Kevin Ollie. That’s twice as many as North Carolina and Florida in the same 15-year span.

For the second time, the men and women have won NCAA championships in the same season. In 2004, the women won their third straight championship while the men beat Georgia Tech for their second crown.

Amazingly, UConn is a combined 13-0 in men’s and women’s championship games. There’s UConn…and then there’s everybody else.


We have a Cinderella, and she’s from Wichita

This year’s NCAA Cinderella is a Shocker. Ninth-seeded Wichita State of the Missouri Valley Conference knocked off #1 seed Gonzaga and #2 seed Ohio State in a surprising run to the Final Four. Wichita evoked memories of mid-majors like George Mason, VCU, and  Butler, other recent tournament darlings who made it to the last dance.

For Wichita, it’s been quite the NCAA drought. The last time the Shockers advanced this far, in 1965, LBJ was President, “The Sound of Music” was released, the Beatles played at Shea Stadium and gasoline cost 31 center per gallon.

That year Wichita State survived the in-season losses of two future NBA players, All-American forward Dave Stallworth and center Nate Bowman. Stallworth’s eligibility expired in the middle of the season, and Bowman was declared academically ineligible.

Still the Shockers persevered. They were ranked No. 1 in the country in December, won the MVC by two games, then beat SMU and Oklahoma State to reach the Final Four in Portland, Oregon

The Shockers lost to eventual champion UCLA, coached by the legendary John Wooden, in the semifinals. In those days, the semi losers played in a consolation game for third place.

Wichita fell to Princeton 118-82 in a game in which Bill Bradley, pictured above, scored a Final Four record 58 points. That night, Bradley made 22-of-29 field goals and 14-of-15 free throws to set a record which has stood for nearly 50 years.

UCLA, led by guard Gail Goodrich, went on to beat Michigan and All-American Cazzie Russell for its second consecutive NCAA title. The Bruins, sparked by Lew Alcindor, Bill Walton and others, would go on to win 10 NCAA titles in a 12-year span.

Stallworth, Bowman, Bradley and Russell were all members of the New York Knicks 1970 NBA championship team. A year later, Stallworth was traded to the Baltimore Bullets along with Mike Riordan for Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. And Russell was dealt to the San Francisco Warriors for Jerry Lucas.

Bowman, who filled in for Willis Reed in that famed 1970 Game Seven against the Lakers and actually outscored the Knicks captain 6-4, was sent to the Buffalo Braves along with Mike Silliman for cash after the 1970 season. Bradley played his entire 10-year career with the Knicks and became both a Hall of Famer and a United States Senator.


10 things you may not know about Pistol Pete

Tempus fugit. It’s been 25 years since Peter Press Maravich, aka Pistol Pete, left us tragically in the winter of 1988. Many of his amazing exploits have been obscured by the haze of time, but Pete Maravich —  floppy mop, droopy socks and skinny frame — was a basketball wizard. In Maravich, published in 2006, author Wayne Federman chronicles many of the Pistol’s exploits throughout his collegiate and NBA career. Here are 10 amazing Pistol Pete factoids you can use to impress your friends:

1. Pete Maravich, all-time scoring leader in college, averaged 44.2 ppg over three years at LSU. He holds numerous NCAA records, including as highest scoring average in a season (44.5 in 1969-70), most points in a career (3,667) and most points in a season (1,381 in 1969-70).

2. He scored 50 in more points 28 times in the NCAA, and scored 40 or more 56 times. He once scored 50 points three games in a row. He was a three-time All-American.

3. Maravich is one of only three players — along with Paul Arizin and Rick Barry — to lead both the NCAA and NBA in scoring.

4. He was selected third overall by the Atlanta Hawks in the 1970 NBA draft. behind Bob Lanier of St. Bonaventure and Rudy Tomjanovich of Michigan.

5. Pistol Pete led the NBA in scoring in 1976-77 with the New Orleans Jazz. He averaged a career-high 31.1 points per game that year.

6. That year he scored a career-high 68 points against the Knicks, setting a record by scoring the most points ever for a player who fouled out of an NBA game.

7. Imagine if Maravich, with unlimited range, had played during the three-point era. It wasn’t until his final season, split between Utah and Boston in 1979-80, that Pete played when the three-point rule was in effect.

8. Maravich, who averaged 24.2 ppg for his career, never got the championship ring he desired. He just missed in Boston, where the Celtics won in 1981, the year after he retired

9. Pistol Pete was only 40 when he died of heart failure while playing pickup basketball. It was later learned that he had been born with a dangerously malformed heart — his left coronary artery had never fully developed.

10. The plaudits rolled in when Pete died. Rick Barry called him, “the greatest ball handler I’ve ever seen in my life.”  Magic Johnson said, “The passes he made were unbelievable. He was so ahead of his time.” And from Larry Bird:  “When he stepped on the court, it was like wearing a sign. ‘Watch out. I know how to play this game.”‘


Perfect Dolphin part of Holy Cross ‘Fraternity’

It’s a story that began more than 40 years ago at a small Jesuit liberal arts college in New England. The tapestry includes the United States Supreme Court, a Pulitzer Prize and the unbeaten 1972 Miami Dolphins.

In Fraternity, Diane Brady, a journalist for BusinessWeek, writes about five African American men who arrived at the College of the Holy Cross during the racially tense time of the late 60s and early 70s, and went on to great success in life. Brady describes the bonds between these men and their peers, and their connection with the Rev. John E. Brooks, later the President of Holy Cross, who convinced them to study at the college atop  Mount St. James in Worcester, Mass.

The Fraternity five adorn the cover of the book. One of them, Eddie Jenkins, was a member of that perfect Dolphin team. The others are Jenkins’ HC roommate and star litigator Ted Wells ’72; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas ’71; Pulitzer-Prize winning author of the novel The Known World; Ed Jones ’72; and former New York City deputy mayor and investment banker Stan Grayson ’72, who also played three years for the HC basketball team.

Hepatitis Outbreak
Jenkins, a running back, attended high school at St. Francis Prep in Brooklyn. He played in just three freshman games at HC before breaking a rib. All but two games of his sophomore season were wiped out because of the hepatitis outbreak which quarantined the entire team and forced cancellation of the remainder of the 1969 schedule.

The Crusaders were 0-10-1 in 1970, a UConn tie the only saving grace. But in a game at Boston University that year, Jenkins was on the receiving end of the longest pass play in HC history, a 99-yard touchdown completion from Colin Clapton. In that same game, Joe Wilson, who later played for the Bengals and the Patriots, set a school record with a 94-yard touchdown run.

Eddie Jenkins played in just 20 games at Holy Cross, and his teams won seven. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the 11th round (285th overall) of the 1972 NFL draft. Jenkins sat below names like Larry Csonka, Mercury Morris and Jim Kiick on the Dolphin depth chart, and saw action as a special teams player.

Super Bowl Champions
He was on the field in the Los Angeles Coliseum, wearing #28, Dolphin aqua and orange, when Miami won the Super Bowl against the Washington Redskins and finished 17-0.

“We didn’t know it was going to be a perfect season,” Jenkins told the Worcester Telegram years later. “It just kept building. Honest, it was game by game. No one ever thought about this perfect season.”

After sitting out the 1973 season, Jenkins played for the Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots and New York Giants in 1974. Following his NFL career, Jenkins studied law at Suffolk. He formerly worked in private practice, as a prosecutor, a labor lawyer,and later in several Commonwealth of Massachusetts executive positions. He is currently MassDOT’s chief diversity and civil rights officer.

Jenkins has two children. His son Julian, a former defensive end at Stanford, played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2006.

SportsLifer Note: 1969-70 was my freshman year at the Cross. In December, 65 black students took a stand, threw down their student IDs and quit Holy Cross to protest a racially-tinged college ruling.  Throughout the school year there were anti-Vietnam protest marches, the tragedy of Kent State and second semester closings at universities across the county, and a concert by The Who in the Holy Cross fieldhouse, just weeks after Woodstock. The HC football team was 0-2, losing to Harvard and Dartmouth before hepatitis hit.