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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Yes Virginia, there really is a UMBC

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Back in February of 1981, I was working the copy desk at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel when Notre Dame beat then undefeated and top-ranked Virginia and Ralph Sampson. The headline I wrote for the next day’s paper was “Yes Virginia, there really is a Notre Dame.”

Similiarly, two weeks before Christmas in 1982, Sampson and the top-ranked Cavaliers were upset by tiny Chaminade, an NAIA school, in Hawaii.

These upsets were certainly amazing, but nothing like what happened in the first round of the NCAA tournment when 16th seed UMBC took out top-ranked and #1 seed Virginia 74-54. Finally, for the first time ever, a #16 seed beat a #1 seed. Make it one win and 135 losses.

Wow, this is the granddaddy of all NCAA tourney upsets. UMBC, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, became U Must be Cinderella. Fans rocked in the stands and the streets. The school’s website crashed after the game.

You know what this is like?” CBS Sports analyst Bill Raftery said after the game. “This is like saying, well, you know, one day the aliens are going to land here and that’s going to be incredible. But in the back of your mind you’re like, ‘C’mon, man, we all know the aliens are never going to land here.'”

We all thought we knew – a 16 can’t beat a 1. Not only did the UMBC Retrievers win, they won by 20 points, scoring 53 points in the second half against the nation’s top defensive team. Virginia allowed just 53.4 points per game during the regular season.

This is beyond madness. It’s insanity.

The UMBC victory easily ranks as the top upset in the history of the NCAAs, but there have been man others. Here are the top dozen, in chronological order:

12 Great NCAA Upsets

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.  In those days there were no seedings and no 64-team field, just two, four-team regionals and a title game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. The Utes were the youngest NCAA champion in history; the team’s average age was 18 years, six months. And in the midst of World War II, the team had two Japanese-American players, one on release from an internment camp. The Utes defeated Eastern champion and heavily favored Dartmouth in the championship game on a set shot by forward Herb Wilkinson in the first overtime championship game in NCAA history.  Utah became known as the Whiz Kids, Zoot Utes, and the Live Five from the Jive Drive.

1956: Canisius 79, North Carolina State 78 (4OT) — The Wolfpack was ranked second in the nation when they faced Canisius in the first round. The Golden Griffins won in four overtimes. The two teams set a record for longest NCAA Tournament game that’s been once tied (1961), but never broken. The San Francisco Dons, led by Bill Russell, won the NCAA title that year.

UTEP1966: Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65 — Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El Paso) and its all-black starting five was a heavy underdog to Kentucky’s all white starting five, including Pat Riley, and openly racist coach, Adolph Rupp. Yet the Miners managed the win. Rupp “carried the memory of that game to his grave,” wrote his biographer, Russell Rice.

1979: Penn 72, North Carolina 71 — The Quakers beat top-rated UNC in the East Regionals and later St. John’s in the Eastern regional finals, and became what remains the last Ivy League team to make the Final Four.  Penn would be the only team to beat four higher seeded opponents to reach the Final Four until the feat was matched in 1986 by LSU and again in 2006 by George Mason. Penn was crushed in the national semis by Magic Johnson and Michigan State, which went on to beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State team for the championship.

1983: NC State 54, Houston 52 — NC State had lost 10 games during the regular season and wasn’t expected to be in the title match. The Cougars and their “Phi  Slamma Jamma” crew of Akeem (later Hakeem) “The Dream” Olajuwon and Clyde “The Glide” Drexler, meanwhile, were the nation’s top-ranked team and on a 25-game winning streak. But when Lorenzo Charles slammed home an errant shot as time expired, the Wolfpack had an improbable win and coach Jim Valvano went “looking for someone to hug.”

1985: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64 — Many thought the eighth-seeded Wildcats didn’t belong on the same court with Patrick Ewing and the defending champion Hoyas. Georgetown had already beaten Villanova twice during the regular season. But the Wildcats  shot a record 78.6 percent from the field, missed only one shot in the entire second half, and became the lowest-seeded team ever to win the national championship.

1991: Richmond 73, Syracuse 69 — Richmond became the first No. 15 to beat a two seed The win inspired the immortal headline: Orangemen Bitten by Spiders. Other 15-2 shockers include Santa Clara over Arizona in 1991 and Coppin State over South Carolina in 1997. More below.

brycedrew1998: Valparaiso 70, Mississippi 69 — One of the most famous last-second shots in basketball history and the poster child for buzzer beaters was the three pointer by Bryce Drew, left, that helped 13-seed Valparaiso beat Ole Miss in a stunner.
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2006: George Mason 86, Connecticut (OT) — A suburban commuter school from Fairfax, Va., that was a dicey choice to make the NCAA tournament as an at-large team, the 11th seeded Patriots upset No. 1 seed UConn and reached the Final Four. The Patriots were only the second double-digit seed to make the Final Four, matching LSU’s run, also as an 11th seed, in 1986. They were the first true outsider to crash the quartet since Penn and Indiana State both got there in 1979.

2010: Northern Ohio 67, Kansas 65 — It’s rare that the top seeded team in the tournament goes out this early. But NIU guard Ali Farokhmanes, the answer to future trivia question, hit a three-pointer with 34 seconds left to ultimately doom Kansas in the second round .The top-seeded Jayhawks were knocked out by ninth-seeded NIU in one of the bigger surprises in NCAA history.

2012: Lehigh 75, Duke 70 – Lehigh, a 15 seed, engineered the upset over second seed Duke. Led by C.J. McCollum, the Mountain Hawks from the Patriots League stunned the Blue Devils and legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski.

2016Middle Tennessee 90, Michigan State 81 – Big 10 champs and a trendy championship pick, coach Tom Izzo’s Michigan State squad fell to Middle Tennessee in a shocker.

Related Blog: Top 10 Championship Games in Final Four History


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


Five still seeking first NCAA Tournament berth

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There are plenty of NIT banners in Army’s West Point gym, but not a single NCAA pelt.

In the NCAA Tournament, there are the haves and the have nots. Although there are more than 40 Division I schools that have never qualified for the tournament, many of them are relative newcomers to Division I. However there are five schools that have been around since March Madness began in 1939 and yet never played in the NCAA Tournament.

The hardly fabulous five features Army, Northwestern, St. Francis of Brooklyn, The Citadel and William & Mary. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. All of them.

Despite being led by two of the greatest in history – legendary coaches Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski – the Cadets have never made it. Army turned down an NCAA berth in 1968 because Coach Knight thought his team was better suited to the NIT. That decision still haunts the Black Knights of the Hudson.

Northwestern has won 20 games twice in its history, in 2010 and 2011. But the Wildcats finished well back in the Big Ten both seasons. Ironically, Bill Carmody, who coached those teams during a 13-year tenure at Northwestern, made this year’s tournament in his first year at Holy Cross. Carmody, who twice led Princeton to the NCAAs, is the second winningest coach in Northwestern history.

St. Francis and William & Mary both had close calls, but lost the automatic NAA bid in heartbreaking conference tournament finals losses. Just last year, St. Francis won the Northeast regular season title but lost at home by three points to Robert Morris in the finals. William & Mary was beaten by one point by Delaware in the 2014 Colonial championship final. The Citadel won 20 games in 2009, but is generally considered one of the weaker teams in the Southern Conference.

Other notables in the never made the tournament club include Bethune-Cookman, Maine, New Hampshire, Stetson and Youngstown State


Cinderella Holy Cross on magic NCAA run

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Holy Cross celebrates win over Army at West Point en route to NCAA Tournament berth.

Like most Holy Cross fans, I never saw this coming. During a dreadful regular season the Crusaders finished ninth in the 10-team Patriot League, wound up 10-19 overall, and failed to win a single league game on the road.

Then Holy Cross then beat Loyola of Maryland 72-67 in the first round of the Patriot League tournament. Things started to get interesting when HC knocked off top-seeded Bucknell 77-72 in double overtime in the quarterfinals.

Looking for a bandwagon, I hopped on for the ride – namely a visit to West Point to see the Purple face Army in the semifinals. There the Crusaders jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never trailed, whipping the Cadets 60-38.

Miraculously, Holy Cross culminated its run through the Patriot League with a 59-56 win over second-seeded Lehigh. Again the Crusaders led wire-to-wire, and held on as Lehigh missed four straight three-pointers in the last 20 seconds.

Holy Cross became the first team in conference history to win four tournament games – all on the road – as well as knocking off the top two seeds in the tournament. The Cross has now won six Patriot League championships.

The Cinderella Saders are going to the Big Dance for the 13th time in their history. Bracketologists are speculating that they will face either Austin Peay or Farleigh Dickinson in a first round game, aka First Four, next week in Dayton, Ohio.

Holy Cross has had success in the NCAAs in the past.HC, led by a freshman point guard name of Bob Cousy, won the NCAA Championship in 1947, the school’s first appearance in the tournament. The Crusaders advanced to the Final Four in 1948, and made the Elite Eight in 1950 and 1953. In 1977 the Crusaders upset eighth-ranked Providence in an Eastern playoff before bowing out to top-ranked Michigan.

In recent years, Holy Cross suffered close, first-round losses to Kentucky in 2001, Kansas in 2002 and Marquette in 2003. HC dropped a first-round match to Southern Illinois in 2007.

Related Blog: Once upon a time, Holy Cross was king of hoops.


Wallflowers missing out on the ‘Big Dance’

Fans storm the court after Albany buzzer-beater denied Stony Brook its first NCAA ticket.

For dozens of big-time programs, an invitation to the NCAA Tournament is all but presumed every year. Failure to make the tournament is considered a huge disappointment. Coaches have been fired for less.

But not so for the vast majority of teams, some who have played Cinderella and many others who have never made the cut. Perfect example, Stony Brook. The Seawolves were literally less than a second away from the first NCAA berth in the team’s history when Albany State crushed their dreams with a dagger three-pointer at the buzzer in the American East championship game.Oh my.

Only five of the original 160 NCAA schools have never made the tournament, which began in 1939. They are Army, The Citadel, Northwestern, St. Francis (NY) and William & Mary. St. Francis came close this year, advancing to the championship game of the Northeast Conference tournament this week, only to bow out to Robert (Bob) Morris, 66-63, on their home court in Brooklyn.

Army never made it despite being coached by two all-time greats, Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski. But Northwestern may be the most puzzling of all the NCAA wallflowers. Northwestern began men’s basketball in 1901, was retro-picked as national champion in 1931, and even hosted the first NCAA championship game in 1939 and the Final Four in 1956. Playing in the Big Ten, the Wildcats have not had a winning record in conference play since 1968, when LBJ was President. They finally managed their first 20-win season in 2009.

All told, there are 44 Division 1 teams that have never tasted March Madness. Some notables beyond the five originals mentioned above are Maine, New Hampshire, Hartford, Bryant College, Youngstown State, Grambling and Presbyterian.

Finally

Meanwhile North Florida, UC Irvine and Buffalo are going to the tournament for the first time. North Florida’s Ospreys got the automatic bid after knocking off another NCAA virgin, the South Carolina Upstate Spartans, 63-57 in the Atlantic Sun championship game. And the University of California-Irvine punched its ticket after beating Hawaii, 67-58, in the Big West title game. For the Anteaters, it’s the first tournament appearance in the 38-year history of the school’s basketball program. And Buffalo cracked the brackets with ts first Mid-American Conference Tournament championship, an 89-84 win over top-seeded Central Michigan

In 2013, Florida Gulf Coast, the 15th seed in the East, won the Atlantic Sun title, and ran off two straight wins in its first NCAA, beating second-seed Georgetown and seventh-seed San Diego State before losing to Florida in the round of 16.

Last year, both Cal Poly and North Carolina Central cracked the NCAA code with first-time tournament appearances.


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.