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.
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.
It hasn’t happened in nearly 40 years — and has happened only seven times in history. It is winning the NCAA championship to cap off a perfect season.
UCLA did it four times — once with Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in 1967, and back to back with Bill Walton in 1972 and 1973, part of the Bruins’ record 88-game winning streak. John Wooden coached all four of those teams, including the 1964 team which was the first of his record 10 NCAA champions.
The University of San Francisco (USF) was the first to do it, capping off a 29-0 campaign to win the 1956 NCAA championship behind Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.
North Carolina (32-0) went unbeaten the following year, winning twice in triple overtime to beat Michigan State and then Kansas, with Wilt Chamberlain, in the finals.
Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers
The only other undefeated champion was Bobby Knight’s 1976 Hoosiers — who led by Kent Benson, Scott May and Quinn Buckner finished the year 1976 at 32-0 .Rutgers also entered that tournament undefeated, at 31-0, before losing to Michigan in the semifinals.
Only Wichita State has a shot this year. The Shockers, Missouri Valley Conference champions, are 34-0 as they attempt to reach the Final Four for the second year in a row.
The last team to enter the tournament unbeaten was UNLV in 1991. The defending champs had won 45 in a row before losing to Duke in the national semifinals.
Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamore’s were 33-0 entering the 1979 national finals – but were beaten by Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Alcorn State also had a perfect regular season that year. The Braves were 27-0 and won the SWAC but did not receive a bid to the 32-team field.
Auburn’s Chris Davis, en route to history, silences Alabama dreams of a three-peat.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes an improbable play that stirs the soul. Witness what happened on November 30, when Auburn shocked top-ranked Alabama with a length-of-the-field return on the last play of the game. 50 years from now, fans will remember where they were when the play occurred.
It was the greatest finish in college football history. Take a look at the top 10 with video links.
2013, Auburn 34, Alabama 28
Alabama, gunning for its third straight national championship, attempted to snap a tie with a 57-yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game. The kick was short, but Auburn return man Chris David took the ball at the back of the end zone and ran 109 yards (officially 100) for the winning touchdown. Auburn had tied the game with 32 seconds remaining, following a 99-yard touchdown pass that gave Alabama the lead earlier in the fourth quarter. Ironically, in their previous game two weeks earlier, the War Eagles stunned Georgia on a last-minute 73-yard pass, known as The Immaculate Deflection.
1982, Cal 25, Stanford 20
Cal, trailing 20-19 with just four seconds remaining against arch-rival Stanford, used five laterals on a kick return to score the winning touchdown, racing the final yards through the Stanford band, which had come onto the field believing the game was over. John Elway, playing in his final regular season college game, led Stanford to a field goal before Cal’s hysteria on the ensuing kickoff.
With the clock winding down, Doug Flutie winds up to throw his Hail Mary pass.
1984, Boston College 47, Miami 45
On the day after Thanksgiving, Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie threw a desperation, 48-yard touchdown pass to his roommate, Gerard Phelan, on the final play of the game to lead the Eagles past Miami at the Orange Bowl. Flutie would go on to win the Heisman Trophy that season.
2007, Boise State 43, Oklahoma 42, OT
One of the wildest games in NCAA history, capped by one of the wildest endings. Playing in the Fiesta Bowl, Oklahoma scored 25 straight points but Boise State tied the game on a hook and ladder play with seconds remaining. After the Sooners scored in overtime, Boise countered with a touchdown and then won the game with a two-point conversion on another circus play — the Statue of Liberty.
2007, Trinity 28, Millsaps 24
You have to see this play to believe it. In a Division III showdown in Mississippi, Trinity used 15 laterals to score on a 61-yard kick return touchdown as time expired. The longest play in college football history took 62 seconds to complete,
2002, LSU 33, Kentucky 30
After Kentucky players gave head coach Guy Morriss a Gatorade shower, LSU scored on a 74-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Marcus Randall to wide receiver Devery Henderson on the final play of the game.
1994, Colorado 27, Michigan 26
Kordell Stewart’s 64-yard touchdown pass to Michael Westbrook as time expired stunned a huge Michigan crowd at the Big House in Ann Arbor. Stewart’s pass traveled nearly 80 yards in the air.
2005, USC 34, Notre Dame 31
Trailing 31-28 with just seven seconds left to play, USC went for the win instead of kicking a tying field goal. Trojans quarterback Matt Leinart scored the winning touchdown on a keeper, helped by a shove from behind by running back Reggie Bush.
1980, BYU 46, SMU 45
BYU overcame a 20-point deficit in the final three minutes and scored three touchdowns, sparked by Jim McMahon’s 41-yard pass to Clay Brown at the gun, to stun SMU
1968, Harvard 29, Yale 29
The Harvard Crimson headline said it all. Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds — including a touchdown and two point conversion after time expired — to tie rival Yale. The teams shared the Ivy League title at 8-0-1.
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.
Is the Big East primed for one last NCAA dance, a final run for old time’s sake?
The powerhouse Big East, which was founded in 1979, has produced six NCAA Championships — three by UConn and one apiece from Georgetown, Villanova and Syracuse. Big East teams have made 16 Final Four appearances since 1980, including a tour de force in 1985 when eventual champion Villanova, runner-up Georgetown and St. John’s all made it, the only time that’s occurred in the tournament.
Of the league’s current members, only South Florida has failed to make the Final Four, although Marquette, DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers, Cincinnati and Pitt all made it before they became Big East members.
Only the ACC with 10 titles — Duke and North Carolina with four each, and NC State and Maryland with one apiece — has won more NCAA Championships since 1980. And no conference has sent more different teams to the Final Four during that span. That’s parity.
When the late Dave Gavitt, former Providence coach, founded the Big East in 1979, it consisted of seven charter members — Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, Villanova, Syracuse, Boston College and Connecticut. The first four along with Seton Hall, DePaul and Marquette will form their own BCS basketball league, taking the Big East name with them. But it won’t be the Big East as we know it.
The Beast of the East. What memories. Great coaches like Jim Boheim, Jim Calhoun, Lou Carnesecca, John Thompson, Rick Pitino. P.J. Carlesimo and Rollie Massimino. Great players like Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Ray Allen, Mark Jackson, Kemba Walker, Walter Berry and Dwayne “Pearl” Washington. And so many great rivalries and games, arguably none better than “Six in the City” — the six overtime classic between Syracuse and UConn in the 2009 Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Maybe the Big East can do it again. Louisville is the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Georgetown, a #2 seed, is playing in the year of the Jesuit, as is third-seed Marquette. And perennials like Syracuse and Notre Dame are in the mix. Once more, for old time’s sake.
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.”‘