Yes Virginia, there really is a UMBC

umbc

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

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Jabbar part of the conversation of best ever

1758742ADB_DNA023133068Who’s the best basketball player in history?

The most popular answer is Michael Jordan. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are popular selections. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are certainly in the conversation. LeBron James is a favorite of the current generation and still climbing.

A name that rarely…if ever…comes up is Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Surprising, considering the big man’s pedigree. Here are 10 supporting arguments for Kareem Abdul Jabbar as the best ever.

1. POINTS: He’s the leading scorer in NBA history with 37,387 points. Karl Malone is second.

2. MVP: Kareem won the NBA MVP award a record six times. Jordan won five and LeBron is a four-time winner.

3. RINGS: He’s won six NBA championships, one with the Bucks and five with the Lakers. Only Robert Horry and a bunch of Celtics have won more. Russell is the leader with 11.

4. DEFENSE: Kareem was selected to the NBA’s All-Defensive team 11 times.

5. REBOUNDS: He’s fourth all-time in rebounds with 17,440, trailing only Wilt, Russell and Malone.

6. ALL-STAR: Jabbar appeared in 19 NBA All-Star games, the most in history. Kobe Bryant is second with 18.

7. BLOCKS: Only Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutumbo have more blocks than Kareem.

8. UCLA: Won three straight NCAA titles with UCLA in 1967,68 and 69, and made first team All-American each year.

9. GAMES: Only Robert Parrish played in more NBA games than Jabbar.

10. SCORING AVERAGE: Kareem averaged 24.6 points per game throughout his career.


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.


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.


Indiana last NCAA champ to finish unbeaten

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.


Instant replay: The 10 most improbable finishes in college football history

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.

1. The War Damn Miracle

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.

2. The Play

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.

3. The Hail Mary

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.

4. The Statue of Liberty

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.

 

5. The Lateralpalooza

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,

6. The Bluegrass Miracle

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.


7. Miracle at the Big House

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.

8. The Bush Push

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.

9. Happy Holiday

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

10. Harvard beats Yale, 29-29

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.


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.