Final Four fun facts, figures and fantasies

FinalFour20191. Newcomers — For just the third time in 40 years, two new schools have crashed the Final Four for the first time. That’s right, Auburn and Texas Tech are making their maiden appearances in the Final Four.

2. Break on through – Two years ago, Gonzaga and South Carolina made their first Final Four appearance. In 1996, both UMass and Mississippi State broke through. In 1979, Penn and Indiana State (led by Larry Bird), made it to the Final Four. None of those schools has ever been back.

3. 11 Bridesmaids — Here’s a list of 11 major schools who have never made a Final Four. In no particular order, Tennessee, Boston College, Northwestern, Alabama, Miami (Florida), Ole Miss, Xavier, Texas A&M, Missouri, TCU and Arizona State are still looking for that last dance….as are many others.

wes4. Zion-ara – Duke’s Zion Williamson is gone from the tournament, but soon to be heard from as the No.1 pick in the NBA draft.

5. Zion-like –  A player remindful of Zion is Wes Unseld, left, the former Louisville and later Baltimore Bullets standout. Both are 6’7”, although Williamson outweighs Unseld by 40 pounds. Wes was a transcendent talent out of Louisville who won both NBA Rookie of the Year and MVP in his first season, 1968-69. Only other player to do that was a guy named Wilt Chamberlain in 1959-60.

6. Chalk Men – Bracketology is not rocket science. But the constant parade of experts picking #1 and #2 seeds in each region is laughable. Show some guts, pick an upset. Geez Louise.

7. Low Seed Madness — This year, for the first time since 2012, a team seeded 7th or lower did not make the Final Four. Wichita State (9 in 2013), UConn, the eventual champion (7 in 2014) and Kentucky (8 in 2014), Michigan State (7 in 2015), Syracuse (10 in 2016), South Carolina (7 in 2017) and Loyola-Chicago (11 in 2018) all beat the odds.

8. High school link — Ty Jerome, Virginia’s standout guard, is making Iona Prep proud as tyjeromehe tries to steer the Cavaliers to their first national championship. Jerome, right, had 24 points, five rebounds and seven assists in UVA’s 80-75 OT win over Purdue in the NCAA’s South Regional final.

9. Sparty nation — Of the four finalists, only Michigan State has won an NCAA championship. The Spartans won with Magic Johnson in 1979, then Tom Izzo coached them to the 2000 title.

10. A new champion — The last time none of the Final Four participants was a previous NCAA Tournament champion was 1990. UNLV beat Duke that year. Arkansas and Georgia Tech were the other semifinalists. The same thing happened in 1989. Michigan beat Seton Hall in overtime. Illinois and Duke were also part of the group.

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.

If Kentucky wins, the Yankees will march


If Kentucky wins the NCAAs, you can count on a Yankee parade down Broadway this fall.

The last six times Kentucky has won the NCAA men’s basketball title, the Yankees have gone on to win the World Series.

The Wildcats have won seven titles overall, second only to UCLA’s 11 and by far the most of any team in this year’s Final Four. Kansas has taken three, Louisville two and Ohio State one.

Kentucky won its first championship in 1948, the year the Cleveland Indians beat the Boston Braves to win their last World Series.

Kentucky repeated in 1949, beating Oklahoma State in the final, under the tutelage of  immortal coach Adolph Rupp, the “Baron of the Bluegrass.”

Rupp, fourth all-time with 876 victories, would go on to win in 1951 (against Kansas State) and 1958 (against Seattle) for a total of four championships.

Meanwhile the Yankees were winning five World Series in a row between 1949 and 1953 under another legendary leader, Casey Stengel. In 1958, the Yankees rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Milwaukee Braves.

It took Kentucky 20 years to return to the mountaintop, when coach Joe B. Hall’s Wildcats defeated Duke for the 1978 national championship. That fall, the Yankees rallied to knock off the Red Sox on Bucky Dent’s home run, then repeated against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Rick Pitino, now the head coach at Louisville (which meets Kentucky in a Final Four intra-state rivalry on Saturday), coached the Wildcats to the NCAA title in 1996. Two years later, coach Tubby Smith guided Kentucky to its last championship, against Utah.

Meanwhile, Joe Torre piloted the Yankees to World Series wins in 1996 (vs. the Braves) and 1998 (vs. the Padres).

Of the other Final Four finalists, Kansas won its first championship in 1952, followed by a Yankee win over the Dodgers. Ohio State’s only title occurred in 1960, the year the Yankees lost the Series to Bill Mazeroski and the Pirates. And although the Yankees didn’t win the World Series following Louisville’s 1986 title run, the Mets did.

Kentucky is heavily favored to cut down the nets Monday night. And if they do, the Yankees can start planning a parade down Broadway

The glory days of Ohio basketball

In the early 1960s the Cold War was heating up. America was showing it had the right stuff for the space race. And the state of Ohio was the center of the basketball universe.

Now, more than 50 years later, Ohio is again dominating the NCAA basketball tournament. For the first time in NCAA tournament history, four teams from the same state — Ohio State, Cincinnati, Ohio and Xavier — have advanced to the Sweet 16.

Back in 1960, Ohio State, led by All-America center Jerry Lucas, won their only national championship, beating defending champ California, 75-55.

In 1961 and again in 1962, Cincinnati captured back-to-back NCAA championships, beating Ohio State both times in the final game.

All told, Cincinnati made it to five straight Final Fours between 1959 and 1963. And Ohio State advanced to the championship game three straight times.

Lucas, below right,  led a well-balanced Ohio State team coached by Fred Taylor.  He was named NCAA Most Outstanding Player in both 1960 and 1961 (the second time on a losing team) , and was Big Ten Player of the Year three straight times, leading OSU to a 78-6 record over three years.

Lucas and Havlicek
Other members of that famed 1960 team included John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried, both of whom went on the play for the Celtics, and a reserve named Bobby Knight, who achieved coaching immortality at Indiana University.

Oscar Robertson, one of the greatest guards ever to play basketball, was the top player on Cincinnati’s Final Four teams in 1959 and 1960 that failed to go all the way..

But the Bearcat dynasty continued after the Big O graduated under the direction of coach Ed Jucker and mainstays like Tom Thacker, Paul Hogue and Ron Bonham.

In the 1961 Final Four in Kansas City, Cincy knocked off Utah and Ohio State beat St. Joseph’s to advance to the championship. Then the Bearcats and the Buckeyes had to wait anxiously while St. Joseph’s beat Utah in a record-tying four overtimes to win the third place game.

Cincinnati trailed OSU by one point at the half, but rallied to win in overtime, 70-65, with a balanced scoring attack (four players in double figures). Lucas led all scorers with 27 points.

The following year Cincy beat UCLA, making its first appearance in the Final Four, and Ohio State topped Wake Forest and guard Billy Packer. Hogue scored 22 points and earned Most Outstanding Player honors as Cincinnati won again, 71-59.

Seeking the first three-peat in tourney history, Cincinnati advanced to the championship game in 1963 but blew a big second half lead and was upset by Loyola of Chicago, 60-58, in overtime.

The Wrap
When Cincinnati and Ohio meet in the NCAA East semifinals, it will mark their first match-up in the NCAA tournament since March 24, 1962, almost exactly 50 years ago.

Ohio State made it to the championship game in 2007 behind Greg Oden, but lost to Florida. The Buckeyes also made the Final Four in 1968 and 1999.

Cincy’s only Final Four appearance since 1962 occurred in 1992. Neither Xavier or Ohio University has ever advanced to the Final Four.

March Madness: Funky Final Fours

Get a load of these 10 potential Final Fours. Hey, it’s March Madness, anything is possible.

Wonderful World of Color Final Four

Duke Blue Devils
LIU Blackbirds
Syracuse Orange
Alabama Crimson Tide

Carolina on My Mind Final Four

NC — Asheville
North Carolina

Top Cat Final Four

Kentucky Wildcats
Memphis Tigers
Kansas State Wildcats
Ohio Bobcats

Been There, Done That Final Four

UNLV (1 championship)
Marquette (1 championship)
Syracuse (1 championship)
Michigan (1 championship

Been There, Done That Redux Final Four

Kentucky (7 championships)
Florida (2 championships)
Cincinnati (2 championships)
North Carolina (5 championships)

Bless Me Father Final Four

Notre Dame
St. Bonaventure
St. Mary’s

Larry Bird Final Four

Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Louisville Cardinals
Southern Miss Golden Eagles
Temple Owls

What’s That Supposed to Mean Final Four

Indiana Hoosiers
Saint Louis Billikens
Ohio State Buckeyes
Georgetown Hoyas

Like Father, Like Son Final Four

Duke — Austin Rivers, Seth Curry
Missouri — Matt and Phil Pressey
Gonzaga — David Stockton
Michigan — Tim Hardaway Jr.

C What I Mean Final Four

Colorado State

Top 10 Game-Winners in NCAAs

With Valparaiso coach Homer Drew looking on, his son Bryce Drew unleashes game-winning three-pointer at buzzer to slay Ole Miss in 1998 NCAA Tournament.

Somewhere in this vast galaxy, in some alternate universe, Gordon Hayward’s halfcourt heave went in the basket and Butler beat Duke to win the 2010 NCAA National Championship. In that other world, it is celebrated as the greatest shot in college basketball history and arguably the greatest shot ever in sports.

Hayward’s shot would have topped this SportsLifer list except for one important detail. In this world, Hayward’s shot rimmed out and instead Duke held on to win its fourth National Championship.

There were plenty of other shots that did go in and made a difference.

Here are the 10 greatest game-winning shots in NCAA Tournament history:

1. Bryce Drew , Valparaiso, 1998, First Round: You remember the play. Valpo trailing Ole Miss by two, seconds left to play….and…we’ll let CBS broadcaster Ted Robinson, now the 49ers play-by-play man, make the call: “The inbounds pass to be thrown by Jamie Sykes, Carter pressuring. It’s to Jenkins….to Drew for the win…GOOD! HE DID IT! BRYCE DREW DID IT! VALPO HAS WON THE GAME A MIRACLE!” The leaning three pointer well behind the arc gave 13th-seeded Valpo a 70-69 win. Cinderella beat Florida State to gain the Sweet 16, where Valparaiso fell to Rhode Island

2. Christian Laettner, Duke, 1992, East Regional Final: In one of the greatest games every played and Duke trailing Kentucky by one in overtime, Calvin Hill threw a  desperation 80-foot pass to Christian Laettner who caught the ball, faked and put up a fadeway shot from the free throw line as time expired. The Blue Devils advanced to the Final Four with the 104-103 win and went on to win their second straight title.

3. Arkansas, US Reed, 1981, Second Round: U.S. (Ulysses S) Reed, unable to get the ball to any of his teammates and with time running out, took a desperation shot from beyond the midcourt line, left. The ball went in (this before the advent of the three-point shot) and Arkansas stunned defending champ Louisville, 74-73.

4. Lorenzo Charles, North Carolina State, 1983, National Championship: With the game tied at 52 and four seconds to play, NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg flung a desperation heave. It was an airball, but Lorenzo Charles turned the miss into a dunk, and causing Wolfpack coach Jim Valanvo to run wild looking for somebody to love.

5. Keith Smart, Indiana, 1987, National Championship: The title game was held on Oscar night and while the nominated “Hoosiers” didn’t win in Hollywood, Bob Knight’s Hoosiers did in New Orleans. Keith Smart hit the winning jumper in the final seconds for the 74–73 win over Syracuse.

6. Tyus Edney, UCLA, 1995, Second Round — 5’10” guard Tyrus Edney went cost-to-coast with 4.8 seconds left and made a game-winning layup as the buzzer sounded the give the Bruins a 75-74 win over Missouri. UCLA went on to win its 11th national championship, the only one since John Wooden’s run of 10 titles ended in 1975.

7. Tate George, UConn, 1990, Elite Eight, Regional Semifinals:  With only one second left in the game and UConn down a point to Clemson, Scott Burrell threw a full court pass to George. George caught the pass, spun around and released a 15-footer that fell through as time expired for a 71-70 win. Two days later, the Huskies lost a  heartbreaker to Duke on a buzzer beater by Christian Laettner.

8. Michael Jordan, North Carolina, 1982, National Championship: No list of great exploits in basketball history is complete without the obligatory Jordan reference. The freshman hit a 17-foot jumper from the left side with around 10 seconds left. giving Dean Smith his first national title with the 63-62 win over Georgetown.

9. Vic Rouse, Loyola of Chicago,  1963, National Championship: The underdog Ramblers rallied from 15 points down in the second half to force overtime, then won the game on a last-second rebound and basket by Vic Rouse. Loyola’s improbable 60-59 win and denied Cincinnati the first three-peat in NCAA history.

10. Richard Washington, UCLA, 1975, National Semifinals: John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won 10 titles in 12, and most weren’t even close. But this battle against former Wooden assistant and Louisville head coach was. The Bruins rallied to force overtime and won the game 75-74 on a last-second shot by Richard Washington. They went on to beat Kentucky for Wooden’s last championship.

Sorry T.S., April Is The Best Month for Sports

The Best of SportsLifer

First posted on April 13, 2009 by sportslifer

T.S. Eliot knew how to write, but sports wasn’t his strong suit.

“April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain. “

– T.S Eliot, The Waste Land, 1922

Thomas Stearns (T.S.) Eliot, the American-British poet, playwright and critic, may have been a member of the Literature Hall of Fame, but he didn’t know sports.

With apologies to old T.S., shown below, April is America’s best month for sports.

April, the rites of passage, the season of rebirth, where Opening Day signals the start of another baseball season.

April has the pageantry of the Masters, from Augusta National, the most beautiful golf course in the world.

Both the NBA and NHL playoffs begin in April, the second season for 32 basketball and hockey teams.

The NCAA Tournament may be heralded as March Madness, but the Final Four is an April event.

And finally there’s the NFL draft, one of the most popular events in the NFL outside of  the Super Bowl.

What other months challenge April?

June has the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup, the U.S. Open, and the Belmont Stakes, last leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown.

October has the World Series, and peak activity in college and pro football to go with Fall foliage.

And February has the Super Bowl, the single biggest day in American sports, and the Daytona 500.

Give me April every time.