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.


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.

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

96 Tears: Stop The Madness

There’s an old cliche that goes something like this  — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The decision-makers in the NCAA should take that saying to heart.

Cliches are cliches for a reason — because they work. Just like the NCAA basketball tournament.

Yet the NCAA is reportedly exploring the possibility of expanding from the present field of 64 to 96 teams next year.

That makes sense. Yeah right. Take something that’s created an aura and built a mystique around March Madness and change it. Why not eliminate Mother’s Day while we’re at it.

“I don’t like it,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said of the 96-team potential. “I’m not going to tell you I’m going to get out of coaching because of it. But I’m more of a traditionalist.

“Now, there’s a mystique, there’s something special about being in the tournament. If  they expanded, that mystique would go away.”

No More NIT
Yes, the mystique would go away, along with the NIT, which despite a long heritage of its own is dead if the NCAA goes through with this plan.

With 96 teams, we’d be left with a tournament with a bunch of byes and 32 extra teams, mainly the leftovers and second-division finishers from the major conferences.

There’d be a bunch of byes to screw up the brackets. With 96 teams, we’d be crying 96 Tears, just like ? & The Mysterians

The NCAA should spend less time worrying about March Madness and more into expanding the utterly laughable BCS football format.

Or else, we’ll be left with a 96-team basketball tournament and a two-team football playoff next year.

Do the math, it doesn’t add up.

Top 10: Best NCAA Championship Games


North Carolina’s Michael Jordan shoots down Georgetown for 1982 NCAA title.

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, following by Kentucky with 7, Indiana with 5 and North Carolina with 4.

Here are the 10 most memorable 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. 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.

4. 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, pictured below, 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.”

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Overtime…5 More Minutes, 5 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.

Cardinals Rule: Louisville the Pick in NCAAs

It says here, sometime around midnight on Monday night, April 6, Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals will be celebrating a win over the Oklahoma Sooners and cutting down the nets in the Motor City.

Pitino is due to join a select group of coaches whose teams have won at least two NCAA championships. And if Louisville wins, as forecast, he’ll become the first coach to win championships with two different schools.

Pitino coached the 1996 Kentucky team that beat Syracuse to win the National title. He also led Providence to the Final Four in 1987.

UCLA’s legendary coach John Wooden is far and away the all-time leader with 10 championships (all between 1964 and 1975). The Baron, Adolph Rupp, won four titles with Kentucky. and Indiana’s Bob Knight and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski took three apiece.

Pitino would join a group of eight coaches with two championships, including Louisville’s Denny Crum, Florida’s Billy Donovan and UConn’s Jim Calhoun.

Multiple Championship Coaches

Coach                        School                     Championships

John Wooden            UCLA                      10
Adolph Rupp              Kentucky                 4
Bob Knight                  Indiana                    3
Mike Krzyzewski      Duke                         3
Dean Smith                North Carolina       2
Billy Donovan             Florida                     2
Denny Crum               Louisville                2
Ed Jucker                   Cincinnati               2
Hery Iba                       Oklahoma State   2
Jim Calhoun               UConn                     2
Phil Woolpert              San Francisco      2
Branch McCracken   Indiana                   2

The Cardinals will win because they have the most athletic team in this year’s tournament.  They’re deep, and they play 40 minutes of relentless defense.

Louisville won both the regular season and post-season tournaments in the Big East, generally regarded as college basketball’s toughest conference in years.

In addition to Louisville, the SportsLifer Final Four features top-seeded Pitt and second seeds Memphis and Oklahoma.

NCAA tournament pools are often decided in the early rounds, especially in pools where points are awarded for picking lower seeds..

Some sleepers to watch in the early rounds:

— 13th seed Mississippi State will beat both Washington and Purdue
—  Western Kentucky will beat Illinois in the annual 12-5 stunner
— 11th seeds VCU and Utah State will eliminate UCLA and Marquette respectively
— 10th seeds Maryland, USC and Minnesota will all advance to the next round

Remember, when it all comes true, you read it here first.

Survive And Advance

March Madness….survive and advance….laying it all on the line, agonizing over a turnover, exulting after a long three. Sweating it out until the final buzzer.

College basketball players? Heck no, we’re talking about the pool players in NCAA tournament brackets.

It’s all about survive and advance at this point of the year, where one loss can turn those picks into pumpkins.

Quick, pop NCAA quiz. Who are the only two players to have triple doubles in the Final Four? Two very usual suspects. Scroll down for answers below.

That’s the sound you heard this weekend, the sound of brackets crashing as Duke and Georgetown were brushed aside. And there was a distinct bracket creak before top-seeded UCLA, one of the tourney’s darlings, got a last second basket to subdue Texas A&M.

Ever play the game knock out? There are several different renditions of this sport, including one where you pick one NFL team to win each week, irregardless of point spread. Once you pick a team, you can’t pick that team again. If your team loses you’re out; if they win you advance to play another week. Winner is the last one left standing. Survive and advance.

That’s what pool play is all about. Give yourself a chance going into next weekend, grab enough points in the early rounds, and hope you’ve picked the winner and that your Final Four can run the table. And even then, that might not be enough to put you in the money, honey.

Just win, baby.

The Sweet 16: Three teams apiece from the Big East (West Virginia, Villanova, and Louisville) and the Pac 10 (UCLA, Stanford and Washington State). Two apiece from the Big 12 (Kansas, Texas) and Big 10 (Michigan State, Wisconsin). Only one from the ACC, although that one is top-rated North Carolina.

Rule change: In the final minute of UConn’s stunning OT loss to San Diego on Friday, the Huskies, trying to catch up, had to commit a succession of fouls just to force San Diego to the free throw line. In effect, because of the team foul rule, UConn was being penalized for avoiding fouls throughout the second half. In this instance, why not give the team committing the deliberate foul the option of sending the other team to the line instead of having to commit a series of fouls. Otherwise, they’re being penalized for not being penalized.

Not to make excuses for UConn, they were listless not only against San Diego but in their brief appearance in the Big East tournament.

Trivia Answer: Oscar Roberston (39 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists) of Cincinnati against Louisville in 1959 and Magic Johnson (29 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists) of Michigan State against Penn in 1979

Is George Mason This Year’s George Mason?

Is George Mason this year’s George Mason? It was just two years ago that Jim Larranaga’s 12th-seeded Patriots of the Colonial Athletic Association made a run to the Final Four before losing to eventual champ Florida in the national semis.

A nice story, but Cinderellas in the Final Four are about as rare as a snowy day in Miami. Really, outside of the Pac 10, Big 10, Big 12, Big East and SEC — who makes the Final Four?

Marquette (2003) and Louisville (2005) got there, but both were on the verge of leaving Conference USA and joining the Big East.

In 1998, Utah out of the Mountain West Conference lost to Kentucky in the championship game. UMass from the Atlantic 10 advanced to the Final Four in 1996.

But for a real Cinderella, you need to go back-back-back to the Penn Quakers in 1979. That same year, Indiana State and Larry Bird lost to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in the title game.

And for a Cinderella winner how about Texas Western upsetting top-ranked Kentucky in 1966. Don Haskins unheralded Miners knocking off the legendary Adolph Rupp and his top-ranked Wildcats.

Guess I’m just trying to rationalize my picks in this year’s tournament — three 1 seeds (North Carolina, Kansas and UCLA) and a 2 seed (Texas) in the Final Four.

Cinderella, forget about it. I do have a 13 seed (Siena), 12 seed (Western Kentucky), 11 seed (St. Joe’s) and two 10 seeds (Davidson and St. Mary’s) winning in the first round.

And two 6 seeds (USC and Purdue) reaching the Elite Eight. But that’s about it as far as upsets.

The final pick — the North Carolina Tar Heels edge Texas, 83-82, in a thrilling shooting for their fifth national title and second under Roy Williams.

Let the Madness begin.

Comms Before the Storm: A Tough Test

Enter at your own risk, At the center of the March Madness maelstrom, it’s the toughest test in America. The law boards, your first driver’s test or that final exam in quantum physics are cupcakes compared to this exercise.

It’s “Comms Before the Storm,” the IBM communications NCAA basketball pool.

One year ago, I picked the Final Four, and had Florida beating Ohio State for the championship. That’s precisely what happened. Heck, I even went to the Final Four in Atlanta to bear witness to my prognostic abilities live and in person at the Georgia Dome.

So how much did I win? Nothing. Nada. Finished out of the money. Didn’t even get a mention in the wrap-up story.

Who am I picking this year? I’ll let you know after I consult my crystal ball, do my homework and fill out my brackets.

Like I said, toughest test in America. It’s awesome baby.