Blog Exclusive: My Top Ten Final Four Venues of All-Time

Presenting my final list of three, again in reverse countdown order:

10. Former Freedom Hall–Louisville, Kentucky

1958, 1959, 1962, 1963, 1967, and 1969.

Lew Alcindor (who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had some of his memorable games there.  And yes, the Windy City’s one and only championship happened there in 1963 with the Loyola Ramblers winning the top prize in the final months before the end of Camelot.

9. Kansas City, Missouri

Former Municipal Auditorium–1940, 1941, 1942, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1961, and 1964.  Kemper Arena–1988.

From Wilt the Stilt to Danny and The Miracles, this was the true second home for the Kansas Jayhawks.  Memorable games were played at both places that will be remembered for decades to come, especially in 1988 in a tight former Big 8 Conference affair as Kansas outlasted a determined Stacey King and David Seeger and the rest of the Oklahoma Sooners.  Another future World Champion Chicago Bulls players also was in that Final Four, with Arizona guard Steve Kerr playing alongside future Cleveland Indians speedster Kenny Lofton.

8. Former St. Louis Arena, aka “The Barn”–1973 and 1978.

Bill Walton and Jack Givens gave performances of the ages inside the former Checkerdome.  UCLA won their record seventh consecutive national title there, and five years later was when Kentucky outlasted a gutsy Duke team making their first ever national championship game appearance.  Of course, that was a few years before Mike Kryzyewski would be hired away from the Army to lead the Blue Devils to future glories.  More on that as you read the rest of the list.

It would not be until 2005, when Bruce Weber led surprising Illinois into the title game before running into Scott May’s son and the rest of North Carolina inside the comfy and spacious Edward Jones Dome.

7. Former Philadelphia Spectrum–1976 and 1981.

When you think classic Bob Knight basketball, those Indiana Hoosiers teams were simply excellent in all phases of the game.  The undefeated team of 1976 featured many incredible and talented players from the likes of Scott May and Quinn Buckner.  Of course, I would not be remiss to mention that the 1981 game led by Isiah Thomas nearly didn’t happen because of the then frail condition of then President Ronald Reagan just hours before the tip-off in what would be NBC’s final tournament game ever.  The nation breathed a huge sigh of relief when the PA announcer, legendary voice Frank Ballard calmed the crowd and a nationwide TV audience that President Reagan had survived the surgery as was on his way to an “excellent” recovery.

6. Salt Lake City, Jon M. Huntsman Center–University of Utah

1979, the year that changed the sport ever.

That Final Four featured three mid-major schools:

Pennslyvania joined everyone’s favorite big city story in the always beaming smiles of Ray Meyer and DePaul, while Larry Bird kept on shooting and shooting the Sycamores toward a perfect season (although some fans thought that last shot should not have counted, had instant replay been a part of the sport at that time).  Two nights later, a guy named Earvin “Magic” Johnson along with Terry Donnelly and Greg Kelser slammed the door shot on that last Monday night in March as Michigan State won going away.  But that 28.1 rating has never been equaled since.

5. Former Seattle Kingdome–1984, 1989, and 1995.

Three names immediately come to my mind in those games:

1984, Georgetown guard Fred Brown who redeemed himself over Phi Slamma Jamma and Houston, this after coughing up the ball and the title in 1982:

1989, was there a foul in the last three seconds of overtime when Michigan battled Seton Hall?  You decide:

1995, Jim Harrick brings UCLA their first title in 20 years after the retirement of John Wooden in dethroning Arkansas in their attempt to repeat as national champions.  Tyus Edney led the charge for the resurgent Bruins.

4. The Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas–1998, 2004, 2008, and scheduled to host again in April 2018.

Jeff Sheppard, Richard Hamilton, and Mario Chalmers–all three came up huge respectively for Kentucky, UConn, and Kansas.

Valiant efforts were made from the runners-up those three years:  Keith Van Horn for Utah in 1998, Jarrett Jack of Georgia Tech in 2004, and of course, Chicago’s now often injured All-Star in Derrick Rose, then of Memphis in 2008.

As I remarked last week, this is quite a cool facility to watch a game.

3. The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico–1983.

If I had one Final Four to remember from start to finish, it would be the first weekend of April 1983.  North Carolina State used their “Us Against The World” and rolled into the championship game by handling Georgia.

The second semifinal was a classic in every sense of the word.  Houston and Louisville staged a battle royal where both teams ran up and down the court, and with the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler, and Benny Anders leading the way…both teams combined for 13 dunks as Houston won easily 94-81.

But the Cougars could never hit a free throw that Monday night, and two guys taken from us way too soon–Jim Valvano in 1993 and Lorenzo Charles in 2013 made the glass slipper fit in North Carolina State’s improbable 54-52 upset of Phi Slamma Jamma and Houston.  Seeing that whole postgame scene of ultimate jubilation on one end and heartbreak on the other was something to behold.

2. New Orleans (later renamed the Mercedes-Benz) Superdome

1982, 1987, 1993, 2003, and 2012.

CBS Sports’ maiden voyage featured Michael Jordan and James Worthy besting Patrick Ewing.  Five years later was Keith Smart taking the jumper from almost the same spot as Indiana triumphed over Rony Seikaly and Syracuse by one point.

In 1993, that was the night when Chris Webber tried to call timeout that the Wolverines had used their last one four minutes earlier.  North Carolina took full advantage of what longtime CBS Sports commentator Billy Packer said simply as, “a huge mental mistake” when Dean Smith won his second and final title over the Fab Five of Michigan.

A decade later was super freshman Carmelo Anthony and the then-named Syracuse Orangemen who triumphed over David Lee and Kirk Hinrich with the rest of the Kansas Jayhawks.  Even Marquette had a bonafide star that weekend as well with Dwayne Wade.

Nine years later, Anthony Davis and Kentucky powered their way to John Calipari’s first national title to date.

Hopefully, the NCAA will consider having this site again used–even after replacing their famous dark colored roof after it caved in while the rampage that was Hurricane Katrina in September 2005 which devastated most of the Gulf Region.

And the Number One choice according to this blog reporter is an unquestioned slam dunk.

It will be hosting its’ eighth Final Four (only two behind the old record set many decades ago in Kansas City).  We often think of it as the Heartland of America and the area nearby where the inspiration to the 1986 movie Hoosiers came from.

Situated near a Beltway that adjoins four different interstates and houses the NCAA Hall of Champions and their Corporate Headquarters, it is the state capital of the Hoosier State and that always heaping helping of true Hoosier Hospitality that gets my vote as the Greatest Final Four Venue/City of All-Time:

Indianapolis, Indiana:

Former Market Square Arena, 1980

Former Hoosier (later renamed RCA) Dome–1991, 1997, 2000, and 2006.

Lucas Oil Stadium–2010 and 2015, scheduled again to host in 2021.

Image courtesy of quoteko.com

Image courtesy of quoteko.com

Back in the day, it was Darryl Griffith who gave Denny Crum his first of what would be two titles in the 1980’s for Louisville in beating out Larry Brown and UCLA.

1991 had the semifinal for the ages, when Duke stood toe-to-toe with the then-defending champions of UNLV and their 44 game winning streak.  It was not so much the way that Duke won that game, but the way the Runnin’ Rebels lost would be remembered by many as one of the greatest upsets in Final Four history.  Duke would use that game as fuel from their past title game disappointments and gave Coach K his first of what would be four national titles in the Hoosier Heartland over Roy Williams and undermanned Kansas.

1997 was simply Miles Simon’s tournament.  Coming off a helter skelter Pac 10 season, Arizona eliminated their past stigma of getting stung in the first or second round and upset heavy favored Kentucky in overtime for their first ever championship in the state’s history.

2000 saw Mateen Cleaves pump his fist like he was running his own railroad in helping Michigan State power past surprising Florida in the title game.  On the sidelines that night cheering on the Gators was a future sportscaster named Erin Andrews.

2006 had 11th seeded George Mason crashing the party, but the dream died thanks to Ben Howland’s suffocating defense and UCLA’s steady guard play led by Jordan Farmar.  The Bruins dreams of adding another trophy to their ever-expanding case in Westwood was denied thanks to Joakim Noah, Al Horfford, Corey Brewer, and the rest of the Florida Gators who won going away en route to joining UCLA, Duke and a few other schools in eventually winning back-to-back crowns.

2010 had the true Hoosiers type of script.

Everything was there–that was, except the ending:

90 percent of the fans were pulling for Butler, then a fifth seed who used a slow-down effort to stun powerful Big Ten foe in Michigan State in the first semifinal.

After dispatching a rather lackluster effort by West Virginia, it was Duke who stood in their way.  Yet playing only five miles away from campus, they nearly pulled it out.

The last shot by Gordon Hayward may have taken a longer time than it actually occurred on that Monday night.  But the true Hollywood ending fell short by only two inches.  Two little inches and Bobby Plump’s alma mater would have been doing documentaries until the end of time.

Instead, it went down as Duke’s fourth national title and the legend of Coach K was cemented with another Hall of Fame coaching type performance.

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What will it be this coming April as “The Race To Indy” kicks off with the brackets and pairings for all 68 invited teams to the 2015 NCAA Tournament?

Stick around on your favorite CBS and cable TV stations–or for those who have smartphones, check out the MMOD app for all of the key login information that you need to know.

Hope you enjoyed each of my three exclusive lists jogging down Memory Lane.  It was a lot of fun to compile, so thank you for reading and I hope you can continue to support my blog.

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