American Audiences Came Close to Having ESPN Instead of CBS Carrying The NCAA Tournament

In a rather fascinating article on the sports media website Awful Announcing on March 17, Ken Fang detailed how close CBS came to possibly losing out in 2010 to ESPN the rights to carrying the NCAA Tournament each March:

http://awfulannouncing.com/cbs/looking-back-ncaa-cbsturner-partnership-began.html

The closest anyone can hear Dick Vitale is if you live in a foreign country and have ESPN International as one of your cable channels.  Otherwise, do what I do and wait until sometime after the Final Four is behind us for another year and see the entire broadcast of all three games on YouTube.

 

 

 

Dayton chooses Anthony Grant as Head Coach

Played for Flyers during the 1980’s, was recently an assistant coach with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder

On Thursday, University of Dayton Vice President/Director of Athletics Neil Sullivan announced a replacement for Archie Miller as Dayton’s new men’s basketball coach.

In a press release on the Dayton Flyers athletic web site, Sullivan mentioned:

“Anthony Grant is a proven winner with the highest integrity.  He has successful experience in coaching, recruiting and playing basketball at an elite level. I welcome Anthony to our staff and look forward to partnering with him as we continue to aggressively pursue graduating student-athletes, winning conference championships and advancing in the NCAA Tournament.”

Grant spent the last two years as an assistant to Billy Donovan at Oklahoma City of the NBA.   Prior to that, Grant spent nine years as head coach at Alabama and VCU and 13 other seasons as a Division I assistant coach.  His teams made the NCAA Tournament three times and six other times appeared in the NIT.  His overall coaching record is 193-110 (.637).

Grant also returns home to his alma mater, where he is a 1987 graduate.  A four year letterwinner, he started for the Flyers in his final three years.  He averaged 11.6 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game in 105 games played, while playing in two NCAA Tournaments and in the NIT one other year.

He was the Flyers’ co-captain and was also named the White-Allen Most Valuable Player as a senior.

Grant is only the 20th coach in Dayton’s history, but just the seventh coach in the last 70 years.  In the modern era, Grant is only the second Dayton grad to coach the Flyers.  The first was his former head coach, College Basketball Hall of Famer Don Donoher who patrolled the sidelines between 1964 to 1989.

In six years at Alabama, Grant amassed a record of 117-85 (.579) while guiding the Crimson Tide to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, their first tournament berth since 2006.  He also took Alabama to the NIT on three occasions.

Prior to Alabama, the Miami, Fla. native spent three seasons as head coach of VCU where he led the Rams to a 76-25 (.752) record and three consecutive Colonial Athletic Association Championships. VCU went to the NCAA tournament twice and had an impressive 45-9 mark in CAA conference games.  He was the main reason why Florida repeated in 2006 (where he began at Florida in 1996) and 2007 with the players he helped develop and recruit.

Dayton returns seven players from their Atlantic 10 championship winning squad.  Only time will tell if they will be back on the bubble again in ten months.

Some Brief Thoughts on Repeal of Parts of the LGBTQ Law in North Carolina

On Wednesday, North Carolina State legislators finally began taking steps to repeal parts of the bathroom bill (HB2, or commonly known as LGBTQ).

ESPN and other media outlets reported on Thursday that NCAA President Mark Emmert will sit down with the Board of Directors sometime next week to discuss whether or not North Carolina will be back hosting NCAA Championship events in the future.

A South Region pod is on the maybe list for March 16 and 18 (Friday/Sunday) in 2018, slated for the Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

Only time will tell if that venue will actually host men’s basketball First and Second Round games next year.

 

Happy Anniversary to “One Shining Moment”

On Monday evening, March 30, 1987, I found myself with my mother attempting to shop for a 13 inch color TV in a very desolate corner of the now defunct K-Mart store located along the shadows of one of the busiest expressways in the United States, the Borman Expressway located a few blocks away from my grandparent’s house.

During that night’s CBS telecast of Indiana playing Syracuse for that year’s national championship, a small promo came up during the game teasing a new song would be shown at the end of the game.

I basically bluffed it off while asking a sales associate about the technical specifications of a Zenith TV located in a row of six lined sets going in a horizontal column, as images from the game flashed from left to right.  While part of my mind was focused on the next day’s English grammar lesson, most of my mind mostly stayed focused on the Louisiana Superdome game clock, which was located in the lower right corner.  Neither team gave into the other, even though one of Indiana’s great high school hoops stars, New Castle’s own Steve Alford (now the coach at UCLA) drained six three pointers to keep Bobby Knight’s team from suffering more nervous breakdowns.

Once I finally arrived home over six miles away near the shores of Lake Michigan, my eyes lit up like a bowling ball once longtime former CBS announcer Brent Musburger said, “Smart takes the shot.”  Longtime partner Billy Packer then exclaimed, “Nobody stopped the clock” as the then-Orangemen players watched helplessly as the clock ticked from :05 down to :01 (it would be three more years before the tenth of a second was added in all timed sports).

Shortly after Syracuse called time out, it was only fitting that it would be Smart that would intercept the final full court heave and Indiana would have its’ fifth (and last to date) national championship.

Initially, CBS wanted to air the song following the Gatorade bath given to New York Giants Head Coach Bill Parcells after their 39-20 drubbing of John Elway and the upstart Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI a little over two months earlier.

Instead on the same night that ABC aired the 59th Annual Academy Awards, this rather sappy yet corny song penned by David Barrett after watching Larry Bird play in a Michigan hotel restaurant and bar came to him.  And yes, there were no references about the opening line having the word “kicked” instead of “tipped” as Wikipedia correctly pointed out.

The song deals with hard work, inspiration, and sometimes adversity.  Later versions would be done by Teddy Pendergrass, the late great Luther Vandross, and the first ever version to air on cable via TBS in 2016 was done by rapper Ne-Yo.  In 2010, many viewers including this blog reporter were very angry when Jennifer Hudson’s version did not show us a lot of the key plays–but instead showing her in the recording studio.

For this day, the 30th anniversary of the initial airing–here is the original version (that in later years would be playing in the stadium’s big screen) starting with the brief musical interlude just as Keith Smart, Dean Garrett, Rick Calloway, Steve Alford, and friends were cutting down the nets moments following Indiana’s hard fought 74-73 victory over the Sherman Douglas led Syracuse Orangemen:

Who will it be doing it in 2017?  Check your favorite online links to find out when CBS brings back the tradition again this coming Monday night.

Final Four Preview: A Pair of Newbies, One Trying To Rewrite History, and North Carolina Hopes For A Better Ending

I wish to first say sorry to most of the news media and fellow bloggers that mention every four years when the United States elects its’ President during the early primaries when they take place in certain states on Saturdays…

This to me,  is the real “Super Saturday”.

Each time the calendar arrives in the late part of March, I often feel a bit of excitement and some sadness.  The exciting part of course is knowing which schools are going to play in the biggest event of the year, while the sad part is the simple fact that many dozens of players (especially any seniors), plus those heralded freshmen like Malik Monk and DeAaron’ Fox from Kentucky who continue to follow the path of many who play under Head Coach John Calipari and bolt immediately to the NBA after playing only one year of college ball.

ESPN analyst extraordinaire and 1986 Duke graduate Jay Bilas brought up some interesting points on Monday morning’s Mike and Mike show on ESPN Radio.  Talk about this at your next dinner party:

Bilas cited the celebrated movie actor Tom Hanks of Forrest Gump fame, where he only went to college one year and then decided to quit (true story).  Same went for legendary astronaut and one of the first men to walk on the moon, the late great John Glenn.

As veteran CBS Sports announcer Jim Nantz mentioned in the 2006 book by Eddie Einhorn, How March Became Madness:

“College basketball is a transient sport–by that I mean the players move on after four years–so the losses are hurtful or devastating than anything else I’ve seen in team sports…I feel it every time I broadcast an NCAA Tournament game and I see a senior walk off the floor at the end.  There will always be a bond (between player and coach), but he’ll never be on the floor playing for that man again.”

In a commercial underwritten by the NCAA which has run on CBS and the three Turner networks, NFL Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice is definitely on point.  He said, “only 2 percent of today’s college athletes will end up going pro.”

That means the other 98 or so percent of us, give or take a few decimal points will end up doing what we all are doing or aspire to do–to make our marks on this really complex journey of a game we simply call life.

2017 Edition of the Final Four offers many contrasts and similarities

The familiar adage of, “Only the strong survive” definitely rang true during the first 64 games of this tournament.

  • South Carolina used the second half of games to evoke the frenetic memories of Bo Kimble and the 1990 Loyola Marymount Lions when their scores for 40 minutes resembled that of the NBA during that time.
  • Gonzaga as a team exorcised a ton of demons as they finally got over the Sweet 16/Elite Eight hump and to go along with it, some major inside presence to complement their always steady yet sometimes lethal three-point shooting.
  • Oregon suffered two major injuries–first, guard Dillon Brooks lost some time in the Thanksgiving holiday period and center Chris Boucher was lost in late February due to a torn ACL (and he even tried to walk it off for five minutes before medical officials finally advised him to get treatment).  But here they are, after everyone’s pick in the brackets of Kansas may have gotten a bit too complacent with their lofty ranking (let alone a few of their players dipping their toes on the wrong side of the law).
  • Finally, North Carolina survived a classic game with Kentucky with only three-tenth of a second left on the FedEx Forum clock.  And yet, here are the Tar Heels (like them or not) back again.

The last time the University of Phoenix Stadium played to a major spectacle of an event, Tom Brady was watching from the sidelines before Malcolm Butler made the Super Bowl saving play for New England.

However, that took place nearly 30 game minutes after Katy Perry simply rocked the halftime show in February 2015 at Super Bowl XLIX:

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Images courtesy of blabladobia.com (above) and billboard.com (below)

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Poor right shark:(.

Just a few yards away from that stage, the 2017 edition of the NCAA Men’s Final Four promises to be both interesting and hopefully one to remember.

Best to start this preview with one of two schools making their first ever appearance in the pinnacle event of college basketball:

SOUTH CAROLINA GAMECOCKS:  26-10 OVERALL RECORD, 12-6 IN SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE.  STUDENT ENROLLMENT 33,575 ON THE COLUMBIA CAMPUS.  FIRST EVER FINAL FOUR APPEARANCE.

“I know we work hard.  We go to the weight room year-round…we practice, we compete, we go against each other.  We created a motto for this team called ‘Don’t Let Go of the Rope’.

Adversity is part of the deal.  It’s not all bread and roses…Sometimes, your side starts getting pulled in the wrong direction.  Every once in a while, somebody lets go of the rope and if one person lets go of the rope, you’re team’s done.  It’s over.  You have to hold on to that rope.”

One-time bouncer and South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin referring to tug-of-war concept on Mike and Mike ESPN Radio show, Monday, March 27

Sindarius Thornwell certainly has made a name for himself in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.  Following in the footsteps of hundreds of past college greats who finally saw their dream become reality, only a handful actually made it to the Final Four.  Names in recent years that were the face of other universities include the likes of Bryce Drew of Valparaiso in 1998, Jimmer Fredette of BYU, and Doug McDermott of Creighton in the last few years. never made it to college basketball’ Promised Land.

Small history lesson on what their nickname of Gamecocks is for the misinformed (which their athletic site at GamecocksOnline.com mentions as, “a fighting rooster known for its spirit and courage. A cock fight, which was a popular sport throughout the United States in the 19th century, would last until the death of one of the combatants.”)

Not only did this woman survive her time on campus, she thrived in a totally different arena.

Some of you might recall one of their famous alumni who would become a Playboy Playmate in February 2001 named Lauren Michelle Hill.

Lauren Michelle Hill

Courtesy of youtube.com

 

The key to South Carolina’s overall team concept starts with their defense.  Ball hawking at almost every possibility, players like Duane Notice along with Thornwell will look at every possible opportunity to get their hands on the ball, without getting into major trouble.  The way their defense enjoys trapping so much has given great offenses from the likes of Duke and Baylor fits.

Which plays into my next point…

THE GAMECOCKS WILL WIN THE NATIONAL TITLE IF…

Other guys average in double figures, besides Thornwell, the 6’5″ senior guard.  Look for P.J. Dozier and maybe Chris Silva to take up a bit more of the slack.

THE X-FACTOR TO WATCH FOR SOUTH CAROLINA IS…

Freshman guard Rakym Felder.  Standing at 5’10” and weighing 210 pounds, this Brooklyn native has hit 43 percent of his three-point attempts.  He also has 21 steals in 35 games played.

STAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…

I have two stats for all of you fans to chew on–

Although their team average scoring-wise is only at 73.2 ppg (8th during the regular season in the always top-heavy SEC), their defense allows only an average of 64.9 ppg–good enough to be in the top 30 of all in Division I.  They will need a lot of that, plus some lucky breaks to go their way against another newbie to the Final Four.

And talk about a cool history nugget:  South Carolina became the first team since the 1992 Cincinnati Bearcats to miss 10 consecutive years playing in the NCAA Tournament, and then in the following year reach the Final Four.

GONZAGA BULLDOGS:  36-1 OVERALL RECORD, 16-1 IN WEST COAST CONFERENCE–REGULAR SEASON AND TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONS.  STUDENT ENROLLMENT 7,352 (4,837 UNDERGRADUATES).  FIRST EVER FINAL FOUR APPEARANCE.

”The Final Four doesn’t validate or discredit a season. It’s not an end-all, be-all.  Gonzaga has been a great program and we’re just happy to keep carrying the torch.”

Junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss during the postgame presss conference at the HP Pavilion after Saturday’s convincing West Regional Final victory Xavier, named as an Associated Press Second-Team All-American on Tuesday

For the last several years, it has felt at times like there was one league for the Gonzaga Bulldogs and another for the rest of the teams that reside in the West Coast Conference.  They were the bridesmaid, never the bride–that is, until this season.  Sure, they haven’t been in a lot of close games but they definitely played like a number 1 seed should play during a balance of the year.  Although the likes of other well-known Western schools like Arizona and the pair of schools which reside in Lipstick City in USC and UCLA went by the wayside, Gonzaga is hoping to make the most of their first ever trip to the Final Four.

The offense is built around three key players:  Williams-Goss (the 2017 West Coast Conference Player of the Year), along with guard Jordan Mathews and center Przemek Karnowski.  The more this trio distributes the ball and makes key plays, this offense is almost difficult to stop.

Their 83.2 ppg average was more than enough to get past South Dakota State and the upstarts from Northwestern.   West Virginia tried to use their press, but in the end it came back to bite the Mountaineers.  By the time they raced off to that early lead against the 11 seed of Xavier, their past frustrations of Regionals gone bad finally went away.

THE BULLDOGS WILL WIN THE NATIONAL TITLE IF…

Their defense keeps playing sound and keeps both Williams-Goss and Karnowski out of foul trouble.

THE X FACTOR TO WATCH FOR GONZAGA IS…

Similar to UCLA and at times with Oregon, Gonzaga loves to distribute the ball.  Enter junior Johnathan Williams.  The 6’9″ Missouri transfer upped his stat line from being around a 42 percent shooter from behind the arc to shooting 40.5 percent for the year (15 out of 37).  His six blocks and 14 offensive rebounds thus far in the Tournament are going to be huge if Gonzaga is going to reach their first ever trip to the national championship game.

STAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…

23 of Gonzaga’s wins in the 2016-2017 season have been by at least 20 points.  This is the most since Duke reached the national final during the 1998-99 season.

Back in the NCAA’s rather humble beginnings in 1939, only eight teams competed in Evanston, Illinois with the “Tall Firs” winning the first men’s college basketball title.

Scores of marginal talent and 78 years have passed, but here they are–quirky looking uniforms and all:

OREGON DUCKS:  33-5 OVERALL RECORD, 16-2 IN PAC-12 CONFERENCE–SHARED REGULAR SEASON TITLE WITH UCLA AND ALSO WON TOURNAMENT CHAMPIONSHIP.  STUDENT ENROLLMENT 23,364 (20,067 UNDERGRADUATES).  SECOND FINAL FOUR APPEARANCE, BUT FIRST SINCE 1939.

“They always (the media) talk about how West Coast basketball is not as good as whoever, but we don’t worry about that.  We just lace them up and go play and play as hard as we can.  People think West Coast kids are soft.  We’re all about going to the beach, sunshine…It shows no matter where you’re born, toughness is just something you learn.  I think people really have the wrong mindset about the West Coast.”

Sophomore guard Tyler Dorsey in post-game comments after the Midwest Regional final Saturday night in Kansas City

I have said all along that if one star player goes down for the Ducks, their chances of cutting down the nets goes down with it.  No question about it, Tyler Dorsey makes some great points.  I have lots of online friends who proudly call the West Coast home.  As laid back as that area is, I only know what I see is on YouTube and in pictures.

And after many years in dominating indoor track, we will see if their basketball skills will translate well against one of the true longest standing blue bloods of the sport in North Carolina on Saturday night.

Obviously, they do miss senior center Chris Boucher.  He was their rock, their spearhead, their leader on and off the court.  Somehow, Head Coach Dana Altman molded the rest of the team to rise up and play a spirited brand of ball.  Similar to the last time two schools west of the Mississippi River played in a Final Four at the old Seattle Kingdome in 1995, they were led by Tyus Edney of UCLA and Bryant “Big Country” Reeves of Oklahoma State.

The way their defense completely took apart Kansas spoke volumes.  They will need that and plenty more intestinal fortitute to win on Saturday.

THE DUCKS WILL WIN THE NATIONAL TITLE IF…

They manage to catch North Carolina into a state of complacency, and I just don’t see that happening.  Outside of that, Dorsey and Dillon Brooks will have to each score at least 30 points each to at least keep this game from being another Super Saturday blowout.  Another key is to see how their defense will stack up against the North Carolina guards of Joel Berry II and new hero Luke Maye.

THE X FACTOR TO WATCH FOR OREGON IS…

Senior guard Dylan Ennis.  Missing out on last year’s championship in Villanova, the Brampton, Ontario, Canada product has certainly stepped up his game after missing significant time for the Ducks during the 2015-2016 season.  He comes into this Final Four averaging 10.7 points per game and his 42 steals were among the tops on the team.

Watch for Ennis to score in double figures for the third straight game if the Ducks have a realistic chance to knock off their second straight number 1 seed.

STAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…

Their offense is fairly good, finishing in second behind UCLA and their average of 89.8 ppg to the Ducks’ 78.9 average on the year.  They blew out their closest competitor in USC with 241 blocks on the season–49 more than the Men of Troy that occupy Lipstick City in L.A.

That leaves us with the only Number 1 seed and the only school to repeat as Regional Champions:

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS:  31-7 OVERALL RECORD, 14-4 IN ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE.  WON REGULAR SEASON TITLE.  STUDENT ENROLLMENT 29,084 (18,415 UNDERGRADUATES).  MAKING A RECORD 20TH FINAL FOUR APPEARANCE.

“I think when you get in the really big domes, I don’t know that you feel a home crowd.  I think we’ll have a good crowd out there.

“The seriousness of Marcus (Paige) is gone. The quietness of Brice (Johnson) is gone. Now it’s Theo and Joel and it’s comedy express out there half the time. They are closer together because they are all idiots.”

Veteran North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams talking to reporters Wednesday in Phoenix after arriving a day earlier than other teams and discussing the differences between the 2016 national runner-up squad compared to this year

The common word around North Carolina basketball is togetherness.  It all started many decades ago with the legendary Dean Smith.  Later on, Bill Guthridge took on the mantel and the Carolina way continued its’ domination of the ACC.  Since Roy Williams left the many pile of riches in Kansas, he has taken five different North Carolina teams to the Final Four and winning it all in convincing fashion in 2009 at Ford Field in Detroit.

THE TAR HEELS WILL WIN THE NATIONAL TITLE IF…

They don’t play in a close game.  When sophomore guard Luke Maye hit the winning shot to claim the Memphis Regional on Sunday, he got a standing ovation the next day in class.  Maye would have to step up his game big time against the very talented Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey.  Otherwise, I feel like I am saying the same things that I did in the 2016 Final Four Preview (of which you can read for enjoyment at the very bottom of this page when you click on the March 2016 tab).

THE X FACTOR FOR NORTH CAROLINA IS…

Their bench.  The Tar Heels bench was exposed big time against their Tobacco Road rivals of Duke in the ACC Tournament.  Also, their defense has been suspect at times and is something I hope the CBS cameras could try to keep a close eye on.  I really cannot put a finger on any one or two players, but pound for pound–the likes of Joel Berry II (pending the status of his ankle injuries) and Justin Jackson will have to continue playing their game well and playing it to a higher level.

STAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…

The UNC defense averaged a rather paltry 70.6 ppg, good enough for 7th in the always tough and rugged ACC.  But far and away, it is their offense and their league best 85 points per game that is good enough to take down any team on any given day.

Bottom line, and it is no April Fool’s joke:)

I hope as a Superfan of the sport that the games turn out to be fun and exciting.  There are not too many days on the sports calendar in the United States that brings about so much conversation and so much wonder, except outside of the week leading up to the Super Bowl and the Indy 500 auto race.

But I am sticking with my original bracket picks, as somehow Gonzaga will solve the suffocating defense employed by South Carolina in the second half and Oregon will finally realize after seven games how valuable Chris Boucher was to the Ducks in general.

If Boucher was still playing, this game with North Carolina would be relatively even.

As it is, I expect it will be North Carolina looking for a different ending to what happened to them in the last five seconds in 2016 and Gonzaga hoping to become the first true mid-major to reach the national final since tiny Indiana State led by Larry Bird had that magical undefeated run in 1979 before getting derailed by double digits to the hands of Gregory Kelser and the Most Outstanding Player that year in junior guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson.

See you all on Saturday night with my game recaps of both games from Glendale, Arizona.

 

Blog Exclusive: My Top Ten List For Best Final Fours Played in NFL Stadiums

Eleven years after the first Final Four was played at the old Houston Astrodome, football stadiums were used only four times during the 1980’s and would start to become an annual occurrence beginning in 1997.

The fascination of cramming more fans to see college basketball’s version of the Super Bowl has made even the casual fan just watch the TV and simply stare in awe.

My top ten list will hopefully provide a nice history lesson, especially for those of you loyal blog readers who might have not been born when these games initially took place.  That is why I was able to Google my way to get some nice images of football stadiums that no longer exist and jog some people’s memories to when CBS broadcast these games live back in the day.

Time to start the countdown with Number:

10. 2010 Final Four, Final game Duke 61, Butler 59

While Duke coasted over seminal favorite West Virginia 78-57, it was gutsy play calling that Butler used in upsetting Michigan State 52-50 in the second national semifinal.  The championship game was the first to use Twitter as a social media vehicle, and it showed Duke dominating in most key statistical categories.
But with Butler having a mostly energized crowd playing only seven miles from campus inside Lucas Oil Stadium, it all came down to the final two minutes.
Jim Nantz and longtime CBS Sports studio host Clark Kellogg had the call:

9. 2000 Final Four, Michigan State over Florida 89-76

After both semifinal games ended up as double digit victories for Michigan State over Big Ten rival Wisconsin and upstart Florida over foul prone North Carolina, Morris Peterson powered the Spartans to their first title since Earvin “Magic” Johnson overpowered Larry Bird and tiny Indiana State in 1979.

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The old RCA/Hoosier Dome of Indianapolis, image courtesy of YouTube

 

A bit of trivia from that weekend:  Future ESPN and Fox Sports sideline reporter and Dancing With The Stars co-host Erin Andrews was a member of the Florida Gators Dance Team.

8. 2003 Final Four, Syracuse upends Kansas 81-78

This Final Four featured two prominent future NBA stars, Dwayne Wade of Marquette and freshman sensation Carmelo Anthony and the Syracuse Orangemen.  Sixteen years earlier, they lost on a last second shot (please scroll down to see further in my list on what happened in 1987).

This time around, Syracuse and Kansas locked horns in a very tight game worthy of a championship.  And it all came down to one huge play on defense:

For veteran Head Coach Jim Boeheim, he finally got to enjoy the sweet taste of a championship.

7. 1997 Final Four, Arizona over Kentucky 84-79 in OT

Arizona had several near misses and what-if moments for many years.  After knocking off a pair of top seeds in Kansas and North Carolina, Miles Simon came up huge in the same facility where Indiana ended one of the greatest traditions in the single class high school tournament just nine days earlier.  Arizona would finally have their first national title upending a talented Kentucky squad inside the old RCA/Hoosier Dome.

6. 1991 Final Four, Duke upsets UNLV in semifinals en route to disposing Kansas for Coach K’s first title

Billed as the “Teacher against the Student”, Duke mostly returned most of their key players from their 1990 runner-up finish.  UNLV rode a 33 game winning streak and a ton of momentum.  As memorable as that semifinal game was, that was the last time I can ever recall rooting for Duke and feeling good about it.  When the Blue Devils repeated the following year at the old Metrodome in Minneapolis, my simple hate of that school began.

5. 1989 Final Four, Michigan wins with Rookie Coach

First, it was the Wolverines who upended Lou Henson and the “Flying Illini” in the semifinals at the old Seattle Kingdome:

Then during the final game, it went to overtime against P.J. Carlesimo and the upstart Seton Hall Pirates.  Glenn Rice set a tournament record scoring the most points for a single year, but it was the controversial foul against Rumeal Robinson with three seconds to play that determined the winning margin for rookie Head Coach Steve Fisher (who took over for the sudden resignation of Bill Frieder the day after Selection Sunday when he bolted to go coach at Arizona State):

4. 2005 Final Four, North Carolina edges Illinois under the Gateway Arch

The Edward Jones Dome had seen its’ fair share of electric moments, like the “Greatest Show On Turf” when the former St. Louis Rams won Super Bowl XXIV in 2000 and nearly prevented Tom Brady from winning his first of an eventual record five Super Bowls in 2002.

In 2005, Sean May dominated for the Tar Heels over a determined group of Fighting Illini led by Luther Head and Dee Brown in a tough struggle to add to the Tar Heels legend.

3. 1999 Final Four, UConn Showed The Heart

For Jim Calhoun and his Connecticut Huskies, they showed a lot of intestinal fortitude against a very powerful Duke squad led by Elton Brand.

But somehow, they kept the game close and it came down to the final seconds at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida:

2. 1987 Final Four, Two First Time Participants But In The End, Indiana Made the Smartest Play of All

Rony Seikaly was a beast for Syracuse, but Indiana kept things interesting thanks to Steve Alford and his short-lived record of six three point baskets in the first season the three point shot would be used in college basketball.

The final seconds proved to be anticlimactic at the then-named Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.  The Hoosiers trailed by one and Derrick Coleman of Syracuse appeared to ice the game at the free-throw line.  He missed and for the Indiana offense, it turned out to be the right call:

That gave Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Bobby Knight his third and final title with Indiana and the school’s fifth overall championship in their rich basketball history.

But two guys that would forever change the sport in the final decade of the 20th century occupies the top spot.  It was the maiden voyage for CBS covering college basketball, where regional games of the early rounds dominated Thursday and Friday prime time and most of the weekend afternoons.

The Number One Final Four Played in an NFL Stadium belongs to 1982, North Carolina over Georgetown

After North Carolina edged out Guy Lewis and the future “Phi Slamma Jamma” of Guy Lewis and Houston 68-63, while Georgetown was nearly tripped up in a slow-down effort by Denny Crum and Louisville 50-46–it all came down to Pat Ewing against Mike Jordan in a game for the ages:

Some Honorable Mentions:

Of course, 2016 will be remembered not so much for the semifinals but for the greatest championship game ever played.  You can read more about that here:

https://fortyminutesofhoopsfun.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/villanova-wins-at-buzzer-in-the-greatest-title-game-in-history/

Other memorable Final Four games in dome stadiums include:

  • 2013 when Wichita State fought valiantly before losing to that year’s champions of Louisville
  • The Kentucky-Wisconsin semifinal battles of 2014 and 2015
  • Joakim Noah coming up large in 2006 in the Gators’ first run of going back-to-back over UCLA
  • 2002 when Juan Dixon powered Maryland past the 5 seed of Indiana at the old Georgia Dome in Atlanta
  • Finally, a decade earlier in 1992 when “The Fab Five” from Michigan nearly shocked the world upsetting Cincinnati and staying close with Duke for much of the first half before getting blown out by Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley, and Company by 20 points in the final game.  The most notable fact about that particular Final Four was that weekend marked the first time ever that baseball’s World Series, the NFL Super Bowl and the Final Four were all held in the same facility during the same academic year–the old Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.

 

What will 2017 bring, especially with two schools making their first ever Final Four appearances with South Carolina and Gonzaga?  Stick around and find out tomorrow with my comprehensive Final Four Preview.  Hope to see you all then.

Both Sides of the Carolinas are Feeling Mighty Fine, Thank You Very Much

 th Carolina joins Gonzaga as first time Final Four participants

At the East Regional final in New York, Florida during the first half seemed to have recaptured the magic from a decade ago during the Joakim Noah, Al Horforrd, and Corey Brewer era when the Gators were the last men’s team to go back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Florida buried seven treys and chomped their way to a 40-33 halftime lead.  But it was the leadership displayed by the 2017 SEC Player of the Year, senior guard Sindarius Thornwell that made the difference.  He scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in the final seven minutes of play as the Gamecocks will head to their first ever Final Four thanks to outscoring the Gators 44-30 in the second half.  Thornwell became the eighth SEC player to score 100 points in a single NCAA Tournament, the first since Kentucky’s Tony Delk in 1996.  Another key was Florida made 16 turnovers and South Carolina feasted inside the paint, scoring on all but four of their 26 made field goals inside two-point range in a 77-70 victory.

Florida missed all 14 of their three-point attempts.  Another key in South Carolina’s favor was at the charity stripe:  the Gamecocks finished 23-for-31 (74.2 percent), while the Gators still did pretty well going  13-for-14 (92.9 percent).  P.J. Dozier was another of four Gamecocks who finished in double figures with 17 points.

Florida was led by Justin Leon with 18 points to go along with seven rebounds.

The key play came with under two minutes left, when Thornwell managed to find foward Maik Kostar with a jumper to extend South Carolina’s lead to 67-63.  Five of their next six points came from the free-throw line and the explanation point came with seven seconds left on a thunderous dunk by Duane Notice.

South Carolina is the fourth school as a seventh seed to reach the Final Four.  The others:  Virginia in 1984, UConn in 2014, and Michigan State in 2015.

The alma mater of Playboy Playmate Miss February 2001 Lauren Michelle Hill will take on the West Regional Champions of Gonzaga at 6:09 p.m. Eastern time this Saturday, April 1 on CBS.

North Carolina edges Kentucky in dramatic finish

At the South Regional final in Memphis, North Carolina got De’Aaron Fox in early foul trouble and took advantage leading at the half 38-33.  The second half proved to be both classic and fun.

Kentucky then made good fortunes out of some sloppy ball handling and several ill-advised three point attempts to give the second seeded Wildcats a 64-59 lead with 5:11 remaining in regulation time.

The rest of the way, the game turned into a see-saw affair:

After Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson made a pair of jumpers to cut UK’s lead down to one with 3:52 to go, North Carolina scored the next six out of 8 points from the free-throw line.

With 33 seconds remaining, Justin Jackson made a layup to give the Tar Heels a 73-70 lead.  Then, after North Carolina called time out, Malik Monk drew a foul against Jackson.  Against a very loud crowd inside the FedEx Forum, the final seconds were very dramatic.
Here is the call as it sounded from Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery, and Grant Hill on CBS:

 

North Carolina native, sophomore Luke Maye will be remembered all time down Tobacco Road as he etched his name as a Tournament buzzer beating hero with .3 seconds left in North Carolina’s dramatic 75-73 victory.  Maye finished the game with a career-high 17 points, going 6 for 9 from the field.  He nailed two of the Tar Heels’ three 3-point shots to go along with three rebounds, two assists and one steal.

Justin Jackson was the game’s high scorer with 19, while Kennedy Meeks came up huge with 17 points and four blocks.

Kentucky had five players in double figures.  They were led by De’Aaron Fox and Edrice Adebayo each scoring 13 points team had five double-digit scorers.  Even with nailing three of seven shots from deep, it was not enough in the end for Big Blue Nation.

But Fox made some history, as he broke Anthony Davis’ 2012 record for most points scored by a freshman in a single NCAA Tournament with 85.  Davis finished with 82 points.

For North Carolina, they return not only for the second straight year but also extend their record for most appearances in the Final Four with 20 (three more than both UCLA and Kentucky).

As expected, Oregon will play North Carolina in the second national semifinal to take place sometime around 8:50 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday from the University of Phoenix Stadium, in Glendale.

Another NFL stadium plays host to the biggest college basketball event in the world

The first stadium to host a Final Four inside a dome was the old “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the Astrodome in Houston which hosted UCLA winning their fifth straight out of their record seven titles in a row in 1971.

But it would not be until CBS wrestled the contract away from NBC ending with the academic year of 1982 that things would change, and mostly change for the better.

As one of my three special blogs this week, please look in your inboxes for my special countdown list of my Top Ten Final Fours that have been played in NFL stadiums.  I am sure some of you will enjoy this special trip down memory lane, as much as I remember watching these games live when they initially took place.

Later on in the week, I plan to dissect each of the four schools and what will it take in my mind for them to cut down the nets one week from now in my annual comprehensive Final Four Preview.

Finally on Thursday, it will mark as a special anniversary.  I am sure the most devoted fan will know exactly what I am talking about.  It was not just Indiana winning their last national championship in 1987, but it was something else that CBS Sports did a few minutes after the game that has been marked as the beginning of a national tradition.

See you all then.  Please make this a great week.