Saturday’s Den: Some of my favorite NCAA Tournament games……

13) 1989: Georgetown 50, Princeton 49— Back then, Dick Vitale worked in the ESPN studio with Bob Ley during the tournament; this was a 1-16 game with Georgetown favored by 22 points. Vitale says on TV that if Princeton wins the game, he’ll stand on his head on camera, right on the table that they’re sitting at.

Alonzo Mourning scored 21 for Georgetown, blocked seven shots; no other Hoya scored more than 8 points- they were only 1-10 on arc. Other than Mourning, Hoyas were 11-31 from floor.

Three Princeton guys played whole 40:00; they were out-rebounded 32-13- they had the ball at the end with a chance to win game, but it wasn’t to be. Great drama, though.

12) 2008: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 OT— John Calipari’s Tigers led this national title game by 9 with about 2:10 to play, but they struggled on foul line (12-19) and couldn’t pull it off, despite having Derrick Rose on their side.

Calipari left Memphis after the next season; since then, the Tigers are 2-4 in NCAA Tournament games- they haven’t made the NCAA’s since 2014, kind of like the same way UMass disappeared after Calipari left there.

11) 2010, 2011: Butler played for the national championship in consecutive years, coming out of the Horizon League. Since then, Butler moved up to the A-14, and then the Big East, but making the national title game out of the Horizon League in consecutive years is an amazing feat, and is why Brad Stevens coaches the Celtics now.

Butler was a 5-seed and an 8-seed those years; their 2011 run in the NCAA’s was something, with a 60-58 first round win, 71-70 second round win, and an OT win over Billy Donovan and Florida in the regional final, a matchup of future NBA coaches.

10) 2019: Murray State 83, Marquette 64— I had the over in this game; Marquette is a hotshot Big East team that is always on national TV. Murray State plays in the OVC; they get on national TV during Champ Week, but despite that, Marquette was only a 3-point favorite.

Murray leads 39-35 at the half, then pulls away in the second half; I’m all set to hit the over, because Marquette has to press to try and get back in the game, but no, Wojciechowski takes the press off and sits in a zone, conceding the loss so that his squad doesn’t have an OVC team hang 100 on them. Wojo is a horrifically overrated head coach, and LMU just hired his top assistant as their new head coach. Good luck there.

9) 1986: Cleveland State 83, Indiana 79— This was first time a Bobby Knight team lost in the first round of the NCAA’s; Cleveland State was very athletic- they had a point guard named Mouse McFadden, a 6-5 wing named Clinton Ransey who scored 27 points in this game.

Cleveland State’s coach was Kevin Mackey, a former Boston high school coach and a Boston College assistant; when the Vikings beat Indiana, the school built a new gym, and Mackey was a fairly cocky celebrity.

But Mackey had off-court demons which got him fired a few years later; he bounced around the minor leagues of pro hoop for several years, and is now an NBA scout.

8) 2003: Syracuse 95, Texas 84— I was lucky enough to be an assistant coach at Schenectady HS for eight years; our best player during those years was James Thomas, who wound up playing for five NBA teams, and played 25:00 for Texas in this game. It is excellent to see someone you know playing in the Final Four. James wound up as the #2 rebounder in Texas history.

When we won the NY State title in 2001, we beat Columbia HS in the sectionals; their center was 7-1 Craig Forth, who played 21:00 for Syracuse in this game. More importantly, Syracuse had Carmelo Anthony, and they won the national title.

7) 1983: NC State 69, Pepperdine 67, 2OT— Back then, Pepperdine dominated the WCC like Gonzaga does now; we had an office pool for the NCAA’s, and I had Pepperdine winning two games, and getting to the Sweet 16. Jim Harrick was their coach; he was very good.

Pepperdine was only 19-32 on the foul line; their best player, Dane Suttle, missed the front end of two 1-and-1’s down the stretch, and NC State started their Cinderella run to their unlikely national championship, the one that made Jim Valvano a national figure.

6) 2017 national semi-finals:
North Carolina 77, Oregon 76
Gonzaga 77, South Carolina 73

Both favorites won, but neither covered- since 1987, this is the only time that happened in the Final Four. Two good ballgames.

I was at the MGM Grand, watching the games with a friend who wagered a lot of money on both games— he won both. Damn good day for him.

5) 1999: Arkansas 94, Siena 80— This was one of those moments where two people are thinking exactly alike at the same moment. Arkansas-Siena was played in Denver, so high altitude with a couple of teams who both liked to play fast. Siena’s coach was Paul Hewitt, the best coach they ever had- this was a 4-13 game, with Arkansas favored by 8.

When the pairings came out, I’m jotting the matchups down on my notepad, sitting in a friend’s living room, but when they said “Arkansas-Siena, in Denver” we looked each other quickly and both blurted out, “Over!!!”

This was the first time I watched the NCAA Tournament in Las Vegas; I’m a nickel/dime bettor, but I bet more on the over of this game than any basketball bet I ever made, and it cashed. 🙂

4) 1990: Loyola Marymount 111, New Mexico State 92— Hank Gathers was LMU’s star, but he passed away on the court during the WCC tournament, which the Lions won- they pushed back their first round tournament game to midnight Friday night, the last of the first round games.

Back then, I wrote a small blurb every day for the Albany Times Union, a much smaller version of what we do here. On this day, I was emphatic that LMU was going to win, that this matchup (in Long Beach) against a team that would run with them (NM State) was perfectly suitable to LMU advancing. Wish I was in Las Vegas for this game.

Game was tied at the half; Bo Kimble, LMU’s other star, had four fouls, so I was a little queasy since LMU was obviously already missing their best player, but Kimble scored 45 points and LMU won going away, dedicating the game to their fallen friend.

3) 2006: NW Louisiana 64, Iowa 63— I’ve written about this before; Hawkeyes were a 7-point favorite, kind of low for a 3-14 game; I went on John Graney’s radio show here in Albany and predicted the Demons would win straight up, which they did, rallying back from a double digit deficit to pull the upset. 

That summer, four months later, I’m sitting in a gym in Orlando watching AAU games, when Demons’ coach Mike McConathy sits next to me; good guy. I thanked him profusely for making me look good with the Iowa win, and he tells me a story.

Turns out that one of McConathy’s former players was going to grad school at Iowa that year, and went to every Hawkeye home game. He gave the Demons a very thorough scouting report, so maybe they had a little edge going in.

2) 1990: UNLV 103, Duke 73— I had fun during this game, watching the Runnin’ Rebels win the national title; won’t say much more about this game than I did a few days ago, but was sitting in room full of people rooting for Duke- they weren’t happy. I was.

1) 1974: NC State 80, UCLA 77, 2OT:
— UCLA’s string of seven straight national title ends.

— Bruins led by 7 in the second OT, with no shot clock, but stumbled down the stretch.
— Only 7 guys played for each side; four guys played all 50:00.
— UCLA’s two subs played 5:00, 9:00

— Bill Walton scored 29 points, had 18 rebounds. 
— David Thompson scored 28 points, had 10 rebounds.
— 7-foot-3 Tom Burleson scored 20 points, had 12 rebounds.