Tuesday’s Den: 13 of my most memorable NCAA Tournament games:

13) Georgetown 50, Princeton 49— 1989 first round. It would be another 29 years before a #1-seed lost to a 16-seed, but Pete Carril’s Tigers came damn close in this game.

Dick Vitale was in the ESPN studio with Bob Ley that night; he says on the air if Princeton wins the game, he’ll stand on his head on the set, on the air. He damn near had to do it. Georgetown had Alonzo Mourning that year; they wound up losing in the regional final.

12) Villanova 77, North Carolina 74— 2016 national title game. I’m sitting in the Westgate SuperBook watching this game, guy sitting next to me has Villanova and the under. From the sound of his voice and his tension level, he had a lot of money on both.

Guard on North Carolina (Marcus Paige?) hits a tough shot to tie the game and put the game over the total; the guy next to me slumped in his chair, but when Kris Jenkins drained a long shot to win the national title, the guy cheered up, a lot. That night, splitting his bets was a very good thing.

11) Kansas 83, Oklahoma 79— 1988 national title game. Over the last 35 years, this was only time the underdog won all three games at the Final Four. Kansas was a #6-seed; it would be another 26 years before a lower seed (#7-seed UConn in 2014) would win a national title.

Billy Tubbs coached Oklahoma back then; I loved watching his teams, they played and with great confidence. This game was 50-50 at halftime, two conference rivals going at it, but the Jayhawks had Danny Manning, and he led them to a surprising national championship.

10) Vermont 60, Syracuse 57 OT— 2005 first round. Back then, group of us would gather at an Off Track Betting sports bar, hunker down for four days and watch games for 12 hours a day. Lot of fun, lot of bantering back/forth. Wish the casino in Schenectady was around back then.

This was the year Tom Brennan coached Vermont to a big upset in the first round; they were a 9-point underdog in this game. Brennan later became a talk radio star, after he retired from coaching- his Catamounts lost their next game by 11 to Michigan State.

9) Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67 OT— 2010 2nd round. I was at the MGM Grand watching this game; lot of Kansas fans were around, very cocky that their team was headed to the Sweet 16- they were the #1-seed in that region. 

Problem is, no one told Northern Iowa; they hit a 3-pointer late in the game, pulled the big upset and made a lot of Jayhawk fans very sad.

That was the week I’m watching a game, kid scores a basket very early in the game and the three guys next to me start hugging each other and yelling. I ask them if that was their brother who scored that basket— they said no, they had Wake Forest in their “first to 15” bet.

I had no idea that MGM offered a bet where you picked which team got to 15 points first.

8) North Carolina 77, Oregon 76— 2017 national semifinal. Watched this game in Las Vegas with a friend of mine who had a very, very large bet on Oregon. He had both underdogs that day, and over the last 35 years, that day was the only time in national semifinals where both underdogs lost, but both covered, so he had a really good day.

South Carolina was a #7-seed that surprisingly made the Final Four that year; since then, Gamecocks are 32-36 in SEC games, and haven’t been back in NCAAs. Tough place to win.

7) North Carolina 71, Gonzaga 65— 2017 national final. This was two nights after the two dogs had covered the semi-final games. I’m at the SouthPoint sportsbook, and I sit next to three younger guys, all from San Diego. It was also opening night of baseball season.

For the next 3-4 hours, we shot the breeze about everything, mostly sports, but some other stuff too. They told me that Steve Fisher needed to retire at San Diego State (he did, right after that). First time I ever had a quesadilla (they’re good!!). Living proof that all Americans have more in common than what separates us.

6) Georgia Tech 93, Minnesota 91— 1990 regional final. I had the Gophers +3.5. Minnesota has the ball at the end, no chance to win, kid drains a 3 from the right corner at the buzzer, to send me home happy.

Long, long time ago, went to the NIT Final Four in New York City. This is 1984 or so, when I had just started working. All I remember about that night:
— Fresno State had really pretty cheerleaders who threw small boxes of raisins into the stands. Apparently, they grow a lot of raisins in Fresno.
— Someone scored a basket late in the game to cover the spread; these three guys in front of us starting yelling and hugging each other. Winning money makes you happy.
— Long busride back to Albany, then I went right to work— I was on the midnight-8am shift back then, looking at fingerprints. That was a long freakin’ night.

5) Murray State 83, Marquette 64— 2019 first round. Not a pleasant memory; I picked this game over the total, should have had Murray and the over. Marquette had no answer for Ja Morant and the Racers were going to hang 100 on a Big East team, the game was going to go way over the total, but the Marquette coach retreated his team into a zone defense and refused to try and win, to avoid embarrassment. No bueno.

Gamer stayed under the total; lets just say…….I wasn’t happy 🙁

4) UNLV 103, Duke 73— 1990 national title game. Wish I was in Las Vegas for this game, the night Jerry Tarkanian won his first national title. What a team that was; Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony, Stacey Augmon. Lot of midnight games on ESPN for that crew.

Back then, Big Monday was a tripleheader: Big East at 7, Big 10 at 9, Big West at midnight, after SportsCenter. UNLV was in the Big West back then; they were like Gonzaga is now, a very big fish in a fairly small pond. Lot of fun to watch.

3) Northwestern State 64, Iowa 63— 2006 first round. This was a 3-14 game; Demons were a 7-point underdog. I had gone on a local radio show when the brackets came out and predicted an outright win for Northwestern State, so I was pretty excited when it happened.

Couple years later down in Orlando, I’m watching an AAU game down in Florida and the Northwestern State coach sits next to me. I told him the story, thanked him; he told me how one of his former players was going to graduate school at Iowa that year, had given him a great scouting report on the Hawkeyes. Luckily for me.

2) Loyola Marymount 111, New Mexico State 92— 1990 first round. LMU’s first game since the tragic death of Hank Gathers during the WCC tournament, 12 days earlier.

Game was tied at halftime; Bo Kimble, LMU’s best player, had four fouls at halftime but the Lions exploded in the second half and won going away. Kimble shot his first foul shot lefty to honor his fallen teammate. LMU won two more games before losing in the regional final.

1) NC State 80, UCLA 77, 2OT— 1974 national semi-final. I was in 9th grade back then, a big NC State fan (friend of our family lived in Raleigh), used to listen to their regular season games on WBT, a radio station out of Charlotte.

David Thompson/Tom Burleson/Monte Towe were the guys for NC State- they had lost to UCLA the previous December, were expected to lose here too, seeing how UCLA had won the previous seven national titles, but after getting down 7 in overtime, they rallied back and handed Bill Walton his only loss in an NCAA Tournament game.

Years later, I’m at an AAU tournament in Orlando, sitting by myself, when Monte Towe comes in the gym near where I was. Talked to him for 5-10 minutes, good guy. Hell of a passer for a guy who was 5-foot-6 at the most. 

Author: Armadillo Sports

I've been involved in sports my whole life, now just write about them. I like to travel, mostly to Las Vegas- they have gambling there.