It’s Time For The Big Dance!
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men’s Division 1 Basketball tournament is arguably the greatest tournament in the history of everything. The best part is that the 2016 tournament is right around the corner. This mystical event captures the attention of everyone, no matter their level of interest in college basketball. The wide spectrum includes the obvious die hard college basketball fanatics, middle-aged stay at home moms who have never picked up a basketball and even nihilists who believe in absolutely nothing.
The tournament promises nothing to no man. Yet, the very same tournament delivers the best comeback defeats, Cinderella stories, and non-stop action year after year. I ask myself every March “What did I do to deserve something so great and so beautiful? How could I live in a place and time where a person can experience so much joy?!” I am pumped for the 2016 tournament to begin and I wanted to pay tribute by writing about the history of the NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball playoff system. I will also highlight some of the greatest games, plays and moments during the 77 year history of the Big Dance.
So it all began back in 1908 in the great state of Illinois at the High School level. A state wide tournament was created to have the best 8 teams compete against one another. Peoria High School was the first champion with their 48-29 victory over Rock Island High School. As the tournament generated interest the number of teams increased to 16 and High School basketball games started selling out.
In 1939 the first national college championship game was played between Oregon and Ohio State University. Oregon pulled out the victory with a score 46 to 33. At that time only 8 teams were allowed into the playoff tournament. This continued for a while. It wasn’t until 2001 when the number of invitees reached 65 teams total. The tournament itself wasn’t even broadcasted on television until 1969. The tournament format has changed several times with the most recent change taking place in 2011 where a total of 68 teams are now selected to partake. The tournament has always been single elimination and remains that way. The stakes are high and the chance of the same team winning the tournament multiple times are highly improbable, regardless of how talented that team may be. With that being said, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has won the national championship title 11 times. 10 of these titles where under the same head coach John Wooden over a twelve year span.
There is an ongoing debate on who actually coined the phrase “March Madness.” The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) credits Henry Porter due to a paper he wrote about the tournament that he titled “March Madness” in 1939. Henry Porter also happened to be employed by IHSA, so take that for what it’s worth. However, one of the first places where the term was documented was in an article about unsuccessful animal experimentation back in 1907. To be honest, it doesn’t much matter to me. I’m just glad that it’s here to stay.
How the Tournament Works
There are a total of 68 teams in the national tournament every year. There are 32 conferences in NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball. 32 teams each win their respective conference every year and automatically gain entrance into the Big Dance. The remaining 36 teams are selected by a committee. This committee also determines seeds or ranks for all 68 teams, and where in the tournament bracket each team will be placed. Once all teams have been selected and placed the real fun begins. There are seven rounds total in the entire tournament. I have broken them down below.
- Round 1 – 2 games are played between 4 total teams. The 2 winners proceed to the Big Dance. These are called the “play-in games.”
- Round 2 – 64 teams play 32 total games. The 32 winners move onto the next round.
- Round 3 – 32 teams play 16 total games. The 16 winners move onto the next round.
- Round 4 – 16 teams play 8 total games. The 8 winners move onto the next round. This round is known as the “Sweet Sixteen.”
- Round 5 – 8 teams play 4 total games. The 4 winners move onto the semi-final round. This round is known as the “Elite Eight.”
- Round 6 – 4 teams play 2 total games. The final 2 winners move onto the final round. This round is known as the “Final Four.”
- Round 7 – 2 teams play one final game. The winner is announced the champion.
Best Games, Best Plays, Best Moments
1989 First Round Game – Georgetown vs. Princeton
Here we have the heavily favored Georgetown Bulldogs, a number 1 seed and thought by most to win the entire tournament. Princeton was a number 16 seed and no one expected them to win even a single game. Princeton went into halftime with a lead and the small possibility that they could somehow, just maybe pull out a close game. This game literally came down to the last second as Princeton was only 1 point behind Georgetown. Ultimately, Georgetown prevailed after Princeton missed the final shot. This game is a perfect example why we yearn for Cinderella teams. To actually witness something thought to be impossible is an exciting experience indeed.
2010 Championship Game – Duke vs. Butler
I’m not sure where Butler’s Gordon Hayward is today, but he was by far the most exciting player to watch throughout the entire tournament in 2010. This championship game came down to a last second, half-court shot by Hayward that did not go in. Butler lost by 2 points, but not before upsetting all the big names like Syracuse, Kansas State and Michigan State.
Christian Laettner of Duke
Christian Laettner gets his own number since he may have been one of the most clutch college basketball players to ever take the court. First he defeated the UConn Huskies in 1990 with a last second shot. Then in 1991 he takes down UNLV in the Final Four with big time free throws. Finally, Laettner defeated Kentucky the 1992 Elite Eight on a last second shot in overtime. With only 2.1 seconds on the clock the ball was inbounded by being thrown across the entire court. Laettner caught the pass, spun towards the basket and made one of the greatest shots in NCAA tournament history.
Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird – 1979 NCAA Final
Although Magic Johnson led the Spartans to a not-so-close victory, this game had two of the biggest names in basketball history squaring off against each other. Magic Johnson of Michigan State and Larry Bird of Indiana State. This game still holds the record for the highest TV ratings of any single basketball game.
Bo Kimble of Loyola Marymount
Shot left handed free throws in the tournament to honor his former teammate Hank Gathers. Gathers died from a heart disorder on the basketball court earlier in the year during the WCC tournament in 1990. Bo Kimble led Loyola Marymount to the Elite Eight in 1990, which is still the team’s best finish to date. Bo shot his first free throw in every game with his left hand, and made all four shots from all four games.
The NCAA tournament has provided many thrilling outcomes over the past 77 years. Many aspects of the tournament have changed over the years and there is now conversation on increasing the total number of teams to as high as 128. No matter what happens this tournament is the greatest sporting event on the planet. This is just from a spectator’s point of view. If we take into account the bracket picking competitions and gambling, then this may be the single greatest event on the planet.
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