From buzzer-beaters to early round upsets, the NCAA tournament has everything that even the casual fan wants to see and puts the rest of the sports world on hold as it gravitates to this phenomenon.
Believe it or not, there was a time when college basketball was not taken seriously by sports fans.
A game that helped put the tournament on the map took place on March 26, 1979, when the Indiana State University Sycamores and the Michigan State University Spartans squared off in the national championship game at the Special Events Center (now Jon M. Huntsman Center) in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The match-up featured two future Hall of Famers in MSU’s Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Indiana State’s Larry Bird.
Johnson’s Spartans beat Bird’s Sycamores 75-64 to win the championship, which is still to this day the most-viewed game on TV in the history of college basketball.
That game was instrumental in the expansion from 40 teams in 1979 to 64 in 1985.
In 2001, the field expanded to 65 because of the formation of the Mountain West Conference.
As a result, a play-in game was formed pitting the two worst mid-major conference champions against each other.
I saw the game as pointless and a waste of time because I thought why not put two at-large teams from the power conferences up against each other, for example, Georgia Tech versus University of Southern California.
That would get fans to gather around their TVs and see a competitive match-up in terms of brands and most fans would be happy.
Obviously it did not happen, and I cannot recall the two teams who played that night, which showed how much I cared about the game. But I am sure most fans would echo that sentiment.
It would not be until 2011 when we would see yet another expansion in the NCAA tournament, however, this one would change how we viewed the tournament forever.
The field expanded to 68, which I did not agree with initially because of the fact that all of the match-ups would involve the worst records of the mid-major conference champions.
The play-in games expanded from one to four, giving teams who were the last four in, a chance to play their way into the tournament.
The play-in seeds can vary anywhere from 11 to 16 depending on the year.
Also, with the expansion came a new TV deal in which for the first time ever, all games would be carried nationally across four networks: the Columbia Broadcasting System, Turner Broadcasting Station, Turner Network Television and TruTV.
I knew from noon to midnight on the first four days of the tournament (Thursday-Sunday) that I would be sitting on my couch and getting the chance to watch up to four games at any given time on TV.
The tournament is truly one of the greatest things to have been created, and I hope everyone has the opportunity to view this at least once in their life.
Notable people from around Eastern Michigan University and members of the Echo shared their favorite NCAA Tournament moments.
Al Willman, Sports Editor at the Echo: “Watching the University of Michigan in the tournament in 2009. It was the first time since 1998 that they were in the big dance.”
Rob Murphy, EMU men’s basketball coach: “My favorite moment was in
1991 watching the [University of Nevada-Las Vegas] Runnin’ Rebels with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt, who was from Detroit where I grew up, win a national title. I fell in love with that team and seeing them and coach Jerry Tarkanian win was my favorite moment.”
Tory Verdi, EMU women’s basketball coach: “When I was at Kansas as an assistant last year and we made it into the sweet 16. We were the last team in the field and beat Nebraska in the first round. Then, in the second round we beat Elena Delle Donne and Delaware.
It was special because no one believed in us after we lost our All-American Carolyn Davis for the season.”
Sean Hostetter, EMU assistant director of Athletic Media Relations: “A couple of years ago, it was Michigan and Duke playing in the third round and I was working for Brevard College in North Carolina, so me and a bunch of my friends there were big Duke fans and I am a big Michigan fan given that I from there. Darius Morris put up a floater at the end of the game and did not fall, and I literally dropped to my knees. All of my Duke buddies rubbed it in my face.”
Chad Bush, EMU football, basketball, baseball and volleyball play-by-play announcer: “The 1989 Michigan Wolverines and their title run. Those were my formative years of sports and the run they made beating Illinois in the national semifinal, along with Rumeal Robinson free-throw makes against Seton Hall in the title game will forever be my favorite moments as a fan.”
Greg Steiner, EMU assistant athletic director for Media Relations: “In 2004, the EMU women’s basketball team was mostly underclassmen, and all of the sudden we pulled some upsets and won the [Mid-American Conference] title. We ended up going to the NCAA’s to play Boston College in Columbus, Ohio, and Ryan Coleman had a shot to win it at the buzzer but fell short. That team set the standard for the future of EMU women’s basketball.”
Carl Ebach, EMU superfan: “Beating Duke in 1996 was special. We had a great team, and even though it was not a vintage Duke team, it was still great because of the emergence of Earl Boykins.”
Follow me on Twitter @EasternEchoGeno.