The 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in San Antonio, Texas is now set. After a whirlwind of a tournament, we now have four teams that are ready to do battle like nothing seen since the Battle of the Alamo ended on March 6, 1836. The month and year, nearly 182 years ago to the day, when the Republic of Texas had its own version of “March Madness” with Mexican leader Santa Anna playing the role of Goliath and the Texas settlers playing the role of David. History remembers well what happened after that. The Alamo and the people inside were annihilated but not forgotten. The other superpower, the United States, came to the aid of the Texans, defeated the Mexican army in the Mexican War and made the Republic of Texas a state of the United States. Not much of a Final Four…. mostly a Final Three that was dwindled down to a Hemisphere Championship. The United States vs. Mexico.
Now nearly two centuries later in the same area, we have four schools competing for the title of the best in collegiate men’s basketball in San Antonio, Texas: Kansas, Villanova, Michigan and….. Loyola (Chicago). Who?
The last two tournament games for this Loyola team could just about be considered an event as close to history repeating itself in this part of the Lone Star State as could possibly happen! Loyola (Chicago) is our native Texans in the small Alamo fort and they are going to be bombarded by the superpower Michigan Wolverines from the Big 10. And if …..IF they survive that bombardment…. then they will face either the Kansas Jayhawks or the Villanova Wildcats from the Big 12 or the Big East respectively. So to recap….its the Big 10, Big 12, and Big East…… notice the BIG word…. against the Missouri Valley. The Missouri Valley Conference that stretches how far? The Big 12 Conference ….it stretches from the mountains of West Virginia to the desert areas of Waco, Texas near Baylor. The Big 10 Conference stretches from the wheat fields of Nebraska to the Jersey shores of Rutgers. The Big East Conference? It isn’t as large as it once was but still it stretches from the dairy farms of Wisconsin to the nation’s capital in D.C. The Missouri Valley Conference on the other hand? Let’s say that you could probably hop in a car in Indiana and drive west to the outer boundary of the Missouri Valley Conference in about five or six hours maximum. Now if Loyola (Chicago) loses, I don’t think that any of the major powers are going to make Loyola a part of their university like the U.S. did to Texas….but I do believe that the major powers will gain something from Loyola….. respect. This team, and their famous 98 year old chaplain nun, have made waves like a cruise ship headed to the Caribbean. Nevada, Kansas State, Miami and Tennessee. Gone and forgotten. The Ramblers…. forgotten never….. remembered forever.
In all of the games that have been played in the history of this thing, this will be considered one of the greatest tournament years in the history of March Madness. So many upsets. So many great powers being dethroned. This is why March is THE best month for sports enthusiasts…. especially basketball fans. How can you not get excited for 68 teams being dwindled to one champion over the course of nearly a month? Its the one sports event that can make a 5 day work week for nearly one month of the year seem to be a four day work week for three weeks. Three amazing glorious weeks.
So…. in saying all of this about one of my most favorite times of the year….. I have to ask this question to all of you NCAAM Review basketball fans. What are your favorite moments of all time in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament that have occurred in your lifetime? For instance…. when you think back to what makes this tournament special to you… what moments replay in your mind? Was it a magical moment, a magical run? Was it a historical moment? Did it produce a player that you would remember forever? I have a top 5 of moments that I would like to share with you….. but I also would love to hear from you as well. What are your most favorite moments in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament?
Here is mine! Here we go!
Let’s start with:
#5. Loyola Marymount and Bo Kimble – The run that was put together by LMU in a year when they lost one of their captains and great players in Hank Gathers is one of the greatest runs in my memory. LMU made a run all the way to the Elite Eight where they may have lost to the eventual champion UNLV Runnin’ Rebels but they were champions in the hearts of all Americans. Now when I say made a run, I literally mean run. This was a team without its scoring leader that averaged nearly 130 points a game. Absolutely Madness!
#4 Virginia Commonwealth University and Shaka Smart – When this pick was announced during the NCAA Selection Show, all of the so called experts were in total shock. They actually should have been in Shaka…. as in Shaka Smart’s corner. The Rams were the darlings of the tournament making a run that would be remembered for a lifetime and taking down some of the great powers of college basketball in the process: Georgetown, Kansas. This wasn’t just March Madness in its greatest form…. it was tournament Havoc…. as in VCU Havoc. The trademark given to the pressing pressure full court trapping defense that was VCU during this time. This was one of the greatest runs by an unknown in recent history. Can Loyola do better this year as an #11 seed in the Final Four?
3. Butler Bulldogs and Brad Stevens – While VCU was doing its thing in the 2010 tournament, there was another mid major team doing damage as well. The Butler Bulldogs from Indianapolis, Indiana. Now basketball and Indiana go together like a Saturday night diner lineup of hamburgers, French fries and a chocolate shake. The team makeup of Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard didn’t have the name power to scare anyone but their swagger was all scary. This was David going to battle against the Goliath’s of college basketball with a machine gun. Forget the slingshot. As the head coach, Brad Stevens was a coach that you looked at and thought the dude was probably a promising Wall Street broker making a cool million on the side just for breakfast. His demeanor was very quiet but he led his team and players with great energy. Butler made a run through the NCAA Tournament not just in 2010 but also again in 2011 to the National Championship game where they lost to eventual champion Connecticut. Only the North Carolina teams of 2016 and 2017, the Florida teams of 2006 and 2007, the Kentucky teams of 1996, 1997 and 1998 and the Duke teams of 1990 and 1991 have been to back to back national championship games in the past 30 years. These names are the royalty of college basketball. So for Butler to make back to back runs for a mid major? It speaks to the great brand of basketball that was being produced in the city of Indianapolis. The Bulldogs will always be remembered as the heart throbs of basketball from America’s heartland.
2. North Carolina State Wolfpack and Jim Valvano – How could you not put the run made by the North Carolina State Wolfpack to the National Championship where they defeated Phi Slamma Jamma and the Houston Cougars in The Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico as one of the greatest moments in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament? Jim Valvano….. here is a coach who made you think he was basketball’s version of the Italian Stallion. He never came across with the prominence of greatness like a John Wooden, Rick Pitino or Mike Krzyzewski….but maybe that is why he was so beloved to everyone in the college basketball world. He came across as one of us. A regular Joe who once asked an official…”Hey can you give me a technical for what I am thinking?” To which the official responded, “Come on Jim…. what official could tee you up for what you are thinking?” With Jim Valvano responding, “I think you are the worst official I have ever seen.” The official then gave him a technical foul….. and Jim Valvano responded… “Referees…you can’t trust them.” NC State had to get in the tournament by doing it the hard way…. winning the ACC Tourney. A league in which the Tar Heels were the class of the group and were led by future great hall of famers Michael Jordan and Dean Smith. What did this group of Wolfpack players do? They won the ACC Tournament and then proceeded to win the National Championship against future Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon of the Houston Cougars. If you don’t know about this run, you need to watch the 30 for 30 called Survive and Advance. And while you are at it, take a box of Kleenex with you.
1. Duke Blue Devils vs. Kentucky Wildcats (1992 East Regional Final: Philadelphia, PA.)
This was the greatest NCAA Tournament moment of my lifetime. I was a college student at King College in Bristol, Tennessee. Duke and Kentucky were two of my favorite teams to follow because how could you not like the swagger, the attitude and the blue collar approach of the Duke Blue Devils. They were tough, physical and had beaten a UNLV team in the previous year’s NCAA tournament final that was thought to be unbeatable. They had stepped into the one spotlight of college basketball. Then you have the Kentucky Wildcats… a group of players led by a coach who decided to step away from the pros to lead a team that had been on probation and hit the utter gutter of college basketball. This is to me why this moment isn’t just a great moment for me. It is the culmination of a great story of a championship battle in the place where the greatest Rocky movies were filmed… the Spectrum of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Duke led by Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill against “The Unforgettables” as they would become known…. Jamal Mashburn, Richie Farmer, Deron Feldhaus, Sean Woods and John Pelphrey. The defending champions against a team that felt so loyal to their state and the tradition that was Kentucky basketball…. that they made all of America forget that this was a program that was back from the shambles. Instead they made America realize that this was a program headed back toward greatness. This was a game made up of coaches and players that would make one of the best scripts ever for a movie to be produced about in the future. The drama, the energy and the excitement of sports. And what’s more? It was just a regional final game. A regional final game that would become…. the greatest game in the history of college basketball…. and to me? It would become my most favorite moment of all time in the history of ever.
Now all you NCAAM REVIEW fans…. what are your top 5 moments of this great NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament? I would love to hear from you!