The Final Four:
Through the Years
In 1939, one year after the first National Invitational Tournament (NIT), the National Association of Basketball Coaches and the NCAA combined forces to devise a tournament of their own. The first tournament, as it would for the first 12 years involved only eight teams. The final four teams in the first tournament were Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Villanova. Only the two teams proceeded to the site of the Championship at Patten Gym in Evanston, Illinois. The first Championship team was The Oregon Ducks who beat Ohio State in the final 46 to 33.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches lost money on the tournament and asked the NCAA to assume sole responsibility for the tournament. In that sense, the first NCAA Tournament was in 1940. It saw Indiana, Duquesne, Kansas and Southern Cal compete for the NCAA Basketball crown. The Championship game had Indiana winning over Kansas by a score of 60 - 42.
What follows are some of the highlights from tournaments over the ensuing years, from 1941 to last years square-off between Kentucky and Utah.
North Carolina made their first of many NCAA appearances to come . They didn't exactly show the promise of future appearances as they lost to Pitt 26 - 20 in the first round.
Kentucky made the first of their numerous NCAA appearances by advancing all the way to the national semifinals where they lost by a score of 48 - 28 to Dartmouth.
Utah had turned down an NCAA bid to compete in the NIT where they found themselves out after the first round. Arkansas had to relinquish their NCAA bid when two of their players were involved in a car crash. Utah was invited to take their place in the tournament and jumped at the chance. Utah and Dartmouth sent this final into the tournaments first overtime game. Dartmouth's Dick McGuire put up a shot with three seconds left in the game to force the overtime. With the score tied and three seconds left on the overtime clock, Utah's Herb Wilkinson took a shot from the top of the key that gave Utah the 42 - 40 win.
This was the first year that the last four teams left in the tournament advanced to the site of the championship game, making these teams the first true Final Four.
Five players from the '48 Champion Kentucky Wildcats were members of the 1948 Olympics gold medal winning U.S. Men's Basketball Team.
Kentucky dominated Oklahoma A&M in a 46 - 36 win. Kentucky had accepted bids to both the NIT and NCAA tournaments with visions of a dual championship. Kentucky lost to Loyola in the first round of the NIT but the end of the story didn't come for another two years. Alex Groza, the 1949 NCAA Most Outstanding Player, Ralph Beard and Dale Barnstable admitted to accepting money to throw the NIT game and to point shaving in other games. The result was Kentucky had to close their program for the 1952 - 53 season.
Unranked City College of New York became the first and only team to win both the NIT and NCAA titles in the same season. Remarkably, the beat No. 1 Bradley in both championship games. Even more remarkable was the revelation eleven months later that seven CCNY players were arrested for point-shaving along with players from three other New York area schools as well as eight Bradley and three Kentucky players.
Less sensational but worthy of note is that John Wooden and UCLA made their first NCAA appearance. Less than auspicious, they lost to Bradley, 73 - 59 in the first round.
The tournament approved its first expansion since inception by including a total of 16 teams.
Only two years after doubling available bids to 16, the NCAA Tournament expands to 22 teams.
No. 1 ranked Kentucky declines a bid to the NCAA because All-Americans Cliff Hagen and Frank Ramsey were in their fifth year of school and ineligible for the tournament.
San Francisco was a total unknown as the season started but ended the season ranked No. 1 and went on to win the 1955 Tournament.
After surviving played triple-overtime games on back-to-back nights, No. 1 ranked North Carolina entered the Championship game as the underdog against Kansas and their big man, Wilt Chamberlain. The final game and the Championship came down to the final 6 seconds of the third overtime. UNC's Joe Quigg was fouled and earned both points from the line to put UNC up by one. At the other end of the court, Quigg knocked down a pass to Chamberlain and solidified the win.
UNC coach Frank McGuire became the first coach to take two different teams to the title game.
The Ohio State Buckeyes won the title handily fielding a team that included; Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Siegfried and a reserve guard named Bobby Knight.
In the title match between Loyola and Cincinnati, eventual winner Loyola's starting five played the whole game and Cincinnati used only one sub four a total of four minutes.
This was the beginning of the longest, most impressive run by any team in the history of the NCAA Tournament. UCLA brought a 30 - 0 record to the tournament with them and faced Duke in the title game. After polishing off Duke 96 - 83, UCLA would go on to win the title ears and appear in the Final Four 12 of 13 years in a row.
This is the one year of their 13 year string of consecutive Final Four appearances that UCLA was a no-show. They were ranked No. 1 in the pre-season but their freshman laden team just couldn't keep up. They finished second in their conference with an 18 - 8 record to first place Oregon State.
UCLA came back to the tournament sporting a 30 - 0 regular season record and a devastating starting five made up of 4 sophomores and a junior. Lew Alcindor would win the first of three straight MOP awards.
Final Four competitor No. 1 ranked Houston's manager Howie Lorch was arrested for ticket scalping.
UCLA's 92 - 72 win in the Championship game over Purdue might have been a walk-over but they almost didn't survive the semifinal against Drake. An 8- 0 run by Drake in the final minute brought them to within 1 point of UCLA. The Bruins' Lynn Shacleford was fouled at the buzzer and drilled both free throws to cap the win.
During UCLA's semifinal game against Kansas, John Wooden and assistant Denny Crum got into a heated discussion. Crum wanted to substitute guard Terry Schofield and wanted to coach is" team and threatened to send Crum to the end of the bench. The following year Denny Crum was coaching the Louisville Cardinals in the Final Four semifinal against his former boss. UCLA won the game, 96 - 77.
North Carolina took on the role of Giant Killer by beating UCLA in the Semifinal by a double-overtime, 80 - 77 score. This vaulted them to a 76 - 64 win over Marquette in the title game.
The NCAA expanded to 32 teams this year and also allowed more than one team per conference to compete for the first time.
On its way to a 92 - 85 title win over Kentucky, UCLA and John Wooden had to compete against Denny Crum and his Cardinals. It was almost a case of the student becoming the teacher. Crum forced an OT. With only 20 seconds left on the clock and Louisville up with a 74 - 73 lead, the Cardinals Terry Howard was fouled a headed for the free throw line. Howard, who was 28 for 28 on the year, missed both free throws and UCLA's Richard Washington planted a jump shot with just two seconds left on the clock. UCLA 75, Louisville 74.
After the game, Wooden announced his retirement.
One year after the rules change allowing two teams from the same conference to compete in the tournament, Indiana and Michigan squared-off in the Championship game. The Hoosiers won 86 - 68 to become the last undefeated national champion.
When Kentucky played Duke for the championship, Duke's Bob Bender became the only player to have played in a title game for two different teams. Indiana in 1976 and Duke in 1978. The Wildcats beat the Blue Devils by a score of 94 - 88.
This year the field was expanded to include 40 teams and the first time every team was seeded. Regardless who you were routing for, the championship game between Michigan State and Indiana was well worth the price of admission. The two future NBA stars featured in this match-up were, Indiana's Larry Bird and Michigan's Magic Johnson. Michigan doubled teamed Bird and held his offense to a minimum will Johnson and Greg Kelser lead Michigan to a 75 - 64 win.
After six unproductive trips to the title match, it wasn't surprising that UNC's Dean Smith was not favored to win the championship game against Georgetown. Freshman Michael Jordan put the Tar Heels ahead by one (63 - 62) on a jumper with 18 seconds to go and a poor Hoya pass intercepted by James Worthy iced the game.
The Kansas Jayhawks' 83 - 79 win over Oklahoma made them somewhat of an excuse me champion. They came into to the tournament as an unranked 6 seed and reaped the rewards of upsets of the top three seeds in their region. Kansas began the regular season at 12 - 8 and suffering 11 regular season losses them the dubious distinction as the NCAA Champion with the most loses.
Kansas coach Larry Brown who also coached the 1980 UCLA Bruins joined Frank McGuire as the only coaches to lead two different teams to the title game. By that summer, Larry Brown took on the job of coach of the San Antonio Spurs.
Just before the start of the tournament, Michigan coach Bill Frieder announced he would be taking the coaching job at Arizona State at the conclusion of the season. Michigan's athletic director, Bo Schembechler immediately showed Frieder the door and named Steve Fisher interim coach. It wasn't pretty, but Fisher led the Wolverines past Illinois 83 - 81 in the semis and won the title game 80 - 79 over Seton Hall in a tight, overtime squeaker.
After just getting by Ball State in the West semis by a 69 - 67 score, UNLV went on to completely manhandle Duke in the title game. The Runnin' Rebels 103 - 73 win marked the first time a team broke the 100 point barrier in the final and constituted the biggest route in championship-game history.
Ever hear the phrase "The 9th Time's the Charm"? Well, it doesn't mean it's not true. After eight previous trips to the final game, Duke finally claimed the title on their 9th try. On the way to their 72 - 65 win over Kansas, the Blue Devils beat undefeated defending champion UNLV by a 79 - 77 score.
When Duke won the Championship game with a 71 -51 win over Michigan, they became the first team to repeat since UCLA in 1973. On the way, Duke beat Kentucky in what many think was the best NCAA game ever. In a 104 - 103 overtime win in the East final, Christian Laettner played out of his head. Laettner hit 10 of 10 from the field and 10 of 10 from the line including the game winner at the buzzer in overtime.
This Final Four featured 3 No. 1 (UNC, Michigan & Kentucky) and one No. 2 (Kansas) seeds. In the final, with UNC leading Michigan 73 - 71, the Wolverines Chris Webber rebounded a missed free throw and raced upcourt signaling for timeout. Unfortunately, Michigan didn't have any timeouts left. The technical and UNC possession that followed all but gave the title to North Carolina on a silver platter.
For the first time since the 1950 New York City area point shaving scandal, the Final Four returned to the Big Apple. The winning Kentucky Wildcats, coached by Rick Pitino were the favorites from the get-go. Beating Syracuse 76 - 67, Kentucky's 38.4% shooting percentage was the lowest in a final by any champion team in 33 years.
In a Wildcats vs. Wildcats final, Arizona faced off against Kentucky and won 84 - 79 in an overtime thriller. On the road to the title, Arizona, who had been turned away in the first round in '92, '93 and '95, beat three teams with the most wins in NCAA history; Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky.
After losing to Arizona in '97, Kentucky charged right back and beat Utah in the final by a 78 - 69 score. The 10-point halftime lead Utah enjoyed was the largest deficit overcome in a championship game.
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