Will the Final Four ever disappoint fans?

by Gary Shelton on March 15, 2018 · 2 comments

in College Sports in Florida, general

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Apologies to J. Edgar Hoover and his lovely red gown, but the FBI can't stop the Final Four.

Rick Pitino and his ladies of the night can't stop the Final Four.

Sean Miller and the accusations that Arizona basketball had its own ATM can't stop the Final Four.

The mass evacuation of college basketball's upperclassmen can't affect the Final Four. The loss of coaches like Joe B. Hall and Billy Donovan and John Chaney can't derail the Final Four. Bob Knight throwing a chair can't stop the Final Four.

It is one of the best events in sports, a tournament on the tight rope that always seems to deliver. There are bad Super Bowls and bad

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World Series and bad NBA Finals. But have you ever heard of a Final Four that disappointed. Oh, your team might not win. But for the drama, for the thrill, what can complete with the Final Four? Let's face it: Heaven loves the Final Four.

The Final Four is Mike Krzyzewski and Nolan Richardson and Christian Laettner and Rollie Massimino. It is Keith Smart from the corner and Michael Jordan stealing the ball and Lorenzo Charles, scoring after Derek Whittenburg shot an airball for N.C. State in 1983.

When did it all start, really? Oh, you could say it was 1939, the first year of the tournament, when Oregon beat Ohio State. Maybe its true beginning was  when Bill Russell led USF (the other one) to back to back titles in 1955 and 1956. Or when North Carolina upset Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in 1957.

Maybe it was 1966, when Texas Western (now UTEP) upset Kentucky, Or a year later, when UCLA started a seven-season title streak. Maybe it started with the unbeaten Indiana team of 1976. Or Magic Johnson leading Michigan State past Indiana State and Larry Bird in 1979.

Somewhere, though, it clicked. And it's about familiar coaches and unfamiliar programs, and fight songs and mascots, and coaches standing in the hallway telling stories. It's about Bob Knight's perpetual bad mood, and Tom Izzo telling about putting his players in football uniforms, and John Chaney telling about how heavily his college coach drank. It's grumpy Jim Calhoun and indignant John Calipari and outraged Nolan Richardson.

And it's Mike Krzyzewski, who seems above it all. The year that St. Petersburg held the Final Four, the Times wanted to send a reporter to interview him. Anytime. Anywhere. After any game. We just wanted 15 minutes.

Krzyzewski said no.

It is players. John Pinone and Steve Alford and Never Nervous Pervis Ellison. It is Ralph Sampson and the Fab Five and Danny Manning and Corliss Williamson..

Sometimes, future pro stars are great players. Michael Jordan was terrific. Pat Ewing, too Lew Alcindor (who changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Anthony Davis has been a borderline star in the NBA after shining for Kentucky. Bill Bradley was amazing (58 points) in a consolation game. Still, it was a consolation game.

But sometimes, the best college players don't make the best pros. I loved Shane Battier. There was Christian Laettner. There was Al Horford.

It's silly moments. Once, at a NCAA final in Detroit (across the water from Windsor, Canada), I walked out of breakfast and taunted all of Canada with good old, American bacon. Once, another writer who must have bought his toupee in post-war Russia (it didn't quite line up), was asleep at his work station. One of David Letterman's cameras caught him on video, showing right where the scalp peeked out, and made great fun of him.

The top moments:

Here's one man's lists.

1. Bill Russell, San Francisco (1956): This was before my time, and probably yours, but Russell led the Dons to their second straight national title with 36 points and 27 rebounds in a win over Iowa.

2. Lew Alcindor (now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) (1969): Against Purdue, Alcindor had 37 points and 20 rebounds to lead the Bruins to another title

3. Bill Walton, UCLA (1973): Walton scored 44 points on 21 of 22 shooting in a championship win over over Memphis State.

4. Danny Manning, Kansas (1988): Manning scored 31 points against Oklahoma. He also hd 18 rebounds and five steals.

5. Magic Johnson, Michigan State (1979): Johnson bested his old pal Larry Bird with 24 points.

6. Steve Alford, Indiana (1987): Alford scored 23 points in the final to lead Indiana past Syracuse.

7. Ed O'Bannon, UCLA (1995): O'Bannon scored 30 points and had 17 rebounds,

8. Gail Goodrich, UCLA: (1965): Goodrich scored 41 points to lead the Bruins to a title.

9. Jack Givens, Kentucky (1978): Givens scored 41 points in a win over Duke to lead the Wildcats to the title.

10. Carmello Anthony, Syracuse (2003): Anthony had 20 points and 10 rebounds to lead Syracuse to the title over Kansas.

Best 10 Final Four Champions

1. UCLA (1968):The Bruins (29-1) avenged their only loss to Houston in the Final Four.

2. Indiana (1976): The unbeaten Hoosiers were a perfect blend of talent.

3. UCLA (1972): The Bruins finished 30-0 to win the title.

4. San Francisco (1956): Bill Russell led the two-time champions.

5. Florida (2006):  The Gators won two in a row, and would have their entire team coming back.

6 . Kentucky (1996):Tony Delk and Walter McCarty led the Wildcats.

7. N.C. State (1974): David Thompson led the Wolfpack to the title.

8. Duke (1992): With Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, this was the best of the Duke champions.

9. Georgetown (1984): Patrick Ewing led the Hoyas to a great title run,

10. UNLV (1990): Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon led the Rebels to a title.

Best Coaches

1. John Wooden, UCLA                       10

2. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke                      5

3. Adolph Rupp, Kentucky                    4

4. Jim Calhoun, UConn                          3

Bob Knight, Indiana                            3

Roy Williams, North Carolina      3

7. Denny Crum, Louisville                      2

Billy Donovan, Florida                        2

Henry Iba, Oklahoma State               2

Ed Jucker , Cincinnati                      2

Brace McCracken, Indiana.          .   2

Dean Smith, North Carolina            2

Phil Woolpert, San Francisco.           2

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce Brownlee March 15, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Good lists, great memories of most of those (too young to have watched your top 3 players, #8, and #9), bur do remember Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. One of the few college rivalries that was even more dramatic in the NBA. I filled out my bracket this morning….we’ll see how it goes. Any prediction from our fearless leader on the eventual final two and/or champion?

PS: Loved the bacon story, especially since the Canadian bacon doesn’t hold a candle to ours (my opinion).

Reply

Gary Shelton March 15, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Our opinion. I like Canada. But we win on bacon.

I hate to venture a guess, because I think Duke has more depth that just about anyone. But if a gun is to head, I’ll say the Blue Devils from the Country Club

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