This weekend should have been a time for everyone who loves college basketball – sports in general really – to celebrate. The Elite 8 matchups would have been played Saturday and Sunday, with four teams celebrating the landmark achievement in college basketball of reaching the Final Four. Sure, winning the National Championship is the ultimate goal, but just being a part of a Final Four is a program-changing event. Look at Texas Tech – up until last year they were best known for the sad, final days of Bobby Knight’s once-proud coaching career. Now, they’re actually a respectable basketball program…all because of one glorious run through the Big Dance. Guns up, baby!
Well, to help ease our collective suffering, we brought in one of the biggest college hoops savant’s we know to discuss some of our favorite March memories. Our electronic conversation follows. Enjoy.
WH: Ok Cheston – this weekend we should be settling in to watch Elite Eight games, but instead, the damn Coronavirus has taken them from us. To fill the gaping hole in our souls, CBS is broadcasting classic NCAA Tournament games on its networks. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this while watching the 2005 Illinois-Arizona game where Arizona blew a 15 point lead in the last four minutes, while simultaneously costing Work Hangover several hundred dollars in NCAA bracket pool money. Here is the full schedule of games being played on CBS or CBS Sports Network. As a fellow college hoops diehard, a long-suffering (until last year) UVA fan and someone who people actually pay for your writing skills, what games are you most excited to rewatch?
Cheston: Oh, Work Hangover, Work Hangover; been too long, my man. I think I speak for all (eight) of us in saying that.
No March Madness has been a total bummer. This weekend we could have realistically settled in for the following blue bloods vs. upstarts matchups: Duke vs. San Diego State, Kentucky vs. Dayton, Michigan State vs. Baylor, Kansas vs. Florida State. Following an admittedly lackluster regular season on the heels of an almost unprecedented talent drain last spring/summer (a record 87 underclassmen declared for the NBA Draft, which last I checked still only has 60 total draft picks). But our reward for the choppy play and revolving door at the top of the polls would have been a tournament that had the chance to be Tiger King-levels of insane. Think the 2000 tournament (two 8 seeds in the Final Four, including your Tar Heels, WH) or the 2011 version (a semifinal of 8 Butler vs 11 VCU). It would have been deliciously unpredictable. Sigh.
In that vein, and looking at the busy CBS and CBS Sports Network (whatever that is) schedule of classic replays in the coming week, two games that capped unpredictable tournaments with shocking champions stand out: the 1985 Final between eight seeded Villanova and Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown (Friday, 7:00 ET) stands out, as does the 1988 Final involving top-seeded Oklahoma and sixth-seeded Kansas, the so-called “Danny and the Miracles” squad.
How about you?
WH: Look at you with your “facts” and “research” about draft picks and past tournaments. Quick aside – Work Hangover was in attendance for the Butler-VCU Final Four, and while the semifinal games were good, the Butler-UConn National Championship game might have been the worst championship game of all time. Possibly the worst college basketball game of all time. Fortunately, CBS has spared us from seeing that ever again.
The Georgetown-Villanova game is one that we’re excited to see. My stats may be off on this one, but I’m pretty sure Villanova didn’t miss that entire game. By the way, Patrick Ewing played in the National Championship game 3 out of 4 years of his college career, which is incredible. Losing to Michael Jordan in big games became a theme of his career.
That said, I’m all in for some of the games from our youth. 1997 Arizona-Kentucky, 98 Kentucky-Duke where Wayne Turner abused Wojo, and it pains me to say this but you have to watch the 92 Kentucky-Duke game as people with less bias than me claim it to be the greatest college basketball game of all time. I personally just turn it off with 2.1 seconds to go in overtime. Nothing ever happens the last two seconds of a game anyway.
While these games between the goliaths of college basketball are great to watch, what makes March special are the upsets, the Cinderellas. From Bryce Drew hitting the buzzer beater to knock off Ole Miss to the Catamounts beating Syracuse to Ja Morant and Murray State dominating Marquette last year, what upsets do you wish they would show? Ali Farokhmanesh, anyone?!? And aren’t you impressed I didn’t even mention the UMBC-UVA game?
Cheston: WH, UMBC-Virginia doesn’t even faze me anymore. In the same way that the Aaron Boone home run no longer gets my Red Sox fan undies in a bunch. Banners heal all wounds. But you probably knew that the second your Heels staved off Gonzaga in 2017.
I’ll give you a few more classic March upsets that maybe don’t get a ton of attention: Princeton over UCLA on a backdoor pass in ‘96 when the Bruins were defending national champs; Weber State and Harold “the Show” Arceneaux over your beloved Heels in ‘99 (sorry for that one…I’m about to make up for it) and CJ McCollum and Lehigh pulling the 15 over 2 upset on Duke in 2012.
But for pure entertainment value, I’m going to be like that friend who only listens to obscure indie music (like our high school buddy whose name rhymes with Dick Pooling) and go totally off menu. I’ll give you two ‘90s March games that were actually conference tournament finals, not part of the Big Dance or CBS’ marathon, but both easily findable on YouTube. The first is Ray Allen’s UConn vs Allen Iverson’s Georgetown in the ‘96 Big East finals. I watched it the other day; the teams were really good, Madison Square Garden was rocking, and the ending is exhilarating.
The other game is the ‘95 SEC Finals between Kentucky and Arkansas, two teams that went to five straight national championship games back then. Both played up-tempo, pressing styles; they had athletes everywhere; and Rick Pitino looks great before age and moral decay wore him down, like Pacino in the first Godfather.
It’s like basketball porn. Which, in this age of social distancing, is a needed reprieve from actual porn.
You have any obscure ‘90s games that are near and dear to your heart?
WH: How did I know Harold Arceneaux would make an appearance?
You know you have a problem when you’re searching for mid 90s Big East tournament games on YouTube. Look what you’ve done to us Coronavirus! But, to your credit, watching Ray Allen and Allen Iverson battle would be a lot of fun to watch. Who is less relevant these days – Georgetown basketball or The Miltons, featuring Dick Pooling on the bass guitar?
A couple 90s games come to mind that are far less obscure, but nevertheless personally meaningful. The first was the Richmond Spiders knocking off Syracuse in 1991, becoming the first 15 seed to defeat a 2 seed in tournament history. My dad would take me out of school to watch whenever the Spiders made the tournament. Might have something to do with my academic priorities throughout the rest of my youth. Spiders also knocked off South Carolina in 1998 under John Beilein, carrying on the Giant Killer tradition.
Certainly, the 93 title game stands out. Full disclosure, I loved the Fab Five and wore black socks while dominating the black top at recess. And by dominate, I mean sweating profusely in my school clothes and smelling terrible the rest of the day. Fortunately, Chris Webber forgot how to count.
If we’re counting conference tournaments, Randolph Childress’ run through the 1995 ACC tournament might be one of the greatest conference tournament performances of all time…including Kemba’s run through the Big East in 2011. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the 1997 Chattanooga Mocs run to the Sweet 16.
While we could spend way too much time, perhaps we already have, discussing old games, let’s turn our attention to what could have been this year. Obviously, we never got a bracket, but let’s pretend we did. Who makes your Final Four and who wins it all?
Cheston: My 2020 Final 4 that never was: Florida State, Dayton, Ohio State, Seton Hall. With Dayton winning it all. Would have been a fittingly wacko end to a wild year. And the one silver lining in the misery of no March Madness? I’m not wrong. And neither will you be. It’s a mystery that will never be solved, which is sort of sad and beautiful all at the same time.
WH: Hope springs eternal, I suppose. That’s what the NCAA tournament represents to me. Hope. Once the bracket it set, every school who hears their name has a chance. The chance to say they were part of this wonderfully bizarre spectacle. The chance to have their One Shining Moment. Their chance to be the last team standing on Monday night. So, my heart aches for the students, coaches and schools that had that hope ripped away from them. And that’s how I’m making my choices. Dayton, Gonzaga, San Diego State and Penn State make the Final Four with Gonzaga cutting down the nets.
No program has embodied hope like Gonzaga. From being Cinderella all the way to becoming a Goliath, 2020 is the year they finally reach the mountaintop.
And now I’ll go cry for awhile.