By Doug Halberstadt
It’s hard to believe that in 1939 the first final four was held on the campus of Northwestern University at Patten Gymnasium with Oregon winning the title in front of fewer than 1,000 fans. In the early days of the tournament, only eight teams were selected, and as recently as 1978, there were only 32 teams.
Less than two weeks ago, a record 68 teams entered this year’s NCAA basketball tournament vying for a chance to be called national champions. Sixty-four of those teams have since returned to their campuses with their sights set on next year, including all four No. 1 seeds.
Over the past three seasons, a trio of college basketball’s most successful programs have cut down the nets at the Final Four with national championships going to the Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels and the Kansas Jayhawks.
This year, none of those perennial college basketball icons will be around when the final shot is made. Only Butler, Kentucky, Virginia Commonwealth and Connecticut are still dancing.
Those four teams will all travel to Houston’s Reliant Stadium this weekend. Connecticut will play Kentucky in the early game Saturday (April 2), followed by Butler and VCU in the late game. The winners of those two games will face one another in front of more than 70,000 fans in the stadium, and millions more watching the championship game on television, Monday night (April 4).
One of the unique things about this year’s final four is the highest-seeded remaining team is Connecticut. They entered the tournament as a No. 3 seed. The lowest-seeded (11th) team still alive is VCU. Butler was the eighth seed, and Kentucky was the fourth seed.
Regardless of who ends up winning this year’s title, one thing is for sure: maybe more so than any other tournament in recent history, it’s definitely lived up to its nickname, MARCH MADNESS.
From the March 30-April 5, 2011 issue