2014 March Madness – 1983 All Over Again?

03/14/14 9:08 PM

March Madness is a much better moniker than the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and the term actually originated back in 1939 and had nothing to do with college basketball. Henry V. Porter wrote an article called “March Madness” for the Illinois High School Association magazine, referring to the fanatical high school basketball fans in his state. It wasn’t until 1982 when CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger mentioned March Madness during that network’s NCAA tournament coverage that the term was applied to NCAA basketball, and one year later, madness was in full effect. Even though filling out a perfect NCAA tournament bracket is 18 times more unlikely to happen than being killed by a waterspout, bracketology will be running wild after the NCAA Selection Committee announces the teams that it has chosen and passed over on Selection Sunday, March 16.

This year stock touting billionaire Warren Buffett will even give you $1 billion if you fill out a perfect bracket. Correctly pick the winners of all 67 games in this year’s March Madness tournament and you will become an instant billionaire. (Yes, that’s billion, with a “b”.) Of course, the odds are more than 128 billion to 1 against that happening. And this year there are more teams to contend with, as the old “play-in” games have made way for what the marketing arm of the NCAA is calling the First Four. The First Four teams will be comprised of the four lowest seeded automatic qualifiers, and the four lowest seeded at-large teams. This means that there are now 68 teams competing in the NCAAB men’s tourney, all hoping to play in the championship game on April 7 in Arlington, Texas at the AT&T Stadium.

And while no 16 seed has ever beaten a number 1 seed, plenty of upsets have occurred in this one-and-done tournament style of play. It only takes a spirited underdog meeting a poor-playing favorite to send the favored team packing, and dogs can even go on to win the whole thing. The North Carolina State Wolfpack played most of the 1982 – ’83 season as an un-ranked team, finishing with a so-so 17 and 10 record. Seeded 6th in the March Madness tournament that year, the Wolfpack was coached by little-known Jim Valvano. They made it through the entire tournament, and the underdog was rewarded by having to play the heavily favored Houston Cougars, better known as Phi Slama Jama for the high-flying exploits of future NBA Hall of Famer’s Clyde Drexler and Akeem Olajuwon.

Houston rolled through March Madness and had won their last 26 games in a row, and the 30 – 2 Cougars which had not lost for nearly 4 months seemed an absolute lock to beat an unknown North Carolina State team. But the unsung Thurl Bailey, Dereck Whittenburg, Sidney Lowe, Cozell McQueen and Lorenzo Charles played a maddening defense which had the score tied at 52 apiece with only 7 seconds remaining. Whittenburg had been a long-range bomber the entire season, and ended up with the ball with only a couple of ticks left on the clock, tightly defended more than 30 feet from the basket. He heaved up a prayer, which was an air-ball, but Lorenzo Charles was Johnny-on-the-spot, and he dunked the errant shot to give March Madness arguably its biggest upset of all time.

How crazy is March Madness? The entire starting five of that North Carolina State basketball team went on to play professional ball in the NBA, with their draft status no doubt impacted positively by the team’s 6 – 0 record in the 1983 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. And from the First Four to the Final Four, Vegas odds on March Madness 2014 will almost certainly show teams like Florida, Wichita State, Arizona and Syracuse as favorites to win this year’s tournament. But middle-of-the-road teams like Oklahoma, Ohio State, UConn and Texas could find themselves entering the tournament right around the number 6 seed, a spot which was good enough to bestow Jim Valvano and his North Carolina State Wolfpack legendary March Madness status over 30 years ago.

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