Rankman was all set to pen a Pulitzer after last weekend’s scintillating rounds of NCAA pod action before realizing Sunday night he didn’t have a job anymore.
What was the big fuss anyway? Oregon played another late night game no one saw on the East Coast. That sounded just like Pac 12 football.
Yes, Texas A&M overcame a 12-point lead with 40 seconds to topple Northern Iowa, but who hasn’t see that before? Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig also made a three-pointer from the corner to defeat Xavier in St. Louis, so we guess now “X” will always mark that spot.
A Notre Dame kid scored his first basket since March 5 and it happened to be a tip-in to beat Steven F. Austin at the buzzer. Frankly, until last week, Rankman thought “SFA” was an airport code.
The bottom line is the bottom fell out of most brackets after Michigan State went Tom “Fizzo” against Middle Tennessee State.
For all the drama we ended up with a Sweet 16 with no real long shots. The closest thing to a “Cinderella” is “feel good?” Syracuse versus “warm and fuzzy?” Gonzaga in a double-digit regional semifinal.
All four top seeds–Kansas, Oregon, Virginia, North Carolina–advanced to the round of 16. (Yawn).
It is strange, though, not covering the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1994. Thursday morning, almost by reflex, Rankman filled up the gas tank and drove to the regional at the Honda Center.
Turning around got me thinking about my sweetest 16 NCAA Tournament memories: some even involve basketball.
16: The 2009 Final Four in Detroit was dark, dank and depressing but my mood was elevated when hall of fame AP basketball writer Jim O’Connell stuffed himself into the trunk of a hatchback for a 20 mile drive to the nearest “Steak ‘n Shake.” OC is quite the connoisseur unless eating involves a knife or a fork.
15: I missed Utah’s Final Four appearance in 1998 but will never forget the sight, two years later, of Rick Majerus standing in a long line outside the Steak ‘n Shake in downtown Indianapolis. Who doesn’t miss Majerus? And when is Steak ‘n Shake going to become an official NCAA sponsor?
14: The Final Four in 1996 was the first in the Greater New York area since 1950. That Kentucky team, coached by Rick Pitino and led by Tony Delk, Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer, Walter McCarty and Derek Anderson may have been the most impressive championship team I ever saw.
13: Hatred for Duke reached peak levels in the 2001 national semifinal at Minneapolis. Maryland fans still think the game was rigged, At one point Maryland Coach Gary Williams slammed his fist on the officials’ table and screamed (PG version) “Is this how badly you want Duke to win?” The answer was apparently “yes.” Duke won that game and the final against Arizona. Marsha, Marsha Marsha! Duke, Duke, Duke!
12: Anyone remember the Pac 12’s last NCAA title? It was Arizona, in 1997, which finished tied for fifth in the Pac 10 but defeated three top-seeded teams on its way to the title. Rankman can’t wait to get the Pac 12 Network so he can watch a DirecTV retrospective on that fine squad.
11: Everyone remembers the three-pointer Mario Chalmers hit in 2008 to help Kansas to an overtime win over Memphis in San Antonio. My memory is the desk not receiving my story on deadline and me having to refile under a freeway bridge on the walk back to the hotel.
10: Rankman was in Seattle when UCLA won its last NCAA title in 1995, otherwise known as the last Final Four on the West Coast. Cameron Dollar came off the bench in place of injured Tyus Edney to help lift the Bruins over Arkansas. Whatever happened to UCLA basketball?
9: Arizona over Gonzaga in double-OT second-round game in Salt Lake City (2003) was one of the best NCAA tournament games I’ve ever covered. I still get short of breath thinking of that high-altitude thriller.
8: Rankman chronicled every game of Wisconsin’s 2000 run to the Final Four. This was before the Badgers did this all the time. Watching Dick Bennett coach lesser talents to such heights was a joy even if it meant enduring a national semi defeat to Michigan State that was 19-17 at the half.
7: Rankman also covered every game of Wichita State’s epic 2013 run in which the Shockers advanced to their first Final Four since 1965. Wichita won the West at Staples Center which meant coach Gregg Marshall was in L.A. at the time UCLA hired Steve Alford.
6: Will never forget being court side at Winston-Salem in 1997 when North Carolina Coach Dean Smith broke Adolph Rupp’s all-time victory mark with a win over Colorado. After the game a Southern reporter asked out loud if it was safe to call Smith the greatest college coach of all time. I said: “Well, there was that guy named Wooden.”
5: Yuck-fest 2011. Connecticut’s title-game win over Butler in Houston was memorable for being the ugliest game Rankman ever witnessed. UConn, the winning team, shot 34.5%, but that was near perfection compared to Butler, which made only 12 of 62 attempts (18.8%).
4: Rankman was not surprised Cincinnati Coach Bob Huggins got ejected from a first-round game against Gonzaga in 2003 at Salt Lake City. It was shocking when Bearcats’ radio analyst Chuck Machock was also booted for arguing with official Mike Kitts. Rankman was sitting next to Machock on press row when he screamed at Kitts, “that’s a terrible call, you S.O.B.”
3: In 1999, Rankman wanted to embed with a No. 16 seed for an entire week to experience a team’s journey through its first NCAA Tournament. The team I chose was Winthrop, coached by a young Gregg Marshall. Winthrop got clobbered by Auburn, 80-41, but I thought this guy Marshall might go on to bigger things.
2: Duke over Butler in Indianapolis for the 2010 NCAA title was, arguably, the greatest final ever. New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica hugged me court side as Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave nearly went in for Butler at the buzzer. How do you forget that?
1: Walking out of the arena in 1997 after Indiana lost in the first round to Colorado at Winston-Salem, I overheard the elevator operator say “He’s crazy.”
I said “who’s crazy?” He said “Knight.” He told me Bob Knight had ditched the team bus and decided to walk back to the hotel. It was two-and-a-half miles. I hopped in my rental car and found Knight walking down the middle of the highway, in the pouring rain. No NCAA tournament memory can ever top that.