The NCAA D1 Men’s Basketball Tournament, or as it more commonly known as “March Madness,” has an impressive and storied history. It all began with the very first tournament bracket back in 1939 when eight teams from two regions competed for bragging rights on Northwestern’s court, leading to a thrilling championship game between Oregon and Ohio State – ultimately won by Oregon. To make sure no team went unrewarded, there was even a third-place match held in the West region ensuring everyone had something to play for that year.
The Early Years
In the 1940s and 1950s, a rivalry arose between two of college basketball’s greatest centers – George Mikan from DePaul and Bob Kurland from Oklahoma A&M (now OSU). Back then there were two primary tournaments competing for national attention: the NCAA tournament and the NIT. In most cases, teams had to choose which event they would take part in, but there was one amazing exception when City College of New York won BOTH championship titles in 1950.
Even Utah achieved an incredible feat back in 1944 too by losing in the first round on the NIT yet going all way through till taking home their NCAA trophy after it all. Back in 1949, Kentucky had the unique honor of being one of the few to lose a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) match and then come back full force to take home their first NCAA championship title.
In 1941, the East region made history by introducing a third-place game to the March Madness bracket that eventually grew into an established national tournament in 1946. By 1951 the competition had expanded to 16 teams and 1952 saw Seattle host its first ‘Final Four’ with both semi-final games and championship matches taking place all at once in one city.
The year 1956 marked another major development when four distinct regions were added for greater coverage of collegiate basketball events nationwide; this paved way for some truly remarkable moments – most notably North Carolina’s triumph over Wilt Chamberlain’s Kansas Jayhawks 54-53 after three thrilling overtime periods.
It was 1962 however when John Wooden really stamped his mark on college ball as UCLA – under his leadership – appeared at their first Final Four out of 13 consecutive appearances during 15 storied seasons. That run makes up 13 of the 19 Final Four appearances that UCLA has made in tournament history – the second most Final Four appearances by any college.
In 1963, amidst the backdrop of America’s civil rights struggle, Loyola (Illinois) made a triumphant statement by defeating Mississippi State in a men’s basketball tournament regional semifinal. In order to make this monumental victory possible for their integrated team with four African-American starters, Mississippi State had to resort to extreme measures – fleeing the town under cover of darkness just one step ahead of an injunction ordered by local authorities who strongly objected to mixed-race teams competing against each other.
Three years later in 1966 Texas Western University would go down as champions in college history books when they became NCAA National Champions led by five African American players that defeated Kentucky’s all-white lineup.
After a streak of seven consecutive national championships, UCLA’s reign came to an end in 1974 at the hands of NC State and dynamic duo David Thompson & Co. Despite Bill Walton’s incredible 44-point performance on 21-22 shooting in 1973, it ultimately wasn’t enough as historic double overtime victory from NC State dethroned basketball royalty that year.
March Madness Expands to 32 Teams
In 1975, the NCAA implemented a groundbreaking rule change that allowed more than one school from each conference to compete in their brand-new 32-team tournament bracket. Up until this point, several great teams had been barred from competing due to restrictions; included among them was Maryland’s 1974 squad that finished with an impressive fourth ranking nationally. The following year heralded Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers as the first and last undefeated champions of college basketball since 1976 when they bested Michigan for the title game win.
1979 marked an unprecedented milestone for the NCAA Basketball Tournament; expanding to 40 teams, they were seeded competitively and witnessed a clash between two college basketball legends. With a record-breaking viewership of 24.1 TV rating across the country – Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans against Larry Bird’s Indiana Sycamores will go down in history as one of the sports’ most memorable tournaments with its thrilling finish: The Spartans crowned victorious.
In 1983, March Madness saw an unprecedented expansion of the tournament with 53 teams competing to reach the championship game. North Carolina State’s Lorenzo Charles made a miraculous buzzer-beater dunk that won them the title in what is now known as one of college basketball’s greatest Cinderella stories.
Coach Jim Valvano and his Wolfpack defied all odds by making their incredible run through the 83′ tourney and defeating massively favored “Phi Slamma Jamma” from Houston. To this day, no other figure better captures March Madness spirit than coach Valvano who still stands out for embodying enthusiasm and joy on campus after leading such an underdog squad to victory. After making the shocking discovery of bone cancer, courageous commentator and philanthropist Jim Valvano courageously faced his illness while taking on a new role as a college basketball commentator.
Despite the brevity, he made an impact worthy to be remembered: in 1993 at the first-ever ESPN ESPY Awards ceremony, Arthur Ashe presented him with an award for Courage before going on to establish The V Foundation dedicated to supporting cancer research. This kindhearted hero left us far too soon at 47 years old yet continues leaving footprints through these many legacies that live long after him.
In 1985, a David-versus-Goliath story unfolded when the Cinderella team of Villanova Wildcat upset defending champion Georgetown led by Patrick Ewing in an epic national championship game. Even more amazing is that this low seed #8 remains to be the lowest ever crowned victorious. Fast forward six years later and another underdog emerged as Duke threw off all odds to defeat undefeated UNLV in the semis before walking away with their own title. But what really stole basketball fans’ hearts was Arizona’s historic run during 1997; they became the first school EVER to topple three top-seeded teams enroute to winning it all against Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky – quite simply magical stuff.
Not Much Bigger Than March Madness
The NCAA Tournament has achieved massive success and recognition in the sporting world, becoming nearly as popular of an event as the Olympics, World Series, or Super Bowl. In 1999 CBS Sports set a groundbreaking 11-year deal to broadcast basketball games across all mediums such as TV radio and the internet for a whopping $6 billion – proving just how much this tournament is valued by viewers around the globe.
The 2002 NCAA Tournament marked a significant change by implementing the “pod” system, which allowed teams to play close to home. That year saw Maryland make history as they became the first school ever to win their first title after beating five national champions on their way there. Then in 2004, regions were identified not just through geography but also with reference to hosting cities for better fan accessibility, and Final Four match-ups were predetermined rather than rotated – changes that have become essential staples of today’s tournament format.
From 2005’s till the last title challenge, the NCAA Championship has been a riveting display of resilience and triumphant spirit. Despite the obstacles faced, fearless individuals have led their teams to shocking victories with an immense display of cheer willingness, and an undying spirit of never giving up. While also giving basketball lovers worldwide a great atmosphere to cheer and try their lucks by catching in great March Madness odds. Through it all came a powerful reminder: hard work pays off no matter what struggles we must endure on our journey toward greatness.