The first weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament turns an entire nation in to basketball analysts and prognosticators. What are your favorite memories of tournaments (and brackets) of the past?
There have been so many great games through the years, it is hard to pick just a few to highlight. It wasn't uncommon for teachers at my high school to turn on the tournament for the first two days once the clock struck noon. I guess I have to go with some recent history and the local mid-major program Butler heading to back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011. Two absolutely crazy runs that captivated the local population.
In terms of bracketology, I will never forget 2002. Somehow, someway I picked an insane 15 of 16 teams correctly to make it through the first weekend of the tourney. Back in those days, I filled out brackets on tons of sites (Yahoo, ESPN, etc, etc, etc) and was pretty much in the Top 100 across the board. Everything quickly fell apart after Indiana upset Duke, but hey--it was fun while it lasted.
My earliest memory of the tournament was arguing with my dad that Lorenzo Charles's dunk was too late in 1983 because I wanted Phi Slamma Jamma to win it all. I also remember my dad encouraging me to cheer for Nova in '85 because, "Underdogs are more entertaining." That was a great life lesson.
In high school and college, I'd watch games all season long. It wasn't at all unusual for me to watch 10+ games a week with all 3 Big Monday games, a couple of mid-week double-headers, and 4-5 over the weekend. I studied the game and read every magazine and newspaper I could find (that's what we did before KenPom.com and OFD, crazy). Every year I'd live with the youthful delusion of being able to pick the brackets and predict what 18-22 year olds would do in 63 single-elimination basketball games. Every year I'd end up pissed off because a girlfriend would finish ahead of me in the pool because she picked on colors or a friend who didn't watch a game all year picked by throwing darts. I've only recently embraced the true nature of these 3 magical weeks, and it has let me enjoy them SO much more. Put succinctly: crazy stuff happens. I'll still fill out brackets this year, and every single one of them will have Notre Dame on the champion line. I figure if you're going to have one dream come true, why not win a couple of pools as icing on that delicious cake.
Obviously the Laettner Shot™ is a major memory. I think the '88 Kansas team is the first that I can remember with some vividness as winning the National Championship. The Chris Weber travel against UNC in '93 is always a lasting memory as are the Air Force Max sneakers the Fab Five wore. Those were the coolest shoes on the block.
In 1998-99 I had just started attending a prep school in Connecticut and that spring UConn went on its first National Championship run. Being around that hype was pretty memorable. You have to remember that Calhoun had done some really nice things in the preceding handful of years but kept falling out in the Tourney at the Elite Eight. Plus, the women's team was very good but had only won their first title back in '95 and hadn't won a second yet. UConn, at that time, wasn't as instantly recognizable with dominant championship teams as it is today and you could tell a men's championship meant a crap ton to kids from this tiny state. I think back to that time and all I remember are all of the Khalid El-Amin floaters.
Since 2000, a lot of the Tournaments are just one big mish mash in my brain, which now that I think about it, is probably due to watching more of the games from the round of 64 and onward. Whereas as a kid I wasn't tracking things to such a degree until the Sweet Sixteen or later in the Tourney.