This year's NCAA Tournament is the never was, the "gone before we knew ya" edition. It was all setting up to be one of the most fun and unpredictable brackets we've ever had. Was Kansas a truly dominant team? Or were interlopers like San Diego State and Dayton legitimate contenders? Could unfamiliar faces like Seton Hall and BYU dance deeper than they had in generations? Who were the mid-major busters that would break the office pools?
We'll never have our answers, so instead we look back and reminisce. March is for unpredictable icons, dramatic chaos and late-game heroics. Every morning since the tournament was cancelled, we’ve invited on a memorable personality from Madness Past to recollect the stories. Here's my personal favorites:
Michigan star Terry Mills reflected on the bizarre beginning to the '89 title run. The Wolverines got wind their head coach, Bill Freider, was leaving after the season to take the Arizona State job. Instead of allowing it to unfold, Bo pulled the plug and fired him the day before the tourney. In one of the craziest outcomes to a firing ever, assistant Steve Fisher was promoted and led the Wolverines all the way to the national championship three weeks later. Will we ever see that again?
Mercer standout Jakob Gollon candidly discussed the gameplan in the shocking upset of 3-seeded Duke. No one gave Mercer much of a chance to beat the Blue Devils, especially considering most basketball fans didn't even know where it was located (Macon, GA). But the Bears had the perfect gameplan to disrupt the future NBA players on Duke, including Jabari Parker. Mercer was filled with seniors like Gollon looking for their first tournament apperance and weren't to be denied once they got there. The directive was clear. Force Parker and the Blue Devils to shoot and make them uncomfortable. It worked to historic perfection.
Gerry McNamara shot Syracuse into the lead in the '03 title game, and talked about what it's like to be in the zone. Imagine the biggest game of your life and you can't miss a shot? That was G-Mac in the first half against Kansas in the national title game. He hit an incredible half-dozen threes to help SU to a 50-point total at the break. The Orange would hold on for the only title in program history. His legend still remains at SU, where he's an assistant on staff and his image hangs on the banner inside the Carrier Dome. G-Mac was unconscious as a true freshman on the biggest stage. Talk about onions.
No one ever preferred to play the Hoyas in their heyday with Patrick Ewing, so Steve Lappas' claim was a stunner. He was a first-year assistant on the Cinderella Villanova team that shocked the world in '85. Georgetown had been in three national championship games in four years with Ewing, and the little ol' 8-seeded Wildcats were given no chance. But the experience of having played the Hoyas twice in the Big East regular season was a huge confidence boost to 'Nova. Apparently, they felt they matched up better with the Hoyas than the Johnnies, and they made good on their confidence. It has been called "The Perfect Game" played by the Wildcats, as they shot nearly 80 percent from the field. It still is considered the greatest upset in a championship game ever.
Matt Doherty was on the court as the legend of His Airness was born. Against one of the best defensive teams in the nation, Jordan never doubted his shot. UNC had been seeking its first championship under legendary coach Dean Smith and the '82 edition delivered it. Against Georgetown, Jordan didn't have a great game, but when the game came down to the final seconds he never wavered. It would be a familiar refrain for the rest of his career. The legend was born.
From legends in the making to otherworldly upsets, we missed a month of them this year due to the pandemic. But at least we can always fondly recall the previous times it happened, to give us that warm and bracket-busting feeling anyway.