The NCAA Tournament and NIT: A Little History

NCAA NIT Tournament Connecticut Geno Pat Summit

As the Villanova Wildcats prepare to defend their NCAA men’s basketball championship, they find themselves ranked No. 2 in the country behind the 28-3 Kansas Jayhawks. Meanwhile UCLA, Gonzaga, and Oregon round out the top five. But instead of going down the list of teams that should be in or out, or predicting what’s going to happen once the tournament begins, let’s look back on the history of it all.

Are you all good with that?

Notable Multi-Title Winners (And More)

It’s called “March Madness” (for good reason) while remaining one of the most popular tournaments in the country. When the dust clears, one team stands tall above the other 68 vying for college basketball’s biggest prize. Villanova has won this tournament only twice—last year and in 1985, the latter being their classic showdown against Georgetown University.

The University of Kansas has done the Wildcats one better, winning an NCAA championship thrice (2008, 1988, 1952). Thanks plenty to John Wooden UCLA owns 11 titles. Moreover, they possess a record that is unlikely to be broken. From 1967 until 1973, UCLA won seven consecutive championships. They also won back in 1964 and 1965, only missing out in 1966 when Texas Western upset Kentucky. In 1974, North Carolina State interrupted UCLA’s run by defeating Marquette University.

Gonzaga has never won the title while the Oregon Ducks have claimed just one, all way back in 1939. While the Connecticut women continue to own their tournament, their male counterparts have often turned in amazing seasons of their own—claiming titles in 1999, 2004, 2011 and most recently just three years ago. Duke University holds five themselves, coming in 1991, 1992, 2001, 2010 and 2015.

The University of Indiana, once a consistent force to be reckoned with, has not won a title since 1987. With that, they also claimed the prize in 1981, 1976, 1953 and 1940. Kentucky comes closest to matching UCLA’s title record with eight, the last coming in 2012. And for as much success as this ACC powerhouse has experienced, the University of North Carolina only has five titles to their credit since the championship began 78 years ago in 1939.

While Duke holds multiple titles, they’ve also been runners-up six times. As has Kansas. Kentucky, meanwhile, has settled for four second-place finishes; North Carolina has come this close on five occasions; and Ohio State has finished just short in the final four time—winning it all just once (1960).

In 77 previous title games, only seven have gone to overtime. In 1957, North Carolina and Kansas needed three extra periods to decide a winner. Ultimately it would be won by the Tar Heels, 54-53. UNLV holds the record for most points scored in a final (103), accomplished when they defeated Duke by 30 in 1990. The “Running Rebels,” indeed.

On the other hand, fewest points scored in a winning effort (39) was accomplished by Wisconsin in 1941 in a five-point win over Washington State. Of course, there’s also the women’s tournament. Champions only began being crowned in 1982, with Louisiana Tech becoming the first NCAA women’s basketball champions by defeating Cheyney State, 76-62.

Not surprisingly, UCLA was the most dominant team in men’s basketball history, winning 88 consecutive games from January 1971 until finally losing on January 19, 1974. Curiously, the team that beat UCLA was Notre Dame. As it turns out, they were also the last team to beat the Bruins before the streak began on January 23, 1971. Almost three years later to the day, Notre Dame would stop the streak with a 71-70 victory.

NCAA NIT Tournament Connecticut Geno Pat Summit

The Women of Connecticut, Geno, and Pat Summit

In women’s hoops, the Connecticut Huskies has far exceeded UCLA’s dominance on the men’s side. They are currently riding a 107-game winning streak, last losing to Stanford in November 2014. Along the way, Connecticut has won four consecutive national titles. And in the last five seasons, this year included, the Huskies have lost just five games while winning 182. There’s no other way to slice it: that’s just incredible.

Who’s the better women’s head coach—Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma or the late great Pat Summit? When Summit was leading the University of Tennessee, she guided them to three consecutive titles from 1996-1998. And, the Lady Vols own eight national crowns overall.

With 11 national titles under his belt and potentially a 12th on its way, Geno Auriemma’s teams have won 407 of 418 games in seasons Connecticut was crowned. That’s an amazing .974 winning percentage. The Huskies are also riding a four-season championship run. And, Auriemma also coached his team to consecutive titles from 2002 through 2004. In 2009 and 2010, his team also repeated. Auriemma’s first title came in 1995.

As for Summit, she claimed eight titles during her reign, with her teams winning 263 of 295 games in those championship seasons (.892). Her consecutive title runs were from 1996-1998 and again in 2007, 2008. Summit’s first title came in 1987. Her last, on the repeat in 2008. Tragically, she passed away on June 28, 2016 after being diagnosed with Early-onset Alzheimer’s in August 2011. She was only 64.

For her career, the entirety of which was with Tennessee, Pat Summit compiled an overall record of 1,098-208 (.841). Geno Auriemma started his reign with Connecticut in 1985, getting off to a rough start (12-15). Then, he began to win and win and win. Including this season’s 32 victories, he has an overall record of 987-134 with a winning percentage eerily close to Pat Summit’s (.880).

If Connecticut once again finishes the season as champions, it will be Geno Auriemma’s seventh undefeated season. Pat Summit, on the other hand, guided her team to one undefeated season (1997-98).

NCAA NIT Tournament Connecticut Geno Pat Summit

Other universities have won the women’s NCAA championship more than once, by the way. There’s Louisiana Tech, USC, Stanford and Baylor—all with two. Baylor and Texas are the only two schools that won their titles without losing a single game in those respective seasons. In 2012, Baylor went 40-0 and in 1986, Texas finished 34-0.

Teams that made it to the final but lost multiple times were: Auburn, finishing second twice; Duke, also losing twice; Georgia, another double-loser as was Louisiana Tech. Louisville joins them as a two-time title game loser, but Notre Dame got to the last game of the season five times and never won. Stanford has lost multiples times as well, dropping it—you guessed it—twice.

Pat Summit not only won all those titles, she also lost the opportunity to add to the total. Her teams lost the championship five times in head-to-head matchups with Geno Auriemma in 1984, 1995, 2000, 2003 and 2004. Every time Auriemma’s side reached the final, they won. In those classic matchups with the two powerhouse schools, the closest the Lady Vols came to winning was a five-point loss in 2003. The largest margin came in 2000 when the Huskies won by 19.

Heading into this season’s tournament, the AP top-five are:

  1. Connecticut (32-0).
  2. Baylor (30-3).
  3. Notre Dame (30-3).
  4. South (Carolina (27-4).
  5. Maryland (30-2).

Remember How Important The NIT Used To Be?

Now, there is another NCAA basketball tournament that takes place around this time of year that was once the showcase collegiate tournament in the country. But with the emergence of the NCAA “March Madness” competition, it lost its luster, becoming a secondary tournament for teams that were not invited to the big dance.

We are speaking of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), of course. Its origins date back to one year before the NCAA tournament began (1938), when Temple knocked off Colorado, 60-36. In 1973, the NCAA moved their title game to a Monday night telecast, thus casting a bigger shadow over the NIT. And at that point, the tournament began to suffer. Insult to injury would be added when the early rounds of the tourney were moved away from their normal home at Madison Square Garden.

By the time the 1980s arrived, the NIT was mostly an afterthought. A consolation for schools not invited to the bigger event. At one time, however, the champions of the NIT and NCAA faced off for charity. Three games to be exact, in 1943, 1944 and 1945—sponsored by the American Red Cross in an effort to raise WWII funds. In all three contests, the NCAA came away victorious:

  • Wyoming defeating St. Johns in ’43.
  • Utah taking out St. Johns in ’44.
  • Oklahoma A&M defeating DePaul in ’45.

NCAA NIT Tournament Connecticut Geno Pat Summit

Premier NCAA Tournament Scorers

Moving forward, who will be the shining star in this year’s NCAA Tournament? Five of the highest scorers in history of this tournament are below:

Glen Rice, Michigan

From 1986 to 1989, Rice scored 308 points over 13 games, averaging 23 points per game.

Rice would find plenty of success at the next level while playing for the Miami Heat (1989–1995), Charlotte Hornets (1995–1998), Los Angeles Lakers (1999–2000), New York Knicks (2000–2001), Houston Rockets (2001–2003) and Los Angeles Clippers (2003–2004).

Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati

A Hall of Famer, “Big O” is one of the NBA’s greatest ever. Robertson had a storied career and is still going strong today at 78 years of age. The accolades are too many to list, but he was a stud at the University of Cincinnati as well.

Robertson is a member not just of the pro Hall of Fame, but also the College Basketball HOF and FIBA HOF. In 10 NCAA tournament games, Robertson scored 324 points, an average of 32.4 per game.Danny Manning, Kansas

Manning was certainly a much bigger star in college than in the pros. But, that was only because during his rookie season he tore his ACL, which ended up plaguing the rest of his career. Still, Manning managed to extend his career from his rookie campaign in 1988 all the way until retirement in 2003. Along the way, he played in 883 games for seven different teams. Manning would finish his pro career with 12,367 points, averaging a solid 14 per game.

But at the University of Kansas, he was a star. In 16 tournament games from 1985 to 1988, scored 328 points, besting his pro average by a little more than six points per game.

NCAA NIT Tournament Connecticut Geno Pat Summit

Elvin Hayes, Houston

“The Big E” Elvin Hayes was another of the NBA’s all-time greats. Playing his collegiate ball at the University of Houston, Hayes and his teammates are best remembered for a game on January 20, 1968 when they took to the court at the old Houston Astrodome to battle the unbeaten UCLA Bruins led by the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—then known as Lew Alcindor.

With 52,693 crazed fans looking on, Hayes put up 39 points with 15 rebounds to help Houston to a 71-69 win. The Bruins had won 47 straight games to that point and following the contest, the contest was labeled the “Game of the Century.” Hayes would go on to become The Sporting News College Basketball Player of the Year.

For that game, Alcindor only scored 15 points. However, in the NCAA tournament the following year, UCLA got revenge on Houston, beating them 101-69 in the semi-final round. This time, Hayes scored only 10 points. For his career, Elvin Hayes scored 358 points in just 13 tournament games, equating to an average of 27.5 points per.

Christian Laettner, Duke

The 6’11” Laettner may be the greatest college player ever (outside of the late, great “Pistol Pete” Maravich). Laettner may also be the most hated player. That thought was cemented in a poll run by ESPN where fans voted him the most hated in history, ultimately developing into a segment on their “30 for 30” documentary series titled, “I Hate Christian Laettner.”

In the pros, Laettner had a mildly successful career averaging 12.8 points per game while wearing the uniforms of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, Dallas Mavericks, Washington Wizards and the Miami Heat from 1992 to 2005. This, all before a one-season stint with the ABA Jacksonville Giants. But it was at Duke where Laettner became a legend. And that legendary status was achieved mostly due to his ability to sink a game-winning basket as time expired.

One of the prime examples that made Laettner famous came in 1992 in a regional final game against rival Kentucky. With just two seconds left in regulation, Laettner sent a jump shot through the nets with nothing but air to beat the Wildcats. He did the same thing to UNLV one year earlier in a semi-final.

Having played in 23 total NCAA tournament games, Laettner’s average was not overwhelming (17.7 PPG), but his presence was.

What has been your favorite NCAA Tournament (or NIT) moment of all time? And, for more from Harv Aronson, check out his website!

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