And now, the last entry concerned with the second non-annual Mid-Majority Finals Week
. The 40th and final question was an essay question: What is your favorite mid-major NCAA Tournament memory, and where were you when it happened?
We received 84 completed essays, and here are six of the best ones -- it's something we like to call "user-generated content." In the dark of December, some simple reminders of the supreme joys that spring provides -- and we're not talking about the reporting date for pitchers, catchers and equipment managers with shady connections. Selection Sunday is just 89 days away, let's enjoy each one as much as we can.
You can't go wrong with memories of the 2006 Northwestern State upset of Iowa... me, I was standing on top of a chair in the Dayton pod media room yelling like an idiot when Jermaine Wallace's shot fell. Daniel wasn't there either:
I hate Iowa. The afternoon of March 17, 2006 I was driving to a gig in northern Illinois listening to the Iowa-Northwestern State game. When I got into the car, Iowa had taken a sizable 17 point lead about halfway through the second half. Steve Alford had started subbing more loosely. The Hawkeye announcers were already talking about their weekend plans and how they were going to celebrate the win that evening.
Bit by bit that lead started to deteriorate as Northwestern State would put together a serious of 6-2 or 8-2 runs, and all of a sudden it was a ball game with just a couple minutes left.
Down two and with only a few seconds and the ball, Northwestern State missed their shot. Jermaine Wallace ran down the ball, and as the ball got knocked loose with about two seconds, the Iowa announcers thought that had sealed it. Once Jermaine Wallace squared away and launched the desperation 3-ball--without being able to see it--you had a feeling it was going in, and it did.
It was an aural experience and thrill unlike any other. The fact that it came at the expense of Iowa made it all the better!
- Daniel, IL
Here's the essay that broke the 13-way tie for second and earned a Bally. All he had to do was invoke a program formerly known around here as The Unnamed Major Program From The Northwest...
I have many great memories of mid-major upsets while at home watching on TV. Nothing can surpass 'The Shot'Â to beat Ole Miss or the behind the head pass between the Taylor brothers en route to UAB's upset of Kentucky. I know, UAB is not technically a mid-major, but the game had the feel of a huge upset complete with ex-Hog Nolan Richardson cheering his former assistant Mike Anderson on to victory that day. But my favorite memory was from a pod of games that I was fortunate enough to attend in Memphis.
The first tip of games was between 5 seed Virginia and the 12 seed UMPFN, who were looking to shed the slipper and legitimize their status with a potential third consecutive Sweet Sixteen. The game featured Hoos star Roger Mason, Jr. who led the charge with 30 points. However, UMPFN were paced by future NBA vagabond Dan Dickau who played 39 minutes and scored 29 points to go along with 16 and 15 dimes from 1999 hero Casey Calvary. A young Blake Stepp was featured in this match which UMPFN won on a bucket from Calvary with seconds left in the game. While seen as an upset, UMPFN would build upon this game and add to a resume of a rising star in a mid-major conference.
In between games, my brother-in-law and I walked around the arena and took our seats with the UMPFN team in the crowd and watched as they enjoyed the earlier win. Few and his boys had the air of a team on a business trip and that expected to win. I didn't get the vibe of the team being 'just happy to be here.'Â We hung out a while and made our way back down to our seats for the tip of 4 seed Oklahoma and 13 seeded Indiana State.
Indiana State was seeking the first NCAA win since Larry Bird and the miracle season of 1979. It felt like all of Terre Haute was there cheering on this unlikely group of guys against the formidable opponent from the Big 12. OU led by 7 at half and extended the lead 13 in the second half. The scrappy Sycamores were aggressive and it showed, outshooting the Sooners by a +17 from the charity stripe. However, they were building a house from behind the 3 point arc with only 3 from 18 accuracy. A scary moment that would be a momentum changer later in the contest occurred when OU's Hollis Price and ISU's Kelyn Block collided. Block got the worst, losing three teeth and leaving the game while Price had his arm bandaged to hide the bite marks.
Block, while in the locker room, watched his team cut the deficit and lead with seconds remaining in regulation. OU tied the game with 7 seconds left and the Sycamores would not get off a game winning shot. The Sycamores, with Block returning to score 5 in the extra frame, would pull off the upset of the Sooners. Outrebounded by 10 in the game, the feisty Sycamores stunned the crowd much to the delight of their fans in attendance.
The matchup two days later to determine one Sweet Sixteen participant was won by UMPFN convincingly. UMPFN would become a formidable foe in following years and shed the 'mid-major'Â label, but for one day in March two 'dogs provided quite a lot of excitement and pride for the little man in the Bluff City.
- Daniel, AR
We've bagged on Gonzaga a lot (but it's because we love 'em), and we haven't forgotten the thrills they provided back in the 1990's. Ross got to experience some of those up close too:
Three moments entered my mind after reading this question: 1) Gabe Lewullis' backdoor cut and lay-up for Princeton to beat defending champions UCLA in the 1996 First Round, 2) The entirety of the George Mason-UConn game in 2006 and 3) Casey Calvary's put-back for Gonzaga to beat Florida in the 1999 Sweet 16.
I watched the former two moments from home, but saw the third in person while living in Phoenix at the tender age of 11.
Earlier that Thursday, March 18, I had no idea I would be attending the two Sweet 16 game to take place at America West Arena. That is, until a family friend, Tom (the husband of one of my mom's co-workers) called at about 4:00 pm to surprise me by saying, "How would you like to go to the games tonight?"
"That would be pretty cool," I said in my pre-teen voice.
Needless to say, Tom remains a good friend of my family and I to this day.
The especially interesting thing about the first game of the West Regional Semifinals, which was Gonzaga-Florida, was that I was not unfamiliar with the 'Zags to that point. I had read many articles that season on what a good season John Stockton's alma mater was having. So, I decided to stay up extra-late one early March evening and watch the WCC championship game between Gonzaga and (I think) Santa Clara.
Gonzaga obviously won that game to get into the Big Dance as a 10-seed where they beat Minnesota and Stanford to get to the Sweet 16. I watched the game against Stanford (a two-seed that year) at a friend's house, who was a Utah Jazz fan and by proxy, a Gonzaga fan for the tournament. If memory serves me correctly, the Richie Frahm-led bunch had absolutely no problem against the team that was pretty much supposed to kick their heads in.
Florida was a six-seed that year and, to me, felt like the definition of a good-but-hardly-great fourth-place power-conference team. I believe they beat Penn in the first round and then won an OT classic against Harold "The Show" Arceneaux and North Carolina-slaying Weber State.
Even before tip-off, I knew in attending that game that all of the crowd (except for slight Florida support) would get behind Gonzaga. But more importantly, there was just a buzz, if you will, that this small Jesuit school in Spokane would keep this Cinderella run going.
I'd be lying to you if I said I remembered every little detail about the game. I do, however, remember Gonzaga keeping up its season-long unconsciousness from three-point range and leading for a very healthy part (if not a majority) of the game.
Even so, Florida had a one-point lead with about 20 seconds to go and the ball. One of the Gators' guards was trapped around half-court and traveled. Neither I nor the other 16-thousand odd people cheering for Gonzaga have likely ever been as excited for a traveling call as they were in that moment.
A Gonzaga player (I forget who but it wasn't Frahm or Matt Santangelo) drove the lane with about ten seconds left and missed a runner with about seven or eight to go. The ball caromed off the front rim and then hung in the air for what was surely a one-second eternity.
A jumping Calvary was stationed about five feet from the basket when the offensive board came to him. He got off a shot that was more of a two-handed slap maneuver than proper basketball technique.
Gonzaga led by one.
Florida had a hurried final shot at the buzzer, but missed and the Zags went to the Elite Eight.
The amazed and exuberant America West Arena crowd had no idea that the thrilling game they just witnessed would help enter a new eight-letter, one-hyphen word into American sports lexicon, or that two future college basketball superpowers had just played each other; for they were just happy that the underdog was able to come out of nowhere and make a name for itself.
- Ross, TX
Travis (who writes a nice blog
we here at TMM Mobile HQ fully endorse) didn't get to fill out a whole answer sheet, but he did leave his memories of LMU:
1990 - Loyola Marymount beats NMSU, Michigan in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. I was a Sophomore at the University of Arizona. I had a lot of hoop friends we would play basketball all day at the U of A rec center and race back to our little apartment rooms and watch the games at night. We had watched Loyola all season including the WCC tournament game when Hank went down. He was the leading scorer and rebounder in the nation the season before. LMU had that offense. They scored 149 points against the defending champion Michigan squad in the second round! There was so much magic in those two games. It was bigger than basketball and their will never be another run like it.
- Travis, UT
Hampton 2001 was another great story. One of our Finals Week champions, Eric, told of one of those great March Madness traditions (skipping class) to see it unfold on the tube.
My favourite mid-major memory was in 2001, when I was a senior in high school. I skipped the end of class to catch the opening rounds at a sports bar. That day, local favourite Holy Cross was playing Kentucky, a seemingly daunting task, but they held their own, and managed to lead late. Eventually, the Wildcats pulled out the victory 72-68, which worked for me since I had them in my pool. However, it allowed me to see the end of another 2-15 game, only this one actually resulted in an upset, as Hampton managed to beat Iowa State. It was the second time in recent years that a 15th-seeded MEAC team upset a top seed from a power conference, with Coppin State previously beating South Carolina. Also, that same day, Wisconsin, fresh off of a Final Four appearance, lost to Georgia State and coach Lefty Driesell.
- Eric, MA
Here's a more recent memory, from someone who experienced the 2006-07 Penn season from the inside.
I will never forget Penn's first round game from last year (2007). I'm a manager for the Penn men's basketball team, but last year, as a freshman, I wasn't chosen to make the trip to Lexington with the team. But since I had an exam that day, I didn't mind too much. At least that's what I told myself. The real problem was that my exam overlapped with the game. Just as we would be making our triumphant run to upset Texas A&M'or so I imagined'I would be settling in for a physics exam. So I watched the first half of the game, as uninspiring as it was. We were down 31-18 at the break, but I still believed. It wasn't over yet. My faith was rewarded with a 21-6 run to start the second half. I cheered every basket, sometimes poking my head out my dorm room window to lead 'Let's go Quakers!' chants. With 11:42 to play in the game, we had a 39-37 lead. We were up on Texas A&M, a #3 seed, one of the top teams in the country! We were winning! No, we were going to win! But snapping back to reality, it was five minutes before my exam started. I grabbed my calculator and sprinted across campus, running past red- and blue-clad students and frat houses that were cheering on the Quakes. I went through my exam as fast as I could. Bursting out of the classroom, I whipped out my cell phone to check on the game. Final score: Texas A&M 68, Penn 52.
We lost. But such is the life of a mid-major. We lose the majority of our games, especially come tournament-time. Everyone remembers the Cinderellas; everyone forgets those teams'the vast majority'that bow out in the first round. But those losses are worth remembering. Yes, I wish we would have won the game, but I'm still thankful that we had an opportunity. There were 271 teams last year that didn't even get a shot in the NCAA tournament. We got ours, but what about all those others? In some ways, I wish every team (OK maybe not the other Ivies) could experience the thrill of a NCAA tournament bid: watching your team get called on Selection Sunday, preparing to play one of the best teams in the nation, sizing up your chances ('Hey, if we play our game, we can pull this upset off!'), seeing how fired up the campus gets on the day of the game. A less successful start to the 2007-2008 season (we're 3-7 right now, but don't sleep on the Quakes yet!) has made me appreciate last year's opportunity even more. So when our next shot comes --and it will -- I'll be ready. Forget the exam, I'm going dancin'.
- jguch, PA
Thanks again to everybody who entered. We'll make sure another three years doesn't go by before we do another mid-December Finals Week.