DAYTON, Ohio – So it begins Tuesday night. And the University of Dayton Arena is as good a place as any for the NCAA Tournament to start, being thick with the history of March.
“One thing I do know,” UCLA coach Steve Alford was saying, “it’s a hotbed for basketball.”
This is where Adolph Rupp coached his last game for Kentucky in 1972 – a loss to Florida State. Where Magic Johnson took his only NCAA Tournament defeat in his two years at Michigan State – the 1978 regional championship game against Kentucky.This is where top-ranked DePaul was beaten at the buzzer by St. Joseph’s in 1981, and devastated Blue Demon star Mark Aguirre walked up the ramp, out of the arena and back to the hotel. It is where No. 1 and 31-0 Indiana was knocked out in a 92-90 epic in the 1975 regional by Kentucky – the only game the Hoosiers would lose in two years.
This is where the NCAA decided to stage its one-game opening rounds, and nearly 9,000 people showed up to see Siena beat Alcorn State in overtime.
This is where a referee named Mickey Crowley was a forerunner for the future in 1984, when he decided on his own to use a replay monitor to check who should be shooting a free throw. College basketball official-dom was aghast then, but look at all the reviews now.
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This is where Villanova started its dream run to the 1985 national championship, having to beat Dayton in the first round on its home floor. And where George Mason’s magic carpet ride to the 2006 Final Four started when the Patriots took out Michigan State and North Carolina within 48 hours.This is where the First Four landed and has stayed, partly because the house is always nearly full, and partly because the city works so hard to keep it. So this is the only place in America that has ever seen a No. 16 seed win an NCAA Tournament game, since it happens twice every year against another No. 16.
One of those games was 2012, when Western Kentucky rallied from 16 points down in the final five minutes to beat Mississippi Valley State 59-58. The two guys sitting in the front row at one end seemed to enjoy the game – President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
This is where Georgetown beat Northern Iowa 54-49 in a first-round game in 2006. The coaches were John Thompson III and Greg McDermott, and they shared something besides a court that day. Both their wives had just recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.
This is where the selection committee made a highly questionable decision in 2015, giving Dayton a home game in the First Four. The Flyers beat poor Boise State 56-55, as the only true home team in the NCAA Tournament in the past 30 years.
This is where 17 men who own national championships coached at least one NCAA Tournament game, from Dean Smith to Bob Knight, Al McGuire to Tom Izzo to Roy Williams.
This is where it begins Tuesday night. LIU Brooklyn vs. Radford and UCLA against St. Bonaventure, which plays Dayton here every season as a member of the Atlantic-10.
“We’re not going to have people booing us all night,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt said. “We’re not going to have a student body that’s yelling at me. So it’s going to be a much different environment.
“But we’re comfortable here.”
So is the NCAA Tournament. For 117 games, and counting.