Once upon a time, there was a tournament that started on a Thursday with mostly chalk winning. There were just two upsets, with Ball State beating Oregon State (12 over 5), and Dayton over Illinois (12 over 5). The closest thing to a big upset was when a #1 seed narrowly escaped a 16 seed (Michigan State over Murray State in overtime).
Sound familiar? Well, that was how my favorite tournament of all-time, the 1990 NCAA tournament, started. In 1990, you might not have guessed you were in for the wildest 9 days in tournament history as you got up on Friday morning.
That soon changed.
The first game on Friday featured a Missouri team that had been #1 in the nation a few weeks earlier, going up against Northern Iowa.
The Friday night was capped by the emotional story of the tournament, as Loyola Marymount finally took the court in the final game, as an #11 seed. Hank Gathers had collapsed on the court and died less than two weeks earlier, and the West Coast Conference canceled the tournament and gave the bid to the Lions. The committee under seeded them, uncertain of how good they would be without Gathers. They answered that against New Mexico State. Who can forget Bo Kimble’s left handed free throw?
After that emotional late night, the next afternoon picked up in the middle games. Ball State would upset Louisville to advance to the Sweet 16, and at about the same time, a bigger upset was brewing. North Carolina had its worst regular season in a long time under Dean Smith, falling to an 8 seed, and was going against the #1 team in the country, Billy Tubbs’ Oklahoma Sooners. That’s when Rick Fox became a North Carolina legend.
That night, Georgia Tech, with Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott, and Brian Oliver, and LSU, with Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Jackson, played in a heavyweight 4/5 game. LSU jumped to a 17 point lead, but Georgia Tech came back to win.
The next day, in the Midwest Region, Tom Penders’ Longhorns brought heartbreak to Gene Keady again. Texas preserved a one point win over the #2 Seed Purdue Boilermakers when Panama Myers blocked the game winning shot. Throw in UNC’s upset, and #6 Xavier upsetting Georgetown, and the Midwest bracket was busted.
That Sunday also saw two more #2 seeds bite the dust, with UCLA beating Kansas in Roy Williams’ first tournament, and Alabama destroying Arizona. That Alabama upset followed the most amazing game of the day, as Loyola Marymount ran defending national champ Michigan out of the gym 149-115. Jeff Fryer was on fire, hitting 11 three pointers.
So, after that incredible weekend, you’d think it was all down hill from there. It was just getting started. Thursday night opened with Tate George versus Clemson.
The next night gave us a crazy finish between Georgia Tech and Michigan State. (The first minute of the video is must watch for “1990 cheerleader hair” as well as a cheerleader unibrow that would blow up Twitter if it happened today.) Georgia Tech was down 4 with 13 seconds, but Kenny Anderson scored, Steve Smith missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Anderson hit a controversial shot to send it to overtime. Tech wanted it called a three, while the clock appeared to have expired before the release. Tech would advance in overtime.
The next day, Christian Laettner returned the favor to Connecticut from their Thursday night thriller. Before his 1992 shot against Kentucky, he took out Connecticut in overtime when he passed it inbounds, immediately got the return pass and put up a shot just inside the three point line at the buzzer.
After that crazy nine days, the tournament finally ran out of crazy magic. UNLV rolled through the Final Four, beating Georgia Tech and then Duke by 30 to win the title. Still, one of the more amazing tournaments ever. The craziness began on a Friday morning in Richmond, so be ready.