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16 Sweet Pieces of NCAA Tournament Trivia to Impress Your Friends

by: Esteban On  Tuesday, March 19, 2013

ncaa tournament march madness trivia

The NCAA Tournament starts in earnest on Thursday (no, sorry, I don’t count the play-in games), so you’re probably pretty busy studying team stats and filling in your brackets. However, once the brackets are in and the time comes to sit back and watch the games, you’re going to need something to talk about with your friends and—let’s face it—co-workers. So I thought I’d put together this little list of 16 interesting pieces of trivia about the Big Dance. You college hoops experts will know some of this stuff already. But for those who only pay attention to NCAA basketball when March rolls around, this list will offer a lot of new knowledge.

So forget about scouring the RPI index in hopes of finding secret knowledge about a sleeper seven seed. You’re not going to win your office pool anyway. Instead, take a moment to actually learn something about this thing they call March Madness.


16. The Founding

harold olsen ohio state basketball coach - ncaa tournament trivia

Until 1939, the National Champion of college basketball was chosen by the press. But then somebody had a great idea: what if we got the eight best teams in the country together and then had a single-elimination tournament to determine a real champion? That person was Ohio State Coach Harold Olsen—a man who was about 74 years ahead of the people who run college football.

Ironically, though, Olsen’s Buckeyes would lose to Oregon in the finals of the very first NCAA Tournament in 1939.


15. March Madness

march madness - ncaa tournament trivia

Ever wonder who came up with the term March Madness? Well, it turns out that the phrase might have originated in Canadian politics as a way of describing the “madness” of trying to create and pass a budget each year before the April 1 fiscal deadline.

However, it seems the first person to use the term in reference to postseason basketball was an Illinois athletic administrator and basketball coach named H.V. Porter. He wrote an essay and a poem about state high school tournaments that used the phrase “March Madness,” and eventually it was picked up by fans in Illinois and Indiana—though only in reference to high school tournaments. It was CBS sportscaster Brent Musberger, who had worked in Chicago for many years, who first referred to the NCAA Tournament as “March Madness” in the early 1980s. It caught on, and the rest is history.


14. The Selection Committee

selection sunday - ncaa tournament trivia

Every year on “Selection Sunday,” teams and fans around the country wait anxiously to see who has been chosen to play in the NCAA Tournament and who got the top seeds. These decisions, of course, are made by the mysterious “selection committee.” So who are these people?

Well, it turns out it’s just a group of ten athletic directors and conference commissioners, chosen to create an even representation from around the country, who serve on the committee for five years at a time. The terms are overlapping, however, so every year there is both old blood and new blood.

This year, the members are: Mike Bobinski (Xavier AD), Ron Wellman (Wake Forest AD), Doug Fullerton (Big Sky Commissioner), Scott Barnes (Utah State AD), Steve Orsini (Southern Methodist AD), Joe Alleva (LSU AD), Jamie Zaninovich (West Coast Conference Commissioner), Joe Castiglione (Oklahoma AD), Bernard Muir (Stanford AD), and Mark Hollis (Michigan State AD).

Now give all these folks a nice round of applause. They are responsible for the least-controversial NCAA Tournament bracket we’ve seen in years, if not decades.


13. Format History


From 1939 through 1974, the NCAA Tournament was contested by the champion of each conference. Thus, the only expansion in the number of teams was the result in an expansion in the number of conferences. However, by 1974 there were problems with this format. Really good teams—like the 4th-ranked Maryland Terapins in 1974—were not included in the draw because they didn’t win their conference. So for 1975, the NCAA introduced something new: at-large bids. This expanded the Tournament from 25 to 32 teams…and opened the flood gates. In 1979, they decided it was time to start seeding the teams. In 1980 the field was expanded to 48. Then it was expanded to 52 and 53 with the addition of play-in games in 1983 and 1984. Finally, in 1985, the field was expanded to 64 teams and the tournament as we know it today was born.

Of course, there have been a few changes since then. In 2001, the NCAA added a play-in game, brining the total draw to 65 teams. Then in 2011 they added three more play-in games, raising the number to 68.

But really, does anyone really count the play-in games? (No offense, Middle Tennessee.)


12. Automatic Bids

ivy league - ncaa tournament trivia

Automatic bids have been a part of the NCAA Tournament from the beginning, with the winner of each conference getting an invite. Of course, each conference was free to decide their own championship in the manner it saw fit. And over the years, they all adopted the conference tournament method—all of them, except the Ivy League.

There are 31 automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament today, and 30 of them go to winners of the conference tournaments. But since the Ivy League doesn’t hold a conference tournament, their automatic bid goes to the team in first place at the end of the regular season.

That is probably the rational way to handle things. It’s not really fair for a team that’s played poorly all year to be rewarded for winning three or four games at the end of the season. However, while irrational, it certainly is a lot more fun. How can you not like seeing a team like Ole Miss in the Big Dance when nobody thought it would happen two weeks ago?


11. Seed Stats

villanova national championship - ncaa tournament trivia

Since 1985, when the NCAA Tournament expanded to its current format (more or less), a whopping 89.3% of the National Championships have been won by the top three seeds. That breaks down to 19 championships for #1 seeds, three championships for #2 seeds, and three championships for #3 seeds. Thus, in the last 28 years, there were only three real “underdog” champions. They were #8 Villanova in 1985, #8 Kansas in 1988, and #4 Arizona in 1997.

10. More Seed Stats

2008 final four - ncaa tournament trivia

So what about the composition of the Final Four? Well, since 1985, 75% of the Final Four spots have been taken up by teams seeded one to three. That’s 84 of 112 total spots. That’s a pretty high success rate for the top teams, but probably not as high as you might have expected, based on their championship success rate.

Interestingly, since seeds were introduced in 1979, we’ve only seen all four #1 teams make the Final Four once: 2008.

And we’ve only had an all-#1 championship game six times: 1982, 1993, 1999, 2005, 2007, and 2008.

On the other end of things, meanwhile, there has only been one tournament since 1979 in which no #1 or #2 teams made the Final Four. That was 2011, when the highest seed in the Final Four was #3 Connecticut—the eventual champions.


9. Unbeatable Record

arizona 1997 national championship - ncaa tournament trivia

Remember when I mentioned how #4 Arizona won the NCAA Tournament in 1997? Well, that was not luck. To do so, they had to beat not one, not two, but three number one seeds.

First they beat #1 Kansas in the Regional Semifinals. Then they beat #1 North Carolina in the National Semifinals. Then they beat #1 Kentucky in the National Championship Game. That is a record, and one that can never be beat, as the bracket structure makes it impossible for play all four #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.


8. Upsets

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Norfolk St v Missouri

Without a doubt, one of the best things about the NCAA Tournament are the upsets. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing David slay Goliath? However, since the competition expanded to 64 teams in 1985, we have never seen a #16 seed take down a #1 seed. There have been close calls, of course. Both Princeton and East Tennesse lost by just one point in 1989 to Georgetown and Oklahoma, respectively. Then, in 1990, Murray State took Michigan State to OT, but lost by four. And in 1996 Western Carolina lost to Purdue by just two points. But no #16 has ever won a single game.

The #15 seeds are a different story. From 1991 to 2001 there were four #15 seed upsets. Then, just last year, there were two: #15 Lehigh toppled Duke, and #15 Norfolk State toppled Mizzou.

The lowest seed to reach the Final Four, though? That would be #11, and it’s happened three times: LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, and VCU in 2011.


7. First to Worst

kentucky 2012 national championship - ncaa tournament trivia

This year we’re seeing something pretty rare: the team that won the National Championship last year, Kentucky, did not even make the NCAA Tournament this year. That’s happened just seven other times. The first time was in 1979, and it was also Kentucky. After that it was Michigan State in 1980, NC State in 1984, Louisville in 1987, Kansas in 1989, Florida in 2008, and North Carolina in 2010.

Interestingly, in 1979 and 2008, both the previous champions and the previous runners-up failed to make the tournament. Those were Indiana State and Ohio State, respectively.


6. Who?

loyola university chicago national championship - ncaa tournament trivia

When you think of NCAA Championships, you think of teams like UCLA, Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut, and Indiana.

You do not think of teams like Loyola Chicago, LaSalle, City College of New York, San Francisco, Wyoming, or the first winner ever, Oregon. But these schools have all won championships. In fact, having won one championship a piece, they’ve actually won as many as traditional basketball powerhouses like Michigan, Georgetown, and Syracuse.

Seems kind of crazy, doesn’t it?


5. Venues

superdome final four 2012 - ncaa tournament trivia

In 1997, the NCAA decided that all Final Four games must take place in venues with a minimum capacity of 40,000. That meant that actual facilities designed for or with basketball in mind were eliminated from contention.

Then, in 2009, the minimum capacity for Final Four venues was increased to 70,000. That limited the pool of potential host cities even further, such that there are now only nine cities that are eligible to host the Final Four: Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Phoenix, and St. Louis—all cities with NFL domes.

Notably absent from this list? Oh, just places like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. You know, the biggest cities in the country.


4. Home Court Advantage?


Since the “Final Four” concept came about in 1952, only one team has played in the Final Four on its home court. That was Louisville in 1959; however, they lost to West Virginia in the semifinals.

There have been four other occasions in which a team has played in a Final Four in their home cities. UCLA played in the Final Four in L.A. in 1968, 1972, and 1975. Then, most recently, in 2010 Butler played in the Final Four in Indianapolis, where they lost to Duke by two points in the Championship game.


3. Most Outstanding Player

hakeem olajuwon ncaa tournament most outstanding player - ncaa tournament trivia

The NCAA Tournament doesn’t have an MVP award. It has a Most Outstanding Player Award. What’s the difference? Nothing, really. It’s just that the wording eliminated the idea that, somehow, the best player is only the best player if his team actually won.

That being said, there haven’t been many occasions in which the MOP award went to somebody on the losing team. The last time that happened was 1983, when some guy named Hakeem Olajuwon won the award with the Houston Cougars.


2. Television Revenue

ncaa tournament television - ncaa tournament trivia

CBS acquired exclusive rights to broadcast the NCAA Tournament in 1991, but in 2010 they partnered with Turner Sports (i.e., TNT and TBS) to secure a 14-year, $11 billion deal with the NCAA. That averages out to $786 million per year, which reportedly makes up an incredible 90% or more of the NCAA yearly revenue.

That, ladies and gentleman, is what you call a cash cow.

(Yeah, I know, college football is bigger than college basketball. But the NCAA just “sanctions” the bowl games. The bowl games and the individual schools make all the money.)


1. Coaches

john wooden ucla - ncaa tournament trivia

The list of all-time great coaches in the history of the NCAA Tournament is actually pretty short. Jim Calhoun (UConn) and Bob Knight (Indiana) won three Championships. Adolph Rupp (Kentucky) and Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) won four. And then there is John Wooden (UCLA), who won 10.

As far as active coaches go, the leader there is Duke’s Coach K with four. Then there are Billy Donavan (Florida) and Roy Williams (North Carolina) with two, and eight other active coaches with one.