Journey to the Tourney: UK’s March Madness history
From the strange-but-true file: Kentucky has played in more NCAA Tournament games than any program. Kansas City, Mo., has played host to more NCAA Tournament games than any city. Yet Kentucky has never played an NCAA Tournament game in Kansas City.
“It’s just weird to me,” said Blair Kerkhoff, who has covered college basketball for the Kansas City Star for 30 years. “Kansas has played NCAA Tournament games in Lexington and Louisville. But Kentucky has never been to Kansas City.”
Of course, by beating Wofford on Saturday, Kentucky would advance to the Midwest Region semifinals in Kansas City this coming week.
There are reasons that Kentucky has never played an NCAA Tournament game in Kansas City. For several decades, the NCAA kept teams in their geographic region, whether it be East, Mideast, Midwest and West. UK played in the Mideast or East Region tournaments. Kansas City was host to Midwest regionals.
“I think probably until the 1970s, the idea of moving teams around to balance the bracket was unheard of,” said Mike Lopresti, a columnist for Gannett before moving to NCAA.com. “That explains the first 30 years. Since then, I don’t know if there’s an explanation on that one.”
Kansas City has been the host city for NCAA Tournament games 31 times. That includes being the site for first-weekend games seven times, a regional site 14 times and the setting for a Final Four 10 times.
For many of those years, the NCAA offices were in Kansas City. “Walter Byers and Wayne Duke would just walk across the street to Municipal Auditorium,” Kerkhoff said of the NCAA’s top executives at the time.
Four times a loss in a region finals prevented Kentucky from advancing to Kansas City for the Final Four: 1942, 1956, 1957 and 1961. Plus in 1955 and 1964, Kentucky lost in the regional semifinals when the Final Four was in Kansas City.
And then there’s 1954. The Final Four was in Kansas City that year. Kentucky went undefeated (25-0) for the first and only time in program history. But because graduate students Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos were ineligible to play in the NCAA Tournament, UK declined a bid.
Kansas City has a rich history with the NCAA Tournament. Duke, North Carolina and Indiana have won national championships there. In 1964, John Wooden won the first of his 10 national championships as UCLA coach there.
Kansas City is synonymous with college basketball. The NAIA national tournament is played there every year. So is the Big 12 Conference Tournament and the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association tournament.
Plus, of course, the National College Basketball Hall of Fame is in Kansas City.
Despite all that, Kerkhoff said, Kansas City residents “care about their barbeque in a more passionate way than they do their place in the college basketball world.”
That Kentucky has never played in Kansas City isn’t the only oddity associated with the NCAA Tournament. Here’s another: Duke and North Carolina have played 260 times, but never in an NCAA Tournament.
Or this: In the last 21 years, every national championship except one was won by a school located in the Eastern Time Zone. The exception: Kansas beat John Calipari-coached Memphis in an all-Central Time Zone finals in 2008.
Because the First Four preliminaries now are an annual part of the NCAA Tournament, Dayton will soon pass Kansas City as the host with the most games.
Kentucky has played six NCAA Tournament games in Dayton (two each in 1972, 1975 and 1978).
To try to explain the non-history of Kentucky basketball and Kansas City, Kerkhoff said, “You almost have to try to avoid each other.”
Duke and Minneapolis
While Kentucky and Kansas City are NCAA Tournament strangers, Duke and Minneapolis are well acquainted.
Duke won national championships there in 1992 and 2001. And the Blue Devils’ run to the 1991 championship began with first-weekend games in Minneapolis.
“We love it there …,” Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski recently told the Star Tribune, the daily newspaper in Minneapolis. “We’re hoping there’s some karma there. Hopefully, we can get back there.”
This year’s Final Four is in Minneapolis.
Here’s another tidbit that might fuel thoughts of karma: All five of Duke’s national championship game victories have come in cities ending in “apolis.” Besides the two championships won in Minneapolis, the Blue Devils won titles in Indianapolis in 1991, 2010 and 2015.
Surely, 1992 was the most memorable of Duke’s championships. UK fans do not need reminding of Christian Laettner’s game-winning shot against Kentucky that sent Duke to the Final Four that year.
Then the Blue Devils beat Bob Knight and Indiana in the national semifinals and Michigan’s Fab Five in the championship game.
“It’s almost like there’s a book on each of the games,” Krzyzewski told the Star Tribune.
The setting for this year’s Final Four, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, will have a different look. Mara Klecker of the Star Tribune reported that heavy, gray curtains were being installed on the ceiling as a “darkening solution.”
The project, which cost $4.6 million, is intended to keep sunlight from entering the stadium. The curtains will prevent inconsistent lighting on the court.
Natural light coming through the ceiling is considered a distinguishing feature of U.S. Bank Stadium.
Patrick Talty, the manager for U.S. Bank Stadium, lamented the change. “We have to take our biggest asset away,” he told the Star Tribune.
The curtains are not the only alteration planned for the Final Four. An overhead scoreboard, an additional 14,000 seats and, of course, a basketball court will be added.
Here are two bits of NCAA Tournament trivia you can use to win bar bets:
▪ Dating back to the 1950s, only one school has advanced to at least one Final Four in each of the last seven decades. That school is North Carolina. Kentucky failed to reach a Final Four in the first century of this decade (2000 through 2009).
▪ Michigan has lost six times in the national championship game. Coaches who led teams to victories against the Wolverines in the finals include such icons as John Wooden (1965), Bob Knight (1976), Mike Krzyzewski (1992) and Dean Smith (1993).
For announcers and analysts for ESPN and its affiliates, the NCAA Tournament marks a day-to-night change of lifestyle. ESPN’s networks televise many regular-season games. Then March Madness belongs to CBS and Turner Sports.
SEC Network analyst Jimmy Dykes had a plan for Tuesday. “I went fishing today,” he said.
Freedom of speech
John Calipari minced no words when he opened his radio show of March 11 by saying, “I hate conference tournaments.” This was no surprise. Host Tom Leach chuckled. The UK coach has consistently described the conference tournaments as, at best, an unnecessary chore.
Two days after Calipari’s radio show, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey did not seemed troubled by the coach of the league’s flagship program belittling the conference tournament.
“He’s certainly had a lot of success in the tournament,” Sankey said. “He says he doesn’t hold it in high regard. He is a great competitor. He’s a great part of our league. I’m certain the Kentucky team will compete as long as they’re in Nashville.”
Tom Crean was asked to compare the media coverage his Georgia program received with how his Indiana teams were covered.
“Well, pretty much everything — with maybe the exception of Kentucky — is going to be different than Indiana,” he said. “That’s just the way it is. I can’t even begin to compare it.
“I have no issue with our coverage at all. We’re just trying to build our program. Whether it’s local, regional or national, we’re happy with whatever coverage we get.”
To Darius Miller. He turned 29 on Thursday. … To Troy McKinley. He turned 56 on Thursday. … To Wayne Turner. He turned 43 on Friday. … To Zan Payne. He turned 23 on Saturday. … To EJ Floreal. He turned 26 on Saturday. … To South Carolina Coach Frank Martin. He turned 53 on Saturday. … To Todd Bearup. He turns 52 on Monday. … To Kerry Benson. He turns 30 on Monday. … To Alabama Coach Avery Johnson. He turns 54 on Monday. … To Georgia Coach Tom Crean. He turns 53 on Monday. … To Wenyen Gabriel. He turns 22 on Tuesday.