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March Memories 3 (The Halloween 3 of this series)

Okay, you hate it and I hate it, but here we are. It's Duke/Kansas, a 1 vs. 2 showdown in the national semifinals. Here's the damn video:

Why would I choose such an unholy showdown?

  1. Comic relief: Kansas's PG? MARK M'FKING TURGEON! Duke's PG? Tommy Amaker (one of the few coaches to match Turdg in the "doing less with more" coaching sweepstakes).
  2. Historical context--the 3 pt. line debuted the next year, and Kansas really was the last great "Twin Towers" team with 7'1" Greg Dreiling (Sr.) and 6'10" Danny Manning (Soph.). [You'll note that the '86 NBA Finals featured Houston's Twin Towers of Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon against Boston's "Greatest Frontcourt of All-Time" of Parish, McHale, and Bird. The slow embrace of the 3 pt. line changed things, people.]
  3. The (begrudgingly) admitted intrigue of two all-time great (and all-time insufferable) coaches matching wits: Larry Brown and Mike Krzyzewski.
  4. Because--ha ha!--Louisville ruined Duke's party and beat them for the national title. Duke's fabled seniors--Alarie, Amaker, Dawkins, Henderson, Bilas--fell to L'ville's under-appreciated Milt Wagner and Billy Thompson, and freshman MOP Pervis Ellison.
  5. Because getting there is half the fun, so let's talk about the bonkers regionals that the Duke Blue Devils and Kansas Jayhawks came out of (which will also allow us to get our Big Ten content):

EAST

Duke was the prohibitive favorite and then got more luck than they needed. The seeds they beat to make the FInal Four? 16, 8, 12, 7. Oh, but that 7-seed, and that lower half of the draw.

This was the month when everybody learned about David Robinson. [To be fair, he dropped an 18 pt, 18 reb performance in Navy's 1985 tournament upset of LSU (13 over 4), but Navy went out in the second round, and lots of mid-major guys have a single moment in March.]

To precise, he "arrived" in 7-seeded Navy's 97-85 round of 32 upset of Syracuse (the 2-seed). Despite the fact that the game was in the Carrier Dome, Syracuse was helpless. Robinson dropped 35 pts, 11 rebs, and 7 blocks on the Orange, and went to the FT line 27 times! No answer. And so the career of Pearl Washington ended earlier than expected.

In the Sweet 16, Navy sneaked past 14-seed Cleveland State 71-70. Given that this was only the second year with 64 teams (i.e. only the second year with 14-seeds at all), having a 14-seed make the Sweet 16 was a great story. Even better was the fact that the 3-seed they knocked of in the first round was Indiana. [Here's where I tell you that growing up I read A Season on the Brink about 25 times. I could probably quote verbatim Feinstein's account of this game.]

MIDWEST

The Midwest was just as crazy. It also featured a 14 over 3 upset as Arkansas-Little Rock knocked off Notre Dame. This could have opened the door wide for Iowa, but the 11-seeded Hawkeyes came up just short against N.C. State, losing 66-64. This was George Raveling's final game as coach of Iowa, but he left an absolutely stocked roster for Tom Davis (more on that next post).

Iowa was one of three Big Ten teams placed in the Midwest, and their really exciting first round loss was, by far, the least interesting performance of them.

Second place goes to Michigan. Fresh off going out in the second round as a 1-seed in '85, Michigan decided to go out in the second-round as a 2-seed in 1986, losing to 7-seed Iowa State (coached by former Michigan head coach Johnny Orr). With all due respect to Michigan--after all, they won back-to-back unshared titles--this capped a somewhat unsatisfying two-year run. Compounding the dissatisfaction was the fact that Michigan was swept by MSU this year, and Michigan State--the third Big Ten team in the Midwest--advanced further than Michigan did.

You should know about 1986 MSU for two reasons:

  • Scott Skiles, and
  • getting screwed vs. Kansas in the Sweet 16.

Skiles, in his time at MSU, won the triple crown of being charged with 1) cocaine possession (later dropped), 2) marijuana possession (pled out), and 3) DUI (pled out). And you thought Dantonio was lenient!!! Since 3) counted as a parole violation of 2), after MSU's run ended in 1986, Skiles reported to jail for a brief stint. Also, anybody who has read the aforementioned Season on the Brink knows that Skiles was a champion shit-talker on the court: To Michigan's rotund Antoine Joubert: "Go ahead and shoot it fat boy. Show me what you've got." Seriously, read this article, and tell me I'm wrong in thinking that a 13 year-old Marshall Mathers wasn't paying rapt attention to the '85-'86 Spartans:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/sports/1986/03/21/skiles-a-sure-sharpshooter/285cb37b-b2da-4f58-87a8-de154cfe6d00/

Anyway, while Skiles dropped 20 on Kansas, the whole team stepped up. Each starter hit double figures and MSU led 76-72 with 2:20 to play. But then the clock stopped. And didn't start for 15 seconds. See for yourself:

I agree that it is annoying as shit to have the end of a game take 15 minutes because of all the official reviews, but if you want to know what the alternative looks like, well, there you go. [And every Sparty fan knows we're not done with clock issues involving MSU in the NCAA tournament.]

Sum it up and four Big Ten teams participated in the two regions. Two were victims of massive upsets, Iowa missed a golden opportunity, and MSU got hosed. Additionally, Illinois, a 4-seed, dropped their second round game to 5-seed Alabama (who featured Mark Gottfried...1986 was the year of the mediocre coach-to-be in the NCAA Tournament), and Purdue got hosed just like in '84, this time losing as a 6-seed to 11-seed LSU IN BATON ROUGE. That win started LSU on a run to the Final Four, the first of now four 11-seeds to make such a run (George Mason, VCU, and Loyola since).

But at the end, it was Duke. Ugh. And Kansas. Ugh. Playing an admittedly great (ugh) and exciting (ugh) game that has been largely forgotten about because Louisville won it all.