College basketball's semifinal has come a long way over the past 75 years
After two weekends of thrills produced by this year’s NCAA Tournament, the Final Four is here. As you get ready and up-to-speed on Saturday’s games, here are 10 facts that you may or may not know about the two games that determine which teams play for a national title.
Origin of the Name
For decades, the Final Four was simply referred to as the tournament’s semifinal. But in 1978, the NCAA began using the term “Final Four” regularly and eventually trademarked it. According to the NCAA, the term was coined in a 1975 article saying that Marquette "was one of the final four" in the ‘74 tournament. Since then, the name is as synonymous with college basketball as fireworks are to the Fourth of July.
NBC first began broadcasting the NCAA Tournament and Final Four in 1969, and then CBS bought the rights in ‘82. Under CBS, March Madness has evolved into the “must-see TV” event that it is today. That being said, the 1979 championship game between Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores and Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans still holds the record for television viewership for any college basketball game.
Most Final Four Appearances by a Program
Five schools have made it to more than 10 Final Fours — Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and North Carolina. And last year, UNC became the first program to reach 20 Final Fours. The Tar Heels made their first semifinal in 1946 and their second in ‘57. Since then, they have not gone more than 10 years without reaching a Final Four and have won six national titles along the way.
Most NCAA Tournament Appearances without a Final Four
In 1981, BYU guard Danny Ainge drove the length of the court to hit a buzzer-beating shot against Notre Dame to put his team in the Elite Eight. That is the closest the Cougars have come to making Final Four in 29 tries, the most appearances by a program without making the semifinal.
Most Final Four Appearances by a Coach
Both John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski have each been to 12 Final Fours. Wooden’s success came over a 14-year period where UCLA went to nine consecutive Final Fours and won 12 national championships. Coach K’s run has lasted more than 30 years, with Duke making its first Final Four in 1986 and its most recent in 2015. It is very possible that Krzyzewski may eclipse Wooden’s Final Four record before he retires.
Most Teams Taken to Final Four by One Coach
Two coaches have taken three different teams to the Final Four. Rick Pitino took Providence, Kentucky and Louisville to seven semifinals during his career. Meanwhile, John Calipari has taken UMass, Memphis and Kentucky to six Final Fours. It also is important to note that both coaches each had two Final Fours vacated because of NCAA rules violations.
Most Final Four Appearances by a Player
The NCAA did not allow freshman to play varsity basketball until the 1972-73 season so Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, and a cadre of other Bruin players missed the opportunity to play in four consecutive Final Fours during UCLA’s epic run. In fact, the only player from that era who did was center Ralph Drollinger, who accomplished the feat when UCLA made the Final Four in 1976, the year after John Wooden retired. The player who made the most of the NCAA allowing freshmen to play was Duke center Christian Laettner, who started for the Blue Devils in four straight Final Fours and won two national championships. Laettner played in 23 out of 24 possible NCAA Tournament games during his career and won 21 of them. Both are records.
Lowest-Seeded Teams to Make Final Four
The lowest seed to make a Final Four is a No. 11 and four teams have done it: LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006, VCU in 2011, and Loyola (Chicago) in 2018. However, a No. 11 has never advanced to the championship game.
Venue That has Hosted the Most Final Fours
Until the mid-1990s, the Final Four was hosted primarily in arenas in cities across the country. The arena to host it the most times was Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium, which held nine Final Fours from 1940-64. In the mid-90s, the Final Four moved permanently from arenas to domes and the stadium to host it the most times is the New Orleans’ Superdome with five.
No matter where the Final Four is hosted, the hardwood court always comes from the same place. The “Final Floors” are developed by Connor Sports, who takes hardwood sugar maple from northern Michigan. The wood goes to Amasa, Michigan, for the development of the floor panels and then to Idaho Falls, Idaho, to be finished. From there, the floors go to the stadium where they take about five hours to install. The farthest any floor has traveled from forest to dome has been 2,552 miles to Atlanta in 2007 and ’13. (Courtesy: Empire Today)
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.