The bracket road ends in NOLA for the sixth time
The Spectrum. Market Square Arena. The Special Events Center. Prior to 1982, the Final Four was the domain of actual basketball venues. Sure, the NCAA experimented with the Astrodome in 1971, but that attempt, with an elevated court placed at the center of the stadium’s playing surface, led to many an obstructed view and mixed reviews overall. It would take another 11 years before college hoops was ready to take another crack at a domed Final Four, and the Louisiana Superdome was tasked to make it succeed.
The NBA’s New Orleans Jazz would be the test subjects for dome basketball, playing four years in the Superdome before the franchise moved to Salt Lake City in 1979. In 1978, the Detroit Pistons further perfected the dome setup after shifting their games to the Pontiac Silverdome. By ’82, the denizens of college basketball were convinced enough to set up shop in the vaunted, voluminous home of the NFL’s Saints.
NOLA proved to be more than worthy of the honor. A record 61,612 looked on as North Carolina coach Dean Smith earned his first title with a 63–62 victory over Georgetown. The site would come to be defined by blue bloods and blunders. The Tar Heels were literally handed the championship when Hoya guard Fred Brown threw a pass directly to UNC’s James Worthy with five seconds to go to seal the win.
When the tourney returned in ’87, it was Indiana’s Bob Knight who clinched his third title in 11 years with a 74–73 squeaker over Syracuse. ’93 saw Dean Smith return for seconds with a little help from Michigan’s Chris Webber. Down two points with time winding down, Webber made a clear pivot-foot drag following a rebound, which went unnoticed by game officials, then called a very noticeable timeout in the front court that the Wolverines didn’t have, drawing a technical foul to seal a 77–71 Carolina victory.
In 2003, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim avenged his loss to Indiana 16 years earlier by directing the Orange to an 81–78 win over Kansas in coach Roy Williams’ last game with the school. Then in 2012, KU endured a consecutive painful New Orleans hangover by dropping another championship-game tilt to consummate basketball blue blood Kentucky. The Wildcats won their eighth title with a 67–59 decision over the Jayhawks.
Will the sixth season of NCAA: New Orleans be as bingeworthy as the previous five? Well, the first episode will track developments several states away at the First Four in Dayton, OH.
FADE IN: EXT. University of Dayton Arena — Scott Bakula contemplates.
Texas A&M-Corpus Christi over Texas Southern
Indiana over Wyoming
Bryant over Wright State
Notre Dame over Rutgers
Gonzaga — The Bulldogs lead the nation in scoring offense (nearly 88 points per game), scoring margin (22.5 points per contest) and field goal percentage (52.7%).
Arkansas — The Razorbacks are adept at getting to the free throw line, leading the Southeastern Conference with more than 17 conversions per game.
Alabama — While the Hogs are scoring from the stripe, the Crimson Tide are converting from everywhere else, leading the SEC with an even 80 points per contest.
Michigan State — A potential clash of titans awaits in the second round with the Izzone bracketed with Duke’s Coach K. Sparty has claimed two of the last three matchups.
Baylor — The 2021 National Champions topped the Big 12 Conference with a victory margin of nearly 13 points per contest.
UCLA — Another veteran of last year’s Final Four, the Bruins are ferociously protective of the ball; the only Pac-12 member to average fewer than 10 turnovers per game.
Texas — In the manner of the great UT football teams next door, the ‘Horn hoopers display a stingy defense; the only Big 12 squad to cede fewer than 60 points per outing.
Kentucky — After a pause for a brief commercial message last season, the Wildcats are back, outrebounding opponents by a nation-leading 10 per contest.
Arizona — The Pac-12 regular season and tournament champs lead all Power Five schools in scoring offense, scoring margin, assists and field goal percentage.
Houston — The Cougars’ lock-down defense, which holds opponents to a top-rated 37% field goal conversion rate, allows the squad to squash foes by nearly 17 points per game.
Colorado State — The Rams led the unusually strong, four-bid Mountain West Conference in margin of victory by an even eight points per contest.
Ohio State — Despite a lackluster 1–4 finish, the Buckeyes sport an impressive non-conference win over Duke and converted a league-leading 76% of their free throws.
Kansas — The Jayhawks are both accurate and prolific, topping the Big 12 in scoring, overall field goal percentage and three-point conversion rate.
Iowa — The Hawkeyes protect the ball and put it in the hoop with nearly equal aplomb, leading the country in assist-to-turnover ratio and placing fourth in scoring offense.
Wisconsin — The Badgers have the guy-you-don’t-foul-down-the-stretch in the person of guard Brad Davison, who converted a league-leading 87% of his 116 free-throw attempts.
Auburn — Woe to the Tiger opponent whose shot lingers too long in the air. AU blocks a national-best 7.9 per game, led by forward Walker Kessler’s SEC-leading 4.5 per outing.