NCAA Tournament History
The first NCAA Tournament was held in 1939. Most fans wouldn’t recognize that first tournament; it consisted of an eight-team field, and the final drew 5,500 fans to Patten Gym in Evanston, IL. There wasn’t even a “final four;” Evanston hosted the championship game, but the semifinals were held at separate sites a week earlier.
Today, the tournament has grown into “March Madness” and is a huge nationwide event. The tournament has 65 teams and draws over 700,000 fans, and the Final Four is held in domed stadiums seating well over 40,000.
The tournament now determines the national champion, but that wasn’t always the case. Until the 1950’s, the NIT was just as big a tournament as the NCAA, and teams often chose to enter the NIT and bypass the NCAA tourney. For this reason, two of the best big men in of the 1940’s never met in an NCAA tourney. George Mikan’s DePaul team traditionally entered the NIT, while Bob Kurland’s Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) won two NCAA titles.
Several schools entered both tournaments, with one team, CCNY in 1950, winning both. Ironically, CCNY defeated Bradley in the finals of both tournaments. Another school, Utah in 1944, entered the NIT and lost in the first round, then went on to win the NCAA title! Kentucky pulled off a similar feat in 149, losing in the second round of the NIT before winning the NCAA.
Until 1975, only one school from each conference could participate in the tournament. This restriction prevented several great teams from participating in the tournament, including the 1974 Maryland team. After that team finished the season ranked #4, yet lost the ACC final to top-ranked NC State, the NCAA began to allow more than one team per conference.
Significant events in NCAA tournament history:
1939 – The first tournament is held. Eight teams compete in two regions, with Oregon defeating Ohio State in the championship. The West region holds a third-place game.
1941 – The East region adds a third-place game.
1946 – A national third-place game is held for the first time; the game would be a fixture until 1980.
1950 – CCNY, led by Irwin Dambrot, wins both the NIT and NCAA tournaments.
1951 – The tournament expands to 16 teams.
1952 – Seattle hosts the first true “Final Four,” with all four semifinalists meeting in one city.
1956 – The tournament is divided into four regions.
1957 – North Carolina defeats Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas 54-53 in three overtimes to win the title.
1962 – John Wooden’s UCLA team makes the first of 13 Final Four appearances over the next 15 seasons.
1966 – Texas Western (now UTEP), with an all-black starting five, defeats all-white Kentucky to win the national title.
1973 – With the championship game held on Monday night for the first time, UCLA wins its seventh straight championship, defeating Memphis State behind Bill Walton’s 44 points on 21 of 22 shooting.
1974 – NC State, led by David Thompson, ends UCLA’s title run, defeating the Bruins in the national semifinals in double overtime.
1975 – The tournament expands to 32 teams, and allows more than one school from each conference to participate.
1976 – Bob Knight’s Indiana squad completes an undefeated season with a victory over Michigan in the championship game. The Hoosiers are the last team to go undefeated and win the title.
1979 – The tournament expands to 40 teams, and teams are seeded for the first time. Earvin Johnson leads Michigan State over Larry Bird and Indiana State to win the national championship. The matchup drew the attention of millions throughout the country; it’s 24.1 TV rating remains the highest ever for a college basketball game.
1980 – The tournament expands to 48 teams. The third place game is no longer played.
1983 – The tournament expands to 53 teams. Upstart NC State stuns powerhouse Houston and Akeem Olajuwon on a last-second dunk by Lorenzo Charles to win the national championship.
1985 – The tournament expands to 64 teams. Villanova shoots 22-28 to defeat Patrick Ewing and defending champion Georgetown in the championship game. The Wildcats remain the lowest seed (#8) to win the championship.
1991 – Duke upsets undefeated UNLV in the national semifinals and goes on the win the national championship.
1997 – Arizona becomes the first school to defeat three #1 seeds en route to the national championship.
2002 – The tournament goes to a “pod” system for the first and second rounds. The system allows the top four seeds to play at a site as close to home as possible, without regard to the school’s tournament region. Maryland becomes the first school to defeat five former national champions and wins its first title.
Source – NCAATags: history, NCAA, tournament