New England certainly isn't the college hoops hotbed it should be. Even though Dr. James Naismith invented the sport in Boston's backyard of Springfield, Mass., NCAA basketball tends to take a backseat in the region.
But what many hoops fans sometimes overlook is that the region has had its fair share of significant March Madness moments. Yes, March is usually a time for New Englanders to concentrate on Red Sox spring training, a Bruins playoff run or wrapping up another championship-caliber Celtics season. But college basketball is alive and well in the area, and New England, as a whole, boasts a history in the NCAA Tournament worth remembering.
Here are the top 10 NCAA Tournament moments with New England ties.
10. Catamounts Shock the Orange
It was a big win for the little guys of the hoops world when Taylor Coppenrath led his Vermont Catamounts to a 60-57 overtime win over Syracuse in the opening round of the 2005 NCAA Tournament. UVM was No. 13 and took down the powerhouse fourth-seeded Orange. Although the Cats deliberately slowed the contest down to throw off the fast-paced 'Cuse squad, the ending was nothing short of amazing. First, it was Coppenrath, who tied the game at 51 apiece when he hit a long jumper with 55 seconds to go in regulation. UVM then got the ball back with a chance to take the lead, but Germain Mopa Njila stepped on the baseline, negating his go-ahead layup with 3.7 seconds left. After a big 3-pointer by T.J. Sorrentine with about a minute to go in OT, the Cats fended off Syracuse to advance.
9. Eagles Soar for One Shining Moment
In 1994, Boston College dethroned reigning champion and No. 1 seed North Carolina 75-72 in the second round before knocking off Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16. The Florida Gators ended the Eagles' flight as they topped BC 74-66 in the Elite Eight.
8. Welcome to Prime Time
It only took Rick Pitino three years to show Providence College hoops fans just how good he was, taking a team that was 11-20 in 1984 and turning it into a Final Four contender in 1987. Point guard Billy Donovan led the No. 6-seeded Friars to wins over UAB and Austin Peay before upsetting No. 1 Alabama in the Sweet 16. In the Elite Eight, Providence made national headlines by dethroning No. 1 seed Georgetown 88-73 — behind 20 points each from Donovan (16 of which came from the free-throw line) and Darryl Wright — to advance to the Final Four. In a national semifinal, the Friars lost to Syracuse 77-63. "Billy the Kid" averaged 20.6 points per game as a senior before getting selected in the third round of the 1987 NBA draft.
7. UMass appeal
Head coach John Calipari led the UMass Minutemen to their first Final Four appearance in 1996 — the farthest the Minutemen had ever gotten in the tourney. Although the NCAA stripped the Minutemen of these NCAA Tournament victories, UMass was flat-out dominant throughout the madness and was never better than in its 86-62 win over an Allen Iverson-led Georgetown Hoyas squad in the Elite Eight. Calipari's crew finally fell to eventual champion Kentucky 81-74 in the Final Four.
6. Who's No. 16?
How many times, in the history of the men and women's modern NCAA Tournaments combined, has a No. 16 seed upset a No. 1 seed? Here's a hint: If you're in Boston, you don't have to look too far to find the answer. On March 14, 1998, the Harvard women became the first — and to this day, only — No. 16 seed to dethrone a No. 1 in the opening round as they took down Stanford 71-67. The Crimson were led by Allison Feaster, who dropped 35 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.
5. Basketball Jesus Enters Stage Right
Sure, he was the "Hick from French Lick," but it would be crazy to leave out Boston's adopted son, Larry Bird, and his miraculous guidance of the 1979 Indiana State Sycamores to the national championship game against Michigan State. Drafted by the Celtics in 1978, Bird was all but official property of the C's during this historic tourney. Despite playing with a fractured thumb that he suffered in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament, Bird led the Sycamores to wins over No. 8 seed Virginia Tech (86-69), No. 5 Oklahoma (93-72), No. 1 Arkansas (73-73) and No. 2 DePaul — a game in which he scored 35 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and dished out nine assists. Bird's run ended in the title game, however, when the Sycamores fell to Magic Johnson's Spartans 75-64. To this day, it remains the highest-rated game in the history of televised college basketball.
4. UConn Goes Long
With one second left and UConn down a point to Clemson in its 1990 Sweet 16 tilt, Scott Burrell threw a nearly full-court pass to Tate George, who pulled off one of the most thrilling game-winning shots in tourney history. George hit a huge turnaround jumper to send his Huskies into the Elite Eight. Unfortunately for the Huskies, Duke forward Christian Laettner gave the Huskies a taste of their own medicine in the next round, as he hit a double-clutch jump shot from 14 feet at the buzzer to give the Blue Devils a 79-78 victory.
3. Queen of the Court
Often overlooked but never unappreciated, Diana Taurasi led her UConn Huskies to three straight NCAA women's titles from 2002-04. Taurasi was so dominant that head coach Geno Auriemma boasted heading into the tourney that UConn's chances of winning it all were good because of one reason: "We have Diana, and you don't."
2. From Cambridge to Heroville
Rumeal Robinson, who grew up in Cambridge, Mass., and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, sunk the game-tying and go-ahead free throws with just three seconds remaining in overtime of the 1989 NCAA championship game to give Michigan an 80-79 win over Seton Hall. Robinson was a career 66 percent shooter from the free-throw line in three years at Michigan and averaged 14.5 points in 100 games played.
1. Every Husky Has His Day
March 29, 1999 was a day that will go down in Connecticut sports history. On that day, Jim Calhoun's UConn Huskies won their first national championship by defeating the heavily favored Duke Blue Devils 77-74 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. Since that day, UConn's hoops program has been considered one of the best in the nation. Richard Hamilton, in what would be his last college game, drained a team-high 27 points against a Duke squad that featured such collegiate stars as Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon, William Avery and Corey Maggette. Supporting Hamilton were Khalid El-Amin, Kevin Freeman, Jake Voskuhl and Ricky Moore, who helped this deep Huskies team to a 34-2 record on the season.
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