As the NCAA’s 75th men’s basketball tournament tips off this week, Kansas City will be dripping in history.
The eight teams that could convene at the Sprint Center for second- and third-round games on Friday and Sunday have combined for 10 NCAA championships, and four of those titles were won in Kansas City.
• Wisconsin won the third NCAA Tournament in 1941, beating Washington State 39-34 at Municipal Auditorium.
• North Carolina won the first of its five championships with an epic 54-53 triple overtime win over Kansas in 1957 at Municipal.
• Villanova pulled one of the great upsets in tournament history when, as a ninth seed, the Wildcats beat Georgetown 66-64 for the 1985 championship in Lexington, Ky.
• Kansas, led by Danny Manning and the Miracles, won the second of three championships by defeating Oklahoma 83-79 at Kemper Arena in the 50th anniversary of the NCAA Tournament.
• And La Salle, which needs to beat Boise State in a first-round game Wednesday to reach Kansas City, beat Bradley 92-76 in 1954 at Municipal Auditorium with all-American Tom Gola leading the way.
While Kansas State, Mississippi and Western Kentucky have not won a national title, the programs have rich traditions as well.
Kansas State has played in four Final Fours — 1948, 1951, 1958 and 1964 — with the final one played at Municipal Auditorium. Mississippi, making its sixth NCAA appearance, advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2001 after beating Iona and Notre Dame in the first two rounds at Kemper Arena.
Western Kentucky, operating in the shadow of Kentucky and Louisville, will be making its 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance when they face top-seeded Kansas around 8:50 p.m. Friday. The Hilltoppers, led by all-American Jim McDaniels, reached the 1971 Final Four in Houston, where — and get ready for this — they lost 92-89 in double overtime to Villanova and beat Kansas in the third-place game.
Also, Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper led Oklahoma City to consecutive NAIA Tournament championships in Kansas City in 2007-08.
Little wonder the confluence of such college basketball heavyweights — supported by nearby loyal fan bases of Kansas, Kansas State — will make this regional the toughest ticket in the tournament. The event is sold out, pending ticket returns from the participating schools.
The fans shouldn’t be disappointed with what they see.
Mississippi may be a No. 12 seed, but the Rebels, led by SEC tournament MVP Marshall Henderson, beat Florida 66-63 for its first conference tournament championship since 1981. Henderson, a flashy 6-foo-2 junior guard who has been known to play to the crowds — even performing the Florida Gator chomp at the end of Sunday’s game — led the SEC in scoring at 20.1 points per game. In the SEC tournament, he scored 27 against Missouri, 23 against Vanderbilt and 21 against Florida.
“He’s one of the most exciting players in college basketball,” Rebels coach Andy Kennedy said. “I try to impress upon him that passion is good, emotion is bad. His passion comes from a good place. He loves to play, he’s excited about this. He has a very strong will. I don’t want some of the things to take away from the fact he’s a very good basketball player.”
North Carolina and Wisconsin finished second in their conference tournaments on Sunday.
Wisconsin, which lost to Ohio State 50-43 in the Big Ten final, will be making its 15th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament when it plays Mississippi for the first time at 11:40 Friday morning. The Badgers, 23-11, had an impressive run in the Big Ten tournament, knocking off Michigan and Indiana by identical 68-56 scores. Indiana is one of four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
The methodical, deliberate Badgers are led by guard Ben Brust, who averages 11.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.
Roy Williams’ Tar Heels, 24-10, who play Villanova at 6:20 p.m. Friday, feature three players — sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, junior guard Reggie Bullock and sophomore guard P.J. Hairston all average between 14.2 and 14.4 points per game. The Tar Heels lost to Miami in the ACC title game.
North Carolina owns a 4-1 record over Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats’ lone win was in a 1985 regional en route to winning the national championship. Most recently, the teams met in the 2009 Final Four with eventual champion North Carolina winning 83-69.
This will be the second time that Villanova plays a NCAA Tournament game in Kansas City. In 1983, the Wildcats defeated Iowa in a regional semifinal at Kemper Arena before falling to top-seeded Houston in the regional final.
Villanova, 20-13, is led by sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkson, who averages 13.1 points and 4.9 rebounds. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, who was selected to the Big East all-rookie team, averages 12.0 points and 3.5 assists per game and leads the Wildcats with 70 three-pointers.
Though a No. 9 seed, Villanova thrives in the underdog role. Villanova is 15-13 as an NCAA Tournament “underdog” seed, the most such wins in tournament history. Five of those victories came during Villanova’s run to the 1985 national championship.