City of Hoops

For the 30th time, the NCAA Tournament comes to Kansas City.



Danny Manning University of Kansas

Danny Manning, University of Kansas

 

   There's such a long and rich association with college basketball in Kansas City that it plays a role in just the second NCAA Tournament ever played.

   Other than Dayton, Ohio, which has been the site of NCAA play-in games since 2001, no other city has hosted more NCAA Tournament games more frequently. This year's edition of March Madness marks the 30th such occasion that Kansas City has been an NCAA Tournament host dating to 1940, and the drama that has unfolded on these courts, whether in the West Bottoms or downtown, reads like a history of college basketball itself.

   The games at Sprint Center, which will be contested on March 23 and 25, determine who reaches the Final Four from the Midwest Regional. Kansas City hasn't hosted these Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games since 1995, when Virginia upset Kansas at Kemper Arena in one of the blue-blood program's more forgotten disappointments.

   As a prelude to the Big Dance, 435 looks back at Kansas City's symbiotic relationship with NCAA Tournament lore.

 

Municipal Auditorium (1940-64)

1940: After the first national championship game was played unassumingly in the old Patten Gymnasium on the campus of Northwestern University in 1939, Municipal Auditorium hosted the second-ever title game the following year. Indiana defeated Kansas 60-42 with an up-tempo style of play, which led to its "Hurryin' Hoosiers" moniker. It's the first of 16 consecutive seasons that Municipal Auditorium served as a venue for the NCAA Tournament, and from 1940-51, it would be the only site for West Regional play, while Madison Square Garden in New York was regularly used for the East Regional.

1952: Led by Most Outstanding Player Clyde Lovellette, Kansas won its first two NCAA Tournament games at Municipal on the way to a national championship in Seattle. With four regional sites, this was the advent of what we know now as the Final Four. Lovellette scored 31 points in the Jayhawks' first game against TCU, and 44 points in the second game against Saint Louis to advance.

1953: With the Final Four in Kansas City, KU returned to the national championship game without Lovellette's post presence, but once again Indiana beat the Jayhawks 69-68. B.H. Born scored 26 points for the Jayhawks and earned Most Outstanding Player honors in defeat.

1955: Before he won an incomprehensible 11 NBA titles with the Boston Celtics, Bill Russell won the first of his two consecutive national championships in Kansas City with the University of San Francisco, a 77-63 victory over Tom Gola and La Salle. Russell scored 23 points for the Dons, but his Hall of Fame teammate K.C. Jones led all scorers with 24 points.

Wilt Chamberlain University of Kansas

Wilt Chamberlain, University of Kansas, No. 13

 

1957: Just as the 1979 national championship between Indiana State and Michigan State ushered in the modern game with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, this is the 60th anniversary of another game-changer from yesteryear. Nobody had ever seen a player quite like Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain, a towering figure who really did play like a man amongst boys. Despite sporting an undefeated record, North Carolina was seen as a heavy underdog to Chamberlain's Jayhawks in the title tilt in Kansas City. "The Big Dipper," as he was known in Lawrence, scored a game-high 23 points, but KU lost 54-53 in three agonizing overtimes.

1964: Under the tutelage of the great Tex Winter, Kansas State made it to the Final Four and could've delayed UCLA's national championship dynasty by a year if it weren't for those meddling cheerleaders. Playing against John Wooden's Bruins in the national semifinal at Municipal, K-State had UCLA on the ropes and led 75-70 in the second half. But UCLA's cheerleaders, arriving fashionably late to the Big Dance because of inclement weather, apparently marred the concentration of a K-State drive to the basket, resulting in a point-blank miss. Momentum swung away from the Wildcats, and thanks to an 11-0 post-cheerleader run, UCLA eventually beat K-State 90-84. UCLA would then beat Duke for the first of Wooden's 10 national titles.

Coach John Wooden UCLA

Coach John Wooden, UCLA

 

Kemper Arena (1983-2004)

1983: The Phi Slama Jama basketball fraternity from the University of Houston put on a show when Kemper Arena hosted NCAA Tournament games for the first time. The top-seeded Cougars beat Memphis State 70-63 in the Sweet 16 game at Kemper and then whipped Villanova in an 89-71 rout to reach the Final Four with such stars as Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and fan favorite Benny Anders.

1986: "The clock is not operating right now." Kansas was in a world of hurt in the second half against Michigan State in the Sweet 16 at Kemper when CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist pointed out the malfunctioning clock that was stuck on 2:20 remaining in the game and was never adjusted, much to the chagrin of irate Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote. Trailing 80-74, the Jayhawks were helped by the Spartans' nervy free-throw misses and forced overtime, winning the game 96-86. KU beat Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack 75-67 in the Midwest Regional final, sending one of the most complete teams in the history of Kansas basketball to the Final Four.

1988: It was one of the most tumultuous seasons KU has ever had — until they became a team of destiny in March and April. With the Final Four in Kansas City for the first time since 1964, Danny Manning's 31 points and 18 rebounds helped defeat Oklahoma 83-79 for an unlikely national championship. "Danny and the Miracles" entered the tournament with 10 losses, but they beat Duke in the national semifinal to set up the title game with an Oklahoma team that played at a furious pace. In the 50th NCAA Tournament, the halftime score would be 50-50 because of course it would. But the Jayhawks slowed down the game in the second half as Manning kept making clutch plays to seal the win.

1992: Everything was set up for Kansas to make another Final Four run 25 years ago. They were in the national championship game the year before, and they earned the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional with the potential to play at Kemper in the second weekend. One small problem: They were upset in the second round by Don Haskins and UTEP before they could even get there. Instead, Bob Huggins led his first team to the Final Four when Cincinnati narrowly beat UTEP 69-67 and then routed a Memphis State team starring Penny Hardaway, 88-57.

1995: Rinse and repeat from 1992. Once again, Kansas City played host to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games in the Midwest Regional. Once again, Kansas was awarded a No. 1 seed from that region. And once again, they were stymied. But this time, the Jayhawks actually advanced to the Sweet 16, only to be foiled by Virginia's defense. Kansas shot a frigid 34 percent from the field (21 of 62) in a mystifying 67-58 loss to the fourth-seeded Cavaliers. In the regional final, Arkansas beat Virginia 68-61 and made its second consecutive Final Four appearance.

2004: The Jayhawks were a 4-seed in Bill Self's first season as head coach, and they were given a gift by playing in Kansas City the first two rounds. Taking advantage of the selection committee's largesse, Kansas easily defeated Illinois-Chicago and the University of the Pacific in Kemper Arena's swan song as an NCAA Tournament venue.

Coach Bill Self and Mario Chalmers University of Kansas

Coach Bill Self and Mario Chalmers, University of Kansas

 

Sprint Center (2009-present)

2009: Both Missouri and Kansas were 3-seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and Mizzou especially was playing great basketball, winning the Big 12 Tournament days earlier. But the Tigers and Jayhawks were sent to Boise and Minneapolis respectively when the glossy new Sprint Center debuted as an NCAA Tournament site for the opening weekend. Oklahoma, with star player Blake Griffin, won two games in Kansas City, and so did Memphis before losing to Missouri in the Sweet 16.

2013: When Kansas and North Carolina met in the second round at Sprint Center, Roy Williams had just coached his first game in Kansas City since 2003 when he was at Kansas. He was received warmly by the crowd, but the Jayhawks haven't been nearly as hospitable to Williams in NCAA Tournament play. KU's 70-58 victory was its third against North Carolina in the tournament in five years, and they were all by double digits.

As for 2017: The Jayhawks can be rewarded with the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional and the opportunity to play at Sprint Center in the Sweet 16 if they can play their cards right and navigate the potholes and roadblocks inherent to playing in the Big 12. That's also assuming they don't do anything nutty and win their first two games of the tournament. If they fail to have the résumé worthy of a top seed, that's merely the product of the cruel gauntlet that is league play.

   No matter which teams the selection committee puts in the Midwest Regional bracket and who emerges victorious from them, there's just something that fits about having games in Kansas City again that mean everything, with this much at stake. There's a formality to it. By this point in the NCAA Tournament, the teams that make it to Sprint Center are so close to the Final Four in Arizona they can almost touch the desert sand. There aren't many places better than Kansas City, with its 77 years of tournament tradition, to make a good year a great year and be one of the four teams that could win the whole thing.

Wilt Chamberlain University of Kansas

Chamberlain shooting against KSU