Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
4/03/2006 08:13:00 PM
The Night Is Upon Us
One hour and 20 minutes 'til tip in Indy. A contemplative moment for UCLA's Arron Afflalo.
Outside, around 7:30 p.m., security guards await the rush of fans.
Florida Ave., running right into the RCA Dome.
Fans, discuss the game here while it unfolds. I'll hit you back after midnight ...
UPDATE: UCLA just distributed a press release courtside that reads:
UCLA legendary head coach John Wooden was admitted to a Los Angeles-area hospital on Sunday, April 2. Wooden's hospitalization is not considered serious, and he is scheduled to be released in the next day or two.
Coach Wooden will watch tonight's game in his hospital room with his family.
Potential Blog Pool Winner, Blogger Converge Courtside
We found Bradley White -- the dude on the right -- sitting in the front row of the Florida student section an hour before game time. He picked Florida to win it all. And he takes the Blog Pool title if it happens. (That's me on the left.)
The Blog goes into time-warp mode on the morn of the title game, taking you back to the First Monday Night: March 27, 1939, when the inaugural NCAA tournament final between Oregon and Ohio State tipped off at Patten Gymnasium (shown above) on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. That game drew a sellout crowd of 5,500 fans -- compared to the nearly 45,000 who will be on hand tonight in Indy -- and the overall 1939 tournament operated at a loss of $2,531. Today, the NCAA makes billions.
The University of Oregon's 1939 "Tall Firs," with John Dick sitting at the far right of the front row.
University of Oregon
We put in a call to John Dick, the lone surviving starter of the Oregon "Tall Firs" -- named that way for their front line of the 6-foot-4 Dick, 6-4 Laddie Gale and 6-8 "Slim" Wintermute -- who beat the Buckeyes in a 46-33 blowout. Dick shot 100 percent -- 5-of-5 -- from the field in that game and was the Ducks' leading scorer with 15 points. Dick, whose jersey number, 18, has been retired, still lives in Eugene, Ore. He recounted some choice moments from the event:
- Dick's team had to endure a grueling stretch, winning five games in 12 days (two in the Pac-10 championship series, over Cal; two in the San Francisco NCAA Regional, over Texas and Oklahoma; and one over OSU in Evanston, Ill.) in the pre-air-travel era to claim the NCAA crown. "We spent four days and nights riding trains," he said, "and got no practice whatsoever. On those rides it's just shake, rattle and roll, baby -- you don't do anything, and they only stop a few times for water and food."
- When they arrived in Evanston the day before the title game to familiarize themselves with the gym on Sheridan Road, Dick said, "The media showed up in, for those days, large numbers, and they all wanted pictures and interviews, so our coach [Howard Hobson] just gave up on the practice. He didn't want to antagonize the press."
- While Patten Gym had a beautiful exterior reminiscent of a classic rail station -- it was designed by famous Prairie School architect George W. Maher -- its interior (shown below) was not exactly perfect for basketball. "The lighting left something to be desired," said Dick, "and the floor was laid out in four-by-eight sections on a dirt floor. If you dribble on a floor like that, the ball bounces up when you hit a seam -- where the beams are -- and in the middle of the sections, it was more or less dead. You could watch a player dribbling and tell what part of a section he was on."
Northwestern University Archives
The gym, unfortunately for basketball historians -- and the aesthetics of the NU campus -- was torn down months after the title game to make room for the school's new Technical Institute. A less-appealing version of Patten was rebuilt at a new location a few blocks north on Sheridan Road in 1941 -- and it served as the home for this Blogger's college intramural basketball games as recently as 2002.
- The Ducks stayed in the LaSalle Hotel in downtown Chicago, where they witnessed a star-in-the-making at the lounge attached to the hotel's lobby. "We sat in the lobby one night and listened to a young man playing in the lounge whose name was Nat King Cole," Dick said. Cole was 20 at the time, and would sign with Capitol Records four years later and eventually become one of America's most famous jazz musicians.
- During the game, the trophy for the winner was being displayed on the scorer's table -- but it didn't make it to the awards ceremony in one piece. "Bobby Anet, our captain, dove for a loose ball that was going out of bounds right in the vicinity of the trophy," Dick said. "He batted the ball back into the court, and in the course of his flight he hit that trophy, knocking it over and breaking the the little metal basketball player right off at the ankles. So when they gave us the trophy afterwards, they had to do a two-hand presentation."
- Oregon had a massive size advantage over the Buckeyes in the 45-33 win, and although, Dick said, "we had our worst shooting night of the year, they could not penetrate our defense." The Ducks used a team zone defense with man-to-man principles. "Teams could never figure out what we were playing," Dick said. "Someone asked the great Phog Allen [who was in the stands] after the game what it was, and he said, 'That was a shifting, transitional man-to-man with zone principles.' He was never at a loss for words, but on that occasion, I don't think he knew what we were using, either."
- Fast-forwarding the clock back to 2006, Dick said he has been closely following the tournament -- especially the Pac-10 representative that made its way to the Final Four. "I haven't seen a UCLA team that's played this well together since [John] Wooden was coaching," Dick said. Now, can the Bruins make like the Tall Firs in 1939 and win it all on the power of their swarming D?
One very important change to the Blog Pool scenarios that were posted before the Final Four: It was brought to my attention that 32 points -- not 24, as I previously thought -- are awarded for correctly picking the champ. Which means that Bradley White of South Bend, Ind., could rally from a 31-point deficit and win the Blog Pool by one if Florida is tonight's victor. If UCLA takes the crown, then the low-budget loot -- a retro CNN/SI fleece, and a few other goodies -- will go to the only dude who chose the Bruins as the champ: Eric Miller of Lancaster, Calif.
One thing has not changed as a result of these developments: I'm still nowhere close to the lead.