NCAA Final Four

2006 NCAA Final Four

Congratulations to all the participants in the 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, and especially to the Florida Gators for their 73-57 victory over the UCLA Bruins!

The 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held its share of surprises, including the elimination (for the first time since 1980) of all four top-seeded teams before the Final Four round began. Here's how it happened.

First to go were the Duke Blue Devils, upset by the Lousiana State Tigers, 62-54. LSU went on to land in the Final Four by defeating Texas, 70-60 in overtime, robbing the Longhorns (2005-06 national champs in baseball and football) of their shot at an NCAA trifecta. UCLA, despite 11 previous national championships in men's basketball, had to scramble from behind to pull out a 73-71 win over Gonzaga to get a chance to knock out Memphis, 50-45, and win a berth at the RCA Dome.

Villanova was eliminated in a rematch with Florida, a team they had upended in 2005; this time it was the Gators over the Wildcats, 75-62. In perhaps the most dramatic turn of events, the University of Connecticut lost 86-84 in overtime to the little-heralded George Mason Patriots, undoing both the Huskies' hopes for a 3rd national championship and a great many fans' hopes for winning the March Madness office pool.

Such an unpredicted Final Four could go any way. The way it actually did go saw UCLA over LSU, 59-45, then Florida over George Mason 73-58. Ultimately, 2006 became the year Florida , long known for football, beat UCLA 73-57 and won its first ever National Championship in Men's Basketball.

Sports fans in the United States tend to root for the teams from their hometown, followed by the teams where they live. One preference sports fans carry wherever they go is a love of their college's teams. That's why the NCAA Basketball Tournament is so intensely watched that the phenomenon is known as March Madness.

If you take the current students of the participating colleges, add alumni, parents of current students and local fans, you can see that the fan base for this tournament spreads like the roots of a tree. Everyone knows someone who is cheering on one of the 64 teams in the tournament. That could lead to a lot of ticket sales, if tickets were as plentiful as they are for games played in larger arenas.

While the NCAA Basketball Tournament is now a national institution, it did not get its start until 1939. The previous year, the first National Invitational Tournament had taken place in Madison Square Garden in New York City, and the coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, Harold Olsen, thought that the NCAA would do well to run a national championship tournament of its own.

The result was a game at Patten Gymnasium at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. After a long train ride from the West Coast, the Oregon Ducks defeated Olsen's Ohio State team, 46-33. Though the tournament had shown itself to be a good idea, the money was not there. The Western playoffs had generated ticket sales of only 6,000 for each of the two nights, and the Eastern playoffs sold far fewer tickets. With considerable losses facing the teams, the NCAA agreed to take on the funding of the tournament, which ensured that it would still be around today.

The first tournament nearly led to a dangerous act of civil disobedience. The town of The Dalles, Oregon wanted to honor its hometown hero, John Dick, one of the Ducks most responsible for Oregon's championship. When the rail line refused to stop at The Dalles for the celebration, the citizens of the town, east of Portland, threatened to barricade the path of the train. Finally, the president of the line allowed the town ten minutes to present Dick with a gold watch. Nearly 3,000 people came to the station at 5am for the ceremony.

With such fanatic behavior from the fans, it's no wonder that the tournament committee would expand the number of berths for teams, until today there are 64 slots, for conference champions, other strong conference teams and at-large candidates. Again, think of 64 teams, with a fan base of current students, their parents, the alumni and their parents, and you can see how tickets to the NCAA Final Four become a hot commodity. If you get to go, enjoy the history of the tournament and the excitement of seeing the NBA's next generation of stars at work.

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