New Orleans and March Madness: The Top 10 Games

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When your city has hosted the NCAA men’s basketball championship game four times previously, and those four games have been decided by a total of 11 points, you have a pretty good starting point on assembling a list of the greatest tournament games played in New Orleans.

But there have been more than just dramatic title games in New Orleans, which has played host at one time or another to every round of March Madness.

Here, then, is one person’s ranking of the top 10 NCAA Tournament games played in the Crescent City.

10. LSU 96, Wichita State 85, 1981 regional final

LSU clinched its first Final Four berth under Dale Brown in front of a raucous Superdome crowd. The Tigers put on a shooting clinic, hitting 39 of 61 shots from the floor. Rudy Macklin led LSU with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

9. Miami (Ohio) 66, Utah 58, 1999 second round

Cinderella passed through New Orleans in 1999 in the form of the Miami Redhawks, who were seeded 10th in the Midwest Region. The Wally Szczerbiak-led Redhawks defeated Washington in the first round before meeting No. 2 seed Utah. The Utes had reached the national championship game one year earlier and were aiming for a title game rematch with Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

8. Wichita State 66, Kansas 65, 1981 regional semifinal

The first-ever NCAA Tournament game in the Superdome happened one year before the first Final Four, and just like this year’s Final Four, it matched in-state rivals in Wichita State and Kansas, two schools that had not met in 26 years. The sixth-seeded Shockers and seventh-seeded Jayhawks went down to the wire, with Wichita – led by the frontcourt duo of Cliff Levingston and Antoine Carr – advancing to play LSU in the regional final.

7. Georgia Tech 93, Minnesota 91, 1990 regional final

Two days after its dramatic regional semifinal win over Michigan State, Georgia Tech and “Lethal Weapon 3” – Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver – got Bobby Cremins over the hurdle and to his first Final Four. The trio combined for 89 of the Jackets’ 93 points, including 40 by Scott. Minnesota’s Willie Burton had 35.

6. Michigan 81, Kentucky 78, 1993 semifinal

The “Fab Five” assured themselves of a second straight championship game appearance by working overtime against the Wildcats, who reached the Final Four one year after their dramatic last-second loss to Duke in the Elite Eight. Chris Webber led the Wolverines with 27, while future New Orleans Hornet Jamal Mashburn paced Kentucky with 26.

5. Syracuse 81, Kansas 78, 2003 championship game

Like other title games in the Dome, it would come down to a last shot. But it was the defense – namely, the outstretched arm of Hakim Warrick – that would decide this one. Warrick’s block clinched Syracuse’s first national title for veteran coach Jim Boeheim, whose team was led by freshman Carmelo Anthony.

4. Indiana 74, Syracuse 73, 1987 championship game

A junior college transfer from Baton Rouge by the name of Keith Smart etched his name in NCAA lore with his last-second jumper for the Hoosiers, completing a comeback from an eight-point deficit in the second half and giving Bob Knight his third and last national title. In what was the first year of the three-point shot in college basketball, Steve Alford canned seven long-range shots in the title game.

3. Georgia Tech 81, Michigan State 80, 1990 regional semifinal

Drama that was upstaged by an official’s call. With Tech trailing by two in the waning seconds, Kenny Anderson connected on a last-second jumper, but what would the official’s call be? Was the shot a two-pointer or a three? Did Anderson release it before or after the buzzer? In an era where referees didn’t “go to the monitor,” it was ruled a two, before the buzzer, and Tech would go on to win in overtime.

2. North Carolina 77, Michigan 72, 1993 championship game

This was a brilliant display of talent on both sides that, unfortunately, will best be remembered for an ill-fated timeout call by Chris Webber. Webber and his “Fab Five” teammates reached the championship game for the second consecutive year, but came up short. North Carolina’s Donald Williams put on a three-point shooting display over the final two games to earn Most Outstanding Player honors.

1. North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62, 1982 championship game

The historic significance of this game is amazing. Save for a one-year try in the Astrodome 11 years earlier, this was the first domed Final Four. The championship was the game that introduced Michael Jordan to America, as his jumper with 16 seconds left was the game-winner. We also found out about another pretty good freshman that night, Patrick Ewing. No fewer than five Basketball Hall of Famers were either on the floor or bench that night.

Will one of Saturday’s semifinals, or Monday’s championship game, provide the dramatics to crack this list of Crescent City classics? Stay tuned.

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Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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