Duke’s epic upset of undefeated UNLV in the Final Four and Mike Krzyzewski ultimately winning the first of his five rings is the lasting memory of the 1991 NCAA Tournament. But on the 25th anniversary of that tournament, there’s three other moments that went down. None were “for the ages”, but all were pretty big in the moment…
*Actually maybe our first moment was “for the ages.” The Richmond Spiders became the first 15-seed to win a game since the bracket expanded back in 1985, beating Syracuse 73-69. Head coach Dick Tarrant came into the game with a reputation as a giant-killer. His teams had already beaten Charles Barkley’s Auburn in 1984 and Bob Knight’s defending national champion Indiana in 1988.
That resume, along with a reputation Syracuse and Jim Boeheim had for underachieving in March, led to Richmond being a trendy upset special. That, in addition to the seeding, was what made the win even more special. Everyone saw Richmond coming—Dick Vitale even penned an op-ed for The USA Today saying “Watch out Jimmy B!”. Even with the favorite put on alert, the Spiders still did it.
*Roy Williams was still a mostly unknown head coach at Kansas. In this third year in Lawrence, Williams had yet to make a big NCAA Tournament run. His Jayhawks were the 3-seed in the Southeast Regional and went to Charlotte to face the top two seeds, Indiana and Arkansas.
It was a breakout moment for both Williams and for forward Alonzo Jamison. Kansas blew out Indiana early and coasted to an 83-65 win that really wasn’t even that close. The Jayhawks flipped the script and dominated the second half against Arkansas where they scored 58 points after intermission and turned a 12-point deficit into a 93-81 win. Jamison was the region’s Outstanding Player. He crashed the boards relentlessly, with 19 rebounds in the two games while scoring a combined 40.
*Another popular upset pick was 12-seed UW-Green Bay and the Bennetts. Head coach Dick Bennett was one of the most respected mid-major bosses in the country, behind only Princeton’s Pete Carril in public esteem. Bennett was coaching his son Tony, and UWGB matched up with Michigan State in the first round.
The game went according to the script, as Green Bay kept the game low-scoring and it was 58-58 in the closing seconds. Then Michigan State’s Steve Smith showed he had no appreciation for a Hollywood ending, but hitting a jumper to win it 60-58.
The Bennetts might want to steer clear of Sparty. Dick made the Final Four in 2000 after he got the Wisconsin job…and they lost the national semifinal to eventual champion Michigan State. Tony has become one of the nation’s really good coaches at Virginia and had his Cavs seeded 1 or 2 in each of the last two years. Both times they’ve been beaten by lower-seeded Michigan State. That heartbreak all started back in 1991.