NCAA Basketball Men's Final Four
After all of the wild upsets and exciting action of the NCAA Tournament, everything comes to a head at the Final Four. The Final Four consists of the semifinal and final rounds of the NCAA Tournament, with the four teams left standing from the quarterfinal round battling in the semifinals on the final Saturday of the tournament and the final on the final Monday of the tournament. While having fewer games to watch is disappointing, the high quality of these games makes the Final Four incredibly entertaining.
NCAA Tournament Final Four History
Technically speaking, the first NCAA Tournament Final Four took place in 1939, the year that the NCAA Tournament first came into existence. At the time, the tournament consisted of only eight teams, so qualifying for the Final Four really didn't mean much, in that you only had to win one game to get there. That 1939 Final Four consisted of Villanova, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and Oregon, with the Ducks winning the national championship over the Buckeyes.
While that was technically a Final Four, the term Final Four did not exist for much longer than that, nearly 40 years to be exact. The term first appeared in a 1975 edition of the Official Collegiate Basketball Guide, and took off from there until it was eventually trademarked by the NCAA for official use during the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Since then, the Final Four has become a huge phenomenon. With teams needing to outlast 64 other squads to get to the Final Four, a berth in that round of the tournament means so much more than it did when the tournament consisted of just a handful of teams. But the increase in what it means to be a Final Four team has not stopped with the number of teams one has to overcome to get there, as the venues and surrounding environment has changed for the better as well.
Instead of the smaller venues that Final Four games used to be played in, the Final Four is now contested in full football stadiums, with seats packed both in the stands that normally surround football stadiums, as well as additional seating to cover the areas around the court. The attendance figures are up around 100,000 people for Final Four games, making them among the most attended sporting events in America every year.
Memorable Final Four Moments
Among the shining moments that make the Final Four so great are memorable shots that will forever be etched in history. One such moment belongs to NC State, when their 1983 team won on a last second putback shot to shock the mighty Houston Cougars. Images of NC State head coach Jim Valvano scrambling around the court looking for someone to hug as he shook off his disbelief will always be the most memorable moment of the Final Four.
Other memorable moments in Final Four history include Kris Jenkins' game winning shot for Villanova to take home the 2016 national championship over the North Carolina Tar Heels in a truly amazing sequence of plays. Before Jenkins' shot, North Carolina's Marcus Paige hit a running, mid-air three point shot to tie the game, which would have been remembered as one of the greatest shots of all time had Jenkins not one-upped him at the buzzer.
Of course, there was nearly one moment that would have been even more memorable than those mentioned previously had the shot gone in. That moment was Butler's Gordon Hayward launching a halfcourt shot at the buzzer against Duke in the 2010 national championship game. Down by two points, Hayward's halfcourt shot could have won Butler the title, but it barely missed banking in after striking the front rim, denying fans what would have been not only one of the greatest NCAA Tournament moments, but one of the greatest moments in the history of sport.
Only five teams have earned more than five Final Four appearances in school history. North Carolina leads the pack with 20 Final Four appearances, making them the only team to earn 20 Final Four spots. UCLA is second to the Tar Heels with 19 times appearing in the Final Four, with Kentucky's 17, Duke's 16, and Kansas' 14 rounding out the rest of the top five. All five of those teams appear to have a strong chance of reaching the Final Four again heading into the 2017-2018 season, giving all of them a chance to put distance between themselves and the teams that sit outside of the top five.