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LSU’s eastern rerun

I was in Buffalo Wild Wings when the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket was announced on CBS. However, I have not filled out a bracket for a contest, nor will I do so.

I admit I made an erroneous post about LSU being placed in the East region.

I said this would be the first time LSU would play in the East region since 1988, when the Bayou Bengals lost 66-63 to Georgetown in Hartford when the Hoyas’ Charles Smith banked in a 35-footer at the buzzer. That Georgetown team featured a freshman from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known as Zaire in 1988) who would make his mark on basketball over the next two decades. His name: Dikembe Mutombo.

I did not realize the Bayou Bengals were in the East region in 2015, their last tournament appearance. That year, LSU lost a close game to North Carolina State in Pittsburgh. The Wolfpack followed that by ousting top seed Villanova, which bounced back just fine, as evidenced by the Wildcats’ national championships in 2016 and ’18.

The “pod” system, where first and second round sites are not tied to a specific region, sometimes makes it very easy to forget which region a team is assigned to. However, I should have done my homework. Not that it’s going to cost me anything, but I have to do better.

That I didn’t know LSU was in the East region four years ago shows my interest in March Madness has waned. A lot. I seriously doubt I’ll be watching at 1140 Thursday when the Bayou Bengals face Yale.

I listened to the end of the LSU-NC State game in 2015 driving around Overland Park. I watched the LSU-Georgetown game of 1988 in my old house in Arabi with Jason Malasovich, who was over to visit.

The Hoyas’ win over LSU was their last of 1987-88. Georgetown was no match for Temple in the second round. The Owls, the top seed in the East in 1988, lost in the East regional final to Duke, a disappointing end, but certainly better than the previous season, when John Chaney’s team entered the second round of the NCAAs 32-3, only to be easily defeated by the #10 seed in the Midwest, LSU.

Duke lost to Kansas in the Final Four at Kansas City’s Kemper Arena. Two nights later, the Jayhawks avenged three losses to Oklahoma, which ousted Arizona in the other semifinal, by defeating the Sooners 83-79 for their first national championship since 1952.

Two very interesting notes came from the LSU-Georgetown game of 1988 in 1989.

While Mutombo and Smith could not carry Georgetown alone in 1987-88, they got a huge assist the next season with the arrival of Alonzo Mourning from Virginia. The Hoyas won their first nine games of 1988-89 to rise to No. 5 in the AP poll, but lost their first game of 1989 to Seton Hall in the Meadowlands.

As it turned out, that was no sin. The Pirates would be one of the two teams left standing at the very end, losing in overtime to Michigan in one of the best championship games since the NCAA men’s tournament began in 1939.

Following the loss to Seton Hall, the Hoyas won their next six and were ranked No. 2 in the AP poll of January 24, 1989.

On January 26, top-ranked Illinois lost at Minnesota. That meant Georgetown would rise to the top of the polls if it won its January 28 game.

The opponent that Saturday was none other than LSU, which was enjoying a much better than expected season, thanks to the prowess of freshman sensation Chris Jackson (now Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) and the fiery leadership of fifth-year senior Ricky Blanton, who played on LSU’s 1986 Final Four team.

Georgetown came to Louisiana as the return game after the Bayou Bengals played the Hoyas in Washington (actually Landover, Maryland, where the Bullets played at the time), but instead of playing in Baton Rouge, the game was moved to New Orleans and the cavernous Louisiana Superdome.

LSU coach Dale Brown and the entire athletic department attempted to set a new attendance record for a college basketball game, and sure enough, over 68.000 packed the “world’s largest room” on Poydras Street, more than attended the Saints’ season finale one month prior.

Nobody gave LSU a chance, but lo and behold, the Bayou Bengals kept it close. Blanton, who was on the floor in Baton Rouge when Anthony Wilson hit a shot at the buzzer vs. Memphis in the secound round of the 1986 NCAA tournament, played the hero this time, laying it in after Dennis Tracey’s airballed 3-point attempt was tipped to him by Wayne Sims.

LSU, which lost 127-100 to Illinois in Baton Rouge three days before Christmas, won 82-80. The Bayou Bengals stumbled at the end, however, losing three of their last four, including the NCAA tournament game vs. UTEP I discussed in an earlier post.

Georgetown sustained road losses to Pitt and Syracuse after the game in New Orleans, but recovered to win the Big East tournament and earn the top seed in the East region. The Hoyas were sent back to Hartford, this time to face another team whose mascot is the Tigers.

Princeton proceeded to win the heart of every basketball fan who did not root for Georgetown. Coincidentally, that game was 30 years ago tonight.

Pete Carrill’s Tigers used their anachronistic offense, centered around back-door cuts and sets which bled the shot clock (then 45 seconds, 15 seconds longer than today) nearly dry and frustrated teams which wanted to play a more up-tempo offense.

Georgetown was one of those teams that got frustrated.

The Hoyas needed Mourning to block a last-second shot to escape with a 50-49 victory. Georgetown’s luck ran out in the regional final when it lost to Duke, who in turn was routed by Seton Hall in the Final Four at Seattle.

While Princeton lost, the NCAA tournament won. Big time. Watch the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary about this game and you’ll see how.

This game was not televised on CBS, but rather on ESPN, which had a much lower percentage of households in 1989 than it does today. And it was good fortune Princeton-Georgetown was on ESPN, because many first round games were only televised locally in the markets of the participating teams.

For instance, the LSU-Georgetown game in 1988 was only on in Louisiana and the Capital Beltway, although it may have been picked up by markets in Mississippi, Alabama and east Texas. Two years prior, LSU and Purdue played a thrilling double overtime game in the opening round, but if you weren’t in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Indianapolis, South Bend or another town in Louisiana or Indiana, you were out of luck.

When the NCAA negotiated its next TV contract for the men’s basketball tournament, CBS ponied up the cash and made sure every game would be on The Tiffany Network, an arrangement which lasted 20 years (1991-2010).

Today, CBS shares the tournament with three cable networks, and every game is shown start to finish. Plus with streaming, any basketball junkie should know the final score of every NCAA tournament game right away.

St. Patrick’s Day 2019 is over for the Eastern third of the United States. And it is for me, at least on this blog.