By CHRIS WALTERSKIRCHEN
There are many outstanding first round match-ups in the Men’s NCAA tournament. The most intriguing for us occurs in Spokane Friday afternoon. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits face the Maryland Terrapins (tortoise species). Will the Jacks use that nearly century old foot race as motivation? Oddly, these same two schools met in the Women’s NCAA tournament in 2010.
For the second time in 8 years the Big Sky Champs face the Musketeers of Xavier. In 2009 the Xavier Muskies beat Portland State in the first round. Montana’s win over Nevada-Reno in 2006 remains the Big Sky’s only tournament win since 2000. Of the 11 tournament games won by Big Sky teams 6 of those belong to Weber State.
Larry Kryowiak’s Utah Utes face Fresno State in the first round in Denver. The last time the Bulldogs were in the tournament was 2001 and their coach was Jerry Tarkanian. Utah might be facing Gonzaga in the tournament second round. Both Utah and Gonzaga lost at the Regional level last season to eventual Champs Duke.
The Oregon Ducks are a top seed in 2016, but there is some foreshadowing that there is trouble on the horizon In 2013 the Gonzaga Bulldogs were the top seed overall and then struggled with Southern University in the opening round and lost to Wichita State in the round of 32. That shocker team went on to the Final Four.
The last time Oregon State was in the NCAA tournament it was March of 1990 and “Pretty Woman” was No. 1 at the box office (a fact I learned from coach Tinkle). The last NCAA win for the Beavers came in 1982, a win over Idaho whose other losses that season were at Montana and Notre Dame.
Seventeen of the last 20 National champs are in the 2016 field. The only two national champs from the past two decades missing are Florida which failed to impress the Selection Committee and Louisville who is on NCAA probation.
It’s never easy to compare a young coach to a certain Hall Of Fame coach but in this case it seems worth the risk. With Hellgate’s third place finish at the State AA boys tournament Jeff Hays has guided the Knights to five top 3 finishes in his first 6 seasons. Hall Of Famer Eric Hays was able only once in his first 6 seasons to have a team finish in the top 3 at the AA tournament.
Fifty years ago This week a couple of major Championship upsets changed the landscape in Montana and the nation. It was March 19, 1966 and the University of Texas El Paso starting five blacks players stunned Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats 72-65 for the NCAA title. In Butte the Class-A title game featured Missoula Hellgate and Libby for the title, Hellgate featured the top player in the state in Gene Lewis and Libby featured 5 seniors who had been playing together since sixth grade. In a stunner the Loggers became the first smaller AA school to win the state crown, soon after Wolfpoint and Laurel followed Libby in the winner’s circle
In two Montana based books written some years later drew strong parallels between the two games and their symbolism. That is somewhat offensive as Kentucky may have been motivated by a desire to confirm racial stereotypes– Hellgate was definitely not. You see Hellgate’s leading scorer and leader that night was Sid Rhinehart who was African American and quite proud of the fact. As a matter of fact Sid’s older sister Vietta was the first African American ever elected to a statewide office at either Montana’s Girls state or Boys State.
Chris Walterskirchen has been an observer of Montana sports for nearly half a century. A Kalispell native, Chris has worked in various capacities for professional and college sports organization of at various times: ranging from announcing and statistical work to the concessions and even a stint as a costumed mascot.
Chris has academic degrees in communications and elementary education. His style of sports trivia involves more than just who won and who lost, but also focuses on the obscure or human side of sports. In this blog you will learn things like the Grizzly football team has won 210 games over the 19 seasons since they have had Monte as their mascot or that UNLV is the only school that both the Griz and Lady Griz have both faced in the NCAA basketball tournament
When not following sports Chris enjoys taking care of animals of all kinds (a peacock rescue?) and reading to pre-schoolers.