The University of Oregon defeats The Ohio State University 46–33 on this day in 1939 to win the first-ever NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The Final Four, as the tournament became known, has grown exponentially in size and popularity since 1939. By 2005, college basketball had become the most popular sporting event among gamblers, after the Super Bowl. The majority of that betting takes place at tournament time, when Las Vegas, the internet and office pools around the country see action from sports enthusiasts and once-a-year gamblers alike.
For the first 12 years of the men’s tournament, only eight teams were invited to participate. That number grew steadily until a 65-team tournament format was unveiled in 2001. After a “play-in” game between the 64th and 65th seeds, the tournament breaks into four regions of 16 teams. The winning teams from those regions comprise the Final Four, who meet in that year’s host city to decide the championship.
The most successful team in NCAA men’s tournament history has been the UCLA Bruins, who have taken home a record 11 championships, 10 of them under legendary coach John Wooden between 1964 and 1975. The University of Kentucky is second with seven titles and Indiana University rounds out the top three with five tournament wins. At the end of every tournament, a Most Outstanding Player is chosen. Almost all of these players go on to productive careers in the NBA. Lew Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, won the award three times while leading UCLA to three national championships in 1967, 1968 and 1969. Bill Walton, who succeeded Alcindor at center for UCLA, Jerry Lucas of Ohio State, Alex Groza of Kentucky and Bob Kurland of Oklahoma A&M all won the award twice.
The NCAA held its first women’s basketball tournament in 1982. The women’s tournament started with 32 teams, expanding to 64 teams before the 1994 season. Today, the women’s format echoes the men’s, with play in four regions culminating in a Final Four held in a single location. The championship is played the day after the men’s, concluding the college basketball season. The most dominant team in women’s tournament history has been the Tennessee Volunteers, who won six championships under renowned coach Pat Summit from 1973 to 2006. The Connecticut Huskies are second, with five championships under coach Geno Auriemma. Past women’s Most Outstanding Player winners include Cheryl Miller of USC, Diana Taurasi of Connecticut and Chamique Holdsclaw of Tennessee; all went on to become stars of the WNBA.