March Madness

A reading list to celebrate college basketball’s annual apex.

Wooden: A Coach’s Life

By Seth Davis

Modest in his public face, unyieldingly authoritarian in his management of his players, UCLA coach John Wooden’s reign over the court in the 1960s and 70s was supreme. His 10 championships — six of them an unbroken string — would make him a legend, but Wooden’s transformation of the game itself was even more profound. Sports Illustrated writer Davis has already delivered the definitive accounts of the explosion of interest in the NCAA tournament in How March Went Mad. With Wooden, he takes readers back to the roots of modern college basketball itself.

The Last Great Game

By Gene Wojciechowski

An 80-foot inbound pass with 2.1 seconds left in overtime. A gorgeous fadeaway jump shot over two defenders that lifted Duke over Kentucky, 105-104. These are the iconic plays of the 1992 NCAA East regional final. But Wojciechowski, senior reporter for, demonstrates that this spectacular finish was but the capstone on an equally dramatic season for both teams. The underdog Kentucky Wildcats had battled their way through sanctions to a showdown with the reigning champs. Duke, meanwhile, was laying the groundwork of a modern dynasty under Coach Mike Krzyzewski. The story of their collision in this  single contest brilliantly captures the contradictions inherent in the sport.

Sum It Up

By Pat Summitt

The subtitle says it all — A Thousand and Ninety-Eight Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective. The NCAA coach and master strategist whose career victories outstrip all rivals, Pat Summitt goes beyond her now-legendary career leading the Tennessee Vols women’s team with a memoir that looks back to her rural upbringing and the roots of her unparalleled success, with plenty of stops to tell stories from courtside. It also candidly addresses Summitt’s diagnosis in 2011 with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease — news that shocked the basketball world well beyond Tennessee. Revelatory and inspiring, this is a close-up encounter with one of the great thinkers of the game.

A Season on the Brink

By John Feinstein

Feinstein, granted unprecedented access to the practices, locker rooms, and private lives of the University of Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball team during the 1985-86 season, captures the intensity, rage, and devotion of controversial coach Bobby Knight. Hate him or love him, his passion for the game was unquestionable — and to many, supremely compelling.  Though Feinstein has written several books about the college game — Last Dance, A March to Madness, and A Season Inside, among others — this volume remains the yardstick used to measure all such insider accounts. It created a a sportswriting fad (following a single team over the course of a single season), and though the Hoosiers were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1986, their program has since become synonomous with determination.

My Losing Season

By Pat Conroy

Best known for his semi-autobiographical novels The Great Santini and The Prince of Tides, Conroy here takes readers on a trip through his early life, particularly his time as the point guard of the Citadel Bulldogs during their brutal 1966-67 season. The team went 8-17, and Conroy recounts the few exhilarating wins and many dispiriting losses with aplomb and humor. College was the one escape Conroy found from his own domineering father (whose personality was fictionalized in Santini), but soon he discovered a new source of discouragement and humiliation in his coach. Only by banding together with his teammates and enjoying the thrill of the game, regardless of the outcome, was he able to gain the self-confidence and poise that would bring him success as a writer.