A reading list to celebrate college basketball’s annual apex.
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 ESPN.com, 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.
By Seth Davis
National interest in college basketball (and, subsequently, the NBA) was reborn in 1979 when Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores battled Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans for a media-hyped national championship in what is still basketball’s highest-rated televised game of all time. Davis shows how the nation’s fascination with this game, heightened by tensions over race and class, reshaped American sport culture and created the modern multibillion-dollar concept of “March Madness.” Though this was the only game the two star athletes played against each other during their collegiate careers, it produced one of the greatest rivalries ever in professional sports, as Byrd’s Celtics and Magic’s Lakers would vie for NBA dominace throughout the ensuing decade.
By John Feinstein
Feinstein, granted unprecedented access to the practices, locker rooms, and private lives of the Indiana University 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, at the time, reflected growing fervor among American fans of college basketball. 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.
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.
Edited by Marc Reiter and Richard Sandomir
If you’re a college basketball fan, chances are you’ve filled out a bracket for a friendly wager with classmates or co-workers. But what if you applied the same process to just about anything? Reiter and Sandomir break down the American obsession with whatever is proven “the best” through Darwinian competition and examine studies of probability that address the power of brackets to predict outcomes. Then the two editors take the bracket to the extreme, getting famous folks such as Walter Isaacson, Gail Collins, and Calvin Trillin to create and explain knockout tourneys between sandwiches, First Ladies, movie stunts, and just about any category that can be ranked. (The habit can be contagious: “Bracketology” has even been applied to cult favorite television shows.)