Mateen, Steph And Heels Domination Highlight Michigan’s Time As NCAA Tournament Host

Written By Julie Walker on March 9, 2022 - Last Updated on March 10, 2022
Ford Field before the 2009 Final Four

Soon the turtle-paced Selection Sunday show will kick off the beloved frenzy we call the NCAA Tournament.

A March mainstay since 1939 (excluding 2020) this year’s men’s tournament begins March 15 with the First Four, and concludes April 4 in New Orleans.

While Michiganders must wait to see if one of their teams makes the trip to Louisiana, we here at PlayMichigan have reviewed sites of tournaments past that took place in Michigan.

Read on to relive the March Madness that happened right here in the Mitten State.

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2000 Midwest Regional: The Palace of Auburn Hills, March 23 and 25

Michigan State snatches unlikely win against Iowa State

Just months after everyone survived Y2K in the year the microgeneration known as Xennials would graduate high school, Michigan State University won its third straight Big Ten title. The victory situated the Spartans as a No. 1 seed heading into the 2000 NCAA Tournament.

The East Lansing kids opened regional play March 23 at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Syracuse came first and it didn’t look good. The Spartans trailed by 10 at halftime. But, as the legend goes, Mateen Cleaves helped spark his teammates’ will and Michigan State roared back in the second half to grab a 75-58 win.

The other prong of that year’s bracket paired Iowa State against UCLA, the team with the most NCAA Tournament Championships at 11. Not that year. The Cyclones got the win in Auburn Hills, 80-56, to set up a showdown with the Spartans.

That matchup paired the Spartans against the Cyclones and both teams against referees Curtis Shaw, Frank Basone and Lonnie Dixon. Each team had 24 fouls on the night and Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy got two technicals and an ejection with under 10 seconds to play.

Charlie Bell sank a jumper to put the Spartans up 62-61 with 2:54 to play. The Spartans-heavy crowd went wild when Cleaves threw an alley-oop to Morris Peterson to go up 64-61 seconds later. Michigan State got the win, 75-64, and went on to beat Florida, 89-76, for the program’s second-ever national championship on April 3, 2000, in Indianapolis.

2009 Final Four: Ford Field, April 4 and 6

President Barack Obama correctly picks North Carolina to win it all in Detroit

That’s right. The 2009 NCAA Tournament had a presidential edge as it marked the first time the United States’ commander-in-chief filled out a bracket on national television. President Barack Obama chose the Tar Heels to snag the title at Ford Field in Detroit. Unfortunately for hometown fans, that North Carolina win came against Michigan State. Sorry, Sparty.

The 89-72 victory brought North Carolina its fifth NCAA championship. After a 2017 championship win, the Tar Heels now have the third-most tournament wins at six. Kentucky has eight.

Michigan State entered the 2009 tournament as a No. 2 seed and upset UConn, 82-73, in the Final Four. The Spartans’ first championship appearance since winning in 2000? To possibly win the championship again, this time in Michigan? Magical. Well, it would have been.

At least there was one Magic in the building.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird presented the game ball that day as a tribute to the 30-year anniversary of Johnson’s Spartans beating Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores for the 1979 NCAA title. But history would not repeat.

North Carolina had a 55-34 lead at halftime and never let up. Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson were especially instrumental in sending the Spartans back to their home 90 miles from Ford Field, where the Lions had dropped eight of their memorable 16 losses in 2008.

Even Mr. Johnson couldn’t watch until the bitter end.

2008 Midwest Regional: Ford Field, March 28 and 30

The Year of the No. 1 Seeds

There were no Cinderellas left in the final weekend of the 2008 NCAA tournament. All four No. 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four: Memphis won the South; UCLA won the West; Kansas won the Midwest and North Carolina won the East. It’s still the first and only time that has happened in tournament history since seeding began in 1979.

But one of the 2000s favorite Cinderellas, did make a deep run in Detroit.

With Ford Field hosting, Kansas beat Villanova to advance to the Midwest final to face Davidson, following its victory over Wisconsin in the semifinal.

The No. 1-seeded Jayhawks just barely got the 59-57 win to make that year’s Final Four bracket historical. Davidson, fittingly referred to as David in the battle against Goliath, had won 25 games in a row.

Detroit loves an underdog, so most were pulling for Davidson to get the win. Some may remember Davidson’s star player, a fella named Steph Curry. He scored 25 points that game, including a 3-pointer with 54 seconds left to pull his team within two. They fell short, but Curry won the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional Award. And, you know, he seems to be doing OK in the NBA. (Wink, wink).

Kansas went on to beat Memphis for the title, 75-68, in San Antonio. A later investigation, however, vacated Memphis’ 2008 season after discovering that Derrick Rose’s SAT scores were invalidated.

2018 Round of 64 and 32: Little Caesars Arena, March 16 and 18

All the Cinderella stories

Ten years after the Year of the No. 1 Seeds, the 2018 NCAA Tournament had more of a fairytale feel. Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena played host to early round games, not even a year after its September 2017 opening.

After third-seeded Michigan State’s Miles Bridges helped his squad skate paste Bucknell in the opening round, a win against 11th-seeded Syracuse felt like a sure thing. The Orangemen got the last bid that season and weren’t expected to go far.

Cassius Winston tried to nail a 45-foot shot before the buzzer, but it fell short and so did the Spartans. Syracuse won, 55-53, and advanced to the Sweet 16.

Another double-digit seed, No. 10 Butler, nearly escaped Detroit for the Sweet 16 in the East Region. The Bulldogs dominated No. 7 Arkansas in the opening round at LCA, but lost 76-73 to second-seeded Purdue in the Round of 32.

It was the year of the upset throughout the tournament, as UMBC became the first No. 16 seed to upset a 1 when it took down Virginia. Loyola and Sister Jean made a run to the Final Four as an 11 seed, knocking off No. 9 Kansas State in an improbable Elite 8 matchup.

It was also a memorable year for in-state fans for reasons outside of location. Nobody can forget freshman Jordan Poole sinking a 3-pointer at the buzzer and his ensuing laps around the court as Moritz Wagner and the rest of the Wolverines happily chased him.

The 64-63 win against Houston situated No. 3 Michigan to face Texas A&M and then Florida State for its bid to the Final Four.

After all its heroics and dishing heartache to Sister Jean’s crew to make it to the championship, Michigan fell to Villanova, 79-62, in the title fight.

More fun in Michigan

Including those listed above, the state of Michigan has hosted 10 NCAA Tournament events in Pontiac, Detroit, Auburn Hills and East Lansing. Little Caesars Arena is set to host an NCAA regional in 2024. Here are the other sites that have happened in Michigan. What’s your favorite memory?

For early rounds of the tourney, the Palace of Auburn Hills also hosted in 1997, 2006 and 2013. In regional play, the Pontiac Silverdome hosted in 1988 and 1991.

In 1963, the only time Michigan hosted in a non-metro Detroit venue, the Mideast Regional took place at Jenison Fieldhouse on the campus of Michigan State University. That year, just 25 schools played in 29 games, with Loyola-Chicago winning its only title in a 60-58 OT win against Cincinnati in Louisville.

Photo by Carlos Osorio / Associated Press
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Written by
Julie Walker

Julie has written, edited and designed words at five Michigan newspapers and websites. She’s worked on two sports desks, including at The Oakland Press and most recently at The Detroit News. Julie has contributed to stories on many big sports moments, from the NFL's 100th season to Super Bowls to Justin Verlander’s trade to the closing of the Palace of Auburn Hills.  Julie loves lakes, bonfires, Dachshunds, coaching Little League and carrying on her Dad’s fantasy football legacy that he started in 1987 — before there was an app for that.

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