22 Feb 19
The first half-century of NCAA tournament action was mostly Minnesotan-free. But our state has produced a nice crop of March Madness heroes over the past two decades.
When it comes to tournament time, you know that Minnesotans will be front and center, headlining the action.
The Pioneer Press is counting down the state tournament stars of the past 75 years. That’s a hundred heroes of March. And we could have added many more to those lists.
But when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament, the land of 10,000 rinks has not been nearly as prominent. The Minnesota Gophers made only a couple of appearances in the tourney’s first 50 years. And our state was hardly a great recruiting source for the nation’s hoops powers.
When you think of Minnesota basketball greats, you think of homestate legends who never made it into the NCAA field (see Kevin McHale, Vern Mikkelsen) or Gophers stars who emigrated to Dinkytown (see Mychal Thompson, Lou Hudson, Bobby Jackson).
That’s changed over the past generation. The Maroon and Gold have earned 11 NCAA berths, and most of them haven’t been stricken from the records over rules violations. And the State of Hockey has produced a strong crop of players who found fame outside of our frozen tundra.
10. (tie) DAVE WINFIELD
Before any of his 3,110 major league hits. Before, even, his starring role in the Gophers’ last College World Series run in 1973, St. Paul’s greatest-ever athlete was part of Minnesota’s “Iron Five.” That quintet led the Gophers into the 1972 NCAA after two starters were suspended over an ugly brawl with Ohio State. Winfield played 76 of 80 minutes as the Gophers beat Marquette before losing to eventual national finalist Florida State. He averaged 12 points and 8.5 rebounds in those games. Not a bad March showing for the all-star once derisively labeled as “Mr. May” by New York Yankees boss George Steinbrenner.
10. (tie) RANDY BREUER
The 7-foot-3 pivot from Lake City was the center of attention as Jim Dutcher’s Gophers won the Big Ten in 1982. With Trent Tucker, Darryl Mitchell and Gary Holmes making key contributions, the Gophers came into the tourney ranked seventh in the nation. But they had to fight to survive their opening-round game against Tennessee-Chattanooga. Their luck ran out two nights later against powerful Louisville. Breuer averaged 19.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in those two games, then went on to an 11-year run in the NBA.
Minnesota center Randy Breuer (45) starts as move to the basket against Tennessee-Chattanooga center Stanley Lawrence (40) during second round of Mideast Regional of NCAA basketball tourney in Indianapolis on Sunday, March 14, 1982. (AP Photo/AB)
10. (tie) J.P. MACURA
The Lakeville North guard has gotten a lot of NCAA air time thanks to Xavier’s recent tournament runs. He appeared in 11 games over four years, as the Musketeers made it to one Sweet 16 and one Elite 8. He scored in double figures in eight of those games. He had arguably his best game scoring 18 points in Xavier’s loss to Gonzaga in the West Regional final in 2017. His highest-scoring game was a 29-point effort in their rout of Texas Southern in their 2018 opener.
Xavier guard J.P. Macura (55) goes to the basket between DePaul forward Jaylen Butz (2), DePaul guard Justin Roberts (0) and DePaul guard Eli Cain (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Chicago, Ill. (AP Photo/Jim Young)
9. DUSTY RYCHART
Minnesota’s 1999 NCAA appearance is generally considered a disaster. First, the Gophers’ academic scandal broke, then unheralded Gonzaga disposed of the U in the opening round. But you can’t blame the forward from Grand Rapids, who tried to keep the Gophers afloat with 23 points and 17 rebounds against the Zags. It would be his only tournament game. He wound up playing 111 games over his college career, averaging 11.4 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Minnesota’s Dusty Rychart, left, and Rick Rickert react in the closing seconds of their game against Penn State in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis Thursday, March 7, 2002. Minnesota won 84-60. Rychart finished the game with 23 points while Rickert had 21 points. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
8. KEVIN LYNCH
The Bloomington Jefferson guard was a key player as Minnesota made a pair of surprising runs in the NCAAs of 1989 and ‘90. He scored at least a dozen points in all seven games as Clem Haskins’ team made it to the 1989 Sweet 16 (before losing to Danny Ferry and No. 9 Duke) and the 1990 Elite 8 (before falling to No. 9 Georgia Tech’s Lethal Weapon 3). Lynch went on to play two seasons with the Charlotte Hornets before spending most of his decade of pro ball in Europe.
Michigan State’s Ken Redfield looks one way and passes the ball another as he is surrounded by Minnesota defenders Kevin Lynch, left, Jim Shikenjanski (45), Walter Bond (40) and Willie Burton (34) during Big Ten action in Minneapolis, March 3, 1990. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
7. SAM JACOBSON
The former Mr. Basketball from Cottage Grove was one of the stalwarts of the Gophers’ only Final Four team. In 1995, the forward had 10 points and 10 rebounds as a freshman as the Gophers were knocked off by Saint Louis in the opening round. Two years later, he was in double figures in all five games as the U advanced to the national semifinals at Indianapolis. His top game was the regional semifinal in which he scored 29 points as the Gophers barely survived Clemson. He spent three seasons in the NBA, finishing up with the Timberwolves in 2001.
29 Mar 1997: Forward Sam Jacobson of the Minnesota Golden Gophers picks for the rebound during a NCAA Final Four game against the Kentucky Wildcats at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. Kentucky won the game 78 – 69. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /A
6. JON LEUER
Wisconsin lured the forward from Orono, who became one of the most prominent Minnesota imports to Madison. The Badgers won at least one NCAA game in each of his four seasons. After making token appearances in his first two years, Leuer averaged more than 17 points and 6.5 rebounds in his five tourney games as a junior and senior. He topped 20 points three times, against Wofford and Cornell in 2010, and against Belmont in 2011. He has spent most of the past eight years in the NBA, playing for five teams.
Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer (30) comforts Wofford guard Cameron Rundles (1) after their 53-49 win after their NCAA first round college basketball game at Jacksonville Fl., Friday March 19, 2010. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
5. JORDAN TAYLOR
The Benilde-St. Margaret’s guard continued the Minnesota-to-Madison pipeline, starting in 2008. He appeared in eight NCAA games over his last three seasons, as the Badgers made back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16. He tallied 119 points, 31 rebounds and 35 assists in those eight games, including 23 three-pointers. After leaving school, the point guard has played pro ball overseas in Italy, Israel, Germany and Turkey.
Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor drives against Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins (23) during the second half of an NCAA tournament third-round college basketball game on Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Albuquerque, N.M. Wisconsin won 60-57. (AP Photo/Matt York)
4. COLE ALDRICH
The center from Bloomington saw plenty of NCAA action in his four years of rocking chalk with the Jayhawks. As a freshman, he scored eight points in Kansas’ victory over North Carolina at the Final Four. KU went on to win the national championship. Over the next two seasons, Aldrich averaged 18 points and 15 rebounds over five tournament games. He left school after his junior season and was a first-round pick, No. 11 overall, of the New Orleans Hornets. He played for six NBA teams, including the Wolves, over the next nine years.
Kansas center Cole Aldrich (45) reaches in an attempt to stop Northern Iowa guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe (11) during the first half of an NCAA second-round college basketball game, Saturday, March 20, 2010, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
3. TROY BELL
The Holy Angels guard left the state in 1999 to become an All-American at Boston College. He went on to become the most prolific scorer from Minnesota in NCAA play. He averaged 25.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3 assists in three tournament games with the Eagles. His best game was a 32-point effort in BC’s second round loss to Southern California in 2001. A two-time Big East player of the year, he had a 13-year pro career, mostly in Europe.
Boston College Troy Bell scores two of his 29 points as Miami Eugene Seals (21) fails to block the shot during the game at the Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii Thursday, Dec. 20, 2001. Miami upset Boston 73-67. (AP Photo/J. Pat Carter)
2. TYUS JONES
The Apple Valley guard and 2014 Mr. Basketball was one and done both with Duke and with the madness of March. But he came home with a national championship and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He averaged 13.3 points and 4.5 assists in six games as the Blue Devils marched to the title game. There, Jones put up 23 and 5 as Mike Krzyzewski’s team brought him his fifth national title. You can find Jones now in the Timberwolves’ backcourt.
Duke’s Tyus Jones reacts during the second half of the NCAA Final Four college basketball tournament championship game against Wisconsin Monday, April 6, 2015, in Indianapolis. Duke won 68-63. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
1. KHALID EL-AMIN
El-Amin was a Minnesota celebrity before he even got to college, leading Minneapolis North to three straight state championships from 1995-97. It took him two years, though, to lead Connecticut to its first crown. The Huskies’ floor leader tallied 84 points, 20 rebounds and 31 assists, teaming up with Richard “Rip” Hamilton to lead Jim Calhoun’s team to his first national title in 1999. Over his career, El-Amin reached double figures in 9 of 12 NCAA games. His pro career was not as glorious, as he played for 19 teams on three continents, starting with the Chicago Bulls in 2000-01.
Connecticut’s Khalid El-Amin (42) leaps into the arms of teammate Jake Voskuhl (43) as they celebrate winning the national championship after defeating Duke 77-74 in the championship game of the NCAA Final Four, Monday, March 29, 1999, at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. El-Amin contributed 12 points in the victory. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES
Royce White, Jordair Jett, Trevor Mbakwe, Brad Lohaus, John Thomas, Joel Przybilla.
Iowa State forward Royce White celebrates with fans after his team’s 80-72 victory over Baylor in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, March 3, 2012, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
COMING NEXT WEEK
The greatest “vacated” teams stricken from the records of NCAA tournament history.
Minnesota’s Bobby Jackson drives around Kentucky’s Ron Mercer during the second half of the second semifinal game at the NCAA Final Four Saturday, March 29, 1997, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Cliff Schiappa)
You can hear Kevin Cusick on Wednesdays on Bob Sansevere’s “BS Show” podcast on iTunes. You can follow Kevin on Twitter — @theloopnow. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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