NCAA Tournament 2013: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery Speak on Tourney Memories

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NCAA Tournament 2013: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery Speak on Tourney Memories
Bill Raftery and Verne Lundquist together again in D.C. (Photo from CBS)

The East Regional of the 2013 NCAA tournament takes place Thursday night at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., with the venerable broadcast crew of Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery relaying the action.

Marquette faces Miami in the first game, and the nightcap features Syracuse taking on Indiana. The games air nationally on CBS.

To say Lundquist and Raftery have NCAA tournament experience would be an understatement. Between the two, they have called 537 tournament games in a combined 60 years.

For Lundquist, this is his 29th NCAA tournament, while Raftery logs his 31st year calling the action. CBS has been wise to pair these two for 14 glorious years.

When the "Sunshine Boys" get together, you don't just get a broadcast. You get an entertaining history lesson along with some great stories guaranteed to put a smile on your face. I spoke to the duo Wednesday as they prepared for Thursday night's action in the District.

 

B/R: What makes the NCAA tournament so entertaining?

Lundquist: This is a three-week celebration of what is really great about college athletics. You have the underdogs like George Mason, who many did not think should be in the tournament, and then they go to the Final Four. There was VCU going from the First Four to the Final Four, and now we have a very talented Florida Gulf Coast team that has everyone in the country talking.

It's the element of surprise that draws the casual and the hardcore fan to fill out their bracket and follow this tournament.

Raftery: I agree with Verne that this all is about hope. For the 31 years that I have been doing this tournament both on TV and radio, I can’t recall a year that we did not have some great stories that have come out of this event.

Highlights of the 1982 Final between Georgetown and North Carolina

My first tournament as a broadcaster was 1982. I recall the final, when a North Carolina team coached by Dean Smith and led by James Worthy and a freshman Michael Jordan beat coach John Thompson Jr. and Georgetown with Patrick Ewing and Eric "Sleepy" Floyd, the wild ending with Jordan hitting the game-winning shot with 17 seconds to go.

Then guard Fred Brown mistook Carolina's James Worthy for a teammate and passed the ball right to his opponent. Worthy was fouled with two seconds to go.

For me that was the start of 31 years of great March memories.

 

B/R: What is your favorite memory from the tournament?

Lundquist: Well, I guess for me it would be broadcasting the 1992 East Regional final between Duke and Kentucky. To this day many call it the greatest game in tournament history. We had two legendary programs playing basketball at such an amazing level.

Duke and Kentucky epic battle

We had the game come down to Grant Hill's full-court pass and Christian Laettner's turnaround jumper from above the foul line to give Duke a thrilling 104-103 overtime victory, sending the Blue Devils to the Final Four.

I will say that if Butler’s Gordon Hayward's shot goes in instead of rimming out with no time on the clock in the 2010 national title game, where Duke beat Butler 61-59, then as good as our game was, we are the second-best of all time.

Raftery: To be honest, to pin it down to one would be tough. However, since we are here in Washington, I'm going to go with George Mason in 2006. What they did in that tournament by beating North Carolina and Michigan State to get to the Sweet 16, then coming here to the Verizon Center where they defeated Wichita State, and then beating Connecticut in overtime 86-84 to advance on to the Final Four...

To me that is what the event is all about—the drama and the thrill of the underdog winning. I can still remember George Mason's guard Lamar Butler standing on the press table not far from where Verne and I were located, right after the game leading the crowd in cheers. That was a very special moment for me.

 

B/R: What has changed most in the tournament over the years?

Raftery: The quality of play between the so-called power six conferences and the rest of the basketball world has gotten much, much closer. Teams like Gonzaga, Butler and VCU are no longer Cinderella teams. They have become tournament regulars. This year you have the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West getting more teams into the tournament than the ACC and the SEC.

We are seeing new up-and-coming programs that are focusing resources on college basketball starting to level the playing field. We know that the top programs like Duke, Syracuse, Indiana, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina and [other] usual suspects will be there, but now they will have new challengers, and that is good for everyone.

 

All the quotes for this story were obtained firsthand in an interview arranged by CBS Sports.

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