The History of March Madness in Iowa

The History of March Madness in Iowa

Des Moines has gone mad! Today marks the start of Round 1 of NCAA March Madness 2019, and players and fans have descended upon downtown Des Moines to watch games at the Wells Fargo Arena. Eight incredible teams are ready to take the floor, including both 2-seed teams from Michigan (Michigan State University and University of Michigan), perennial March Madness favorites Florida and Louisville, conference tournament champions Bradley University and University of Montana, the undefeated-at-home Nevada Wolf Pack, and our Pitino-coached neighbors to the north, the University of Minnesota.

The first game tips off today at 11:15 A.M. and pits the 7-seed Louisville Cardinals against the 10-seed Minnesota Golden Gophers. Find the rest of the schedule here

With madness taking over our hometown, and two Iowa men’s teams and three Iowa women’s teams vying for the title this year (go Bulldogs, Hawkeyes, and Cyclones!), we enlisted the librarians who are part of the DMPL research team to dig into our newspaper archives for a bit of a history lesson. Here's what they found about the best past March Madness appearances by four Iowa universities: Drake University, University of Northern Iowa, University of Iowa, and Iowa State University.


Drake University

The 1969 men’s basketball team went on a 10-game winning streak to win a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament. They reached the Final Four for the first (and only) time in Drake’s history with an 81-77 win over Colorado State University. The Bulldogs were narrowly defeated (85-82) by two-time defending NCAA Tournament champions UCLA in the semifinal game. The 1969 UCLA team was led by 7-foot-2 Lew Alcindor, who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and play in the NBA for 20 seasons. Abdul-Jabbar was the first overall pick in the 1969 NBA Draft and still holds the league's all-time scoring record with 38,387 points. Read more about the Bulldogs' incredible 1969 tournament run here

Fun facts: Team captain Dolph Pulliam went on to become the first African-American television broadcaster in Iowa. There was also a player on the team named Don Draper. We’re unsure whether or not he went on to have a lucrative advertising career.

In 1982, the Drake women’s basketball team made it all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to the University of Maryland 89-78.

Fun fact: Sophomore Lorri Bauman broke the school record for number of points scored in a game during the loss, putting up a whopping 50 points.

The 2008 Bulldogs were on fire during the regular season, but only the men’s team was named to the NCAA tournament as a 5-seed. They were defeated 101-99 in the first round in an overtime upset by 12-seed Western Kentucky University. 2008 is the last time the Drake University men’s team made a March Madness appearance.

Fun facts: The person the famous Jethro’s BBQ Emmenecker Challenge is named for played on the 2008 team. Adam Emmenecker was a walk-on player who went on to be named the 2008 Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. Also in 2008, Des Moines hosted the first round of the NCAA Women’s tournament.

The Drake women’s basketball team is playing in the NCAA Tournament for the third year in a row! The 10-seed Bulldogs face off against 7-seed Mizzou at 3:00 P.M. on Friday, March 22 in Iowa City.


University of Northern Iowa

The 2010 UNI men’s basketball team made a wild run to the Sweet Sixteen, beating 1-seed Kansas 69-67 in the second round. They ultimately fell to Michigan State 59-52.

Fun fact: Only 42,500 of ESPN Tournament Challenge’s 4.8 million brackets for the 2010 tournament had the Panthers making it as far as they did.

The 2017 women’s basketball team made it to the big dance, but were defeated 88-67 in the first round by the DePaul Demons.


University of Iowa

The 1956 men’s basketball team, which included the “Fabulous Five” players Bill Logan (31), Bill Schoof (33), Carl Cain (21), Sharm Scheuerman (46), and Bill Seaberg (22), played in the NCAA title game. The Hawkeyes lost the national title game to the University of San Francisco, 83-71, on March 23, 1956.

Fun fact: The roster of the USF Dons included future NBA Hall-of-Famers Bill Russell and KC Jones.

In 1993, the 2-seed women’s basketball team made it to the Final Four, facing off against 1-seed Ohio State. They lost a heartbreaker in overtime by one point (73-72) to the Buckeyes.

The Hawkeyes are playing in the 2019 NCAA Tournament! The 10-seed men play 7-seed Cincinnati on Friday, March 22 at 11:15 A.M. in Columbus. The 2-seed women play 15-seed Mercer on Friday, March 22 at 2:00 P.M. in Iowa City.


Iowa State University

Photo from ISU Athletic Communications

The 1944 men’s basketball team were the last Cyclones to make it to the Final Four. They fell to Utah 40-31 on March 25, 1944.

Fun facts: The team ISU started the season with wasn't the team that played the tournament, as several players were drafted into World War II throughout the season. Additionally, Utah was only invited to the NCAA tournament after a devastating car accident involving their coach and two players forced the University of Arkansas to withdraw. Finally, regardless of the outcome of the Final Four matchup between ISU and Utah, Utah would have moved on to the championship game, as ISU players were required to report back to campus. Many ISU players were in the Navy training program offered at the university, and Navy rules stated that trainees couldn't be away from campus for more than 48 hours. Read more about the crazy 1944 basketball season here

The 1999 women’s basketball team, a 4-seed, took down 1-seed UConn 64-58 in the Sweet Sixteen round to advance to the Elite Eight. They went on to lose 89-71 to 3-seed University of Georgia.

10 years later, in 2009, the 4-seed Cyclones would again advance to the Elite Eight before falling to 2-seed Stanford 74-53.

The Cyclones are playing in the 2019 NCAA Tournament! The 6-seed men play 11-seed Ohio State on Friday, March 22 at 8:50 P.M. in Tulsa. The 3-seed women play 14-seed New Mexico State on Saturday, March 23 at 4:30 P.M. in Ames.

Go back in time with a trip through our archives. Our librarians can help you find whatever you’re looking for. Contact them HERE or visit the reference desk at your local branch.

Want even more March Madness history? Check out these reads from our catalog.

1. The Ultimate Book of March Madness by Tom Hager

2. NCAA March Madness by National Collegiate Athletic Association

3. How March Became Madness by Eddie Einhorn

4. The Big Dance by Barry Wilner

5. When March Went Mad by Seth Davis