The highly popular NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament was initially played in 1939. That year, the event was limited to just eight teams, not the 68 who compete for the national title nowadays, and only two advanced to the final site. The first time that four teams advanced to one venue occurred in 1952.
That initial title game was played at Patten Gymnasium on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston, Ill., just north of Chicago. Oregon made the long trip out east, and the Webfoots returned home with the hardware, via a streamliner train, after defeating Ohio State, 46-33.
Patten Gymnasium was then demolished a year later after having played host to Northwestern Wildcats games from 1910-40. It was replaced by a new Patten Gymnasium, which was home to Northwestern contests from 1940-52 but no national championship games. However, its replacement, Welsh-Ryan Arena, which was then called McGaw Memorial Hall, did host the Final Four in 1956, won by San Francisco. The Dons beat Iowa, 83-71, in the title game.
However, despite twice playing host to national championship games, those at and who support the university could not celebrate even a single tournament game appearance for their own school until 2017. After a solid 2016-17 season, which resulted in a 23-11 record, Northwestern was selected to the tournament for the first time.
The Wildcats ensured that their stay would not be a short one after dramatically defeating Vanderbilt, 68-66, in the first round. However, a run to the Final Four was not to be as eventual national runner-up Gonzaga proved to be too much for Northwestern in the second round and eliminated the Wildcats, 79-73.
However, Northwestern will always be known as the host of the tournament’s first-ever title game, which was played where the school’s Technological Institute currently sits, a mile southeast of Welsh-Ryan Arena.