Saturday, February 26, 2011

March Madness primer: HBO's 'Runnin' Rebels of UNLV'

Mark Podolski

The last time HBO Sports took a shot at a college basketball documentary to hype March Madness, the cable network threw up an air ball.

It's spotlight on the Duke-North Carolina rivalry a few years back was one of HBO's weakest sports documentaries. Its latest attempt, a look at the history of the UNLV men's basketball team and its coach, Jerry Tarkanian, doesn't rank with HBO's best-ever sports docs, but it's very good.

The film, titled, "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" effectively recaptures the times from the early 1970s to the glory years of the 80s, and especially the early 90s, when Tarkanian's '89-90 and '90-91 teams were thought to be two of the greatest of all time.

UNLV's rise to college basketball powerhouse under "Tark the Shark" was interesting, to say the least. The program had little to no money or support from the institution, before rising from obscurity to become a national power. Along the way, there was plenty of controversy and scandal, which eventually led to Tarkanian losing his job.

There's also a fascinating look at UNLV's record win over Duke in the '90 NCAA final and monumental upset to that same Duke team in the Final Four the next season. For those not old enough to remember, that '91 UNLV team, led by Larry Johnson, has to be up there as the greatest college basketball team not to win a national championship.

Not so sure? Check it out. "Runnin' Rebels of UNLV" debuts on HBO March 12 and runs throughout the month.

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