Everyone remembers the champs. From the first NCAA champions in Oregon in 1939 to last year’s UConn team, hoopheads can tell you who won.
Problem is, some are more remembered than others in history. The 1951 Kentucky squad coined the Fabulous Five. The UCLA teams of the early 1970s were arguably the most dominant of their era. Right after, the 1976 Indiana team still remains the last undefeated champion in Division I college basketball.
In between the ones that are always brought up, there are the champs that don’t come to mind. At least not at first, anyway.
So who are they? TBBC looks into who are the most underrated champions all-time and why.
Record – 35-5
Coach – Jerry Tarkanian
What everyone remembers – That four of their starting five would eventually be drafted into the NBA. The team that was hounded by the NCAA arguably more than any program in college basketball history — with reason — had horses with the centerpiece of forward Larry Johnson (in his first season of Division I ball out of Odessa College), veteran point guard Greg Anthony, reliable forward Stacey Augmon, do-it-all utility man George Ackles and sharpshooter Anderson Hunt, who was the Big West Player of the Year as a sophomore, prior to Johnson’s arrival on campus.
The Runnin’ Rebels (you can’t leave off the ‘runnin”) demolished Duke in the largest margin of victory in NCAA Championship Game history, 103-73. Prompting the memorable “chair lean” from Tark.
What everyone doesn’t remember – This team played rough, but they also scored in bunches . The Runnin’ Rebels eclipsed 100 points in 15 games and scored 90-plus in another eight. And after dropping a 107-105 decision to LSU on Jan. 27, UNLV finished the season winning 22 of their final 23 games, with a 78-70 loss to UC-Santa Barbara on Feb. 25 the only blemish. They dominated opponents, winning by an average of 15 points per game.
Why are they underrated? – They’re a victim of their own doing. Despite the run UNLV had, everyone remembers the 1990-91 UNLV team that ran over everyone on their way to an undefeated regular season and a loss to the same Duke team in the national semifinals a year later. That dominant run — followed by an epic collapse — made that squad more memorable than the team that won it all.
Record - 31-1
Coach – Jim Herrick
What everyone remembers – The return to prominence for one of the more storied college basketball programs in history and brought the program its first NCAA title since the legendary coach John Wooden got his last in 1975.
Oh, and those two words that weren’t in Mizzou’s vocabulary: STOP BALL.
What everyone doesn’t remember – Despite the record, the Bruins had a rough start to conference play….they lost their Pac-10 opener to Oregon 82-72. They were arguably one of the dullest (I mean that with love) champions of the 90s, but one of the best single-game performances came at the hands of Ed O’Bannon with 30 points and 17 rebounds in the national title game, an 89-78 win over Arkansas.
And their schedule wasn’t easy, with seven regular season games against Top 25 teams and five of their six games in the NCAA Tournament as well — which is impressive in the 64-team field.
Why are they underrated? – Most teams that won it all in the 90s had some sort of future-pro star power. This one simply didn’t. Herrick took a cast of talented players, none of which would have much of a career in the NBA, to the title. Tyus Edney’s staggered four seasons in the league were the most of any Bruin from this team.
1973-74 North Carolina State
Record – 30-1
Coach – Norm Sloan
What everyone remembers – The Wolfpack will always be known as the team that interrupted The Dynasty of the John Wooden-coached UCLA teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s. They upset the Bruins 80-77 in their national semifinal contest and took out Marquette in the national title game. David Thompson was the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player along with earning his first of two national player of the year awards.
What everyone doesn’t remember- Before their Final Four win over UCLA, for the most part, N.C. State stayed at no. 2 in the nation behind UCLA. The Bruins made sure that they stayed there with an 84-66 beat down of the Wolfpack early in the season.
In fact, N.C. State was thisclose to not even making the NCAA Tournament, needing overtime to beat no.3 Maryland 103-100 in the finals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The NCAA tournament only took 25 teams that season, and only began to include at-large teams in 1975.
Why are they underrated? – They get lost, like most teams of the 1960s and early 1970s, in the shuffle of the UCLA juggernaut. Thompson was far-and-away the star, but N.C. State also had 7-4 center Tom Burleson’s 18 points and 11.7 boards per game and 5-7 point guard Monte Towe was one of the best floor generals in the game at a time when assists weren’t seen in the same light as they are now.
Record - 35-4
Coach – Tubby Smith
What everyone remembers – Ask anybody who knows that team, they first thing you’ll normally hear out of their mouths is “it was Rick Pitino’s team.” Pitino left after reaching his second straight NCAA Final in 1997, taking the Boston Celtics head job, and as a result, Smith inherited a gold mine. Aside from that, the team was the third straight Wildcat squad to make it to the Final Four, cementing itself as the team of the 1990s (Getting thrashed by UNLV gives UK the edge here, Duke fans….)
….And so does this:
What everyone doesn’t remember – Despite the “Tubby just had to roll the balls out in practice” schtick, this was a team full of players that just knew their role. The Wildcats took an early-season loss to the team that beat them in the 1997 NCAA Final, Arizona. The roster also featured four first round picks in Jamaal Magloire, Nazr Muhammed, Scott Padgett and Michael Bradley (though Bradley would transfer to Villanova after the 1998-99 season.
The team was as balanced as any in its era, with Jeff Sheppard the team’s leading scorer at 13.7 points per game. In fact, only 4.9 points separated Sheppard and the team’s sixth-leading scorer, Heshimu Evans (8.8 ppg). Four players also averaged at least four rebound per game — the most was Mohammed’s 7.2.
Why are they underrated? - They were at the tail end of a dynasty that the original architect didn’t finish. Everyone remembers the 1996 team as one of the most dominant teams of the era, and that hurts when remembering the best teams of the 90s. But when looking at the numbers, the ’97-’98 team holds their own. The Wildcats won all three of their Southeastern Conference tournament games by double-digits, including a 99-74 drubbing of no. 16 Arkansas in the semifinals and an 86-56 pasting of no. 15 South Carolina in the finals. Impressive considering their strength of schedule was 9th in the nation.
Record – 25-7
What everyone remembers – Al McGuire in his awesome suits were retiring at the end of the Warriors’ (as they were known until 1994) season. Butch Lee hitting spinning lay-up after spinning lay-up. Lee, the Most Outstanding Player of that tournament, headlined that team, which played in one of the more amazing endings to a Final Four game in history against UNC-Charlotte (more on that below).
What everyone doesn’t remember – ….And it’s incredible really. Jerome Whitehead pulls in the three quarter-court pass from Lee with three seconds to go just inside the free throw line, turns, one dribble, and stuffs it home for a 51-49 win over the 49ers and a trip to the title game against North Carolina.
It also wasn’t an easy road for the Warriors, who were in their second Final Four in four years. They played no. 11 Cincinnati in the first round, Kansas State in the second, then no. 9 Wake Forest in the Elite Eight, UNC-Charlotte — no. 17 at the time — in the semifinals, then finished with no. 5 North Carolina in the title game.
Also, a soon-to-be prominent coach named Rick Majerus (R.I.P.) was an assistant on that team.
Why are they underrated? – It’s a team that, like N.C. State, gets lost in the shuffle of the 1970s. They weren’t necessarily spectacular, but they averaged 70 points per game without a three-point line and had two Top 20 NBA Draft picks in Lee and Bo Ellis on the roster. They also didn’t finish all that high in the polls, ranking between no. 6 and no. 15 for most of the year.
It was one of the more impressive stories in college basketball history, with the small, Jesuit school in Milwaukee sending their retiring coach out as the ultimate winner. It’s stuff that sports movies are made out of.
Got a better idea? Did we forget anyone? Hit us on Twitter at @David_Harten or @TBBChronicles or with an email at TBBChronicles@gmail.com.
The transfer culture of college basketball is something that will always be up for debate. With every passing year, coaches, players, media and administrators argue over what the future of players leaving and entering new programs should be. Very rarely are two transfer stories exactly the same because players leave for all sorts of reasons. But regardless of the why, a few players have storylines to be aware of and watch as they begin play with new teams this year.
When looking at sleeper transfers, one of the first names to keep in mind is Arizona’s T.J. McConnell. “Sleeper” means that he’s not a big name outside of serious hoops circles. After two seasons where he was far and away the best player at Duquesne, McConnell was looking for a program that was not only playing on the highest level of the college game, but one that was consistently successful. He found the Wildcats, who are looking for an answer at point guard following the graduation of Mark Lyons. The 6’1″ redshirt junior averaged 11.4 points and 5.5 assists in 2011-12 with the Dukes and should get the ball to start the season. A good year for him should get him a good amount of publicity.
Mike Moser would know about publicity, after a 2011-12 season in which he averaged 14 points and 10.5 rebounds for UNLV. With all the hype entering last season, Moser suffered through injuries and the subsequent sloppy play to the tune of 7.1 points, 6.1 boards and shooting a 36.9 percent clip from the field. He took advantage of the graduate transfer rule and will spend his final season at Oregon, the third major program in Moser’s career. With Arsalan Kazemi gone, the 6-8 Moser can replace Kazemi with his well-rounded game. Moser has essentially been three different players in his three collegiate seasons (minus his redshirt year). An underutilized swingman at UCLA, then with the Rebels, a one-year wonder as a redshirt sophomore and finally an injury-prone disappointment last season. With one season left in college, which player will Moser end his career as?
That’s the same question you could ask Josh Smith at Georgetown, although he was only one type of player throughout his career at UCLA, an underachiever. He has a chance to erase some of that reputation under coach John Thompson III, if he gets his mind right. In two-and-a-half seasons at UCLA, the 6-10 Smith averaged 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and shot 56.5 percent from the floor, although he proved he couldn’t stay on it, which was his biggest problem with the Bruins. He clocked just 19 minutes per game in Westwood, bottoming out at 13.7 minutes per in six games last season before deciding to transfer. Smith made the best decision he could’ve for himself, choosing to play for a program that historically cultivates some of the game’s best big men — Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and Roy Hibbert, to name a few — under a coach who has both developed and learned how to develop players from his legendary father. Smith is in a great spot for a second chance.
There might not be a player more deserving of a second chance than Maurice Creek. When healthy early in his career at Indiana, Creek was dominate, averaging 16.4 points in the 12 games he played as a freshman before a dislocated kneecap ended his season. He was never quite the same after that, playing in 42 games over the next three years (including redshirting the 2011-12 season with a ruptured Achilles), mainly due to injuries and not being able to get back into the lineup as the program began bringing in more talent while he recovered. The 6-5 Creek gets that second chance with the Colonials, getting back to being healthy and playing alongside a solid corps of talent. It probably won’t make up for an injury-riddled first four years, but a good senior season could help ease the pain, so to speak.
With the departure of Creek, Indiana had a guard spot to fill. What better way to do so than to bring in a graduate transfer of their own, with the added bonus that this one already had family ties to the Hoosiers. Everyone remembers a certain Gordon, Eric, who left an indelible mark on Bloomington in his one season with the program before going on to NBA success. Now, enter his younger brother Evan Gordon, who has had a bit of a nomadic college career, spending two seasons at Liberty averaging 12, then 14.4 points per before heading to Arizona State for one season on the court, where he averaged 10 points in 32.2 minutes per game with the Sun Devils. The rest of his stats at ASU weren’t eye-popping – 2.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, a solid 1.3 steals per game and a 74.4 percent clip from the free throw line – but he can score, which, with the loss of Victor Oladipo, Tyler Zeller and Christian Watford, three of the team’s top four scorers last season, is valuable.
As are all the transfers on this list.
Got a story idea? Advice? Just want to complain? Reach David at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @David_Harten.
Thanks to Louisville advancing to the Final Four last season the Big East has had a presence during the final weekend six of the last seven seasons, you can probably go on and pencil them in for seven out of eight, Louisville fans and the media seem to think that the Cardinals will be there.
Realignment will begin to take its toll on the Big East as West Virginia is gone and Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to follow in the years to come. Jim Calhoun has retired from his post at UConn leading the way for Kevin Ollie to take over. Steve Lavin is set to return to the sidelines after taking last season off due to prostate cancer.
Big East Preseason Rankings
1. Louisville – hard not to buy into the national hype. 3 starters return for Coach Pitino, as Peyton Siva guides the offense in his Senior season with help from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng, and don’t forget about Russ Smith (11.5 ppg, 2.2 steals in 21 mpg). The problem could be injuries, it seems every year the Cardinals have more players in the training room than the bench early in the year, and have already lost Mike Marra who torn his ACL for the 2nd time in as many years.
2. Notre Dame – for the past two years the Irish have exceeded expectationsso maybe I am a little too high on the Irish. However with all of the starters back for Coach Brey it’s hard not to like the Irish especially when in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion where they went 16-1 last season.
3. Cincinnati – Mick Cronin seems to have the Bearcats back on the national radar. Yancy Gates is gone but Cronin has Sean Kilpatrick who led the Big East with 92 3-pointers. Cashmere Wright also returns after averaging 10.9 ppg.
4. Pittsburgh – Sure Pitt missed the NCAA Tournament last year, they ended the year poorly but capped it off with a CBI Championship (a win is a win).Tray Woodall will lead the Panther’s who return five of their top seven scorers from last season.
5. Syrcasue – Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo have all departed but Syracuse has been so deep that they have players that return with experience. Brandon Triche will be ready to lead the Orange to what fans hope is a trip to Atlanta.
9. St. John’s
14. Seton Hall
All Conference Team
Shabazz Napier – taking control for the new reign of the Huskies.
Sean Kilpatrick – if teams don’t shut him down behind the arc the Bearcats may do better than expected.
Gorgui Diend – let’s see a guy that can rebound, score and block shots, yeah I will give him a All Conference nod.
Tray Woodall – a healthy Woodall should do better than last seasons 11.7 ppg
Jack Cooley – after voted Most Improved last season, the Irish have high hopes for Cooley who average 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Most Underrated Team – Cincinnati, Cronin has his team bonding.
Most Overrated Team – Notre Dame, could the Irish just be riding a wave of recent success?
Player of the Year – Peyton Siva, last years MOP at the Big East Championship should win if the Cardinals run the conference.
Coach of the Year – Heart wants to say Steve Lavin, but my mind says Rick Pitino with Cronin in 2nd.
Sleeper Impact Player – 1a Cleveland Melvin, was the leading scorer in the league last season. I am going to say D’Andelo Harrison is 1b especially if Lavin has the Red Storm on upset mode.