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 ACC will have a lot of familiar faces this season as 35 starters from last season return including 8 who received some type of ACC honor last season.
ACC Preseason Rankings
1. Duke – How can you not pick the Blue Devils when Mike Krzyewski has four starters back from a squad that has 27 wins last season? Coach K sits at 927 wins, plus a few gold medals, I really don’t see this Duke team losing that many games, and will probably pencil them in right now as a team that we will see in Atlanta.
2. NC State – The Wolfpack also return four starters. C.J. Leslie (14.7 ppg) will be leading the way for Mark Gottfried’s squad that is the only team to return four players that were double digit scorers.
3. North Carolina – Roy Williams probably has the toughest job, needing to fill the void of four starters lost. The Tar Heels will rely on Dexter Strickland to be the leader. What may be a bigger story for college basketball fans is that Hubert Davis returns to Chapel Hill as an assistant coach.
4. Miami (FL) – Six of top seven scorers return for the Hurricanes. Reggie Johnson (10.8ppg, 7.3 rpg) will be among the senior leaders for Jim Larranaga. Julian Gamble is also back for Miami after missing last season from a torn ACL. A little fun fact since the NCAA approved the 3-point shot, Miami has made at least one three in 801 of 804 games.
5. Virginia – Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers return three starters and six of the team’s nine top scorers. Joe Harris returns as the leading scorer from last season. Harris is joined by last season ACC All-Defensive Team member Jontel Evans.
6. Florida State
9. Virginia Tech
10. Georgia Tech
11. Boston College
12. Wake Forest
Mason Plumlee – 4th in the ACC in rebounds, 5th in blocks and off rebounds last season.
C.J. Harris – 4th leading scorer last season
Lorenzo Brown – started all 37 games last year and led the conference in steals.
Dexter Strickland – returning from an injury during the middle of last season and is the team leader in scoring, assists and steals.
Ryan Anderson – led BC in scoring and rebounding as a Freshman.
Most Underrated Team – Florida State, four of the top five scorers return for the Seminoles.
Most Overrated Team – North Carolina, the Tar Heels have a lot to replace.
Player of the Year – C.J. Leslie, the junior earned second-team last year. He gets my nod, especially if he can lead the Wolfpack over Duke or UNC.
Coach of the Year – Tony Bennett, it would be too east to pick Coach K.
Sleeper Impact Player – C.J. Harris (35 min/game and 16ppg) really shouldn’t be a sleeper pick but with Wake being near the bottom of the ACC he doesn’t get the publicity that he deserves.
Since last week it is safe to say that Kansas State, Purdue, Iowa State and Mississippi State are virtual locks to make it into the NCAA Tournament. With just one regular-season game left for most of the power conference teams, who is close to making themselves a lock for the tournament?
Northwestern: They missed their chance, two of them in fact. In the past eight days the Wildcats have dropped two gut-wrenching games to some top Big Ten competition. First came a 67-55 overtime loss to Michigan State last Tuesday, and then tonight they lost a 75-73 heartbreaker to Ohio State. Just one of those losses may have been Northwestern over the top. To make it even worse, both of those games were at home, and the committee won’t give them many excuses for those games. There is still some hope left, however. Their regular-season finale is at Iowa, and that is obviously a must-win. Then they need to win a couple games in the Big Ten tournament, with hopefully one of them being against one of the five ranked Big Ten teams. This is a team everyone wants in the tournament, but at just 7-10 in conference right now, they are about out of chances. Feb. 29 status: Out
Miami: The Hurricanes got lucky. Their starting center Reggie Johnson only had to miss one game after NCAA violations. This puts Miami in a good position. They beat Florida State on Sunday, but a loss to NC State did them no favors. Miami now needs to beat Boston College this weekend, and then not get upset in the ACC Tournament. One upset and they are out. That’s how much Miami is on the bubble right now. Feb. 29 status: In
Connecticut: I definitely can’t figure out the Huskies. At this point I would say their resume doesn’t warrant an at-large bid. After that buzzer-beater win at Villanova, I thought the Huskies had a shot at turning things around. They lost a close one against Syracuse, and came back from that with a loss at Providence. No really, Providence. They have now lost nine out of 12 games, and the committee certainly won’t like that. They play a Pitt team this weekend that is playing better ball than them at the moment. A couple wins in the Big East tournament will be a must, but they don’t have a Kemba Walker to save them this year. Feb. 29 status: Out
Texas: Simply put, the Longhorns are hanging on by a thread. They continue to beat the teams they should beat (Texas Tech and Oklahoma most recently). A win at Kansas this weekend will make them a lock, but that will be a tough one. Assuming they lose that one, they will be 19-9 with a similar situation as Miami — right on the edge. There will be no room for error in the Big 12 tournament. A loss early on and there bubble will be burst. Feb. 29 status: In
South Florida: Their win over Louisville tonight may have put them over the top. Now they need to just not lose early on in the Big East tournament. But even with a first or second round loss, it will be hard for the committee to not give the fifth place team in the Big East an at-large bid. They have played arguably the easiest schedule in conference, but with wins over tourney teams Cinci and Louisville within the past three days, they seem to be in good shape. Feb. 29 Status: In
Colorado and Oregon: These two teams play each other tomorrow in what may be the biggest Pac-12 game of the year. Both teams look to be out at the moment, so whichever team loses will likely not have a shot at the NCAA’s. The winner may just be able to position itself as one of the last teams in to make it. The Pac-12 should get four times in the tournament — California, Arizona and Washington all seem like good bets to make it. No chance this conference gets five teams in, so that’s why the Colorado-Oregon game tomorrow is a must-win on both sides.
Xavier: The Musketeers have not played up to potential all year, going just 9-6 in the Atlantic-10. Non-conference wins against Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinatti are all solid, but they are 0-3 against the top two teams in the conference (Temple and Saint Louis). They have swapped between wins and losses there last 8 games, but those non-conference wins still hold. As long as they don’t lose early in the conference tournament they should be in a position to grab one of the last at-larges. Feb. 29 Status: In
St Joseph’s: I’m not sure if both the Hawks and Musketeers can both make it in. St. Joes had a big win vs. Temple over the weekend, but still will need a little help to get in. Their biggest non-conference win of the year game against Creighton. They lost their only game of the year to Xavier, and a 9-7 conference record won’t go well with the committee. If they run into Xavier in the A-10 tournament, that could be a win-and-you’re-in game. Feb. 29 Status: Out
Miami’s hopes of making it to the NCAA Tournament were already iffy, but it will likely get even more difficult for them.
In case you didn’t see it over the weekend, the Hurricanes’ starting center Reggie Johnson has been declared ineligible after an investigation revealed some of his family members took travel benefits that came for the Miami coaching staff.
There is a good chance Johnson will be out for the remander of the year, and if so, it will be a big blow for the Hurricanes. Johnson is fourth on the team in scoring at 10.6 a game and is first in rebounds with 6.9 per contest.
In a conference with the North Carolina’s duo of Jon Henson and Tyler Zeller, as well as Duke’s combo of the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly, Miami will miss Johnson’s size when the ACC-tournament begins next week.
Miami will move F-C Kenny Kadji to the center position. Kadji is second on the team in both points and rebounds, averaging 13 and 5.7 a game. The Hurricanes don’t have much depth with their big, and with Miami already having a guard-heavy roster, they are now faced with literally no one to anchor the middle with Kadji.
Raphaeal Akpejiori started on Sunday in their game against Florida State, but was not much of a factor, totaling four rebounds and zero points in just seven minutes of action. He has only scored more than five points on two occasions this year, never going above seven.
Miami will play 6-foot-8 guard-forward DeQuan Jones a little more, but I’m not sure if he is the answer. There really isn’t an answer. Miami will just have to rely more on their guards and hope for solid play with no foul-trouble from Kadji.
They were still able to beat Florida State on Sunday, moving them to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s ‘Last Four In’ in today’s Bracketology, but Miami still needs some wins to feel more comfortable come Selection Sunday. A big game at North Carolina State on Wednesday could bring the victorious team near a lock-status .
Miami will close the season with a very winnable game against Boston College. If they lose that NC State game, one and maybe two wins in the ACC Tournament will be a must for the Hurricanes. The season isn’t totally lost for the Hurricanes. It may just make them play even harder, or who knows, an unsung hero may emerge to carry them to the Big Dance.
With Conference Tournament games just over a week away here is a look at some of the games that you should keep an eye on this week.
Monday: Connecticut @ Villanova (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday has a double-header worth watching. UConn and Nova both are in need of a confidence boost before they head to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. If you want a second game tonight, Baylor is at Texas at 9pm on ESPN
Tuesday: Kansas St at Missouri (7pm ESPN2) – The Big 12 leader host 5th place Wildcats. This games kicks off a tough week for both teams.
Wednesday: So many games to pick this week but a few to keep an eye on include West Virginia @ Notre Dame (7pm ESPN2), USF at Syracuse (7pm Big East Net.), Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (8pm Big 12 Net.).
Thursday: Duke @ Florida State (7pm ESPN) – Two of the three teams at the top of the ACC meet in Durham. Murray State @ Tennessee State (8pm ESPNU), the top two in the OVC will battle it out, the Racers are coming off the win over St. Mary’s. Louisville @ Cincinnati (9pm ESPN) the long time conference rivals meet at Fifth Third Arena, both teams are currently at 9-5 in conference play.
Friday:Baseball is back; go watch your college program play our national past-time. If you really want to watch some hoops Butler @ Valparaiso (7pm ESPNU) and Marquette @ West Virginia (9pm ESPN) should settle that craving.
Saturday: Go on and clear your schedule it’s the last full Saturday of regular season basketball. The day starts with Vanderbilt @ Kentucky (Noon CBS), Iowa State @ Kansas State (1:30 Big 12 Net.), North Carolina @ Virginia (4pm ESPN), Creighton @ Indiana State (4pm ESPN2), and what could be the final meeting of Missouri @ Kansas (4pm CBS).
Sunday: It’s the Daytona 500 why do you want to watch basketball? Cincinnati @ USF (Noon Big East Net), Indiana @ Minnesota (1pm ESPN), Pittsburgh @ Louisville (2pm CBS), Florida State @ Miami (FL) (6pm ESPNU), Oregon @ Oregon State (7:30pm FSN).
If you can not find a game that peaks your interest this week then you might not be a college basketball fan.
Every week leading up to the NCAA Tournament we will feature several bubble teams with their current chances of making the tournament and key games ahead for them.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini have had a free-fall as of late, losing six of their last seven conference games. This is a team that has a solid resume though, with wins over Michigan State and Ohio State heading it. They still have three more games against top-20 teams. If they take care of the games they should win (Nebraska, Iowa) and win one of those three games against ranked teams, they should be in. If they don’t, losses to Penn State as well as fellow-bubble teams Northwestern and Purdue could be crucial. They play Purdue again on Wednesday night — a loss to them for the second straight time this year could be detrimental, especially if bracket-builders are forced to decide between the two. Feb. 14 status: In
Purdue: Speaking of the Boilermakers, they have a solid 6-6 conference record, but those six wins won’t impress many, as none of them have been against teams with winning records in the conference. They are 0-6 for the year against top-25 teams and aside from solid-but-not-astounding victories against Miami and Illinois, don’t have many wins to brag about. They face three more ranked Big Ten foes this year, which may be the difference for the Boilermakers. Feb. 14 status: Out
Texas: The Big 12 has been a very top-heavy conference, and surprisingly Texas has not been one of those teams at the top. They have lost to all of the teams at the top of the conference this year, the last three coming by a combined nine points. The Longhorns best victory this year is against Temple, but a win over the weekend against bubble-team Kansas State did help. They face both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this week on the road, and although those two teams are in the bottom tier of the conference, they would still be two quality and much-needed wins. Feb. 14 status: Out
Alabama: The Crimson Tide could be on the down slope, as coach Anthony Grant suspended four of his top players over the weekend due to a violation of team rules. The timing was bad, as they have a home date with Florida tonight. Alabama is in desperate need for a big one — they have some of the top teams close, but haven’t gotten that marquee win. If they don’t beat the Gators, a win over the suddenly surging Tennessee Volunteers this weekend will be necessary to keep their chances alive. Feb. 14 status: Out
Connecticut: The reigning champion Huskies surely still have some work to do. They sport the top strength of schedule in the nation and the No. 19 RPI, but are just 15-9 for the year and 5-7 in the Big East. They’ve beaten Florida State, Harvard and Notre Dame, but they have double-digit losses in their last three games against ranked foes. They are sitting in the bottom-half of a weakened Big East, but a win against Marquette this weekend may put them in for the time being. Feb. 14 status: Out
Notre Dame: The Irish are rolling right now, winning six straight games, including three over top-15 teams. Right now they should be in, especially since they sit third in the Big East at 9-3. Five of their last six games are against unranked teams, and although that might sound good, if they drop a couple of those this is suddenly a team that might need to win a couple of games in the Big East Tournament to get into the dance. They have the victories (Louisville, Syracuse, Connecticut, Marquette) but have also suffered conference losses to Cincinnati and Rutgers. They face Rutgers tonight, which will be a big revenge game for the Irish. Feb. 14 status: In
Miami: The Hurricanes will always have that win over Duke, but that’s their only marquee win. They missed out on a chance against Florida State over the weekend, but will get another chance this month to beat them. Miami faces the Tar Heels at home tomorrow night, hoping to avenge a 17-point loss to them last month. If they upset the Tar Heels, there shouldn’t be much doubt about letting the Hurricanes in, but if not, there won’t be many more chances to impress the committee. Feb. 14 status: Out
Virginia: The Cavaliers sport a solid 19-5 record, but just one win over a ranked team (Michigan). If they win their four games against teams with sub-500 ACC records and one of their games against Florida State and UNC, it will be hard to bypass Virginia. I don’t see both Miami and Virginia getting in, however, so their 52-51 win last month over the Hurricanes could be a deciding factor. Feb. 14 status: In
Last season Florida State shocked most everyone by making it to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. This year they did their surprises a couple of months early.
Thanks to upset victories against North Carolina and at Duke, the Seminoles have put the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the nation for that matter, on notice. If it weren’t for a couple of losses to Ivy League schools in Harvard and Princeton, this would be a top-15 team. They go into their weekend contest against Virgina ranked No. 21 in the AP poll with a 15-6 record.
They have posted 19+ wins in each of the past six seasons, but they still have been flying under the radar. Once Chris Singleton graduated last season and departed to the NBA, it appeared like the Seminoles had lost their star power, but guys have kept stepping up to lead this team.
Junior guard Michael Snaer has been the main benefactor upon Singleton’s graduation, as he has bumped his freshman-sohpomore year averages of 8.8 points up to 14.1 points per game this year, including a 21 point outing against Georgia Tech on Wednesday. He has been deadly from behind the 3-point line, making 11 of his past 14 attempts over the course of the last three games. The Dukies won’t soon forget him, as he was the one that made the buzzer-beater 3 to shock the Cameron Crazies.
Senior Bernard James has also been a key contributor, averaging 10.5 points and 8.8 rebounds a game, putting up six double-doubles this year.
But the Seminoles have been known as a defensive team for many years, and that hasn’t changed this year. They rank fourth in the country in defensive field goal percentage, holding their opponents to 37 percent. They are also ninth in the nation in blocks and 16th in steals.
Approaching the midway point of conference season, Florida State surprisingly is tops in the conference, but they still have some tough games ahead of them. They face No. 18 Virginia twice still, the first one being a home match tomorrow afternoon.
But the main question is, can they win the ACC? If they win tomorrow’s game against Virginia, they should be favored in the rest of their games this year, except for possibly the home re-match against Duke. They only face the Tar Heels once the year, so they hold the tiebreaker with them.
But Florida State won’t have many cupcake games from here on out. They close the year with a five-game stretch against some of the best teams in the conference — at NC State, vs. Duke, at Miami who looks like a possible bubble team, at Virginia, and against a Clemson team who handed the Seminoles their only conference loss of they year.
On paper, Duke and UNC look like the better teams, but Florida State doesn’t realize that. Beating both of those teams has given this bunch a sense of confidence that only a few teams in the nation have had this year, and they plan on riding that to the close of the year.