Having a little fun today.
With the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Final Four looming, thought it might be cool to step back, let the mind wander and try to come up with the greatest college hoops team ever – with the disclaimer forever embedded with “in my lifetime,” and the added stipulation “personally witnessed.”
Oh, yeah, one more qualifier: Gotta be a national champ.
Frankly, didn’t have to think about it all too long.
One squad stands above all others – even beyond the head and shoulders fashion.
In 1975-76, Bobby Knight, as he did every season, demanded perfection … and actually got it from his Indiana Hoosiers. To this day, no outfit since has been able to match that 32-0, national championship effort – although things did get a little interesting last spring with a very flawed Kentucky managed to survive a minefield of SEC mediocrity and reach the Final Four at 38-0 before getting exposed by Wisconsin.
Forty years ago, there were no flaws with Knight’s Hoosiers. They had it all – size, speed, skill, smarts, shooting touch, quickness, toughness, athleticism, you name it. They could play it any way you wanted, and force you to play it any way they wanted. Usually, they just grinded on opponents, wearing ’em down and then dropping the hammer, or, in a few rare cases, confidently – and annoyingly for those of us who couldn’t stand them or, even more so, their antagonistic, hard-headed coach – pulling out the victory from the jaws of defeat as if there were never a doubt.
In Scott May and Kent Benson, they had two-fifths of that season’s first-team All-American selections, with May taking home every national player of the year award available. Kids crooning and swooning over Stephen Marbury’s stroke these days would be wise to check a few videos on May squaring up and just draining mid-range jumpers right and left with almost production-line efficiency and effectiveness.
He averaged 23.5 points per game that season without forcing a single damn shot, and hauled in 7.7 rebounds a night as well. Benson, the big fella in the middle, was good for 17.3 points and 8.8 each time out. But they were hardly alone.
All told, seven guys on that 1975-76 Indiana roster were drafted by NBA clubs, four of them in the first round. May went second overall in 1976, with point man Quinn Buckner going seventh and swingman Bobby Wilkerson 11th in the same draft. Benson was the No. 1 pick in ’77.
My “horse” in the field four full decades ago, as embarrassing as it to admit as an Illinois grad, Michigan, made it all the way to title game against the Hoosiers at the now-defunct Spectrum in Philly. The Wolverines had an electric cat playing the point in Rickey Green, who had this fantastic way of attacking the hoop every time straight on and then just flipping the ball ever so gently over the rim and into the net. Eventually, he’d become an NBA first-round choice, too, and play 15 years in the league.
But he and his teammates were no match for their Big Ten rivals in the championship, losing just as they had twice before to Indiana during the conference slate.
Looking back, that dominating, start-to-finish performance by Knight’s fifth edition of Hoosiers was hardly a surprise. Essentially the same group had reached the Elite Eight the year before with a 31-0 mark and ranked No. 1, losing to a Kentucky team by 2 points at that point that it previously had beaten by 24 points earlier in the season largely due to the fact that May was wearing a cast on his broken, non-shooting hand and limited to 2 points and just 7 minutes playing time.
A preseason smashing of the Soviet National team in 1975-76 served as a precursor of things to come as well.
Greatness, and the best ever witnessed right here.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
A TERRIFIC 10
The following is a list of the best NCAA men’s basketball championship teams witnessed by the eyes behind this material:
1. 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers
Story to the left.
2. 1983-84 Georgetown Hoyas
Just awesome during Patrick Ewing’s time there, this being the one crown in three title appearances.
3. 1994-95 UCLA Bruins
National player of the year Ed O’Bannon spearheaded Bruins’ run back into elite status.
4. 1977-78 Kentucky Wildcats
Two NBA first-rounders on the roster, including tournament outstanding player Jack Givens.
5. 1981-82 UNC Tar Heels
Only won the title game by a fluke, but two Hall of Famers in Michael Jordan and James Worthy.
6. 1989-90 UNLV Rebels
Had 3 NBA lottery picks, headed by overall No. 1, the bullish and athletic Larry “Grandmama” Johnson.
7. 1991-92 Duke Blue Devils
A year after dethroning UNLV, Christian Laettner and Co. were dominant in repeating as champs.
8. 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats
Guess you could say bigger fan of Antonio Davis than Ron Mercer (Kentucky 1995-96) here.
9. 1979-80 Louisville Cardinals
You got Dr. Dunkenstein on the squad, you’re gonna leave some serious impressions.
10. 2006-07 Florida Gators
Not overly impressed by the Joakhim Noah-led team, but it is the only other repeat champ on list.
Note: Never witnessed any team prior to 1975-76.