by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

In the end, it was one of the wackiest days in NCAA Tourney history. We're talking about Thursday, when a Big Dance-record five games were decided by exactly one point! It was also the first time since 1995 when a pair of 14 seeds (UAB and Georgia State) would advance to the Round of 32. The teams victimized by the Blazers and Panthers, Iowa State and Baylor, respectively, marked two of three Big 12 losers, the first time that loop had ever seen a trio of its teams KO'd on the same day of the Dance.

Moreover, there was another game decided by 2 points, two more decided by 3 points, and another settled by a mere 4 points. Beyond those, there were several other pointspread thrillers; indeed, all four Thursday games in Portland had sportsbook patrons on the edges of their seats until the final horn. And in the Thursday card in Jacksonville, the four games were settled by a grand total of seven points. There were also runs of 13-0 to close the Georgia State-Baylor game, 19-0 in the second half of SMU-UCLA, and another 8-0 run to close that Mustangs-Bruins thriller in Louisville.

And the tourney has just begun! We all might need tranquilizers if there is more action like Thursday. (More on Thursday specifics, and possible pointspread clues for the remainder of the Big Dance weekend, in just a moment.)

First, the most popular scoreline on Thursday was 60-59, the final tally in both the UAB-Iowa State and UCLA-SMU games. Which for us recalled another 60-59 scoreline from a memorable Big Dance battle long ago but still fresh in our minds at TGS...and a reminder that surprise results are nothing new in March.

It's hard to believe that someone would have to be in their 50s to clearly remember the UCLA dynasty that spanned more than a decade from the mid '60s to mid '70s, when the Bruins would win 10 of 12 national titles, at one point reeling off an unbelievable 38 straight NCAA Tourney wins. Within that stretch were four unbeaten seasons, and three separate win streaks of 41, 47, and 88 games. Imagine this year's Kentucky (which has yet to win the national title) maintaining its current level of dominance for more than a decade!

But there were always challengers to the Bruin dynasty, and in the period between the Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) years of 1966-69 and the Bill Walton years of 1971-74 were two championship seasons when John Wooden's troops didn't outwardly, at least, seem as dominant. No Alcindors or Waltons patrolling the paint. Instead, Wooden's teams in the 1969-70 and 1970-71 seasons appeared mortal, relying instead on a rugged frontline consisting of forwards Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe and an workmanlike center, Steve Patterson, and a collection of scrappy, role-playing guards that would include the likes of Henry Bibby, John Vallely (thru 1970) and Kenny Booker. Wooden also did not have an especially deep bench in those two seasons, either. It was still UCLA, but those Bruins did not look untouchable.

During that era, one team that seemed like the biggest threat to UCLA was Al McGuire's Marquette. The Warriors, as they were then called, had shunned the 1969-70 Big Dance to instead accept a bid to the NIT (which teams sometimes did in those days), a tournament they won. By the middle of the following 1970-71 season, Marquette was still unbeaten, and a growing chorus of hoops observers believed the Warriors, and not UCLA, should be ranked atop the polls, especially after the Bruins lost a mid-January game at Notre Dame, vs. a Fighting Irish team paced by All-American G (and current Cleveland Cavs TV analysts) Austin Carr, who scored 46 points.

Two weeks later the Bruins won a Pac-8 showdown vs. crosstown Southern Cal, which had entered that game at the L.A. Sports Arena as unbeaten and ranked first in the country. Wooden, however, was able to squeeze out a 64-60 win, holding the Trojans without a field goal (and a total of only one point) for the last nine minutes of the game, rallying from a 9-point deficit in the process, though the Bruins would deep freeze the ball over the final seven minutes of the game once they had rallied to retake the lead. Wooden, who had been a critic of Trojan HC Bob Boyd's slowdown tactics in previous years, came under his own criticism for employing similar tricks, and there were cries from many corners of the college hoops map for McGuire's Marquette, still steaming along unbeaten, to move to the top of the polls. Which would keep UCLA at number one, though McGuire's Warriors were still unbeaten and solidly entrenched at the number two spot in the rankings as the Big Dance beckoned in March.

Marquette indeed appeared to be a candidate to derail the Bruin dynasty. Having won 27 straight to begin the '70-71 term, it had extended its win streak to 39 since late in the previous 1969-70 season. The win in the previous year's NIT also suggested the Warriors were sufficiently tourney-toughened.

Within the big-man vacuum of the post-Alcindor (and pre-Walton) years, McGuire's 1970-71 team also had the best center in the nation, 6-11 sophomore Jim Chones, who was telling anyone who would listen that he would make himself available to the ABA or NBA before graduation ("raids" on the college ranks were not uncommon in those days, even during the course of the collage seasons, all before the term "hardship" and a truce called by the pro leagues, which were still warring in the early '70s). "My father is dead and I've got five brothers and sisters at home in Racine," Chones said in a Sports Illustrated interview. "My mother makes salads at an Italian restaurant, and I've got to give serious thought to any professional possibilities." Such were the realities of college basketball in the early '70s.

Marquette, however, was more than Chones. The flash for McGuire's team was provided by electric G Dean "The Dream" Meminger, who had starred in the previous March's NIT and recipient of rare praise from McGuire, who said The Dream was "a better passer than Bob Cousy" while forming a a great outside-inside combo with Chones. The supporting cast featured a variety of hard-nosed role players, including intimidating F Bob Lackey, scrappy F Gary Brell, known for his expertise playing the kazoo, and a scrappy guard named Allie McGuire, son of the coach.

Papa Al McGuire's Warriors began the Big Dance with a first-round game at Notre Dame against MAC champ Miami-Ohio, a game in which the Warriors started slowly before winning by a 62-47 count. "We're a second-half team," said McGuire. "We won, and we're going down South again. I spent-six years down there [at Belmont Abbey] and all I can remember is Coca-Cola bottles, gas stations and red clay."

The Mideast Regional, however, would have to be navigated before Marquette might get its shot at UCLA (which had struggled numerous times that season and had to face regional favorite BYU, then likely Jerry Tarkanian's Long Beach State, in the West Regional at Salt Lake City). The Mideast would be held at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, and it was a difficult looking field including HC Johnny Oldham's Western Kentucky, led by its 7-foot center, Jim McDaniels; Adolph Rupp's SEC champ Kentucky; and Fred Taylor's Ohio State, the Big Ten champ. The Buckeyes would be the Sweet 16 matchup for McGuire and had their own seven footer, Luke Witte; if Marquette could advance to the regional final, Chones would have to deal with another tall tree, be it McDaniels or Kentucky's 7-2 Tom Payne, Rupp's first African-American recruit (and mentioned in other stories on these pages in years past).

After the win over Miami-Ohio in the opening round, however, McGuire's team had some injury issues, with kazoo-playing Brell suffering muscle spasms in his back and neck, and the menacing Lackey with a contusion of the lower back. Still, most expected Marquette to advance.

The Sweet 16 Buckeyes, however, had more going for them than Witte and HC Taylor, who had won the national title in 1960 and reached the Final Four three subsequent times. Despite having only one starting senior, Jim Cleamons, the Buckeyes won the Big Ten with a 13-1 record. Cleamons was the orchestrator, leading OSU in assists, while also being the team's best defender and second-leading rebounder. Sophomore G Allan Hornyak was a dangerous spot shooter who helped Taylor spread the floor on the attack end.

Marquette would jump ahead of the Buckeyes early. But McGuire may have caused his own demise in the first half when, leading by 13 points with nine minutes left, he ordered the Warriors to switch to a zone from the helter-skelter press that had served it so well in the early going. The move was designed to protect his injured forwards, Lackey and Brell, but it instead it allowed the Buckeyes to crawl back into the game. With Cleamons leading the charge, disciplined OSU would close to within four at intermission, and shortly after the break would soon get Dean The Dream into early second-half foul trouble.

The game would hang in the balance for the duration. The Warriors would maintain their slight lead but could not put the Buckeyes away. And then OSU got the break it needed. With 5:03 left in the game and McGuire's team still up by five, Meminger would crash into Cleamons for his disqualifying fifth foul, then spending the waning moments on the bench holding back an enraged McGuire from charging the referees. (And you might have thought there were few officiating controversies in the Dance before the goaltending call on SMU that allowed UCLA to eke out a win in Thursday sub-regional action at Jacksonville).

Without Meminger, however, the Marquette dream would turn into a nightmare. Cleamons would take over the game in the final minutes en route to a game-high 21 points, Witte would checkmate Chones, and the Buckeyes would seize the lead, then hold on in the final minute thanks to clutch free throws by Hornyak. Final score: Ohio State 60, Marquette 59...just like a couple of Thursday's sub-regional thrillers.

(Interestingly, two games in that 1971 Mideast Regional at Athens, the Ohio State-Marquette battle, and the other Sweet 16 game featuring Western Kentucky whipping hoops blue-blood Kentucky in the first-ever meeting between the schools, would both be rated in the top 50 of greatest NCAA Tourney games by USA TODAY a few years ago.)

There would be several postscripts to the 1971 season involving teams from the Mideast Regional. McGuire's Marquette would begin the following 1971-72 season with another a long win streak, and a familiar number two ranking behind UCLA, until February. When, right about the time of the Sapporo Winter Olympics, Chones would turn pro and sign with the ABA's New York Nets after leading Marquette to a 21-0 record. The weakened Warriors would eventually lose to Adolph Rupp's last Kentucky team in the Sweet 16 of the Mideast Regionals; Chones and Marquette thus never get their shot together at UCLA. As for Western Kentucky, it would beat Ohio State 81-78 in overtime in that '71 Mideast final thriller and advance to the Final Four before losing to Villanova in the national semifinal, only to eventually vacate a third-place finish when McDaniels was discovered to have signed with the ABA Carolina Cougars before his college career was complete. As for Ohio State, it would be victimized by an ugly on-court brawl the following season at Minnesota, when Witte was attacked and stomped by Ron Behagen (an incident outlined on these TGS pages in the past). The Buckeyes, leading the Big Ten at the time of the on-court riot at Minneapolis, would fall out of contention thereafter, and Fred Taylor would never have another national contender in Columbus until his retirement in 1976.

Anyway, it's part of a huge March Madness memory bank we have at TGS. All reminded to us by the UAB-Iowa State and UCLA-SMU scorelines we saw on Thursday...not the first 60-59s we recall from the Dance.

A few more notes involving Thursday action. Calling Purdue +2 in its game against Cincinnati after a late number move, underdogs stood 12-4 vs. the line in the sixteen games. Double-digit dogs were 5-1, the only loser being Lafayette when outclassed by Villanova. The Big 12, as mentioned earlier, was winless SU and vs. the spread in three tries. ACC teams failed to cover the number in their first three ties.

But the real story of Thursday was the thrills. If that is a hint of things to come in the Dance, hang on for the ride...they don't call it March Madness for nothing!

Return To Home Page