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College Basketball Pre-1968

March 29, 2013


Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas lost to North Carolina in the only NCAA Championship Game that went beyond one overtime *photo courtesy of NCAA galleries

For better or worse, college basketball has been around since pretty soon after basketball was invented in 1891.  The first listed game was played on January 18, 1896 when the University of Iowa invited student-athletes from the University of Chicago for an experimental game.  Chicago won 15-12.  (Although according to Hamline University in Minnesota, they hosted and played the first intercollegiate game on February 9, 1895 against what represented the University of Minnesota with Minnesota winning 9-3.. I wasn’t alive so who knows what to believe.)  Back in 1896, the nets were tied at the bottom.  So once a player scored, somebody had to take a pole and retrieve the ball from out of the net.  Open-ended nets were created in 1903, ten years after the peach basket gave way to the hammock-style basket.  (info courtesy of America’s Library).

Basketball first started at YMCA’s (it was created by Dr. James Naismith at a YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts) and it spread quickly because it was something to do inside during the cold winter.  Naismith’s colleague C.O. Beamis fielded the first college basketball team the next year at Pittsburgh Geneva College.  Naismith himself coached at the University of Kansas from 1898-1907.  There he trained one of college basketball’s greatest coaches at Kansas, Dr. Forrest Phog Allen.  Allen coached the Jayhawks from 1907-1909 and from 1919-1956.  Allen won 746 games and 3 National Championships (two were before the NCAA tournament was created, so I guess only one counts).  Allen in the early 20’s coached another one of the greatest coaches in NCAA history, a man who would break Allen’s wins record and wouldn’t have his broken until 1997.  That man was Adolph Rupp who coached at the University of Kentucky from 1930-1972, won 876 games and 4 National Championships.

naismith_james 220px-Phog_Allen Adolph_rupp

At top left: Basketball inventor James Naismith and at top right: Kansas Coach Phog Allen.  At bottom: Kentucky Coach Adolph Rupp *photos courtesy of Kansas Pedia and Wikipedia (2x)

The NCAA Tournament itself was created on the idea of popularity in college basketball.  The popularity really started when Ned Irish started booking double-headers in the ‘world’s most famous areana’ Madison Square Garden.  The first of which happened on December 29, 1934 when 16,180 fans saw New York University (NYU) beat Notre Dame 25-18 and Westminster beat St. Johns 37-33.  College basketball became bigger in the top media market and New York teams became legends.  Teams like City College of New York (CCNY), Long Island University (LIU), and Manhattan College, as well as NYU and St. Johns.

The popularity of the college double-headers led to the creation of the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) in 1938.  The NIT was played at Madison Square Garden and for awhile was thought of being more prestigious than the NCAA tournament.  Many teams chose the NIT over the NCAA invitation.  Many teams competed in both.  Once it became illegal to compete in both (after CCNY won the NIT and NCAA in 1950), the NCAA became more prestigious and decided the rightful National Champion.

The first NCAA Tournament was in 1939.  It had 8 teams.  Ohio State, Wake Forest, Villanova, Brown, Oklahoma, Utah State, Oregon, and Texas.  Ohio State played Wake Forest and Villanova played Brown in Philadelphia and Oklahoma played Utah State and Oregon played Texas in San Francisco.  Ohio State and Villanova won to play each other in Philly with the right to go to the National Championship Game.  Oklahoma and Oregon won the first games in San Fran.  Ohio State and Oregon emerged victorious to move on to Evanston, Illinois for the National Championship Game.  Oregon’s ‘Tall Firs‘ beat Ohio State 46-33.

history_ned_irish ncaa1-oregon

At top, Ned Irish who booked double-headers at Madison Square Garden in the ’30’s and at bottom, Oregon versus Ohio State in the 1939 National Championship Game *photos courtesy of villagevoice blog and Atlanta Journal-Constitution

There was actually no ‘Final Four’ until 1951 when the tournament expanded to 16 teams.  There was just Regional Games and then a final game.  However, the 40’s did produce the first jump shooter and the first big man.  Hank Luisetti who played for Stanford in the 1930’s was the player credited with bringing out the one-handed shot, but Kenny Sailors of Wyoming started the jump shot by accident.  He was just trying to shoot over his taller brother when he was younger and the two-handed set shot wasn’t working.  Sailors was a two-time All-American and led Wyoming to the 1943 National Championship.  The first 6 NCAA Champions were 6 different teams (Oregon in 1939, Indiana in 1940, Wisconsin in 1941, Stanford in 1942, Wyoming in 1943, and Utah in 1944).

But the first big man also produced the first dynasty.  At Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State), Head Coach Hank Iba had 7-footer Bob Kurland was entering his junior season in 1945.  Kurland had some matchups against fellow big man George Mikan, who was at DePaul, but DePaul chose and won the NIT tournament in 1945.  Kurland led the Aggies to the Championship beating future NBA star Dolph Schayes and NYU 49-45.  But then the next year, Kurland led his team to another NCAA Championship, this time over North Carolina.  The Aggies became the first of 7 teams to win back-to-back championships.

luisetti_display_image jumpshot2 oklahoma-a-m-basketball-coach-hank-iba-posing-with-his-players-bob-kurland-j-l-parks-and-others

At top, Hank Luisetti was credited for creating the one-handed shot while in the middle, Kenny Sailors was credited with creating the jump shot and at bottom, Oklahoma A&M coach Hank Iba (top, middle) led the Aggies to the 1945 and 1946 NCAA championship with big man Bob Kurland (top, left) leading the way *photos courtesy of Bleacher Report, K2 Radio, and Allposters

Adolph Rupp’s first great teams then formed to end the 1940’s.  The fabulous five of Alex Groza, Ralph Beard, Wallace ‘Wah Wah’ Jones, Cliff Barker and Kenny Rollins won back-to-back National Championships in 1948 and 1949.  In 1948, Kentucky took out 1947 Champion Holy Cross (with Bob Cousy) to reach the Championship Game.  They then beat Baylor 58-42.  All but Rollins returned for 1949 and the Wildcats beat Oklahoma A&M 46-36 for the National Championship.

Then trouble arose, as mentioned in the beginning of the NBA Manhattan College’s Junius Kellogg told authorities that he had been offered $1,000 to shave points.  This kicked off an investigation that implicated 32 players from CCNY, NYU, LIU, Manhattan College, Bradley University, University of Kentucky, and University of Toledo.  The scandal killed basketball in New York City (as well as the popular New York colleges) and Groza and Beard were implicated at Kentucky and were banned from the NBA.

Also accused of being involved from Kentucky was 7-footer Bill Spivey, who led the Wildcats to the 1951 National Championship and was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.  Spivey was found innocent but still wasn’t allowed into the NBA.  The 1951 Championship was Rupp’s third and his mentor hadn’t even won one yet since the tournament started.  But Phog Allen and 6’10” Clyde Lovellette led the Jayhawks to their first National Championship in 1952.  Kansas was back in the title game a year later, but they lost to Indiana 69-68 for the Hoosiers 2nd National Championship.  1955 provided the next College Basketball dynasty.

fabfive bill_spivey9 allen lovellette

Top left, the Kentucky fabulous five sitting with Adolph Rupp (names are listed on the picture caption) and at top right, Bill Spivey.  At bottom, Phog Allen with Clyde Lovellette in 1952.  Photos courtesy of Wildcat World, Big Blue History, and Progressive Involvement

At the University of San Francisco, a young man by the name of Bill Russell was emerging.  USF lost an early season game to John Wooden and UCLA.  It was their only loss of the year.  San Francisco rolled into the tournament and had a close 57-56 game with Oregon State but survived the Beavers and then won the Championship against 1954 Champion LaSalle and their star, Tom Gola.  Then Russell, along with K.C. Jones and Hal Perry (three black starters!) went undefeated in 1956 and beat Iowa for another National Championship.  Early in 1957, San Francisco lost their first game in 2 years.  This streak established 60 victories in a row.  But by the time of this loss, Russell and Jones were gone.

1957 would produce perhaps the greatest National Championship Game of all time (unless you like scoring).  Phog Allen had been forced by Kansas administration to retire after 1956 because he had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.  So Allen never got a chance to coach Wilt Chamberlain.  Wilt would move up to varsity as a sophomore in 1957.  Until 1972, freshman weren’t allowed to play on the varsity, they had freshman (or junior varsity) teams that they played on their first year.  The rule was repealed briefly during World War II (so Utah Freshman Arnie Ferrin won the NCAA Tournament most outstanding player in 1944).

Wilt Chamberlain made his debut on the big time college scene with a 52-point, 31-rebound effort against Northwestern.  It was clear then that Wilt was the most dominant player in college basketball and that he would single-handidly lead Kansas to the National Championship.  Wilt would lead Kansas to a 24-2 record going into the final against 31-0 North Carolina.  Despite Carolina’s undefeated record, they were underdogs against the Jayhawks.  The Tar Heels, like everyone else, had nobody to match up with Chamberlain even though they did have a solid roster that coach Frank McGuire had recruited from New York.  The Tar Heels did have a reasonably big front line.  Their top scorer was 6’5″ Lennie Rosenbluth.  He teamed with 6’6″ Pete Brennan, 6’8″ Joe Quigg and 5’9″ Tommy Kearns.  McGuire’s team had survived a triple-overtime National Semifinal versus Michigan State while Kansas had breezed by San Francisco 80-56 with Chamberlain putting up 32.  In those days, the National Semifinal and Championship Game were played on back-to-back days and also teams had less of a bench than they do now.  So Carolina was expected to be tired and sluggish, but instead they came out fast to take a 29-22 halftime lead.  Carolina collapsed its zone against Chamberlain and held him to 2 baskets while Rosenbluth had carried the offense.  McGuire had also tried to use a psychological ploy against Chamberlain on the opening tip when he sent Kearns to jump against the big man.  As Rosenbluth explains, Kansas had a tip-off play to get an easy basket because Wilt won most (if not all) opening tips.  So McGuire, figuring they were going to lose the jump no matter who was in there, had his big men get back to defend their goal while Kearns stood in.

In the second half though, Wilt finally got free for some baskets and Kansas ended up taking a 36-35 lead halfway through the 2nd half.  They eventually stretched their lead to six but new Kansas coach Dick Harp decided to sit on the ball to try and get Carolina out of their zone so Chamberlain could break free.  Carolina instead fouled Kansas players who didn’t come through at the line.  However, the Jayhawks still had a 46-43 lead with 1:47 left when Chamberlain at the high post made a pass down low to teammate Gene Elstun who forced Rosenbluth to foul him.  This was Lennie’s 5th foul.  He had scored 20 points.  However, Elstun missed the one-and-one and Rosenbluth’s replacement, senior Bob Young, ended up tying the game at 46 with his only basket.  The game went into overtime where each team scored a bucket.  In the second overtime, both teams went scoreless.

Finally in the third OT, Kearns made a basket and then a one-and-one to put Carolina up 52-48.  But Wilt came back with a 3-point play and Elstun this time made both ends of a one-and-one to give the Jayhawks the lead.  At ten seconds, Quigg was at the top of the key against Chamberlain.  Joe pump-faked and drove around Wilt and was fouled by Maurice King on a reach-in with 6 seconds left.  Quigg made both free throws for a 54-53 lead and Kansas called time.  The last play was for the inbounds pass to go to the top of the key and then an alley-oop-like pass to Wilt for the winning basket.  Guard John Parker took the ball out-of-bounds at half-court and threw it in to Ron Loneski at the top of the key.  But Loneski instead of throwing a high pass to Wilt threw a lower one that Quigg was able to deflect away.  Kearns grabbed the ball, ran out the clock, and threw it high in the air.  Carolina had finished the season 32-0 and for Wilt, despite his 23 points and 15 rebounds against a Tarheel team dogging him, blamed the loss on himself and figured that loss started his losing label that went with him to the NBA.  In fact, after Wilt left Kansas after the 1958 season, he did not return to Allen Fieldhouse for 40 years because he felt responsible for that loss.  Wilt returned in 1998, a year before his death, to have his number retired and hear a tremendous roar from Rock Chalk Jayhawk nation.

UNC 57

The 1957 National Champion North Carolina Tarheels *photo courtesy of UNC Library

In 1958, Adolph Rupp and Kentucky won their fourth national championship, beating Elgin Baylor and Seattle University 84-72.  In 1959, Pete Newell and the California Golden Bears beat Jerry West and the West Virginia Mountaineers 71-70 in the final.  Cal was back in the Championship Game in 1960, but they were facing a juggernaut.  In 1960, Ohio State and new coach Fred Taylor had a loaded roster.  The Buckeyes were led by senior Joe Roberts and junior Larry Siegfried, but their sophomore class was the best of the group.  Mel Nowell was the number 2-rated player in Ohio in 1958.  Nowell joined two future NBA stars and one future all-time great college basketball coach.  Number-one rated in Ohio was Jerry Lucas.  He and Nowell joined John Havlicek and Bobby Knight at Ohio State in the fall of 1958 and they moved up to varsity for 1959-60.  The Buckeyes went 24-3 going into the final game versus Cal.  California had defeated Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati in the National Semifinals, like they had in 1959, but they were no match for the Buckeyes.  Ohio State won 75-55 as the starting five of Roberts, Siegfried, Lucas, Nowell, and Havlicek all finished in double figures.

Cincinnati after losing Robertson to graduation in 1960 ended up becoming a dynasty.  They beat Ohio State in back-to-back National Championship Games in 1961 and 1962.  The Bearcats roster in those two championship years consisted of players like Paul Hogue, Tony Yates, Tom Thacker and Ron Bonham.  Hogue was replaced by George Wilson in the middle as Cincinnati went for three straight championships in 1963.  Cincinnati made the Championship game with a 26-1 record against an unheralded opponent.  At Loyola University in Chicago, coach George Ireland felt the pressure to win in 1960.  So he did something that few were trying, he recruited black players.  By 1963, he had four black starters.  Senior Jerry Harkness was joined by juniors Les Hunter, Vic Rouse, and Ron Miller along with the only white starter, point guard Johnny Egan.  Loyola came into the Championship Game 28-2 and had won a water-shed Regional Semifinal match against Mississippi State.  Mississippi State had won the Southeastern Conference in three of the past four years but were not allowed to compete in the NCAA tournament because that would mean they would likely have to play integrated teams.  In 1963, the Rebels had snuck out of Mississippi to East Lansing, Michigan to play Loyola.  Below is a famous picture of the pre-game captains hand-shake between Harkness and the captain of Mississippi State, Joe Dan Gold.


*photo courtesy of Chicago Sun-Times

Loyola beat Mississippi State 61-51.  In the Championship Game, however, they were down 29-21 at the half and 45-30 midway through the 2nd half.  But the Bearcats slowed down and Loyola made an improbable comeback to tie the game at 54 at the end of regulation on Jerry Harkness’ 2nd basket (his first bucket came a few minutes earlier).  In overtime with the score tied at 58, Loyola held for the last shot.  At about 6 seconds, Harkness drove baseline but was cut off.  So he passed to Hunter at the free throw line who put up a shot.  Hunter missed but Vic Rouse followed it up and in at the buzzer and Loyola became the first team with 4 black starters to win the Championship.

The next two years would start off the greatest dynasty in NCAA history.  John Wooden had taken over at UCLA in 1948 and led them to the Final Four for the first time in 1962.  UCLA lost by two to Cincinnati in the National Semifinals.  But Wooden would bring back an undefeated team to the Final Four in 1964.  The unique thing about the ’64 Bruins was that their starting lineup was 6’3″ Walt Hazzard and 6’1″ Gail Goodrich at guard, 6’3″ Jack Hirsch and 6’5″ Keith Erickson at forward and 6’5″ Fred Slaughter in the middle.  You see the unique thing? yep, no starter taller than 6’5″.  So naturally the Bruins success was predicated on speed and their devastating full-court press.  UCLA beat Kansas State 90-84 and Duke 98-83 in the Final Four to win the National Championship.  They won it again in 1965 with only Goodrich and Erickson returning of the starting five.  Goodrich had 42 points against Michigan in the final as UCLA won 91-80.  These two championships helped star New York big man Lew Alcindor choose UCLA over other schools, and success ensued.  Alcindor wasn’t eligible for the varsity in 1966, so UCLA not only didn’t win the National Championship but lost the freshman-varsity scrimmage at the beginning of the year.  UCLA had a pre-season number 1 ranking so the joke on the varsity was that they were #1 in the nation and #2 on campus.

In 1966, a lasting water-shed moment came in the NCAA Finals.  Although Kentucky big man Larry Conley, who later became a college basketball analyst on ESPN, said that neither Kentucky nor Texas Western saw that as the case at the time.  While I’ve heard stories that Kentucky’s legendary coach Adolph Rupp was a racist, I’ve also heard that he wanted the best talent (no matter the color) but couldn’t recruit black players because the Southeastern Conference didn’t recruit blacks.  Either way, what probably made this championship game between the all-black starting five of Texas Western and the all-white Kentucky team more memorable over time was the premise that Rupp was racist.  Either way, Rupp’s Wildcats similar to UCLA in 1964 had no starter taller than 6’5″ and they were nicknamed Rupp’s Runts.  So they used speed and their pressing defense to go into the Championship Game with a 27-1 record.  Meanwhile, unheralded Texas Western (now Texas at El Paso) came in with the same record.  Texas Western played black players such as David Lattin, Bobby Joe Hill, Willie Cager, Orsten Artis, Neville Shed and Willie Worsley.  Shed came off the bench for the Championship while the other five started.  Kentucky’s quickness proved to be no match for the Miners in this game as Texas Western won 72-65.  This game was credited in helping get the black basketball player more chances by major colleges, including eventually the Southeastern Conference.

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Texas Western vs Kentucky in 1966 *photo courtesy of Image Slides

The reason I have this blog as pre-1968 is because my video collection really starts with ‘The Game of the Century‘ which helped make College Basketball big-time on television and kicked off a new era.  Lew Alcindor and UCLA went undefeated and won the championship in 1967, beating Elvin Hayes and Houston in the National Semifinal before taking care of unheralded Dayton 79-64.  This kicked off UCLA’s 7 straight championship run that will be covered in the next College Basketball blog.

  1. Thanks for the good writeup. It in truth was once a leisure account it. Glance complex to far delivered agreeable from you! By the way, how can we keep up a correspondence?

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