NCAAM: What “March Madness” Looked Like Before Seeding
This years NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, aka “March Madness”, has arguably seen the most “madness”, at least of my lifetime (26 1/2 years). There have been more upsets than we thought there would be, even just back in February. Including a #16 seed (Fairleigh Dickinson) defeating a #1 seed (Purdue), for only the second time in Men’s Basketball History. As well as the fact that there will be no #1, #2, or #3 seeds in the Final Four. While the NCAA Tournament has been around since 1939, in some form/capacity, they have only been seeding teams since the 1978-79 season.
That got me thinking, what exactly did Men’s College Basketball, and the Tournament itself, look like before seeding. This brings us all the way back to 1977. When Rod Stewart had the #1 musical hit, and “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” was all the rage in movie theaters. Let’s see what was going on in the college basketball world.
1977 Men’s All-Americans
First off, let’s look at some of the best players in the country. There were a couple familiar faces among the Consensus and AP All-American lists. They included:
- Bernard King, Forward (Jr.), Tennessee– Before the Knicks legend was a 4-time All-Star and a Hall of Famer. King was leading the Volunteers in Knoxville. Averaging 25.8 Pts, an absurd 14.3 Reb and 3.2 Ast per game.
- Mychal Thompson, Forward/Center (Jr.), Minnesota– While he’s more known as Klay Thompson‘s dad these days. Mychal had himself pretty solid college and professional careers. In this particularseason as a Golden Gopher. The elder Thompson averaged 22 Pts, 8.9 Reb, and 1.6 Ast per game. On his way to becoming a two-time NBA Champ during his Pro career.
- Marques Johnson, Forward (Sr.), UCLA– According to the Associated Press, Johnson was the best out of these three future NBA players/legends that year. As he was named AP Player of The Year for the 1976-77 season. And I can’t say I disagree really. The future five-time All-Star averaged 21.4 Pts, 11.1 Reb, and 2.0 Ast per game. Oh, I should mention that he finished the season shooting a ridiculous 59.1% clip from the field.
These 3 guys ended up playing a combined 38 seasons in the NBA. Along with 9 combined All-Star nods.
1977 NCAA Tournament
“March Madness” in 1977 consisted of 32 teams from around the country. It would be another 8 years before they expanded to 64 teams. At the time of the tournament, the top 4 teams in the country were (in order): Michigan, UCLA, San Francisco, and North Carolina. So for the sake of it, let’s say if there was seeding those would be the four #1 seeds.
The field of teams included some schools you don’t see in the tournament a lot, if ever, anymore. Such as Idaho State (Last app: 1987), Detroit Mercy (2 app. in last 25 years), and Virginia Military Institute, aka VMI (1977 was last appearance).
The first round was held in 8 different locations, the Regionals in 4 locations and the Final Four/Championship was held in Atlanta at The Omni. This year, was also one of the last few years that they held a National Third Place game. Between the two losing teams in the Final Four. They stopped doing so in 1981, after having done so since 1946.
The Final Four
Going back to who would have been #1 seeds. Out of those 4 teams, only 2 made the Elite Eight (Michigan and UNC). And only 1 of them (UNC) made the Final Four.
The Final Four in Atlanta consisted of two legendary coaches battling each other. UNC’s Dean Smith(7th All-Time in Wins), against UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian(27th All-Time in Wins). On the other side, you had a Cedric Maxwell-led UNC Charlotte team, going up against Marquette (before they were the Golden Eagles).
In the legendary matchup (UNC-UNLV), Smith and the Tar Heels squeaked by Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels, 84-83. Forward Mike O’Koren led the way with 31 points and 8 rebounds.
In the other semifinal matchup, Charlotte and Marquette didn’t have as explosive of offenses. As their matchup ended with a low-scoring affair, 51-49. Marquette came out on top. Cedric Maxwell did score 17 along with 12 rebounds for Charlotte. But it wasn’t enough to get by Jerome Whitehead and his 21 point/16 rebound performance.
The Championship Game
This was the second out of five National Championship Games that Dean Smith would coach in. His counterpart, Al Maguire, was in his second, and last National Championship game. Unfortunately for Smith, this would not be one of his two Nat’l Championship wins.
UNC committed 24 fouls as opposed to Marquette’s 13. Which, in turn, proved to be the difference in this game. UNC went to the line for 16 free throws, making 11 of them. While the Warriors (now Golden Eagles), went to the line for 25 shots, making 23 of them. Helping Marquette to their first (and only so far) championship. It also happened to be Al Maguire’s last game on the sidelines.
Would this tournament have ended differently if the teams were seeded? In my opinion, most likely. The seeding makes it more exciting for some reason. More teams have chips on their shoulders etc., But it was fun too look back on what the days before seeding looked like. And I hope you enjoyed it too.