What an irony.
Thirty-nine years ago this month, Indiana completed the last undefeated season in college basketball en route to the 1976 NCAA title, finishing with a 32-0 record.
Wisconsin stands as a formidable foe to stop an undefeated Kentucky coronation this weekend. For nearly the entire season, Wisconsin has been noted as maybe the best option to beat the Wildcats because they’re ably armed with size, shooting and experience.
It will be an upset if Wisconsin wins. But it’s far from unthinkable. The second best team in the country, arguably, could take the Wildcats out.
This was the same scenario that played out in 1976. But instead of Badger red, it was Marquette blue and gold, and instead of squaring off in the Final Four, it was decided in the Elite Eight.
See, in the ‘70’s, teams were generally slotted in a region based on geography and instead of 68 teams in the bracket there were only 32. Marquette boasted a 27-1 record entering the 1976 NCAA Tournament and was the No. 2 team in the country.
(The Warriors lone loss in the regular season was a 77-73 overtime setback at Minnesota in the fifth game of the season.)
It didn’t much matter though, as top-ranked Indiana and Marquette were placed in the Mideast region.
Marquette advanced by beating Western Kentucky and Western Michigan; Indiana did the same with wins over St. John’s and Alabama.
Both were NCAA royalty at the time and dripping with elite talent. Yet, the players were overshadowed by coaching giants; charismatic, bombastic and flat out winners alike – Bobby Knight and Al McGuire.
Indiana, of course, prevailed 65–56 on March 26, 1976 in Baton Rouge, La.
The Hoosiers led 36-35 at half, and overall outshot Marquette by a gaudy 57 percent to 38 percent. Earl Tatum led the Warriors with 22 points, but 1977 NCAA tourney star Butch Lee finished with 8 points on 4-18 shooting from the floor.
Fast forward to Kentucky-Wisconsin this weekend. The Wildcats are likely to have all five starters (plus three subs) drafted by the NBA. Wisconsin gets three for sure.
Did I mention that the 1976 game featured loads of talent? All 10 starters in that game were selected in the top 43 picks by the NBA; including Indiana’s Kent Benson (No. 1 overall), Scott May (No. 2), and Quinn Buckner (No. 7); and Marquette’s Lee (No. 10) as top 10 choices.
Can the Badger state put a halt on Kentucky’s historic aspirations?
Maybe they can draw inspiration from none-other-than the late, legendary McGuire, who was quoted in the Indy Star with the following, "I've been around a long time and I've seen a lot of games and a lot of teams. It might be the last of the dinosaurs. You may never see it again."
Maybe so Al – not if Bo Ryan, Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Badgers Nation shock the world on Saturday!
Editor's note: You can view highlights of that game in the video below, from the 3:40 mark through about 8:30.