Without looking it up, can you remember who went 38-1 just five years ago? Probably not, unless you went to the school.
In about 6 hours, Gonzaga will be attempting what hasn’t been done in 45 years, completing an undefeated season, March Madness Champions and all. Many have tried to climb this mountain and all have failed but this particular Gonzaga team looks poised to do it all and claim immortality in the history books of college basketball. This blog post originally was going to take a look at the other schools who’ve attempted such a feat and where they ended up and maybe even some stats here and there about how Gonzaga compares to them. However, within minutes of beginning my research I got completely derailed and found something else way more interesting. The 24-0 Long Island University Blackbirds; uninvited to the first ever NCAA Basketball tournament. Why? Not sure. That’s what we’re here to find out.
Oh, and the team above who went 38-1 and lost….Kentucky. I had to look it up b/c I couldn’t remember who they were either. But let’s get back to work.
First things first before I dive into this I want to present another interesting fact. Oregon was our first ever NCAA Tournament champion in 1939 and didn’t make a Final Four appearance again until 2017! And Boston fans complained about their World Series drought...try winning the first ever championship game and not making it back since then.
Let’s take a trip to 1939. The tournament was made up of 8 schools and operated by the NABC at the time (National Association of Basketball Coaches). Founded in 1927 by Phog Allen and headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri they later turned over the tournament to the NCAA in 1940 after attendance was lower than expected in their first year. If you don't know who Phog Allen is, he's just some guy who coached at Kansas in the 1900's and had a very average career.
That's a joke, he is one of the winningest coach's of all time (Top 20 in win %). But he went to KU so I like to pretend it's not a big deal.
I tried my best to find a connection to Phog Allen and Clair Bee (LIU’s coach) but I can’t. Nothing. I looked to see if they ever faced off as coach’s or players prior to the tournament and maybe Phog had a vendetta against Clair Bee and voted his team out of the tourney but I can’t find a connection to these teams or coach’s or locations.
So maybe it’s the curse of Sister Jean. The sweet, 101 year old lady who supports Loyola Chicago.
History remembers the victor; that’s why no one mentions the Loyola Chicago team of 1939 who also went undefeated and that’s because they lost to LIU in the NIT championship game. Why wasn’t a local undefeated Loyola team invited to the big tournament in 1939 that was being played 14 miles down the road? Beats me. Especially when a not as good Brown team got accepted into the tourney.
Sister Jean was born in San Francisco California, the site which also held the Western conference bracket for the first NCAA tournament. Loyola Chicago was denied entrance so she put a curse on all undefeated teams that no one would be allowed to finish in the NCAA tourney undefeated. Ok that’s a bit of a stretch. I'm just trying to find some sort of correlation here and I'm failing.
Even the following year, Seton Hall went 19-0 but didn’t get an invite to the big dance. Again, I looked for political reasons Seton Hall maybe didn't get the invite but I can't come up with anything
I was all out of ideas for a story and thought my preview for the big game tonight was ruined until I stumbled upon a juicy piece of information in the 1976 March Madness tournament. The Indiana Hoosiers went 32-0 and won the National Championship. The last team to ever do it and arguably one of the best basketball teams of all time. But there is something curious about that 1976 Tournament when you compare it to the 2021 Tournament.
In 1976 both Duke and Kentucky did not make the tournament and that has never happened again...until now, in 2021: Duke and Kentucky are not in the tournament. *rubs hands together. Now we got something.
Let’s take a look at the Final Four in 1976. Indiana tops UCLA to move on to the Championship game.
Final Four in 2021, Gonzaga tops UCLA to move on to the Championship.
Indiana was rolling through teams in the 1976 tournament as well beating their opponents by 20, 14, and 18 points with the closest result winning by 5. Gonzaga has been beating their opponents by 16, 18, 19 and the closest game being a 3 point win in OT. (11.75pts and 11.5pts on average respectively)
1976 Hoosiers and the 2021 Bulldogs were ranked #1 in the AP Polls from Preseason all the way through to the finals.
2021 Bulldogs allowed 69.2 pts/game and score 91 pts/game
1976 Hoosiers allowed 64.8 pts/game and score 86 pts/game.
Why do I mention all these seemingly obscure stats? Well, let’s just say maybe this is this magic combination.
No Duke or Kentucky for the first time since the 1976 tourney which is coincidentally also the last time a team had a perfect season. Both teams roll through their opponents and are pretty similar in points scored and points allowed. They both had to beat UCLA in the final four.
Let’s look at some other attempts:
In 2014, Wichita State entered the tourney undefeated but never ranked 1st overall at any point. They also only averaged a measly 75 pts/game. They ended up losing to Kentucky in the tournament.
2015, Kentucky themselves had the opportunity to go 40-0 but Wisconsin stopped them short in the Final Four bringing the Wildcats season to an end at 38-1. Kentucky also had some similarities to the 1976 Hoosiers and 2021 Bulldogs. They rolled through opponents in the tournament and ranked #1 from preseason to tournament. However, the final ingredient didn’t match. They only averaged 74.4 pts/game. Duke was also in this tournament.
1991 UNLV Rebels are a closer match to these two programs. Ranked #1 from pre-season to tournament. Averaged 97 pts/game and rolled through opponents in the tournament with the closest score being 8pts.
However, they lost to Duke in the National Championship game.
So now with Duke and Kentucky not in the equation for the first time since 1976, Gonzaga and Indiana posting up similar numbers in the stat column, it might be time for history to repeat itself. It doesn't appear there is any sort of curse on the undefeated teams or connection between people and no one has to carry Madame Zeroni up a mountain (Holes anyone?) but maybe it just takes the right things to happen at the right time.
Gonzaga has a chance to do the “nearly” impossible and accomplish it in a larger 64 team tournament (32 teams in 1976) Tonight’s game vs Baylor should be a good one.
But let's make a pick shall we?
14.2% turnover rate
69.2 pts allowed/game
73.1% Free Throw Shooting
14.1% turnover rate
65.3 pts allowed/game
70.1% Free Throw Shooting
It'll be a tighter game than people think especially if Baylor comes out hot because they're the number 1 3pt shooting team but Gonzaga is just as dangerous from inside.
88-83 Gonzaga wins