Early poll-sitters were rank group indeed

March 14, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

Tourney Tidbits:

National polls didn't come into existence until 1949, the Associated Press getting the ball rolling. Prior to that and going all the way back to Dr. Naismith, the compilations of an accounting professor at St. Bonaventure, Patrick Premo, served as the power ratings bible. During his research, Premo found information sketchy to say the least. For instance, he has Hiram (Ohio) College as No. 1 in 1893-94 with a record of 1-0. That's better than the champ the first year of college hoops, Iowa, which went 2-8-1.

* In the Beginning: A lot of folks, especially numerous professional athletes, think sportswriters serve no useful purpose. But just as Chicago scribe Arch Ward got the baseball All-Star Game started in the mid-'30s, a few years later it was a bunch of writers in New York City that caused the first basketball tourney, the National Invitation Tournament.

The NIT was the only game in town for just one year when the National Association of Basketball Coaches went to the NCAA and pushed for a tourney. Temple won the NIT in 1938, then Oregon took the inaugural NCAA and Long Island University the NIT the next year. LIU ended up as No. 1 while Oregon was three slots back.

* Fifties: Here's what college hoops was like back in 1953-54, the first year of the ACC. La Salle (Tom Gola), ranked No. 2, won the NCAA tournament, but Holy Cross (3), Duquesne (5), Western Kentucky (8) and Niagara (16) opted for the NIT tourney in New York and met in the semifinals. Holy Cross (Tom Heinsohn) defeated Duquesne (Sihugo Green) in the final. Niagara (Larry Costello) had hammered La Salle twice during the regular season. Top-ranked and unbeaten Kentucky nixed postseason play because stars Cliff Hagan, Frank Ramsey and Lou Tsioropoulos were fifth-year players and ineligible.

* Forties: The term "Fabulous Five" didn't originate with the highly recruited freshmen who happened to stroll into Michigan four years ago. It was the name affixed to Adolph Rupp's Kentucky teams that were so dominant following World War II. Alex Groza, Dale Barnstable, Kenny Rollins, Cliff Barker and Jim Line were all war veterans who got only better when a youngster named Ralph Beard came aboard. Top-ranked in 1947-48-49 and No. 2 in 1946, the Wildcats won 134 games and lost 10 over that stretch.

* Clean Sweep: First team to win the NCAA and the NIT was Utah, taking the former with its "Fabulous Frosh" in 1944, the latter in 1947. Then along came CCNY to score the double in 1950.

The Beavers beat Ohio State (2), North Carolina State (5) and top-ranked Bradley for the NCAA title, then, with the NIT also contested in New York, beat San Francisco (12), Kentucky (3), Duquesne (6) and Bradley again. Subsequently, four of CCNY's five starters ended up being involved in a point-shaving scandal, the fifth, Irwin Dambrot, winning the MVP Award in the NCAAs. For obvious reasons the Beavers were not rated in the final poll.

* Double-Duty Guys (and more): Besides being a consensus All-American in hoops in 1950, Dick Schnittker played end on the Ohio State football team that won the Big Ten and defeated California, 17-14, in the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes lost to double tournament champ CCNY, 56-55, in the NCAAs when Schnittker fouled out with five minutes remaining.

How good was one of the all-time great quarterbacks, Otto Graham, on the hardwood? He was a consensus All-American in 1943-44 despite switching schools (Northwestern to Colgate).

Tony Lavelli, a consensus All-American from Yale (1949), played for the Boston Celtics for a while and, at halftime, he used to come out to midcourt and play his accordion. It was in his contract.

Jackie Robinson, while starring as a four-sport man at UCLA (the big three and track), was the leading scorer on two Bruins basketball teams.

Terry Baker, Heisman Trophy winner, All-American and collegiate Hall of Famer and Sportsman of the Year from Oregon State, was a starter at guard for the Beavers at the 1963 Final Four. Besides going 0-for-9 from the field, poor Terry had big problems dribbling the ball as Tom Thacker and Tony Yates of Cincinnati stole everything but his shoelaces during an 80-46 romp.

Besides being in the college and pro football Hall of Fames, Ernie Nevers pitched in the big leagues for three seasons and was an all-conference performer in basketball for Stanford.

Frankie Baumholtz, in addition to compiling a .290 batting average over a 10-year baseball career, was the MVP of the 1941 NIT while playing for Ohio University. He played two seasons of pro hoops.

Bob Pettit of LSU was the first collegian to average more than 30 points per game (31.4), but still lost out as the country's leader in 1954 by 10 points as Frank Selvy of Furman went for 41.7.

* Random Ramblings: The 1959 N.C. State team was ACC co-champ and tourney victor, but was on probation and couldn't compete in the NCAAs. It had knocked off Final Four teams Cincinnati and Louisville during the season.

Cincinnati made the Final Four every spring from 1959 to 1963, won twice and was a beaten finalist once. Oscar Robertson teams did not make the final game the first two years.

Gonzaga, Maryland's opponent in Salt Lake City Thursday, is known for all-time NBA assist leader John Stockton. But in 1960-61, it featured a guy named Frank Burgess, who won the national scoring title in the closest competition ever with a 32.4 average.

CBS hoops commentator Billy Packer had a good game in the national semifinals of the 1962 tournament (17 points) as did teammate Lennie Chappell (27 points), but Wake Forest got run over by Ohio State anyway, 84-69. A couple of dudes named Havlicek and Lucas combined for 44 points while benchman Bobby Knight went scoreless while heaving two shots at the hoop.

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