You really shouldn’t need anything else.
Each year, Final Four weekend provides the entire country the opportunity to remember and reminisce NC State’s 54-52 victory over the Phi Slamma Jamma and the Houston Cougars. And, each year various members of the media throughout the country find some reason or connection to talk about Jim Valvano and the Wolfpack’s A+ rated run to the title. This year is no exception.
But, this is one of those special years when the current National Championship game is played on the exact date of the Wolfpack’s title game in Albuquerque, New Mexico… (..making Carolina’s battle with Illinois an even more painful irony to reconcile).
Just last week, CBS Sportsline proclaimed that the origin of the Madness of March can be traced to NC State’s National Championship run. During our 1983 run, Jim Valvano publicly coined the phrase, “survive and advance” that remains a popular part of March’s vernacular today.
I am going to make a statement and build a case that flies completely in the face of conventional wisdom and most of what the media has hammered into you for over two decades — NC State’s 1983 National Championship was nowhere near as big of an upset as most people believe.
We all have been programmed to agree with The Sporting News’ assessment that State’s win was Greatest Championship Game upset of all time. Don’t get me wrong…I enjoy the attention that this brings our program, and I understand how a cursory look at NC State’s 17-10 regular season record would initially create such a conclusion. Especially when the conventional wisdom is that State (supposedly) had to win the ACC Championship to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. (A contention that I do not 100% accept and believe that we may have sewn up a tourney berth with our ACC Semifinal victory over Carolina).
But…in the immortal words of Lee Corso…”not so fast my friend”. (And, I mean the version of Lee Corso that is currently on ESPN…not the one who was the horrendous color commentator for NC State’s loss to Virginia Tech in the 1986 Peach Bowl.)
I contend that most don’t really know the truth about the 1982-1983 Wolfpack and therefore under-appreciate how good that NC State squad really was, therefore over-estimating the magnitude of the upset of defeating Houston.
Of course, the first component of the “upset” recipe is pretty obvious. The Houston Cougars had been ranked #1 in the Final AP poll and were playing at a level that college basketball had never seen. The Cougars were studded with all sorts of versatile talent and had made minced meat of all of their competition on the road to the Final Four. Once in Albuquerque, the Cougars DESTROYED a Louisville team that finished the season at #2 in the final poll (and had beaten NC State earlier in the year) with an athletic exhibition that would have made the Los Angeles Lakers quiver.
Look…Houston had been the #1 team in the country for weeks. They were playing so good at the time, that it would have been an upset if ANYONE would have beaten them. Don’t get me wrong…the magnitude of State’s upset over the Cougars was significant…but I contend the chasm between Houston and NC State was realistically nowhere nearly as large as the media and mythology have created.
Either by choice or by accident, people forget that NC State’s 1982-1983 Basketball team was damn good. Although our “run” to the National Championship was exhilarating, the success that we enjoyed in March and April of 1983 was rooted much deeper in skill than the “luck” that modern history has attributed to us.
Consider the following…On January 11, 1983, NC State was 7-2 and was ranked #19 in the country in the eighth college basketball poll of the season. In fact, NC State had been ranked between #15 and #19 in every single basketball poll of the year. State had defeated Top 20 West Virginia for one win, and had lost only two road games at Louisville and Missouri. I know that the new generation of Wolfpackers cannot begin to relate to such out of conference competition, but both Louisville and Missouri had been ranked in the Top 10 in the early part of the season.
One day later, on January 12, 1983, the formerly #1 (currently #2) ranked Virginia Cavaliers came to Raleigh to battle NC State. As most Wolfpackers remember, Derek Whittenburg broke his foot in the first of half of this game with NC State blowing out the Cavs and up (approximately) 18 points at the time of the injury. The Pack never recovered from the injury and ultimately lost to the Cavs by a score of 88-80, providing a precursor to the struggles that we would endure in the next month.
After Terry Gannon missed a 17 foot jumper at the buzzer against Notre Dame in Reynolds on February 12th, the Wolfpack sat at 13-8 and without much hope of making the Field of 48/52. But the adjustments that Jim Valvano had made without Whittenburg where starting to take root, and the Pack ran off three straight victories that included back-to-back wins over Carolina and Duke (what pipe dream the idea of beating Duke & Carolina has become) , and the Wolfpack was treading just enough water to stay on the NCAA’s radar until Whittenburg’s return for the ACC Tournament.
Whittenburg returned for the ACC Tournament and the Wolfpack maintained their existing momentum to finish the season with a 13-2 run that included ACC and NCAA Championships. In the process, the Pack knocked off Carolina twice, Virginia twice, UNLV and Houston.
That sounds like a pretty impressive “run”, doesn’t it? Well…it was. Just HOW impressive is almost inexplicable — Consider that there were 17 Associated Press College Basketball polls in the 1982-83 season…in which 7 different teams held the #1 ranking for some amount of time. During the season, NC State won SIX games against a team that had been ranked #1 in the country at some point of the season.
Just think about the magnitude of that for a moment. Off the top of my head, I cannot think of any other team in the history of basketball that achieved such a feat…let alone any other team that also was able to win the National Championship. (I would welcome your research in the comments section of this entry). This is why I believe the idea of State pulling such an “upset” is hogwash. We won SIX games against teams that had been ranked #1 in the country, and lost another with an 18 point lead when our best player got hurt. This is almost unfathomable.
In 1982-1983, NC State…
* played five of the seven programs that held the #1 ranking for at least one week during the season. The seven schools that were #1 were the following: Virginia (5 weeks), Indiana (2 weeks), Memphis State (1 week), UCLA (2 weeks), UNC-CH (2 weeks), UNLV (2 weeks), Houston (4 weeks).
* played a total of TEN GAMES against five different teams ranked #1 for 13 of the 17 weeks of the season.
* played 11 games against 5 different teams who were ranked in the AP’s Final Top 10 poll of the season.
* scheduled 4 different out of conference teams that were ranked in the Top 20 at some point – Memphis State in Raleigh, West Virginia in New Jersey, and played at Final Four participant Louisville and at Missouri who, respectively, spent 7 and 10 weeks in the Top 10.
The REAL “Run”
Fans mention our hot “run” to the title, when quite the opposite of a “run” to the title is reality.
The real “run” of the 1983 season was the one month from January 12th through February 12th that State struggled without Derek Whittenburg. When you look back on the Wolfpack?s actual performance that year?that is the only time that the team truly struggled.
As indicated by 8 consecutive weeks of Top 20 rankings, State was a Top 15-team in the first two months of the season before Whitt’s injury. We then followed the bad month with almost two more months of obviously incredible play as evidenced by our amazing performance of winning SIX games against teams ranked #1 in the country.
Therefore, on the whole, Valvano?s Wolfpack was a Top 15 team playing anywhere from good to fantastic for more than 75% of the entire season!!! How can a team that is that good actually be that big of an underdog to pull off such a large upset?
People are correct when they proclaim that our 1983 Championship will never be replicated, but I don’t think that they understand why they are correct. Sure the magical “run” defined by the exciting MANNER in which the Cardiac Pack won games will be impossible to duplicate?but I am willing to wager that the Wolfpack?s late game heroics won?t be any more difficult to best than our amazing schedule and performance against that schedule when healthy.
For the young fans (and Lee Fowler) who cannot quite grasp what NC State once was and what we should be able to be again…I thought that I would make some quick translations and comparisons into some modern day equivalents:
— Had the RPI been in existence in 1983, Houston, UNC-CH, Virginia, & UNLV would have all finished the season in the Top 10. There is a good chance that they all would have finished with Louisville in the Top Five. NC State won 6 games against the hypothetical RPI Top 10 in 1983, and would have been 6-3 overall.
* In his first EIGHT years of coaching at NC State, Herb Sendek managed to match Jim Valvano’s SIX wins vs the RPI Top 10 in 1983.
* In his NINTH year, Sendek’s 1-7 record against the RPI Top 10 earned him his 7th victory over an RPI Top 10 team and finally surpassed (in 108 months) what Valvano achieved in a two month period in 1983.
* Sendek has only defeated multiple RPI Top 10 teams in a single year at NC State — his very first season when we went 2-7 against the Top 10. Valvano defeated multiple Top 10 teams in one weekend in the 1983 ACC Tournament.
* Sendek has managed a single RPI Top 10 win on five occasions and failed to win a game vs the Top 10 in three other seasons (going 0-14 in those years).
* Sendek is now 7-42 (14%) against the RPI Top 10 at NC State.
— In addition to unranked Notre Dame, NC State scheduled four out of conference games against teams ranked in the Top 20 at some point in 1982-1983 season. These games included two ROAD games at opponents that were ranked in the Top 10 – Missouri and Louisville (Final Four) in addition to hosting Memphis State who achieved a #1 ranking.
— In Herb Sendek’s NINE years at NC State, the Wolfpack has scheduled road games on the home floor of a Top 10 opponent on only three different occasions – at Kansas (#1) in his first year in a return game that Les Robinson had scheduled, at Syracuse (#9) in December of 2001 (Syracuse failed to make the NCAA Tournament that season), and this year at Washington.
— In ONE SEASON, NC State won SIX games against teams ranked #1 in the country. I don’t have the numbers, but I highly doubt if Herb Sendek has defeated that #1 ranked teams in nine years as coach.
It is always fun to read about the game as if it just happened.
“The team with the most dunks invariably was Houston, which arrived at the Final Four with the top ranking in both wire-service polls and a 25-game winning streak, longest in the nation. Of the 52 teams invited to the NCAA Tournament — the highest number ever — none appeared capable of stopping Houston.
It was clear from the outset the Wolfpack not only was prepared for the Cougars’ high-powered offense but had some surprises of its own. For starters, Bailey scored the first basket of the game on, of all things, a dunk…
…”The team with the most dunks wins the game,” Lewis had stated on the eve of the final. “That’s our slogan.”
In the NCAA championship, the team with the most dunks was N.C. State, by the margin of two-to-one.