April 4, 1983 – Happy Anniversary of the NOT Upset

April 4, 1983

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.

Upset?…What Upset?
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.

Amazing Competition
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.

Modern Translation
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.

Flashback General NCS Basketball Tradition

13 Responses to April 4, 1983 – Happy Anniversary of the NOT Upset

  1. Chris 04/04/2005 at 4:17 PM #

    Another article that starts out celebrating NC State, but eventually, as most, ends with bashing Herb Sendek. SSDD

    Author’s Note: Please point and highlight where I make a SINGLE comment that “bashes” Herb Sendek? Seriously…will you point out to me one single editorial comment that draws a negative conclusion that serves to ‘bash’ Sendek?

    The ONLY mentions of Sendek in this entry are made to draw modern day comparisons with what Valvano did in 1982-1983. We can only infer from your comments that YOU judge these facts to be highly negative of Sendek (since I did not draw any of these conclusions). So, YOU judge these NUMBERS to be negative, and somehow I get criticized for it?

    I love it!!! I say nothing about Sendek other than share statistics and it is somehow “bashing”? It is only “bashing” because you judge the facts so negative.

  2. "Martin Short" 04/04/2005 at 8:14 PM #

    Read that Author’s Note reply…and pictured Nathan Thurm!

  3. William 04/04/2005 at 9:21 PM #

    I just happy that somebody remembered the date. I noticed how the diaper clad Sendek-gang at Pack Pride had no mention of 1983 except for a small link to a Dallas newspaper. That is supposed to be “Pack Pride”? It’s sad that so much of our success has been ignored or forgotten by so many.

  4. Sammy Kent 04/04/2005 at 10:09 PM #

    Good article, Jeff. I have always contended that we won that game for one reason: we really were the better team.

    Small correction. We played ten games against teams that had been ranked #1 sometime during the year, and were 6-4 in those games. We were 2-2 against UVa, 2-1 vs Carolina, 1-0 vs UNLV, 1-0 vs Houston, 0-1 against Louisville, Memphis State, and Notre Dame, (although by the time we played the Irish they had totally tanked and were barely alive for an NCAA bid.)

  5. Fred 04/05/2005 at 8:24 AM #

    Another small correction. Whit broke his foot early in the second half against UVa after scoring 27 points in the first half. He returned for the final three regular season games that year. I really don’t remember playing Indiana at all that year, but I don’t have my coffee mug with all of the scores from that year with me to consult.

    I will also point out that Coach V inherited a top 15 team from Norm Sloan. Sendek’s biggest problem in my opinion has been his inability to recruit the level of talent that he needs to have a consistent top 20 program. I think your observations about scheduling may be a factor in the recruiting difficulties.

  6. Toots 04/05/2005 at 9:10 AM #

    I concur. The 1983 team was a very good team. People remember that:

    – Houston was Phi Slamma Jamma (they did have 2 players that went on to be named to the NBA’s All-time 50 Greatest Team – Drexler and Akeem) and suppose to be invincible.

    – NC State made it into the NCAA Tournament only by winning the ACC. I agree with Jeff, we “may” have been in with the win over UNC. But we will never know for sure. Personally, I dont think we win the NCAA Title without winning the ACC Title. The ACC Title let the team know it could slay a true giant (Ralph and UVA)

    – The “escape” versus Pepperdine gave the team the “Team of Destiny” title, which V encouraged. “Teams of Destiny” are always viewed as “underdogs.” We really had no business winning that Pepperdine game, as poorly as we played. But V always said “win the first game, and you can win the tournament” He felt the first game of a tournament was always the toughest.

    One edit: NC State didnt play Indiana or UCLA, as you stated earlier. They did play Notre Dame that year.

  7. John 04/05/2005 at 10:05 AM #

    The other interesting thing the article brings up is the number of NCAA teams. Many people like to point out V’s record in the ACC and his NCAA trips for comparison sake. It was a lot tougher for V to make the NCAA’s than it is now. Making the NCAA’s in today’s environment should really be a minimum expectation.

  8. Ray 04/05/2005 at 3:22 PM #

    I totally agree that 1983 team was an excellent team.

    I agree with the writer and disagree with one of the comments that NCSU had to win the ACC Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.

    At the end of the regular season, Maryland and NCSU were tied for third at 8-6, while Wake Forest finished 5th at 7-7. Overall, NCSU was 17-10, Maryland was 19-8, and Wake was 17-10.

    In the ACC Tournament, Maryland was seeded #3, but they lost to GT in the First Round. However, the Terrapins still made the NCAA’s as an 8 seed. Given that the team tied with NCSU in the regular season had a bad loss and still made the NCAA Tournment leads me to believe NCSU did not have to win the ACC Tournament.

    At 17-10, NCSU definitely needed to beat Wake in the First Round. I believe that win put the Wolfpack on the bubble. However, I believe the Semi-Final win against UNC cemented an NCAA berth. That win moved the Wolfpack to 19-10 with two ACC Tournament wins, two wins over UNC, and one win over UVa. As far as getting into the NCAA’s, the ACC Championship game was irrelevant.

    I do agree that winning the ACC Tournament set the stage for the NCAA Title run. I don’t think they would have won the NCAA Title if they hadn’t won the ACC Title.

  9. SaccoV 04/05/2005 at 9:26 PM #

    Though you have lots of interesting material in this post, I completely disagree with the idea that the Pack win WAS NOT an upset. Starting line-ups for Houston included Akeem-Abdul Olajuwon (before the shortening to just Hakeem), Clyde Drexler, Michael Young, and Larry Micheaux, all who became pro starters in the NBA. For the Pack, only Thurl Bailey would have a solid pro career. Lowe and Whittenburg would be retired before having any impact along with Charles and Gannon. Cozell McQueen need not be mentioned along with the NBA. And I understand very well that overall basketball talent is not what always wins championships (as Roy Williams can probably attest to). Regardless of how good the team would have been if Whittenburg was not injured against Virginia, Houston was a better team than NC State. NC State won the game, and that’s all the matters in the end. This “run” included an early round scare from Pepperdine and an overtime victory over Georgia in the Final Four.
    The admission of an “upset” is NOT an admission that State was inferior; it’s an acknowledgement of the law of averages. Even a State grad like myself can look at this championship game realistically enough to see that these teams were NOT evenly matched.
    Also, I’m disturbed by this continued ridicule of Sendek and the program. Although he should have acheived success earlier in his nine-year tenure, to compare ANYTHING about the 1983 team to Sendek’s teams is obtuse. Considering that Whittenburg and Lowe were brought to Raleigh by Norm Sloan, the cupboard was not nearly as bare as the Lakista McCuller, Jeremy Hiatt and Ishua Benjamin team which Sendek inherited.
    Finally, considering another final Top-25 finish and the first Sweet 16 appearance, give the Baldman from Penn Hills some credit. He’s no Les Robinson.

    Author’s Note: You really want to give someone “credit” for NOT being the worst coach in the history of our program who helped create the least successful program in the ACC of the entire decade of the 1990s?

    Of course State’s win over Houston was an upset. It just wasn’t as large of an upset as the media continues to make it out to be.

  10. Jeff T 03/19/2006 at 10:07 PM #

    The night after 10th seeded N. C. State “upset” 7th seeded California in the 1st round of the 2006 NCAA tournament, I ran across the video tape compilation I had made of news broadcats and stories that were aired right after 4/4/83. I was 11 years old at the time, but still got swept up in the excitement of State’s journey. Watching the tape again, nearly brought tears of joy, excitement and hope to my heart, as State prepared to play a tough Texas team, later that day, 3/19/06.

    I showed the tape to my 6 1/2 year old daughter, who has really enjoyed watching State games with me this year, and she thought it was really cool. She DID comment on the style of shorts the players were wearing! But she too seemed to get excited about winning.

    The emotions of that ’83 tournament run, bouyed me throughout the day, fueled by a song WRAL, the local TV station, had put together, “The Cardiac Kids.” (available via email if you’re interested)

    Later that night, after State’s shooting went cold in the 2nd half against 2nd seeded Texas,I tucked my daughter in for the night. She said, “They’ll try harder next time.” I shared with her that I was certain that Coach Sendek was telling all the players, but especially the seniors, Illian Evtimov, Engin Atsur, Cameron Bennerman and Tony Bethel, to be proud of their accomplishments and that the only reason they had a chance to play today, was becuase they had worked SO hard all season. My daughter responded, “Those players must feel so special, to be so good. It isn’t always about winning and losing, right Daddy? It is about trying your best and having fun! They’ll win the trophy again, one day… just like they did when they wore those silly shorts!”

    WOW! The experience of 1983 has already transcended a generation. Thanks N. C. State of ’83 AND today! Here’s to a terrific season!

    – Jeff

  11. George Hollis 03/31/2006 at 2:53 AM #

    All I really want to say is I was living in Charlotte, NC when NC State pulled off the upset of the NCAA Basketball Tournament history! Didn’t State play Pepperdine earlier in the season in the Alaskan Shootout? It was a great year. I remember thinking they would have to win the ACC Tournament to get in playoffs. State’s three amigos where the backbone of V’s scheme to make other teams play zone. State hit threes like their life depended on it (Whittenburg).

    I’m forever a State fan! Even living in Washington State.


  1. StateFans Nation » Blog Archive » 1983 - Right Year, Wrong Game - 02/02/2007

    xDSUju Looking forward to reading more. Great blog post.Much thanks again. Will read on…

  2. StateFans Nation » Blog Archive » Happy Anniversary! - 04/04/2007

    […] Really, nothing more needs to be said unless you want to take a deeper look into some very interesting thoughts by clicking here. Just sit back and enjoy the most famous 44 seconds in NC State athletics history — and all the pandemonium that ensued afterward. Also, please pay close attention to Coach Valvano’s comments afterward about the importance of being in the position to win and playing to win the game. […]

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