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Archive for Friday, April 2, 2010

Underdog Butler a great story

April 2, 2010

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Butler’s emergence as 2010 NCAA basketball champion would be one of the greatest underdog stories in college history, maybe sports in general. Go Bulldogs!

But in all the rehashing of previous triumphs by surprise winners, there is a tendency to overlook the 1961 and 1963 stunners by Cincinnati and Chicago Loyola.

Cincy was “doomed” to lose to mighty Ohio State in ’61. Loyola was depicted as a sacrificial lamb as Cincinnati seemed a cinch for a third straight championship in ’63. Ohio State was a defending college champ (1960) and Cincy (1961-62) was the same.

The tournament has produced notable NCAA title heroics by UTEP (’66) North Carolina State (’83) and Villanova (’85). But that Cincinnati upset of a great Ohio State team with Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, Larry Seigfried and a little-used substitute named Bobby Knight in 1961 shocked most. Then just to show it was no fluke, the Bearcats repeated against Lucas, Havlicek and Co. (Knight had graduated) in 1962.

Coach Bob Huggins, one-year Kansas Stater now at West Virginia, had some fine years at Cincinnati, but he never came close to the swath that rookie coach Ed Jucker and the Bearcats cut in that ’61-63 span. That first Cincy title went through a Lawrence Regional meet, with Kansas State the victim in the finals here.

The ’61 Cincy team, for all its achievements, looked like anything but a bona fide threat to mighty Ohio State in the Kansas City Final Four. They had an aggressive but sometimes non-agile center in 6-9 Paul Hogue, and their forwards were 6-4 Bob Wiesenhahn and 6-2 (honest!) Tom Thacker. But their ace in the hole was quarterback Tony Yates, an Air Force veteran and a superlative orchestrator.

After Cincy won the regional here, Wiesenhahn told me: “Write it down — we’re winning it all next week in Kansas City.” He was quite reserved, though jubilant, when after the title game, a 70-65 overtime dandy, he grinned and said: “Told ya so.” Next year the two Ohio teams met in the title game at San Francisco and Cincy rolled, 71-59.

With Thacker, Ron Bonham, George Wilson and Yates, how could Cincy miss winning a then-unprecedented third national crown in ’63? The last hurdle was undersized and unheralded Chicago Loyola coached by George Ireland. Cincy had a two-point lead in the final seconds. Bearcat Larry Shingleton missed a free throw that would have made the gap three points; there was no three-point arc.

Loyola rushed and tied it, then beat the unbeatable 60-58 in overtime. The Ramblers used only five men — Vic Rouse, John Egan, Ron Miller, Jerry Harkness and Les Hunter, who later was in the restaurant business in Kansas City. Just as Cincinnati had knocked out a great Ohio State team two seasons in a row, so did Loyola foil another tremendous team a year later.

The next year, in Kansas City, John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins beat Duke and began their run of 10 titles in 11 years. UCLA knocked off Kansas State in the semifinals of that ’64 meet.

Yet when you talk about unexpected NCAA victories, consider what Cincinnati did to defending champ Ohio State in 1961 and what The Five Guys from Loyola did to a great Cincinnati gang in ’63. The upsetter became the upsettee.

I’d love to see Butler duplicate such feats at Indianapolis. The ’Dogs are as capable as Loyola ’63.

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