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Monday, January 24, 2022

Even when Gonzaga Becomes Perfect Over Baylor, 1976 Indiana Hoosiers Will Remain Better

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Gonzaga will dribble past Baylor Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to win the national championship. Which means the Zags will finish with the first undefeated season for college basketball in 45 years. Which means The Great Debate will move to the fingertips of those on social media.

Which means you’re in luck.

I’ll sprint ahead of it all by examining the differences between the 2021 Zags and the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

Here’s a spoiler alert, though.

These Zags might tease those Hoosiers after the opening tip, but Gonzaga wouldn’t beat them, not unless both teams played Monopoly or something.

The differences between both teams conquering everything in their worlds go beyond this: In the spring of 1981, CBS
agreed to spend the next three years paying the NCAA at least 60% more for the men’s tournament than what NBC gave the organization from the late 1960s through the run of those 1976 Hoosiers and for several seasons afterward.

That new CBS deal?

Well, it was huge for back then at $16 million per year, but now CBS and Turner Sports pay nearly $1 billion each season for March Madness.

As for other financial differences, the average inflation rate for 1976 was 5.8% compared to under 2.0% these days, and the unemployment rate finished at 7.8% during the reign of those Hoosiers compared to 6% now.

Economic comparisons and contrasts are one thing, but this is more striking: Game-day shorts. They’re a tad longer for these Gonzaga players compared to their 1976 Indiana counterparts.

I’ll also give other differences, which hit closer to talent, coaching and performance, but true confessions: As a northern Indiana guy, who grew up in South Bend cheering for hometown Notre Dame in college football while hugging all things college basketball downstate in Bloomington with the Hoosiers, I’m tempted to spend Monday night’s title game singing a tune in my head.

Bear down you Bears of Old Baylor U!

We’re all for you!


But I won’t do that.

It’s not professional as a journalist.

I’ll just whisper it to myself.

If Baylor leaps from the second overall seed in this NCAA men’s basketball tournament to pull what would rank as only a slight upset over Gonzaga, the 1976 Hoosiers will fight off another challanger to their legacy without delivering a pick or roll.

Larry Bird couldn’t match the 1976 Hoosiers after his undefeated Indiana State team lost to Magic Johnson and Michigan State in the 1979 title game.

Duke shocked loaded UNLV in 1991.

Kentucky crushed Witchita State’s hopes of perfection in 2014, and Wisconsin did the same to Kentucky the following year.

Come to think of it . . .

Just do you, Zags.

It won’t matter when you show you’re this tournament’s overall top seed by defeating Baylor to match those 1976 Hoosiers at 32-0.

It also won’t matter if you grab your first national championship with another shot from another solar system in overtime at the buzzer (which the Zags used Saturday to shock UCLA during the semifinals), or if you continue as that steamroller cruising into the Final Four after taking 29 of its previous 30 games by double digits.

The 1976 Hoosiers will remain the greatest team ever in college basketball, and that’s not just me talking. That also was the determination of NCAA.com, the United States Basketball Writers Association and sports information directors.

Then again, such honors for those Hoosiers happened eight years ago — before Jalen Suggs (who fired Gonzaga’s game-winner against UCLA) did enough for the Zags to become a No. 1 or No. 2 overall pick in the next NBA Draft.

Suggs is joined by first-team All-American Corey Kispert and second-team All-American Drew Timme to help Gonzaga lead the country in scoring, field-goal percentage and 2-point field-goal percentage.

The Zags are fundamentally sound.

They always make the right pass, and from the beginning of games to the end, they pass, and they pass, and they pass.

They box out. Like every time.

They never blow a defensive assignment.

The 1976 Hoosers were all of that, but only by a bunch.

Not only that, but while Gonzaga coach Mark Few continues his rise from the shadows, Bobby Knight was Bobby Knight.

As the elite among the elite of all-time coaches, Knight also had Scott May, who was Suggs-plus as the 1976 National Player of the Year, and May joined guard Bobby Wilkerson as a top 11 pick in the NBA Draft after that season.

Center Kent Benson got Outstanding Player honors for the 1976 tournament before he became the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 1977.

Quinn Buckner. Ted Abernathy. Wayne Radford. They joined their Indiana teammates as future pro players from a group that beat four consecutive top 10 teams through the 1976 national title game to win it all, and that group had a two-year record of 63-1 and a record 36 straight Big Ten victories.

What these Zags do is impressive.

What those 1976 Hoosiers did was immortal.

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