In your column about how people will view the success of the current basketball season, you said that many people think that simply making the field for the NCAA Tournament should be the norm - not something to celebrate.
You wrote: “Sutton made it all 11 of his seasons and Richardson in 13 of his 17”. I didn’t remember Sutton making the Tournament his first season, but wasn’t positive. So, I looked it up. Turns out that Arkansas did not play in the Tournament either of Sutton’s first two seasons (1974-75, 1975-76), but played in nine consecutive after that.
I remembered watching the inaugural SWC Tournament on TV shortly after I moved to Dallas out of college (I attended UTEP). This was the spring of 1976, and I was surprised with our young talent - guys named Moncrief, Brewer and Delph. In my life, Arkansas had never done anything in Basketball, so I was excited for the future of the program. IIRC, in the quarter finals Arkansas beat favored SMU, who had a stud big man named Ira Terrell. Eventual Champions Texas Tech, led by Rick Bullock, beat the Hogs in the semis.
Remember in 1975 you had to win your league to make the Dance, or be selected as an independent. There were no at-large bids.
At-large bids arrived in 1976, and Michigan made the NCG as an at-large that first year. The impetus for the addition of at-large bids was the 1974 ACC tournament final. NC State and Maryland were both ranked in the national top 5. NC State won in double overtime, went on to beat UCLA in the Final Four and won the NC. Maryland turned down the NIT and got zip, although they were still #4 in the final AP poll.
Aggies won the SWC title in both 75 and 76; we tied for second in 75, were fourth in 76.
The first SWC team to get an at-large was us, in 1978 after we choked away the SWC semifinal to Houston by bricking free throws. I remember there was some real concern about whether we were well-regarded enough to make the tournament as an at-large, even though we were in the top 10 in the polls (that was how paranoid people were about SWC basketball, which was an afterthought at most schools not located in northwest Arkansas or west Texas). Of course, we got in and reached the Final Four, and Texas won the NIT the same year.
Wiz, your mention of Rick Bullock brings up an old memory; probably haven’t thought about this in 30 years. Bullock was undoubtedly the best player in the SWC in 1976. On January 26 that year Tech came to Barnhill, which was still the old Barn with the dirt floor. The student section was on Bullock’s case all night, and he eventually fouled out late in what became a 6-point Hog win. When he got the fifth foul, the students really got on him (undoubtedly the SEC would fine us if our student section got anywhere near that rowdy today) and Bullock responded. I remember Dave Woodman exclaiming on the radio “Rick Bullock just gave the middle finger to the crowd WITH BOTH HANDS!”
I don’t recall when the NCAA expanded to 64 teams, but I think it was well into the Sutton era. Seems like the Triplets got into the tournament when there were only something like 54 teams with the top 10 getting an initial bye. There might have been an intermediate step from a 32 team tournament before it went to 54(?).
I paid almost no attention to the NCAAT when I was in college (1970-74) UA basketball was an afterthought. A student could walk in to Barnhill, show his ID (or not) and find a seat. I don’t know what it would seat back then, but probably no more than 2,000 or so. There were temporary bleachers on the south side of the court on top of the dirt floor used for football during the spring. It wasn’t until Sutton arrived in the 74-75 season that basketball became popular with students. By the next season, my first year in law school, it captured everyone’s imagination. We went to the NCAA tournament after starting the season 16-0. (Might have then lost one before conference season began.) We were good. Moncrief, Brewer & Delph. Barnhill was being expanded & modernized. We lost our first NCAA game to Wake Forest in a heartbreaking loss. The next year we went to the Final Four, losing to eventual champion Kentucky, but then beating Notre Dame in the consolation game.
1939-1950 – 8 teams
1951-1952 – 16
1953-1968 – 22 to 25 (seems to have fluctuated a bit from year to year)
1969-1974 – 25
1975-1978 – 32; that was the size when the Triplets got in.
1979 – 40
1980-1982 – 48, which is why Louisville got a bye in '81
1983 – 52
1984 – 53
1985-2000 – 64
2001-2010 – 65
2011-present – 68
CMA has a much more difficult job than CES or even CNR in maintaining consistency or building a deep run. The championship caliber teams that CES and CNR built were based on local, generational talent that hung around for three or four years. If this were the same environment, CMA would have gotten at least three years out of Portis and four years out of Qualls. Instead of a second-week NCAAT team in 2016, he had to knit together a roster after a perfect storm of roster depletion that summer. Three and four years from Moncrief, Brewer, Walker, Robertson, Kleine, Day, Miller, Mayberry, and Corliss made it a lot easier to keep a string of tourney appearances and deep runs going.
Likewise, CMA would probably be plotting how to balance the roster around junior Gafford in 2020 for a run at a banner in times of yore. He’s probably not even going to get two years out of Gafford, and any equivalent talent that was available for 2019 was already signed before he even had an inkling that the scholarship would most likely be available.
Arkansas also no longer has an advantage in basketball interest relative to the rest of the SWC and the non-UK SEC. CES did a great job of carving out a basketball fiefdom in a non-basketball conference, and CNR fed it. Losing that fanaticism is a drag on the program. Our fans don’t seem to understand that being rabid at this level of success would make it easier to take the next step.
Very good point. This is how talk radio hosts should respond when callers call in with their garbage. Sometimes I think hosts just listen and move on to the next caller instead of challenging the caller. To be fair, Bo does do that at times, but not all of them do.
Speaking of callers with garbage, I wish Michael from Stuttgart… would go away, but until that happens, I wish he’d be honest. He wants a white coach IMO. Used to be code words that told you that a player was white (“heady, coach on the floor”) or black (“very athletic”). Michael is using code words for white coaches every time he criticizes MA or slobbers over Chris Beard.
I don’t know about the “code words”, but seeing people on this board drooling over Beard is ridiculous. That’s why I want to play them next Friday. I think we will blow them out. Watching their game earlier (1st time I’ve seen them) I think we will roll them
First, Swine, thanks for doing the research on when & how the NCAAT expanded. I’d forgotten it was so small when the Triplets made it. Just getting in to the tournament was a much bigger deal then. I also thought it had been longer since it went to 64 teams–still my ideal size if they’re going to allow all the itty bitty conference champions a bid. I simply miscalculated (easy to do when I simply do it in my head) that it’d leave 96 teams if we had a 64-team “play-in” over one weekend.
Second, I detest Michael from Stuttgart. However, I haven’t heard him in a while. Maybe I’m listening less. But I think I can stand Tiger Bait easier than I can Michael.
A successful season, to me, would be one or two wins in the tournament. Beating Butler is important. Beating Purdue…not quite as important, to me. If we go to the tournament and lose to Butler…the season will have been a disappointment. Just making the tournament is not enough for me this year. We need to make some noise because next year doesn’t look promising for any NCAA success if Daniel Gafford does not return. If he does come back, we could get there again. If he does not come back…the odds are not that good we will be back. Strike while we have the senior guards. The time is now.