The 1973 college basketball season ended just as the prior six seasons had ended – with UCLA winning the championship. Even worse, UCLA was growing more dominant. Both the 1972 and 1973 championship teams were undefeated, as UCLA carried a 75-game winning streak into the 1973-1974 season.
The Shot Heard Round the World
The year began with a bang – Notre Dame’s Dwight Clay’s “Shot Heard Round the World” brought an end to UCLA’s streak in a stunning 71-70 upset. See related post: Jan-19-1974: The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.
At this time, only the winner of the ACC tournament advanced to the 25-team NCAA tournament despite the fact that UPI ranked the top three ACC contenders as follows: North Carolina State (#1), Maryland (#4) and North Carolina (#8).
In 1973, #2-ranked NC State went 23-0 and won the tournament beating #10 Maryland in the finals 76-74; but Maryland went to the NCAA since NC State was on probation. Maryland would advance to the Elite 8 in the tournament.
In 1974, NC State and Maryland played again in the ACC Final. NC State was 25-1, with its only loss being an 84-66 early season loss to UCLA. The Wolfpack were led by AP Player of the Year David Thompson and All-American 7-4 Center Tommy Burleson.
Maryland was 21-4, with two losses to NC State, a loss to North Carolina and a 65-64 opening game loss to UCLA at Pauley Pavillion. The Terrapins were led by three All-Americans – guard John Lucas plus 6-11 Tom McMillen and 6-9 Len Elmore in the frontcourt.
Maryland got to the finals having crushed North Carolina 105-85, in one of Dean Smith’s worst ACC tournament defeats. The momentum continued into the finals where they opened a twelve-point lead. Maryland would shoot 62 percent in the game, but it would not be enough as they could not contain NC State center Tommy Burleson whose 38 points led NC State to a 103-100 victory in an overtime classic.
“We played UCLA two overtimes in the national semifinals, but the Maryland game was tougher,” Sloan said. For years, it was called the greatest college basketball game of all-time.
Eliminated from the NCAA tournament as a result of the loss, Maryland, which had won the NIT in 1972, elected not to return to the NIT and ended the season that night.
End of the Dynasty
NC State would eventually get its rematch with UCLA in the NCAA Semifinals in Greensboro, North Carolina. While the Bruins had beaten the Wolfpack 84-66 earlier in the season in St. Louis, NC State would win a classic double-overtime victory 80-77. It was UCLA’s first tournament loss in 39 games, dating back to 1963.
The UCLA – North Carolina State semifinal game made USA Today’s list of the greatest NCAA tournament games of all time at #13. UCLA star Bill Walton calls that game the most disappointing outcome of his entire basketball career, given how UCLA lost a 5-point lead late in regulation and a 7-point lead in the 2nd overtime, before NC State rallied to win, 80-77.
NC State went on to beat Marquette 76-64 in the NCAA Final.
With the end of UCLA’s 7-year reign as National Champions, no team would repeat as National Champs until Florida in 2006 and 2007.
Opening Up March Madness
The exclusion of Maryland from the NCAA tournament in 1974 (coupled with the 1971 exclusion of #2 University of Southern California whose only two losses were to conference rival #1 UCLA) led the NCAA to abandon the one-team per conference rule and expand to 32-teams in 1975.
Four years later, the tournament increased to 40 teams and ended with Michigan State beating Indiana State in the first matchup between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. That game remains the most watched college basketball in history.
March Madness would include 64 teams by 1985. In 2001, the field was expanded to 65 teams.