'88 Jayhawks need some love
Why does the 1988 NCAA title game get no love? I've wondered this question for awhile (and since it's Final 4 time, I thought this topic was appropriate). The '88 game between Kansas & Oklahoma gets lost in the shuffle, and never gets nearly the constant rehashing that NC State/Houston or Nova/GTown get. The aura surrounding the '85 game has been blown out of proportion while the Kansas upset has been woefully underappreciated in comparsion.
I think the '85 title game is a tad overrated. GTown & Nova were from the same conference and saw each other 2 times during the year. Also, there was no shot clock at the time (which is always an advantage an inferior team can exploit). And Villanova was renowned for their deliberate pace, so having to play this style in the title game was not a difficult adjustment for Rollie's bunch. Villanova also liked to play a matchup zone which was enhanced by the fact that there was no 3pt. line in '85, and a zone or sagging man was a smart move when going vs. Ewing.
Matter of fact, in 'Nova's 2 reg. season games vs. the Hoyas they only lost by an average of 4.5 ppg -- a 2-point loss in OT in Philly, & a 7-point loss in DC. St. John's & Syracuse were the only teams to beat the Hoyas in the reg. season (Redmen by 1, Cuse by 2), but every other time that they played the Hoyas (twice for Cuse, thrice for the Redmen), they got pounded. Basically, Nova played the Hoyas closer than any Big East team in '85. Nova kept both games in the 50s with their slow-down pace.
The '88 game shared a lot in common with the '85 game. Can't quite remember the point spreads for either game, but I clearly remember that the Sooners were a huge favorite similar to GTown. Kansas was a 6-seed to Nova's 8-seed, and both Oklahoma & GTown were 1-seeds. No doubt GTown '85 was a better team than the '88 Sooners, but I really feel the '85 Villanova's squad was better as a whole than the '88 Jayhawks. The Wildcats had 4 very good college players in Ed Pinckney, Gary McLain, Dwayne McClain, & Harold Pressley. Pinckney & Pressley turned into servicable pros. This Nova team was better than they get credit for; their ability definitely gets played down to help build up the David/Goliath storyline.
Kansas was playing a conference foe who had beaten them twice in the regular season by 8 points each time. Oklahoma was the Big 8 reg. season & tourney champ, and was one of the best teams in the country (Similar to GTown/Nova). Oklahoma was 30-3 entering the tourney while Kansas was 21-11 (GTown was 30-2 & Nova 19-10 in '85).
The final was a foregone conclusion where basically everyone expected the Sooners to pound the Jayhawks; again sounds familiar to '85. The Sooners had one of the best starting fives in the country with Ricky Grace, Mookie Blaylock, Doug Seiger, Harvey Grant & Stacey King. While the Jayhawks were basically Manning. Well, I guess current Portland GM Kevin Pritchard was a solid college PG & swingman Milt Newton was nice, but after that there was nothing. Really. Nothing.
Granted, Manning was the best player on the floor (and in the country), and he came up huge in the title game with 31, 18 rbs, & 5 stls. Also, the Jayhawks had a sizzling 1st half where they scored 50 points & shot 70%, somewhat similar to Villanova's near perfect 2nd half shooting. The Jayhawks were not quite as deadly from the field for the game as Villanova's 79%, but Kansas' 64% wasn't too shabby. Everyone praises Larry Brown for job in '04 with the Pistons, but his job in '88 might have been his most impressive job of his career.
Villanova's upset is not as miraculous as it seems. Still quite impressive--they did happen to beat one of the best teams of the 80s. But the absence of the shot clock & 3pt. line sure made things easier for an upset, and Villanova had perfected a deliberate style & matchup zone all season. NC State in '83 did a similar thing where they did a tremendous job milking the clock. I just feel that the '88 Kansas upset needs to be held in a similar regard as the NC State & Villanova upsets. Maybe not quite as classic of an upset but pretty close.