From blogger Dave Sez: After seeing the ACC recruiting coups in bringing in David Thompson and Tom McMillen and noting Maryland and State's success in 1973, Sports Illustrated realized that true competitiveness was in the air in college basketball for the first time in years.
The magazine highlighted this new state of basketball competitiveness, by putting UCLA's mascot on the cover of its glossy 1974 basketball preview issue, showing what appeared to be an uncertain Bruin cornered on one side by an angry Wolf, and on the other by a hopeful-looking Turtle. No Blue Devils or Rams were anywhere in sight, as Sports Illustrated had pegged the year quite accurately.
Like UCLA, NC State had been undefeated in 1973, but had been placed on probation for recruiting violations, and so did not get a shot at UCLA that year. Maryland, which had finished third in the ACC regular season got the sole automatic bid for finishing second in the conference tournament to NC State, and like UCLA and State, had most of its key players back.
Editor’s Note: Of course, this is the year the Terps and Wolfpack played what many say [including TAH] was the greatest ACC basketball game ever played – if not the greatest game played, period.
How good was it? NC State won 103 to 100 in overtime. For the first 40 minutes of regulation, there were no turnovers. The losing team, Maryland, shot 62% for the game.
According to John Feinstein: The Greensboro Coliseum fans gave both teams a standing ovation as they left the court. "We played UCLA two overtimes in the national semifinals, but the Maryland game was tougher," (State coach Norm) Sloan said. "It was as draining and exhilarating an experience as I've ever had. I still remember turning around on the bench at one point and just saying out loud, "My goodness, this is a hell of a game."
"There's no frame of reference for people today," Maryland center turned T.V. commentator Len Elmore said.
It was before Bird-Magic, before Jordan-Ewing. NCAA rules didn't permit dunking or provide 3-pointers, so there was nothing for ESPN. Just as well, since there wasn't ESPN.
"You can't explain the absurdity of only one of us going to the NCAA Tournament," Elmore said, "Or how we put up 203 points without a 3-pointer, without a dunk, with no shot clock. How do you explain this game?"
This was the last year the NCAA only allowed conference winners into the very small field…this was pre-32, or -64 or -65, so each team had to win to go to the Big Dance. Oh yeah, it wasn’t the Big Dance yet either.
The Wolfpack had lost only one game in two years, to UCLA early in the 1973-74 season. In 1973, after going 27-0, the Pack had gone home because they were on NCAA probation. They entered the conference championship game 26-1.
"We had lost one game in two seasons, we had won 32 straight ACC games in a row and yet one loss would mean we would never play in an NCAA tournament game," said point guard Monte Towe. "That's pressure."
The Wolfpack did not back down. They beat the Terps, and went on to lawn mow Providence and Pittsburgh before defeating the Bruins in the NCAA semis 80-77. They clobbered Al McGuire’s Marquette squad to capture the National Championship game 76-64. The game wasn’t as close as the score indicates.
(Photos by Lane Stewart/Sports Illustrated)