Hoopaholic’s Countdown to Tipoff

What I still haven’t figured out yet in advance of watching tonight’s to die for Gonzaga vs. Baylor clash for the title is caffeination level.

I have the same conundrum every year on the last Monday of the season.

I’m an early to bed early to rise hoopaholic. The 9:20 tip time is frankly mighty close to when I usually hit the hay. I forget from year to year exactly when I should consume an energy boosting beverage, so that I’ll be alert the whole game, but be able to fall asleep after One Shining Moment?

Do I take one of the several green tea laced drinks in the fridge? A cup of joe? And, more important, how much and at what time?

Decisions, decisions.

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Other than that, I’m wondering just how historical is this matchup between clearly the two finest squads in the land? Teams that were supposed to be the best heading into the season, and remained the best throughout.

My immediate thought, without any research was North Carolina vs. Illinois in ’05. But I suspected they wouldn’t meet all the criteria. And was actually getting ready to research the issue. Honest. No, really, I was going to go through the records.

Well, without doing so, and with props to the excellent hoops scribe Eamonn Brennan, I have the answer. Which if you were paying attention to the photo atop this article, you might have already guessed.

The last time two schools were atop the AP poll the entire season, then played for the crown was 1962.

When defending champ Cincinnati met defending runner up Ohio State for the title in Freedom Hall. (The tiled ceiling should have been a giveaway.)

Yes, of course, I was in the gym.

The other two Final Four participants — though it wasn’t called that yet — were Wake Forest, led by Len Chappell and a PG named Packer, plus an upstart school from the left coast, UCLA.

The Bearcats, led by MOP Paul Hogue, won again, 71-59, over Lucas, Havlicek and Nowell.

So, the answer to the query posited at the top is: Yes, it is historical. I mean, we’re talking 59 seasons here.

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Then there are the back stories of the two programs. Both significant, if in entirely different ways.

Gonzaga, a small Jesuit school in Spokane, which, out of the northwest, playing in a minor league, has over the years, built itself slowly but inexorably into a legitimate national basketball power.

We’ve all read the stories.

Baylor hasn’t been a national playah since the middle of last century.

Then there was that whole scandal in the early oughts. Where Carlton Dotson killed his teammate/ roommate, Patrick Dennehey. And coach Dave Bliss — What a guy! — attempted a cover up, by ordering his players to lie about the deceased, that he was a drug dealer in order to pay his tuition.

From that detritus, Scott Drew has built a power.

So, that’s all more than a might intriguing.

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My favorite bits of pregame anecdotia, again thanks to Brennan and his cohort Brian Hamilton.

Coaches Drew and Mark Few, good friends, have been playing pickle ball together while bubbling up in Indy. Does that fall within the protocols, Mark Emmert? Just askin’?

And, there’s the matter of Davion Mitchell’s nickname.

The Baylor guard is the National Defensive Player of the Year.

His sobriquet: “Off Night.”

Which is what is what the ballers he’s checking usually have when they take to the hardwood against Mitchell and the Bears.

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Should Gonzaga complete its undefeated run and grab the ring, there will be questions whether they are a worthy successor to Indiana’s ’76 team?

Which is a silly dialog really. They’re both good, and both worthy of accolades, especially if the Zags finish the task.

But, it is a different tourney now. Gonzaga will have won the crown with Ws over Norfolk State, Oklahoma, Creighton, Southern Cal, UCLA (by a smidge) and Baylor, should they complete the task.

To capture the crown in ’76, with its 32 team field and obviously no seeding, IU beat #18 St. John’s, #6 Alabama, #2 Marquette, #5 UCLA and #9 Michigan.

Which info I provide for informational purposes only, not to undermine Gonzaga’s achievement should they achieve it.

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I am not a gambler. But am always intrigued by point spreads.

Especially this one.

Coming off its spectacular effort on Saturday, Baylor, which looked frankly unbeatable, opened as a 4 1/2 point underdog.

Will the spread be that large at tipoff?

I have to doubt it.

 * * * * *

No predictions here.

I haven’t the slightest.

Despite our collective dismay at the time, I’m now glad these teams didn’t play the beginning of December.

OK, one guess. I don’t see anyway the battle can be as good as the nightcap Saturday.

But, if it is, wowie zowie, we won’t be talking hoops history, but hoopaholic histrionics.

— c d kaplan