Because I remember North Carolina State beating Houston, and I remember Cassius Clay beating Sonny Liston, and I remember that I was born under the Truman -- not the Dewey -- administration, I have this chilly, frightening feeling that I might regret this in the morning. But I am going to proceed anyway, under the assumption that Georgetown will defeat Villanova and become the first team in 12 years to win two straight national championships. If and when that happens, it will be time to ask: Just which rung of the stairway to heaven does this Georgetown team stand on? Which of the great college teams in history, if any, beats these guys? It's Ghostbusters time. Hoya-gonna call?
"They are as good a team as I've ever seen," Indiana Coach Bob Knight said today.
"This is a great, great team," said Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt.
"I don't want to blow so much smoke up their nasal passages that they walk out of here with a deviated septum," St. John's Coach Looie Carnesecca said, as only he can. "But they've been in the Final Four three out of four years with Mr. Ewing. How many times do you have to be hit in the head before you know it hurts? Look, when you're preparing to play them you never want to admit in your mind that they're great. But then the moment of truth comes. With two minutes left in our game, I turned to my assistants and said it -- they are a truly great team. I had to say it."
In naming a few teams Georgetown might be compared with, Carnesecca mentioned, among others, a couple of oldies but goodies: the Kentucky teams of 1948 and 1949 with Ralph Beard and Alex Groza, and the San Francisco teams of 1955 and 1956 with Bill Russell and K.C. Jones. They were great teams. But the game they played then simply isn't the game they play now. Players are quicker now; they jump higher, they shoot better. There are eras in college basketball, as there are in all sports, and it seems to me that the era this Georgetown team lives in is the era ushered in by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, when he was still Lew Alcindor and a student at UCLA.
The consensus of what people are saying at the Final Four -- and there has been far more heated debate about this than about the prospect of a Villanova victory -- is that the generic teams that would present the most serious challenge to Georgetown for preeminence in the history of college basketball are the Alcindor teams of the late 1960s, the Bill Walton teams of the early 1970s and the Indiana teams of the mid 1970s.
We'll deal with them in a second. But first some honorable mentions: the 30-2 Kentucky team of 1978, a power team of great strength and no humor, led by Rick Robey, Kyle Macy and Jack Givens; the 30-1 North Carolina State team of 1974 that beat Walton and Co. in the national semifinal, starring the spectacular David Thompson and featuring 7-foot-4 Tom Burleson, a center who, albeit awkward, seemed to play his best in big games, and 5-6 Monte Towe, a Flutie-esque point guard; the 32-2 North Carolina team of 1982, with underclassmen James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Michael Jordan, that beat Georgetown in the final seconds.
My guess is that this Georgetown team would beat all those.
But how about these?
Knight's 1976 team was college basketball's last unbeaten team, ending a 32-0 season with a 14-point victory over UCLA in the semifinal and an 18-point victory over Michigan in the final. The starting team -- Scott May, Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner, Bobby Wilkerson and Tom Abernethy -- played in the pros. But Knight says his 1975 team, which finished 31-1, losing to Kentucky by two points in a regional final, was even better; it had those same five players and two more future pros: Steve Green and John Laskowski. That team was undone when May broke his arm and was lost for the tournament.
Of the two unbeaten Walton teams, I think the better one was the 1973 team that beat Memphis State by 21 in the NCAA final. That was the game in which Walton scored 44 points, a performance uniformly hailed as the greatest by a college player in a championship. Besides Walton, that team had forwards Keith Wilkes, Larry Farmer, Larry Hollyfield and David Meyers, a quick guard in Tommy Curtis, a savvy one in Greg Lee, and Swen Nater backing up the Big Red Machine.
Some will say that of the three Alcindor championship teams, the one with the most talent was the 1969 team that added Curtis Rowe, Sidney Wicks and John Vallely to a cast that already included Alcindor and Lynn Shackleford. But the record shows that the 1968 team that lost only to Houston -- Alcindor, Shackleford, Mike Warren, Lucius Allen, Mike Lynn and Kenny Heitz -- was the most devastating. In the Final Four, that team avenged itself against Elvin Hayes and Houston, 101-69, and then blew away North Carolina, 78-55; a 55-point total margin of victory in what are supposed to be the toughest games of the season.
Now, what about Georgetown? It is an almost perfect team. Other than a power forward -- which it doesn't seem to miss because of Patrick Ewing's individual dominance -- it has all the key elements: a great center, a group of fine scorers in Billy Martin, David Wingate and Reggie Williams, a superior point guard in Michael Jackson, a dependable bench, good rebounding, and lately, outstanding offensive rebounding by players other than Ewing. Plus, it plays with an intensity, particularly on defense -- opponents are averaging only 39.8 percent from the field against Georgetown -- that perhaps is unrivaled. John Thompson says this is his third-best defensive team, but the effort is always there. In his worst moments, Macbeth was never hounded like the Hoyas hound you. "What separates this team from all the others I've played," Villanova's Ed Pinckney said today, "is that this team keeps its intensity at the maximum level every single second it's on the court."
I think Georgetown would beat the Indiana teams on quickness. I'm less confident about the Hoyas' chances against the Walton or Alcindor teams only because they, too, had extraordinary centers. But even if you question the outcome of the games, there's no question about the company Georgetown is keeping. It's as fancy as it gets.