Blog Entry

CBS 16: The case against modern-era teams

Posted on: February 22, 2012 1:40 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2012 1:50 pm
Players of Bill Walton's caliber wouldn't stay in school for more than one year in the modern era. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Borzello

In doing research for the top 16 college basketball teams of all time, a common thread developed for me – and it wasn’t surprising. The biggest difference in comparing teams from the 1950s, 60s and 70s to teams from the 2000s was obvious: early-entry.

The juggernaut UCLA teams of the John Wooden era got to have Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton for three years, and the Bruins clearly reaped the benefits of those careers. The same goes for Bill Russell and San Francisco, or the undefeated Indiana team that featured Scott May and Kent Benson.

What if the 2004 Connecticut team featuring Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor had returned its key pieces in 2005? That team lost six games during Gordon and Okafor’s junior season, but they would have been dominant the next year. And the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels that steamrolled through the NCAA tournament? What if Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Ed Davis had all returned in 2010? 

Because players leave early more often during the last decade, we don’t get to see players reach their full potential in college. As a result, the talent gap diminishes between the haves and have-nots and we don’t see the dominance we saw from champions 40 and 50 years ago.

Imagine this year’s Kentucky team – with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, etc. – returned nearly all of its key parts next season. And added Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and either Shabazz Muhammad or Nerlens Noel. That team wouldn’t stand a good chance of going undefeated? But there’s zero chance we see anything like that; it just doesn’t happen.

The 1972 UCLA team won games by an average of 30.3 points. 1968 UCLA hammered teams by an average of 26.0 points. The 1996 Kentucky team had nine future NBA players on its team. 1991 UNLV failed to win a regular-season game by at least 10 points just one time.

We don’t see teams like that anymore, because the early-entry rule has essentially decreased the number of stars one team can have at a specific time. We’ll see the George Masons and the VCUs and the Butlers make Final Four runs, because parity is far more prevalent in college basketball than it was a half-century ago. You didn’t see Cinderella runs every season in the NCAA tournament, because the top teams in the country were head and shoulders above everyone else -- and there was no "great equalizer," like the 3-point shot. 

Upsets are a normal occurrence nowadays. That wasn’t the case with some of the other great teams. San Francisco won 55 games in a row; Indiana went undefeated; UCLA won 10 championships and made 12 Final Fours during a stretch. No one was picking against the 1969 Bruins, a season that was essentially a victory lap for Lew Alcindor’s career.

The most dominant teams of the past decade – 2004 Connecticut, 2009 North Carolina, 2007 Florida, 2005 North Carolina – were all vulnerable. Those four teams lost a combined 19 games.

Teams from “back in the day” just didn’t lose. From 1964 to 1976, the 13 national champions lost a combined 12 games. That’s it, 12 games in 13 seasons.

From a personal perspective, I’ve rarely said over the past decade: “Wow, I can’t see this team losing to anyone the rest of the season. And they’re going to dominate next year too.”

That’s just how it is these days: upsets happen, parity happens, early-entry happens.

In the 1960s and 1970s, that simply didn’t happen.

And that’s why there’s a clear difference between modern-era champions and the champions generally considered “the greatest of all time.” 

CBS Sports Network will be celebrating the 16 greatest college basketball teams of all time in the upcoming, four-part series, "16." Our CBS Sports panel of experts has voted, and on March 19 and 20, you'll be able to see which teams make up our list. You can help us celebrate your favorite team by sending us your tweets -- use the hashtag #CBS16 -- or leave your comments below. Then, look for your content as we'll work to incorporate the best submissions into the series.

You can also chime in on Facebook: Eye on College Basketball or

Category: NCAAB

Since: Feb 18, 2008
Posted on: February 23, 2012 9:29 am

CBS 16: The case against modern-era teams

While we're "imagining," here's a few more to imagine:

-  First year players STILL aren't allowed to play (that was the rule into the '70's when Marshall's football team was lost in an airplane crash ... MU needed a waiver to allow them to play freshman just to field a team the next year ... eventually, the NCAA expanded the waiver to all schools and all sports).

-  Teams in conferences STILL have to win their conference tournament JUST to get into the NCAA ... i.e., the 1974 ACC Champ. between 2 heavyweights (NCSU and Maryland) ... winner went to the NCAA, loser went to NIT* (more on that below).

-  We go back to having just 32 teams ... no, not 32 at-large teams ... 32 total teams (as it was '75 - '78).

-  Athletes having no advantage with regards to admissions.

-  *  The NIT is so strong that some NCAA invitees seriously consider turning down the NCAA bid in favor of the NIT.

Or course ... let's not imagine these negative items from years past still being the case:

-  Home fans booing whenever a specific opponent's player touches the ball ... solely because of ... his race

-  Players not being eligible for NCAA tournament play if they have graduated, but either in grad. school or pursuing a 2nd bachelor's degree

-  Point-shaving incidents being as common today as they were 50 years ago.

Since: Sep 24, 2006
Posted on: February 23, 2012 7:16 am

CBS 16: The case against modern-era teams

Blame the system jackass, not the kids.

Since: Dec 24, 2011
Posted on: February 23, 2012 2:58 am
This comment has been removed.

Post Deleted by Administrator

Since: Jun 5, 2011
Posted on: February 22, 2012 11:42 pm

Half of the answer is missing: try "7-footers..."

San Francisco won with Bill Russell.  UCLA won with Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton.  In an era when a 7-footer was rare, UCLA had 7-2 Lew Alcindor.  San Francisco had 6-10 or 6-11 Bill Russell.  One premium big guy and a middling supporting cast was enough to win championships back then.  Now, every major team has two or three players 6-9 or taller.   
I agree that a talented big man won't stay in school any more, but dynasties aren't going to happen anyway.  There are a lot more tall players and they all have access to a lot more information about health and physical training.  Coaches all have access to everyone else's playbook, or can reverse-engineer them by breaking down videos.  
The NBA's decision to let younger players in has, indeed, devastated the NCAA, but it is still far more compelling than the NBA is.  Even with the quality of play diminished by early entry, college games are more of a spectacle and much more interesting/fun to watch.   

Also, only 24-32 teams played in the tournament back then, and the high seeds got a bye out of the first round. In 1967, for example,  UCLA had to beat Wyoming and Pacific to make it to the Final Four.  The "road to the Final Four" is a lot tougher now with 68 teams.  Each team has to win four games to get to the Final Four, and the seedings aren't actual regional seedings anymore, so UCLA would have to defeat four real teams instead of two tomato cans to get to the Final Four.  

We won't even bring up the massive cheating that went on in Westwood to amass the ridiculous rosters of talent that they had there.   

Since: May 25, 2007
Posted on: February 22, 2012 10:31 pm

CBS 16: The case against modern-era teams

Who is this hack? You cannot compare eras. In the pre 70's era freshmen could not play. There was no shot clock. There was no 3 point line. The players today are better conditioned, stronger, bigger and are the products of modern technology. Advancements in nutrition, studies in conditioning and the simple fact that todays young athletes play their chosen sports literally year around. When I was in school, kids were pushed to play every sport available. Today by the time they hit 7th or 8th grade they are pushed to choose a sport and stick with it. One of my daughters was a highly regarded basketball and softball player.She was pushed back and forth to the point where she made a choice. The choice she made was softball. Even living in the upper midwest with late fall, winter and early spring not being real conducive to softball she was playing over 10 months a year. It is same all over the country. Whatever sport you choose you play it year around.
We played baseball for 4 or 5 months, basketball for 4 or 5 months and the rest of year was track and field. Were we more rounded athletes? Probably. But the sheer amount of playing time todays kids have before they hit college in their chosen sport is enormous.
I am not saying that there were not great athletes in eras past, but today there are simply many more. Again, it is impossible to compare eras. The day of the multi sport athlete are pretty much gone.
As far as loyalty, give me a break. How many of todays players could finish a 4 year scholarship without going through multiple  coaches? Damn few. Coaches have become the biggest carpetbaggers of the whole mess. Loyalty, commitment starts with your superiors. They have none, therefore they can expect none. When a coach cannot even finish out the season, because he needs to be out recruiting for his new school they cannot expect anybody to feel anything for them.
And lastly, if someone offered you a big time contract at 19 or 20 with more money than you could make in a lifetime with a college degree, don't lie to me and tell me you would not take it.

Since: Jan 26, 2012
Posted on: February 22, 2012 9:59 pm

CBS 16: The case against modern-era teams

I'm not sure if it was intended, but the inference in the article is that the players aren't loyal.  Times change and I for one think that is a good thing.  Colleges and Universities make millions upon millions exploiting athletes and you want to poo pooh the modern players right to attempt to get a piece of the pie?  Also, I love the parity.  I get tired of all the same big programs and professional sports teams getting all of the attention.  Believe it or not, there are schools other than Duke, North Carolina, UConn, Syracuse, Kentucky, Kansas and Florida.  Some of us get tired of the national sports media trying to force us into believing these schools and the Yankees and Red Sox are the only teams that matter to America.  I'm glad the players have the right to leave early.  I also get tired of hearing the boo hoos from the programs that continually benefit from these 1 or 2 year wonders after they leave, including the writer of this article.  If programs want to reap the benefit of signing 1 or 2 year wonders then shut up about not being able to be a dynasty.  How about this suggestion Mr. Writer; take some of the money out of the cofers and pay these athletes instead of just exploiting them.  Don't give me any crap about "the players are given the opportunity to get a college education" either.  The players that come from the projects and or are impoverished don't have the same opportunity of a good educational foundation as those that come from the "haves."  Boo hoo, no dynasties and YEAH for the chance at economic advancement for the mostly under privliged African American male.

Since: Jan 2, 2007
Posted on: February 22, 2012 8:35 pm

CBS 16: The case against modern-era teams

Not to downplay the factor of players leaving college early, there's another couple of things that cannot be overlooked -- an enlarged pool of talent playing basketball.  The number of truly talented players in basketball today is dramatically different than it was in the days of Russell and Alcindor.  The number one sport back then was baseball followed by football.  Basketball was a distant third back in the day when it came to drawing talent to the game.  The vast majority of college programs were not putting money into the programs and couldn't lure players to crossover from one sport to another as they can now.

The professional game was much lower profile compared to baseball in the 50s & 60s.  I think we could point to the NCAA Tournament not even being televised prior to the end of the 1960s.  When there was minimal television coverage, the interest in college basketball was low and, therefore, recruiting the more talented athletes was greatly hampered.  We've all read the stories of teams like UCLA under John Wooden and Kentucky under Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall stockpiling talent on their benches and JV teams and keeping some players from other universities where they might have been bigger players and potentially star players.  Once the NCAA stepped in and limited scholarships in the 1970s, some schools' depth disappeared and the talent base had a chance to spread out.  Remember, there was a time when true freshman couldn't play with the "varsity" squads.

You're also ignoring another huge factor -- the three-point line.  Back in the day's before it existed, upsets over clearly more talented teams were few and far between because the more talented teams could control the game more to their liking.  Nowadays, all you need is one hot shooter and they can take down a monster team all by themselves.  Exhibit #1 -- Steven Curry & Davidson in the 2008 Tournament with a 40-point game vs. Gonzaga and his near-singlehanded defeat of Georgetown in the next round.

Try all you want, I don't think you can even compare teams from the 1970s and before to teams after the mid-1980s.  It's two completely different games between now and then. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or