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Andy Wittry | | April 21, 2020

8 ways the 1982 NCAA tournament was different than it is today

Full game: UNC vs. Georgetown in the 1982 National Championship

If you hopped into a time machine and traveled back 38 years, what would the NCAA tournament look like?

I went back and watched the 1982 NCAA tournament selection show and several games from that season's tournament to find out what was different — from the selection show, the TV broadcasts, the teams, the strategy and the uniforms.

Here's what I learned.

1. Michael Jordan was a baby-faced freshman

In 1982, a freshman guard by the name of Michael Jordan hit the game-winning jumper for North Carolina as the Tar Heels defeated Georgetown. He later told the media that he had previously seen himself hitting the game-winner in a pregame vision, according to the AP game recap.

But the irony is that Jordan said he didn't see his real-life game-winner go through the cylinder.

"To tell the truth, I didn't see it go in," he said. "I didn't want to look."

At the time, the 1982 title game was the second-highest rated college basketball game ever, behind only the 1979 showdown between Magic Johnson and Michigan State, and Larry Bird and Indiana State.

The '82 final received a 21.6 rating on CBS with a reach of 17.6 million homes. It's now tied for the sixth-best rating of all-time. The near-record levels of interest in the sport in 1982 makes sense. The three Final Four games in 1982 were decided by a combined 10 points — tied with 1950 for the lowest combined margin ever.

2. The selection show wasn't on TV until 1982

During the 1982 selection show, a 42-year-old Brent Musburger asked CBS reporter Gary Bender the following: "This is the first time that this process has ever been televised and you've been close to it, is there a lot of politicking going on, a lot of telephone calls going in to the committee, saying, 'We want four teams from the Big Ten and four teams from these other conferences'? What happens out there?" 

Wrong, Brent. Certain aspects of the NCAA tournament selection and seeding that we may now take for granted due to the extensive media coverage of the selection show may have truly been unknowns for fans of the sport, and in some cases, maybe even some of the media members covering men's basketball. Myths have grown around the show, 10 of which hall-of-fame basketball writer Mike Lopresti dispelled here.

It might surprise you how modern the first selection show broadcast looks, when you compare it to what you see on TV today. The start of the show highlighted some of the scores from notable conference tournament championship games, offered some speculation on the seeds high-profile teams would receive and the regions in which they would be placed, and there was a whip-around to reporters stationed around the country with various head coaches and fan bases.

Sure, the studio, graphics and font featured on the broadcast, and the clothing and the haircuts, are very 1980s, but the show's format and content would hold up well against modern standards.

Like today, there was a legendary Gavitt in an important role. (Dave Gavitt's son, Dan, is now the senior vice president of men's basketball.)

But not every segment in the 1982 selection show has a modern-day counterpart.

For one, there were journalists outside the committee room in Kansas City, furiously writing down everything Dave Gavitt said at the podium.

The setup was just a podium and several committee members in suits.

In 1982, No. 6 seed Kentucky and No. 11 seed Middle Tennessee State were seeded against each other in the first round and CBS had assembled the head coach of each school in the same room in Lexington, Kentucky, where they were both interviewed on air.

Middle Tennessee State coach Stan Simpson's response when asked what it was like to qualify for the NCAA tournament, only to face Kentucky in the first round: "Well, Jim, I feel a lot like the lonely boy in high school. The last minute, he was invited to the senior prom by the most beautiful girl in the senior class. I'm thankful for the opportunity but I just hope I'll be able to dance with her. My post man is 6-foot-6, Chris Harris, and they didn't tell me that she had a boyfriend who was 6-11 in Melvin Turpin and I guess we'll have to put the nose-to-navel defense on Turpin but we're thankful for the opportunity to play Kentucky."

They took advantage of that opportunity, too, and won 50-44.

3. The look of the bracket

The bracket itself was nothing like what you see today on the selection show.

For starters, there was a physical bracket, not a digital representation of one. The camera operator simply panned down each region to go over the matchups, then moved to the next region.

The format wasn't how you'd probably depict the NCAA tournament bracket today, either.

Rather than showing the 48 teams in 1982 on one collective bracket, where teams would advance all the way to the championship game, teams were shown in groups of three — with a first-round matchup, then the top-four seed that would await the winner after receiving a bye.

4. Fans heard from a coach that missed the tournament

Another difference on the 1982 selection show that might be difficult to envision happening today is CBS' Verne Lundquist was with UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who was interviewed on the show about his team missing the NCAA tournament. Surely today, a coach whose team missed the NCAA tournament might have a postseason press conference before his team played in the NIT or he might go to Twitter to say how proud he is of his team, but in 1982, it was one of the selection show segments.

Tarkanian, who had taken the Rebels to two regional semifinals, then the national semifinal, in three consecutive years in the '70s had just missed the NCAA tournament for fifth consecutive year but still agreed to an on-camera interview.

Everything would turn out alright for Tarkanian and UNLV, which made the next nine NCAA tournaments, culminating in a national title in 1990 and two other Final Four appearances, but it seemed notable that the CBS broadcast didn't just mention the notable teams that missed the tournament, it actually talked to one of the head coaches of the teams.

By the way, how weird is it seeing UNLV and South Carolina playing a game on the day of the selection show?

Both schools were independent back then.

5. CBS was a newcomer to the tournament

The 1982 NCAA tournament wasn't just the first time the selection show was aired on TV, it was the first year in which CBS carried NCAA tournament games.

According to the March 12, 1982, edition of The Charlotte Observer, the now-defunct Charlotte Coliseum needed additional lighting, even though games had been televised nationally from there since 1959.

"The technicians said the building lacked candlepower, so they installed a row of high-powered, court-length lights on one side of the Coliseum," The Charlotte Observer reported in a notebook from the NCAA tournament. "Coaches of teams involved agreed their players wouldn't be affected by the glare — but that wasn't the case for all the fans.

"The lights were used Thursday night (the games were televised by ESPN and to some CBS affiliates nationally), and spectators in the upper areas of the Coliseum opposite the special lights reported being distracted by the brightness."

6. The start of Georgetown's four-year run

On the first possession of the 1982 national championship game, Georgetown center Patrick Ewing scored on a short baseline jumper. On the Hoyas' first defensive possession, he fearlessly snatched a defensive rebound out of the air.

Georgetown made three national championship games in a four-year span (1982, 1984, 1985) with the Hoyas claiming the 1984 title. Only two teams made consecutive national title games last decade (North Carolina in 2016-17) and Butler (2010-11) but no one has made three championship games in four years since the '90s (Duke and Kentucky both made three in a row).

Georgetown went 121-23 in Ewing's four seasons, including an impressive 15-3 mark in the NCAA tournament.

The Hoyas have earned a No. 1 seed five times, which is tied for seventh all-time, and all of Georgetown's No. 1 seeds came between 1982 and 1989.

7. There was no shot clock

The 45-second shot clock wasn't added to men's basketball until the 1985-86 season, however, 10 DI conferences tested out a shot clock in the 1983-84 season, according to a story published in The Spokesman-Review on April 5, 1984.

With a final score of 63-62 in the 1982 national championship game, college basketball was lower-scoring than it is today but just four years earlier, Kentucky beat Duke by the score of 94-88 and in 2011, UConn beat Butler 53-41, so the presence or absence of a shot clock hasn't guaranteed high- or low-scoring games.

In the 1982 NCAA tournament, the average point total was 65 points per team per game — the third-lowest average since the mid-1950s.

The lack of a shot clock could be noticed when looking through the official NCAA tournament record book. The 1982 tournament was the first time in NCAA tournament history that the tournament's leading rebounder averaged less than 10 rebounds per game. Houston's Clyde Drexler pulled down 41 rebounds in five games for an average of 8.2 boards per night.

Only the 1985 NCAA tournament had a leading rebounder with a low rebound average — Villanova's Ed Pinckney at 8.0.

8. North Carolina and Villanova had yet to play

The 2016 national championship is remembered for one if the greatest shots in NCAA tournament history as Villanova's Kris Jenkins sank a game-winning buzzer-beater to win the national title over North Carolina.

That was the seventh time the two schools have faced off in the NCAA tournament, which is tied for the second-most common matchup in the history of the tournament, behind only Kentucky and Marquette (10 matchups).

The very first time that the Tar Heels and Wildcats met in March was in 1982, when they squared off in the East regional finals and No. 1 seed North Carolina edging No. 3 seed Villanova 70-60.

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