Saturday, December 30, 2006

Book Review: "Mac's Boys" by Jason Hiner

I can't recommend this book enough for Indiana fans, especially those like me with no memory of the 1953 championship. It was incredibly well-researched, with great information about the state of the game at the time (coming off the point-shaving scandals at CCNY, LIU, and Kentucky), the opposing teams and coaches, the individual players on the team, and the play-by-play action of each of the games. The play-by-play was especially exciting for me, because I went into the book without knowing which games we'd won and lost, so I didn't know the outcomes until the final whistle sounded. It is full of quotes by the players, coaches, and the press articles of the time. Buy it and read it - you won't be disappointed.

Here's a few anecdotes to whet your appetite:

- Indiana lost 3 games that season, and each of them were lost on the last-second shots.

- Branch McCracken told his players at the beginning of each season to avoid "drinking, smoking, and gambling." This worried the players, because they knew these were three of Bobby Leonard's favorite things.

- The Minnesota coach was Ozzie Cowles, who went to Minnesota from Michigan, where he led Michigan to their first ever NCAA tournament appearance. After returning from the NCAA tournament, here's what Cowles had to say: "We'd been gone for a week, but no one seemed to notice. A couple of days after we got back, Fritz Crisler [UM AD and head football coach] stuck his head in my office and asked me where I'd been. That was when I decided that Michigan was no place to coach basketball."

- Because of the draft for the Korean War, there was an exemption that allowed freshmen to play in 1951-52, which allowed Don Schlundt to play as a freshman. He was a sophomore in 52-53, and (answering my trivia question below) he broke the all-time B10 scoring record a bit more than halfway through his sophomore season. Remarkable.

- Though IU beat Kansas in the championship game, it was that Kansas team that really changed college basketball in the years that followed. Kansas had lost Clyde Lovelette the year before and weren't considered contenders. But they changed the way they played defense and adopted Iba's Oklahoma A&M pressure defense that Iba played in the final few minutes of the game when down by less than 6 points. This was a pressure defense that played passing lanes and guarded players without the ball (and new concept). That year's Kansas team decided to play that way for the entire game and almost road their defense to the title.

- Kentucky was banned from playing the entire 52-53 season because of recruiting violations and point-shaving. Kentucky chose not to penalize Rupp, though. At all.

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