It was a battle for Jesuit supremacy when Marquette and Xavier met in the West Regional Final of the NCAAs last week. Marquette and Xavier are two of the 28 Jesuit universities in the United States, many of whom boast a proud and rich basketball heritage.
Jesuit schools have fared well in the tournament, winning six championships since the NCAAs began in 1939. In fact, five of the previous six Jesuit entrants in the Final Four wound up winning titles. The University of San Francisco, centered by Bill Russell, above, took back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956. Holy Cross won in 1947, Loyola of Chicago in 1963, Marquette in 1977 and Georgetown in 1984. Santa Clara made the tournament in 1952, but failed to reach the finals.
Gonzaga became the seventh Jesuit Final Four entry by beating Xavier, and could become the first Jesuit school to win the championship in 23 years.
The list of outstanding Jesuit college basketball players, many of whom went on to win the NCAAs, would stack up well against any competition.
All-Time Jesuit All-Star Five:
C – Bill Russell, San Francisco
F – Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
F – Elgin Baylor, Seatle
G – Bob Cousy, Holy Cross
G – John Stockton, Gonzaga
C – Alonzo Mourning, Georgetown
C – Dikembe Mutombo, Georgetown
F – Tommy Heinsohn, Holy Cross
F – Maurice Lucas, Marquette
F – David West, Xavier
G – Allen Iverson, Georgetown
G – KC Jones, San Francisco
G – Dwayne Wade, Marquette
G – Sleepy Floyd, Georgetown
G – Dana Barros, Boston College
It hasn’t happened in nearly 40 years — and has happened only seven times in history. It is winning the NCAA championship to cap off a perfect season.
UCLA did it four times — once with Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) in 1967, and back to back with Bill Walton in 1972 and 1973, part of the Bruins’ record 88-game winning streak. John Wooden coached all four of those teams, including the 1964 team which was the first of his record 10 NCAA champions.
The University of San Francisco (USF) was the first to do it, capping off a 29-0 campaign to win the 1956 NCAA championship behind Bill Russell and K.C. Jones.
North Carolina (32-0) went unbeaten the following year, winning twice in triple overtime to beat Michigan State and then Kansas, with Wilt Chamberlain, in the finals.
Bobby Knight’s Hoosiers
The only other undefeated champion was Bobby Knight’s 1976 Hoosiers — who led by Kent Benson, Scott May and Quinn Buckner finished the year 1976 at 32-0 .Rutgers also entered that tournament undefeated, at 31-0, before losing to Michigan in the semifinals.
Only Wichita State has a shot this year. The Shockers, Missouri Valley Conference champions, are 34-0 as they attempt to reach the Final Four for the second year in a row.
The last team to enter the tournament unbeaten was UNLV in 1991. The defending champs had won 45 in a row before losing to Duke in the national semifinals.
Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamore’s were 33-0 entering the 1979 national finals – but were beaten by Magic Johnson and Michigan State. Alcorn State also had a perfect regular season that year. The Braves were 27-0 and won the SWAC but did not receive a bid to the 32-team field.