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Greatest College Basketball Teams: Spotlight 1976 Indiana
The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers basketball team was 32-0. The Hoosiers are the last Division I college basketball team to have an undefeated season. The Hoosiers were ranked number one in the nation from the beginning of the season to the end. Led by Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight and star forward Scott May, the Hoosiers battled through a tough season and defeated Big Ten rival Michigan to win the NCAA Championship. At the end of the season Knight said, “I was just so pleased that the team won because it was one of the truly great college basketball teams.”
In 1975, the Hoosiers went 29-0 in the regular season. Scott May, the Hoosiers second leading scorer in 1975 with 16.3 points per game, broke his arm in a game against Purdue on February 22. After the Hoosiers beat Texas-El Paso and Oregon State in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, May came back to start in the Mideast Regional Finals against Kentucky on March 22. May’s arm was not 100% and he managed only two points in seven minutes of play. Kent Benson, the Hoosier center, scored 33 points and pulled down 23 rebounds, but Indiana lost to Kentucky 92-90.
“That had a lot to do with our success in ’76. That taste of that defeat stayed with us the next year,” Scott May later said. “That was, in my opinion, the springboard, the motivation to go undefeated.” Four of the Hoosiers’ five starters from 1975 returned for 1976: seniors Scott May, Quinn Buckner and Bobby Wilkerson, and junior Kent Benson.
In 1976, May averaged 23.5 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Indiana coach Bobby Knight said May “has to be the best all-around player I’ve ever been associated with.” May was extremely effective making the short jumper after coming off screens in the motion offense. May wasn’t just a great scorer, he was a great defensive player as well. May still holds the Indiana record for the most steals in a game with nine in a game against Michigan. May was named to the All-American team for the second consecutive year in 1976.
After graduation, May won a gold medal with the USA Olympic team in the 1976 Olympics. He was the second overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 1976 NBA draft and played in the NBA seven seasons and averaged 10.4 points per game during his NBA career.
Junior center Kent Benson averaged 17.3 points and 8.8 rebounds for the Hoosiers. Benson’s inside hook shots were the perfect complement to May’s jumpers. Benson was a good rebounder and shot blocker as well. Benson was named an All-American in 1976 and 1977. Describing the 1976 team, he said, “This team’s neat because other teams can’t concentrate on one individual star. They’ve got to respect all of us. There’s no way they’re going to stop the team by stopping one guy.”
Benson was the number one pick overall in the 1977 NBA draft. He played 11 seasons in the NBA and averaged 9.1 points per game during his NBA career.
Senior point guard and team captain Quinn Buckner averaged 8.9 points and 4.2 assists for the 1976 Hoosiers. Buckner led Thornridge High School in Dolton, Illinois to two consecutive basketball state championships. He was also an all-state football player. Buckner was a mediocre shooter, but he was a great ball-handler and passer. His 542 career assists place him second all-time at Indiana. Buckner’s greatest skill was his outstanding defense. His 65 steals in 1976 place is the second highest total for a season at Indiana. Describing the 1976 team’s undefeated season, Buckner once said "People are still trying to figure out a way to beat that team."
After graduating, Buckner joined teammate Scott May on the gold medal winning USA Olympic basketball team. Buckner was the seventh overall pick in the 1976 NBA draft. He played in the NBA for 10 years, averaging 8.2 points per game. He was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team four times. In 1984, Buckner won the NBA Championship with the Boston Celtics. He is one of only three players (with Jerry Lucas and Magic Johnson) who have won basketball championships in High School, College, the Olympics and the NBA.
Senior shooting guard Bobby Wilkerson averaged 7.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the 1976 Hoosiers. A 6’7” athletic player, Wilkerson was quick enough to defend a guard and had the vertical leap to defend a forward. A great passer, Wilkerson led the Hoosiers in assists in 1976. Wilkerson was also a terrific rebounder for a guard.
Wilkerson was the 11th overall pick in the 1976 NBA draft. He played seven years in the NBA and averaged 10.1 points per game during his NBA career.
The fifth starter on the 1976 Hoosiers team was defensive stand-out senior forward Tom Abernethy. Abernethy averaged 10.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Bobby Knight said “Abernethy’s our best defensive forward, even better than May.”
Knight believes that his decision to start shooter John Laskowski for the injured Scott May instead of Abernethy cost the 1975 Hoosiers the national championship. “That was the biggest mistake I made in coaching,” Knight said.
The Hoosiers started the 1975-76 season ranked number one in the country. In their first game on November 29, 1975, the Hoosiers faced the second ranked defending champion UCLA Bruins. Indiana crushed the Bruins 84-64. Scott May scored 33 points. Marquette’s assistant coach Hank Raymonds said after the game that Indiana’s defense was "the best half-court defense I've ever seen a team play, college or pro. They never let UCLA even start its offense."
In their next game, the Hoosiers crushed Florida State, 83-59. May scored 24 and Benson added 22. Florida State’s coach Hugh Durham said after the game “I’m glad this isn’t like baseball. I’d hate to play these guys in a three game home stand.”
The next two games showed the 1976 Indiana team might not be as dominant as the 1975 team. On December 11, 1975, the Hoosiers almost blew a 14-point second half lead but held on to beat Notre Dame 63-60. Four days later, the Hoosiers needed double overtime to beat Kentucky 77-68.
The Hoosiers won their next four in a row, setting up a show down with number 17 St. Johns at Madison Square Garden on December 28, 1975. The game was tied 65-65 with just minutes to go, but then Scott May took over. May finished with 29 points as Indiana defeated St. Johns 76-69.
On January 3, 1976, the Hoosiers opened the Big Ten season with a lackluster performance on the road against an Ohio State team that would wind up 2-16 in conference play. The Hoosiers beat the Buckeyes 66-64. A week later, the Hoosiers traveled the Michigan to play the Wolverines for the first of three times. Indiana shot nearly 60 percent from the field and defeated Michigan 80-74. Kent Benson scored 33 points. After the game, Michigan’s coach Bobby Orr said, “I didn’t think they were a particularly good shooting team, until today.”
After a couple more wins, Indiana fought off Purdue 71-67 in a close game on January 19, 1976. Then, five days later, Indiana trailed Minnesota 45-40 at the half before turning things around and winning 85-76.
On February 7, 1976, after a two more wins, Michigan came to Indiana and jumped out to a 39-29 halftime lead. May scored 27 and Benson scored 21 and had 15 rebounds, but Indiana’s other three starters were a combined 2 for 22. Indiana trailed by four points with 22 seconds left in regulation. Buckner hit a jumper to cut the lead to two. Michigan’s Steve Grote missed the front end of a one and one, and then Kent Benson scored on an offensive rebound with a second to go to send the game to overtime. In overtime, Indiana defeated Michigan 72-67.
After easily beating Michigan State at home on February 9, the Hoosiers trailed at halftime in each of their next three games against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. The Hoosiers came back and won every time.
In the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Hoosiers had a rematch with number 17 St. Johns. The Hoosiers won easily, 90-70. Scott May scored 33.
In the second round, Indiana faced number six Alabama. Indiana trailed 69-68 with 2 minutes to go when Scott May hit a jumper to give Indiana a 70-69 lead. May wound up with 25 points and 16 rebounds as Indiana held on to win 74-69.
In the third round of the NCAA Tournament, Indiana faced number two Marquette. Benson had 18 points and 9 rebounds on 8 of 12 shooting from the field to carry the Hoosiers to a 65-56 victory.
Indiana traveled to Philadelphia for a rematch against the fifth ranked defending champion UCLA Bruins. UCLA jumped out to an early lead, but the Hoosiers came back and won easily, 65-51. Bobby Wilkerson pulled down an amazing 19 rebounds in the victory.
The victory over UCLA set up the third meeting with ninth ranked conference rival Michigan in the NCAA Championship game. Bobby Wilkerson was injured and rushed to the hospital early in the game. Michigan led 35-29 at the half. In the second half, Indiana turned the game around, scored 57 second-half points and won easily, 86-68. Scott May scored 26, including 18 in the second half. Kent Benson scored 25, including 15 in the second half.
Scott May, Kent Benson and Tom Abernethy were all named to the All-NCAA Tournament team. May was named Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.
When asked if he wanted another college basketball team to have an undefeated season, Scott May said. “Records are made to be broken. I think it’s great for a group of kids to go through a season unbeaten. That tells you a lot about the character of the kids. I’m all for it.”
Name Pos Class Pts Reb Ast
Scott May F SR 23.5 7.7 2.1
Kent Benson C JR 17.3 8.8 1.6
Tom Abernethy F SR 10.0 5.3 2.0
Quinn Buckner G SR 8.9 2.8 4.2
Bob Wilkerson G SR 7.8 4.9 5.3
Wayne Radford G/F SO 4.7 2.1 1.3
Jim Crews G SR 3.3 0.7 1.4
Jim Wisman G SO 2.5 0.8 2.2
Rich Valavicius F FR 2.4 1.8 0.3
Mark Haymore C SO 1.8 2.2 0.3
How would the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers do against the teams of today? How would they handle the shot clock and the three pointer?
The 1976 Indiana Hoosiers had four first round draft picks. Although none of the four were pro superstars, all were very solid college and pro players. A team with that many first round NBA draft picks would undoubtedly be very good today. The Hoosiers had great rebounding, with 6’11” Kent Benson, 6’7” Scott May and great leaping guard 6’7” Bobby Wilkerson. Benson’s hook shot and May’s short jumper would still be effective against today’s defenses. The Hoosiers’ aggressive defense would undoubtedly be very good today. The Hoosiers played a very tough schedule. The five teams the Hoosiers played in the NCAA Tournament were all ranked in the top 20. Michigan, another Big Ten team, played Indiana in the NCAA Championship.
On the other hand, it is unclear whether the Hoosiers would be able to stretch modern defenses with the three pointer. One of the things that made the Hoosiers great was their outstanding shot selection. That meant shots from what would be beyond the arc today were relatively rare. Scott May certainly had the range to hit the three, and since he played power forward, he could create match-up problems today by playing outside. The best outside shooter was probably reserve Wayne Radford. It is also unclear how the shot clock would affect the Hoosiers. The Hoosiers relied heavily on their starting five and used the stall late in games when they were ahead. With the faster pace of the modern game, the Hoosiers starters might get tired faster and commit more fouls and turnovers.
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