I’m Still Upset Over NCAA.com’s UCLA March Madness Team


As I have aged and since becoming a parent, I make a concerted effort not to get too upset over innocuous stuff online. Sometimes, it’s a losing battle. Today is one of those days.

The NCAA’s official Twitter account ran a summer content void-filling series of polls to determine the greatest five in March Madness history. Now, I view “NCAA Tournament” and “March Madness” as distinguishing titles, the former encompassing the entirety of the basketball championship since 1939, and the latter referring to the tournament since its expansion to 64 (now 68) teams in 1985. But that’s my own hang-up, and a sentiment the folks at NCAA.com obviously did not share, since the historic rosters included players from generations pre-dating the 3-point line, shot clock and expansion.

Below are the final results.

Now, Kentucky winning does not trigger me. It’s a blue-blood program with eight national championships spanning seven decades. Consider the talent to play at Kentucky in that time — especially in more recent years — and the Wildcats have a valid case.

What’s more, an online poll is beholden to user engagement, and I’m pretty certain Kentucky basketball fans have a chip implanted in their brains from birth that automatically notify them of the moment anyone mentions Big Blue Nation on social media. Just a working theory.

I cannot even be upset over Florida advancing to the championship. Yes, it’s completely asinine anyone considers Florida one of the two best NCAA Tournament programs of all-time, considering the long droughts of March success between Lon Kruger’s 1994 Final and Billy Donovan’s two (and only, in program history) national championship teams; ditto the drought between 2007 and the program’s reemergence to national relevance in 2012.

Still, it’s a fan poll on social media, indicative of nothing beyond which fan base can rally the most homers to participate. Florida advancing past the most decorated program of the past 25 years (Duke) and the most decorated program of all-time (UCLA) may be silly, but it isn’t maddening.

The team that NCAA.com chose for UCLA, on the other hand? Wholly infuriating.

Now, evaluating without homer-goggles, the starting front court of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton would be enough to declare UCLA the greatest Five of all-time. Abdul-Jabbar and Walton may very well be the two greatest college basketball players ever. Even if you disagree, there’s no argument that they’re no lower than top five.

NCAA.com also included point guard Gail Goodrich, a legend in Southern California who went onto a Hall of Fame career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Goodrich averaged 21.5 and 24.8 points per game in his final two seasons, both of which culminated in the first of John Wooden’s record 10 national championships.

Here’s what my eyelid starts to twitch and I want to start typing swear words. Did the other two roster spots go to Walt Hazzard, UCLA’s first-ever National Player of the Year, from the Bruins’ first national championship season? Perhaps two-time Player of the Year and double-double machine Sidney Wicks.

Of course, both Hazzard and Wicks shared the spotlight with legends already featured on the March Madness Best Five. Plus, Wicks left UCLA with a … not exactly dubious reputation, but he wasn’t exactly Mr. Bruin like Bill Walton.

Marques Johnson was the preeminent star of the immediate post-Wooden era, his legacy cemented when he averaged 21.4 points and 11 rebounds per game, and swept the major Player of the Year honors in 1977. If it wasn’t Johnson landing one of those two spots, surely it belonged to the captain of the only post-Wooden and last championship team in UCLA history, Ed O’Bannon.

O’Bannon averaged 20.4 points, 8.3 and just south of two steals per game in 1994-’95. He’s the last consensus pick from UCLA for National Player of the Year.

And he was snubbed.

The lineup:

Reggie Miller and Russell Westbrook.

Now, if this is a March Madness Best Five, it’s worth nothing that in Miller’s impressive senior season — the first in which college basketball featured a 3-point line, and Miller capitalized with a blistering 44 percent shooting average — UCLA lost in the Second Round. That was Miller’s only NCAA Tournament appearance.

Russell Westbrook played for two Final Four teams in 2007 and 2008 (though his contributions in 2006-’07 were negligible). But even in ’07-’08, almost a decade before winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award, Westbrook averaged 12.7 points (third on the team), 3.9 rebounds (third on the team) and 4.3 assists per game (first!). Even just typing those numbers inspires a fury in me that transcends rationality for something so meaningless.

Which is why I chose to wait several weeks before writing this angry rant. It would have been a whole lot more vitriolic and, frankly, embarrassing for myself if I’d done it earlier this month.