Another day, another anniversary of a major Indiana upset in the NCAA tournament. Yesterday, it was IU taking down Duke in 2002.
Today is the anniversary of the Hoosiers taking down an even bigger Goliath. On March 22, 1984 Indiana sent shock waves through college basketball as the young and athletically inferior Hoosiers pulled off a major upset in the Sweet 16, and sent home one of the most talented teams in the history of the game.
THE NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS
The 1984 North Carolina Tar Heels were one of those legendary teams that had a buzz around them for the entire season.
Widely considered a lock to win it all, UNC entered its contest against Indiana at 28-2, good for the best record in college basketball. Of course they were led by Hall of Fame coach Dean Smith, who had won the national title only 2 years earlier with a similarly dominant team.
North Carolina’s roster needed no introduction. We could start and stop with Michael Jordan. The junior All-American was virtually unstoppable, averaging 19.6 points per game to go with 5.3 rebounds. But there was much more to this team than just MJ.
The Tar Heels had a roster full of not just future NBA players, but future NBA stars.
Sam Perkins was also an All-American, averaging 17.6 points and 9.6 rebounds. Brad Daugherty averaged 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds. Kenny Smith averaged 9.1 points and 5.0 assists.
As a team the Tar Heels shot 55% from the field while holding their opponents to 45%. They shot 79% from the foul line. They out-rebounded their opponents by four a game and averaged nearly 20 assists per contest. It was a team with seemingly no holes.
North Carolina was the preseason No. 1 team in the country and they never left that perch. The Tar Heels got off to a 21-0 start to the season, and tore through the ACC with a perfect 14-0 conference mark. The only hiccups all year were a neutral court loss to Arkansas by one point and an ACC tournament loss to Duke by two points. Two losses, all year, by a total of three points.
THE INDIANA HOOSIERS
The 1984 Indiana Hoosiers were a different story. IU was a young team, finding its way after dealing with the graduation of scoring leaders Ted Kitchel, Randy Wittman and Jim Thomas. The Hoosiers returned big man Uwe Blab, but beyond that, the 1984 edition was forced to rely on freshmen and former role players.
Fortunately for the Hoosiers, one of those freshmen was former Indiana Mr. Basketball Steve Alford, who played like an experienced upperclassmen most of the season. On the year he averaged 15.5 points per game to lead the team.
Blab averaged 11.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game. At times he struggled with catching the ball in the paint, and thus wasn’t always a reliable go-to option. Beyond Blab and Alford it was a team effort. IU got contributions from sophomores Stew Robinson and Mike Giomi and freshman Marty Simmons. A host of other role players chipped in along the way.
The 1984 Hoosiers were often referred to as being a “year away” as the young team found their way in head coach Bob Knight’s system. IU was No. 19 in the preseason polls but quickly dropped out and never reappeared, save for a brief one week appearance in February.
The Hoosiers struggled out of the gate with an embarrassing home loss to Miami of Ohio and would later lose to UTEP in the pre-conference schedule. It was a team that could play well at times but struggled to find consistency. The Hoosiers did enough in the Big Ten to finish in third place at 13-5, including road wins over Top 20 Illinois and Purdue. Collectively the Hoosiers finished the regular season at 20-8 and did enough to receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
THE GAME: MARCH 22, 1984
As underdogs can be prone to do, Indiana got off to a choppy start with two turnovers and an airball on its first three possessions, and it quickly found itself down 4-0. The Tar Heels stayed in control early, leading 8-4 behind an aggressive defense that it times was extending out to the full court.
Eventually the young Hoosiers would relax and they began to find holes in the UNC defense, as they attacked the pressure to expose holes on the back side. At times this approach led to turnovers as the pace was quicker than what IU would have preferred. But when Indiana broke through the Tar Heel attack, there were often open looks behind it.
With effective perimeter shooting and stifling defense, IU rallied for a 14-9 lead while forcing five UNC turnovers by the 10:00 mark of the first half. The game was starting to take on the feel of a potential upset.
With steady play from Blab and Alford, and a packed-in defense that was forcing North Carolina to shoot jump shots, IU maintained the margin into the half as the Hoosiers led 32-28. Alford hit a 24 footer at the buzzer to send the Hoosiers into locker room with the momentum. Another big factor in the half was Michael Jordan, who only played 8 minutes due to picking up two fouls early in the game. Dean Smith chose to save him for the second half.
The second half continued much the same as the first, with both team playing aggressive defense. Their defensive styles were different — with Indiana playing that packed-in man-to-man the entire game. The Hoosiers rarely extended their pressure much beyond 15 feet, but any time the ball reached the paint there was aggressive help and double teams.
North Carolina on the other hand was constantly switching their approach, from full-court man, to a 2-3 zone, to a 1-3-1 zone. But the constant was aggressive, athletic defense that made it difficult for IU to get into what they wanted to do.
With both teams struggling to execute the game was largely reduced to which team was going to knock down perimeter shots, and on this night IU rose to the occasion. For the game Indiana shot 65% from the field while UNC was held to 42%.
With the Hoosiers knocking down shots and the Tar Heels frustrated, IU ran out to a 12 point lead at the 8:00 minute mark. This prompted television color commentator Billy Packer to proclaim that the game was over. Remember, this was a different era of college basketball, with no shot clock and no 3-point line.
With their big lead in hand, Indiana went into delay mode. Only one thing would allow the Tar Heels back in the game — missed free throws. And the Hoosiers did just that. Freshman Marty Simmons missed several shots from the stripe and collectively the Hoosiers missed four front ends of one-and-ones to allow the Tar Heels to get back within two.
It would have been a heartbreaking game to let slip away. According to Knight it was their best performance of the year to date:
“I’m not sure that we played any better than this at any point of the season,” Bob Knight said afterward. “I wouldn’t have felt very good if we had got beaten at the free throw line.”
Finally the Hoosiers got the ball in the right hands. Steve Alford was able to get the ball in the closing minute and seal it at the line along with Uwe Blab. Mike Giomi hit the clinching free throws with seconds remaining to extend the margin to four points with not enough time for two UNC possessions. The Hoosiers would pull off the shocker, 72-68, and chaos would ensue on Kirkwood Avenue.
Alford led the way for Indiana with 27 points including 19 in the second half. He shot 9 of 13 from the field and 9 of 10 from the free throw line and he added 6 rebounds. Uwe Blab added 16 points and Stew Robinson scored an underappreciated 14 on the night.
Jordan was held to 13 points on 6 of 14 shooting while only grabbing one rebound. He committed 4 turnovers.
THE LEGEND: DID DAN DAKICH “SHUT DOWN” MICHAEL JORDAN?
A legend has grown from this game that almost exceeds the game itself. Did Dan Dakich, a part-time starter with marginal athletic gifts really “shut down” Michael Jordan?
The answer depends on how you want to look at it. The problem is that the phrase “shut down” suggests that Dakich found his inner Joe Dumars and somehow had an out-of-body experience to take Jordan out of the game by himself. Let’s be clear — that never happened.
In his book Knight, Bob Knight recounted his thinking prior to facing Jordan, and his choice to use Dakich on him:
“There were only two things I thought we could do with Jordan: take away the backcut and keep him off the backboard,” said Knight. “Dakich was about 6-foot-5, not very quick but a tough kid. I thought he was the best we had to do both of those things.
“We knew Dakich wasn’t going to be able to overplay Michael and keep him from getting the ball. So we underplayed him-backed him off and pretty much gave him the jump shot, which wasn’t nearly the weapon then that it became for him. He (Jordan) did two things that just killed you-he was great going to the bucket without the ball, and he was a very, very good offensive rebounder. But not that night.
“We told Dakich in the hotel the night before the game that he was going to guard Jordan. He told the press later his reaction was, ‘I went back to my room and threw up.'”
If you pulled together a list of reasons why Jordan had an off-night, Dakich’s one-on-one defense wouldn’t crack the top four.
To start with, Jordan didn’t play that much. With the two first half fouls, he only played eight minutes in the first half and 26 minutes for the game. He would later say that he felt pressure to do too much, trying to pack an entire 40 minute game into the 2nd half.
But even in the 2nd half when Jordan played unencumbered by foul concerns, he never really got it going. More than anything else, that was all about Indiana’s team defensive concept, which kept everything packed in, forcing Jordan to shoot jump shots. If he had a weakness at the time, perimeter shooting might have been it. But really it was just a choice of the lesser of evils. When Jordan did catch the ball in the post, IU either used a double team or Dakich effectively forced him into the baseline.
None of this is to take anything away from Dakich’s effort on the night. Quite the contrary. He should be praised for executing the game plan. Dan Dakich did his job. He was fundamentally solid with his positioning, and his teammates were solid with helping him out.
Dakich’s excellence on the night went far beyond executing the defensive game plan. He was masterful at facilitating the IU offense with precision passing. No one was more important than Dakich as it related to recognizing North Carolina’s switching defense and finding its holes and weaknesses.
He was the consummate team player, or a “glue guy” if you will. Dakich drew charges, got tap outs, and blocked Jordan out to keep him off the offensive boards. It was great all-around effort, and IU was fortunate to hang on when he fouled out with around four minutes remaining.
But just don’t let yourself believe that Dakich shut down the greatest basketball player of all-time by himself. If you don’t believe us, take it from Jordan:
“I am not diminishing what he did. I think he did exactly what Coach Knight wanted him to do,” Jordan said.
“But (the media) made it a one-on-on proposition. Being the competitor that I am, and hearing the only one who could ever stop you was Dan Dakich … when I look back at the shots I had, I lick my chops. I just missed them.”
Yep, he missed jump shots. Because that is exactly what Bob Knight wanted him to do. And Dan Dakich and his teammates executed it to near perfection.
FULL GAME VIDEO
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Main photo – AP