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At a Glance
NCAA Champion--Utah (22-4; coached by Vadal Peterson/17th of 26 seasons with Utes).
NIT Champion--St. John's (18-5; coached by Joe Lapchick/eighth of 20 seasons with Redmen).
NCAA Consensus First-Team All-Americans--Bob Brannum, C, Fr., Kentucky (12.1 ppg); Audley Brindley, C, Jr., Dartmouth (16.2 ppg); Otto Graham, F, Sr., Northwestern (11 ppg); Leo Klier, F, Jr., Notre Dame (15.4 ppg); Bob Kurland, C, Soph., Oklahoma A&M (13.5 ppg); George Mikan, C, Soph., DePaul (18.7 ppg); Alva "Allie" Paine, G, Jr., Oklahoma (11 ppg).
NCAA champion-to-be Utah was invited to the NCAA playoffs following Arkansas' withdrawal after two of its best players were injured in a horrific automobile accident. The SWC representative declined to participate because of the auto mishap involving the Razorbacks' five starters. Their station wagon, driven by physical education instructor Eugene Norris, had a flat left rear tire about 20 miles outside Fayetteville, Ark., while returning from a tune-up game against a military team in Fort Smith. Norris stopped in the right lane on U.S. 71 because the shoulder was too narrow. Norris and two of the starters--Deno Nichols and Ben Jones--were putting the flat in the back of the wagon when a car driven by a local undertaker plowed into the vehicle at full speed.
The 28-year-old Norris, escorting the team for the first time, was pronounced dead of internal injuries and extreme shock after arriving at a nearby hospital. Nichols' right leg was broken in two places and both of Jones' legs were broken and his back fractured. Nichols' leg became gangrenous and was amputated just two months after he was married. Jones spent the next two years in various casts and braces.
Times were different in 1944. All-SWC guard "Parson" Bill Flynt had dropped out of Arkansas to become a full-time minister at a Baptist church in Perryville, Ark., just before the NCAA Tournament.
The Razorbacks tied for the SWC title with Rice, which withdrew from playoff consideration because of military commitments and regulations. Arkansas' only league loss was by 26 points (67-41) at Rice.
St. John's guard Dick McGuire became the first freshman to win the award given by the New York Basketball Writers Association to the outstanding college player in the metropolitan area. McGuire, Cornell center Bob Gale, NYU forward Harry Leggat and Fordham guard Walter Mercer finished the season playing for Dartmouth, where they underwent military training as Navy trainees stationed at the Hanover, N.H., college under the wartime V-12 program. St. John's won the NIT while Dartmouth finished runner-up to Utah in the NCAA Tournament.
All three of Utah's regular-season defeats were to non-collegiate contingents (Ft. Warren, Salt Lake AB and Dow Chemical). The Utes lost to Salt Lake by 15 points and the three other Final Four teams also succumbed to service squads by significant margins--Dartmouth (Mitchell Field by 14), Iowa State (Iowa Pre-Flight by 6) and Ohio State (Norfolk Navy by 28). The prowess of service squads can be further exemplified by the fact that two of Notre Dame's nine setbacks, three of Big Six Conference co-champion Oklahoma's defeats, three of UCLA's 10 defeats, four of Kansas' nine losses, all four of Oklahoma A&M's regular-season defeats, four of North Carolina State's 13 setbacks, four of defending SWC champion Texas' defeats, six of North Carolina's 10 defeats and seven of Duke's 13 losses were to military-base teams.
Rhode Island State (New England) and Dartmouth (Ivy League) each captured its seventh consecutive conference championship. Dartmouth compiled a 19-2 record (.905) under Earl Brown in his only year as coach of the Big Green. The influx of trainees at Dartmouth for the largest V-12 program in the country also included St. John's forward Lionel Baxter, NYU guard Joe Fater and Vermont forward Tom Killick during the regular season before they were shipped out.
Sophomore guard Ernie Calverley, after returning to Rhode Island State following his discharge from the Army Air Corps because of a heart murmur, averaged 26.7 points per game, a mark that remained a national record until 1951 and still is a school standard. No individual has had a school single-season scoring average mark remain intact longer. Calverley was the third different Rhode Island State player in six years to set the major-college single-season scoring average record. He became the first major-college player to score at least 45 points twice in a single season (48 vs. Northwestern and 45 vs. Maine).
The University of Havana became the first foreign team to play at Madison Square Garden, losing to LIU, 40-37. Havana displayed "the most spectacular ballhandling seen in New York in many years," according to the Official Basketball Guide. . . . Rider registered its lone victory over Villanova (42-27) in their first 20 meetings. . . . Penn State coach John Lawther had a running feud with animated Pittsburgh coach Doc Carlson, who despised the zone defense that Lawther favored. When the two teams met in the Steel City, Pitt froze the ball and the resulting 15-12 Penn State triumph grabbed national headlines. Rhode Island coach Frank Keaney declared the zone "un-American." Bristled Lawther: "The idea of the game is to win, isn't it?" The Nittany Lions yielded more than 50 points only three times in his first eight seasons at their helm.
The final Converse-Dunkel Ratings for the season had Army in first, followed by Utah, Kentucky, DePaul and Western Michigan. Army, under first-year coach Ed Kelleher after going 5-10 the previous season, compiled a 15-0 record with three starters (Dale Hall, Doug Kenna and John Hennessey) who had lettered for the school's football squad. Hall went on to succeed legendary Earle "Red" Blaik as Army's football coach in 1959. The U.S. Military Academy's closest game was its season finale (47-40 over archrival Navy) and its largest margin of victory was its next-to-last game (85-22 over Maryland). Army's basketball arena is named after team captain Edward C. Christl, a first lieutenant the next year when he was killed in Austria. Christl was third in scoring average for the undefeated team. . . . Kelleher left the Army program after the next season with only one defeat (against Penn). He is among the last 18 Army head coaches who have an average tenure there of less than four years.
Northwestern forward Otto Graham, a quarterback for the school's football squad, became the first athlete ever to earn first-team All-American status in both sports in the same school year. . . . Iowa freshman forward Dick Ives set a Big Ten Conference single-game standard with 43 points against the University of Chicago en route to leading the league in scoring. . . . Illinois lost eight of 10 games in one stretch after going undefeated in Big Ten competition the previous year. . . . Dave Strack, Michigan's leading scorer with 12.1 points per game, went on to coach his alma mater to back-to-back Final Fours in 1964 and 1965. One of his teammates was football sensation Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch, who averaged 7.3 ppg. . . . Toledo, after winning more than 20 games each of the previous four seasons, compiled a 5-13 mark for its only losing record in a 20-year span from 1934-35 through 1953-54.
Nebraska, 2-13, posted its fewest victories in a season since the 1897-98 campaign. . . . Seven of Drake's 13 defeats came against small schools Carleton, Dubuque, Loras, St. Ambrose and Simpson. . . . Guard Floyd Burdette, runner-up to All-American center Bob Kurland in scoring for NIT participant Oklahoma A&M with 9.8 points per game, went on to coach Alabama for six seasons from 1946-47 through 1951-52 before becoming Tennessee-Martin's all-time winningest mentor. . . . Forward Zeke Chronister became TCU's first All-SWC first-team selection in 10 years.
North Carolina, in Bill Lange's final season as coach of the Tar Heels, posted the best record in the Southern Conference (9-1) just one year after compiling the league's 11th-best mark (8-9). . . . Berea (Ky.), winning by a total of 42 points, twice beat Western Kentucky, one of the five winningest major-college programs of the decade. It was the first of three years that WKU was without All-Americans-to-be John Oldham (Navy) and Odie Spears (Army) while they served in the U.S. military. . . . Virginia Tech (11-4) snapped a streak of 20 consecutive non-winning seasons. . . . Trainer Smoky Harper fell heir to Vanderbilt's head coaching position and guided the Commodores to an 11-4 record (.733) in his only season for their best winning percentage in a 28-year span from 1927-28 through 1954-55. . . . Four freshmen were named to the SEC's All-Tournament first team, including three from champion Kentucky. A second-team freshman selection was Tulane center Hugh Taylor, who went on to become a two-time Pro Bowler (1953 and 1955) as an offensive end with the Washington Redskins. Taylor, nicknamed "Bones", led the NFL in average per reception in 1950 (21.4 yards) and 1952 (23.4) and in touchdown receptions in 1949 with nine.
Each of the five members of the All-PCC North Division team played for Washington (26-6). One of them was guard Bill Morris, an All-American the previous season who gained a fourth year of eligibility as a Navy V-12 trainee. The Huskies, who won 20 of 21 games in one stretch under coach Hec Edmundson, didn't participate in the NCAA playoffs. Their leading scorer was freshman center Jack Nichols (9.7 ppg). . . . Washington State sustained its only losing mark (8-19) in a 23-year stretch from 1929-30 through 1951-52 during Jack Friel's 30 seasons as head coach of the Cougars. . . . Southern California dropped its last seven games to suffer the Trojans' first losing record in 12 years (8-12).
George Edwards became the only coach to direct Missouri to the NCAA Tournament in the first 37 years of the event. Edwards was a classic example showing the assortment of duties coaches had in the "old" days. He was also the school's sports information director at the time and probably encountered difficulty drumming up much publicity because the Tigers had non-winning records seven of the previous nine seasons. Edwards, a former president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, wrote the NABC creed the organization still embraces.
1944 NCAA Tournament
Summary: With so many upperclassmen enlisting or been drafted during World War II, Utah had to rely almost entirely on freshmen and sophomores. Utah, entering the NCAA Tournament through the back door after losing to Kentucky in the first round of the NIT, won the NCAA championship game against Dartmouth in overtime (42-40) on freshman Herb Wilkinson's basket from far beyond the top of the key. Wilkinson's shot hung for a fraction of a second on the back of the rim before falling through the hoop. Utah freshman Arnie Ferrin scored 22 points in the final to help end Dartmouth's school-record 17-game winning streak. Two nights later in a benefit game at Madison Square Garden for the American Red Cross, the Utes defeated yet another favorite, beating NIT titlist St. John's, 43-36, when Ferrin tallied a game-high 17 points. St. John's had edged Utah's initial postseason opponent, Kentucky, in the NIT semifinals. Utah's players, all raised within 35 miles of the campus, had an average age of 18 years, six months. Among the "locals" was junior college recruit Wat Misaka, a spirited Japanese-American whose country was at war with the homeland of his ancestors. Utah lost its last eight games and 11 of its last 12 the previous season when it compiled a 10-12 record, the Utes' only losing mark in a 16-year span from 1936-37 through 1951-52.
Outcome for Defending Champion: Wyoming, the only school to win the NCAA championship one season and not compete in basketball the next year, did not field a team because of the war. In 1944-45, Wyoming lost its first nine games en route to compiling a 10-18 record.
Star Gazing: Ferrin, Misaka and Fred Sheffield were the only three of this group to earn any more letters with the Utes, which lost both of their NCAA playoff games in 1945. Ferrin was a second-team consensus All-American in 1947, when Utah won the NIT as the 5-8 Misaka restricted unanimous first-team All-American Ralph Beard to one point in a 49-45 triumph over Kentucky in the championship game. Wilkinson played the next three seasons for Iowa, where he was an NCAA consensus second-team All-American in 1945. Wilkinson's Iowa connection came through his brother, Clayton, who served an LDS church mission in that state. Bob Lewis transferred to Stanford, where he was a three-year letterman in the late 1940s. . . . Misaka was the only freshman point guard to lead his team to an NCAA title until Arizona's Mike Bibby achieved the feat in 1997. . . . Iowa State star Price Brookfield missed all 14 of his second-half shots in a regional final loss to Utah. . . . Iowa State, with most of its roster comprised of Naval trainees, reversed an earlier decision to decline an invitation to the tourney. Bitter rival Iowa withdrew from the playoffs in a huff when ISU changed its verdict. Oddly, it was revealed after Iowa State's loss to Utah that had the Cyclones defeated Utah they could not have made the trip to New York for the final because of Navy rules limiting its trainees to leaves of 48 hours from their base.
One and Only: Sheffield, Utah's starting center who was nursing a sprained ankle in the final, is the only Final Four player to finish among the top two high jumpers in four NCAA national track meets. Sheffield, the first athlete to place in the NCAA high jump four consecutive years, was first in 1943 with a best jump of 6-8, second in 1944, tied for first in 1945 and tied for second in 1946. . . . Dartmouth, finishing national runner-up for the second time in three years, is the only school to finish the 20th Century with an all-time losing record (1,125-1,147, .495) despite twice reaching the NCAA playoff title game. Iowa State, which bowed to Utah in the national semifinals, also finished the century with a losing mark (1,009-1,067, .486). . . . Army is the only undefeated team with at least 15 victories not to participate in either the NCAA Tournament or NIT since the start of national postseason competition.
Celebrity Status: John "Mo" Monahan, a football All-American at Dartmouth as a defensive end, was in the regular rotation for the school's basketball team that lost in the NCAA championship game to Utah. Monahan averaged five points per game for Dartmouth's undefeated EIBL champion.
Numbers Game: Utah is the only championship team to have as many as four freshman starters. Lyman Condie, a second-year medical student, was an original starter. Condie was invited by coach Vadal Peterson to try out for the squad because of a manpower shortage stemming from the war. Condie had a free block of time in the afternoons to practice during the fall quarter. However, when the winter quarter started his afternoons were no longer free and he had to make a choice between basketball or medical school. He chose medical school and left the team. His place as a starter was taken by Dick Smuin. . . . The first time two members of the same league earned invitations to the NCAA playoffs occurred when Iowa State and Missouri of the Big Six Conference played in the Western Regional. Iowa State and Mizzou made their lone NCAA Tournament appearance until 1985 and 1976, respectively. . . . Dartmouth won at least one NCAA playoff game for the fourth consecutive year. The Big Green beat Ohio State, 60-53, in the Eastern Regional final behind Aud Brindley's tourney-high 28 points. . . . The Pacific Coast (North regular-season champion Washington), Southern Conference (North Carolina before Duke won postseason tournament) and SWC (shared by Arkansas and Rice) did not have representatives in the NCAA tourney. The Missouri Valley and SEC (Kentucky won postseason tournament) did not have complete regular-season league schedules.
NCAA Champion Defeats: Ft. Warren (2-point margin), Salt Lake AB (15), Dow Chemical (10), and neutral court vs. Kentucky in NIT (8).
Scoring Leader: Aud Brindley, Dartmouth (52 points, 17.3 ppg).
Highest Scoring Average: Nick Buzolich, Pepperdine (45 points, 22.5 ppg).
Most Outstanding Player: Arnie Ferrin, F, Fr., Utah (28 points in final two games).
Championship Team Results
First Round: Utah 45 (Ferrin team-high 12 points), Missouri 35 (Collins 10)
Regional Final: Utah 40 (Misaka/Sheffield 9), Iowa State 31 (Brookfield 6)
Championship Game: Utah 42 (Ferrin 22), Dartmouth 40 (Brindley 11)*