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By Randy York
Thursday night will be Nebraska’s first-ever appearance in the Big Ten Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament, and we have three trivia questions that seem both timely and relevant. First, what team has won the most regular-season Big Ten men’s basketball titles: Indiana, Ohio State or Purdue? Secondly, who was Big Ten basketball’s first three-time All-American: Quinn Buckner, John Havlicek or John Wooden? And third, who holds the all-time Big Ten record for points scored in a single game: Mateen Cleaves, Greg Oden or Rick Mount?
The first answer is Purdue. The Boilermakers have won 22 Big Ten regular-season basketball championships. The second answer is John Wooden, who was a three-time All-American at Purdue from 1930-32 before becoming college basketball’s most legendary coach at UCLA. Wooden also became a friend of and a mentor to fellow Big Ten icon Tom Osborne, Nebraska’s Hall-of-Fame coach and now athletic director. The third answer is Rick Mount, who scored a record 61 points for Purdue in a 108-107 1970 loss to Iowa. Mount missed the NCAA Division 1 scoring record by one point. Video evidence shows 13 of his field goals in that game would have resulted in 3-point baskets by today’s standards. In other words, an identical performance using modern rules would be a 74-point game, not 61.
I will never forget Mount gracing a 1966 cover of Sports Illustrated. A high school friend of mine brought that up when he learned Nebraska would face Purdue in the opening-round of its first Big Ten Tournament. The headline right under that SI cover was: BRIGHTEST STAR IN HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL. Printed on his driveway while he holds a basketball wearing a white, black and gold basketball warm-up is: RICK MOUNT OF LEBANON, INDIANA.
Isn’t it weird when faded pictures pop into your mind 46 years later? Way back then, freshmen were unable to play varsity basketball, so Mount played on the freshman basketball team at Purdue, a situation reminiscent of Johnny Rodgers playing on Nebraska’s freshman football team in the same time period. Some will say that’s a good thing. Others will insist it deprived certain superstar athletes career stats that don’t fully measure their stature. While you debate that point in your own mind, here are a couple more bits of trivia about Purdue, tonight’s historic first foe for Nebraska in a tournament that didn’t begin until 1998: Purdue won the 1934 Big Ten basketball championship without any player taller than 6-foot; and the Boilermakers’ Lewis Jackson, at 5-foot-9, is tied with four other league players as the shortest players in the Big Ten this season. Other Big Ten facts the N-Sider finds historically interesting:
#1 Ohio State has won the most Big Ten basketball tournament titles (4 of the first 13)
#2 The Big Ten has led the nation in basketball attendance for 35 straight seasons.
#3 Michigan State hosted Kentucky in a basketball game at Ford Field in Detroit in 2003, setting the all-time college basketball regular-season attendance record of 78,129.
#4 In 1946, Ohio State and Northwestern set the record for attendance at a conference game, drawing 22,822 to Chicago Stadium.
#5 Northwestern hosted the first official NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Game in 1939 when more than 5,500 fans packed Patten Gym to see Oregon beat Ohio State.
#6 Penn State, the No. 12 seed in this year’s conference tournament, set the Big Ten record for points by a team in a single game, beating VMI, 129-111 on Dec. 30, 2006.
#7 Johnny Orr was the Big Ten Conference’s first “Coach of the Year” in 1974. After 12 years (1968-80) at Michigan, Orr became head coach at Iowa State.
#8 Wisconsin won its one and only NCAA men’s basketball championship in 1941.
#9 The state of Illinois has the most players on Big Ten men’s basketball rosters this season with 30, followed by Michigan with 27.
#10 Twelve U.S. presidents were born in five Big Ten states with Ohio claiming seven of them.
Our last piece of trivia today acknowledges The Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an annual basketball series that was launched in 1999, a year after the league started its annual post-season conference tournament. Miami (1970) and Wake Forest (2011) are the only two ACC schools ever to play basketball at Nebraska, meaning that someday the Huskers will host Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Those won’t be the only ACC schools visiting Lincoln or hosting the Huskers themselves. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are leaving the Big East to join the ACC, so taking the biggest challenge in college basketball up yet another notch should be every bit as fun as it will be challenging.
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