Forty years ago in Salt Lake City, in an iconic matchup that belongs in the sports time capsule that someday will be unearthed by mankind’s alien overlords, Magic Johnson-led Michigan State beat Larry Bird-led Indiana State for the national championship.
Anyone care to guess how many titles the Big Ten has claimed since then?
The answer is four, a puny number relative to its reputation and stature. And since Michigan’s title run in 1989? Only one Big Ten team — Michigan State in 2000 — has cut down the nets.
That’s worse than puny. It’s sad and sorry and certainly makes for an effective comeback to anyone who dares to call the Big Ten the best conference in the land.
On Monday in Minneapolis, either Virginia will give the Atlantic Coast Conference its eighth national title of the 2000s or Texas Tech will give the Big 12 its second.
‘‘I think throughout this year that our league, top to bottom, was the best,’’ Spartans coach Tom Izzo said after a 61-51 semifinal loss Saturday to Texas Tech. ‘‘But I’m going to be prejudiced to our league. Somebody else will be prejudiced to theirs.’’
Upon further inspection, it seems a total of 16 Big Ten teams have reached the Final Four during the 2000s. Eight of them — from seven schools — made it to the final. You probably don’t want to mention these facts when arguing with someone who dares to call the Big Ten the best conference in the land.
‘‘But we didn’t get it done,’’ Izzo said. ‘‘I feel like I’m part of that issue, so I’ll put on my big-boy pants and say: ‘Yeah, you’ve been [to the Final Four] eight times, you’ve won [only] one. So that’s part of the problem.’ But I’m going to keep knocking on the door. One of these days, it’s going to open.’’
Coach Tony Bennett’s pack-line defense has been Virginia’s identity as it has ascended to powerhouse status in recent years. You want to try to explore the interior against the Cavaliers, you’d better don headlamps and carry some spelunking equipment. It’ll be hard to breathe in there, too.
‘‘I’ve watched a lot of Virginia games this year just as a fan,’’ Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said. ‘‘From time to time, we’ll come in the office in the morning, and somebody will be like: ‘Man, did you see that game? [They gave up] 11 points in the first half last night.’ ’’
Virginia has the stingiest defense in the country measured in points allowed — 55 a game — but Texas Tech has been even more impressive at that end of the floor during the tournament. What the Red Raiders, who top the nation in defensive efficiency, did against Michigan and Michigan State en route to the title game was eye-poppingly good. If there’s anyone better at closing out on three-point shooters than 6-10 string bean Tariq Owens, we haven’t seen him.
‘‘They’re really special defensively,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘I have the utmost respect for how they play.’’
First team to 50 wins? First to 40?
Who’s Mr. Big Shot?
No one in the tournament has been more clutch than Virginia’s Kyle Guy. And no one on the court Monday will come close to matching the shooting ability of Guy, who has 116 three-pointers this season.
Then again, Guy’s teammate Ty Jerome long has had a knack for draining back-breaking threes.
Then again, the Red Raiders’ Matt Mooney shot daggers in the second half against Michigan State.
Then again, Texas Tech’s Davide Moretti isn’t the least bit shy about firing away, and Jarrett Culver looks like a 2019 NBA lottery pick.
Look, we don’t know who’s going to be the player who makes the shot that lives forever in ‘‘One Shining Moment’’ glory. That’s the beauty of the whole thing.
The ACC hasn’t had a national champ not named North Carolina or Duke since Maryland won it all in 2002, and the Terrapins aren’t even in the conference anymore. The last non-Tar Heels, non-Blue Devils, non-Terps champ from the ACC: North Carolina State in 1983.
So, yeah, a Cavaliers victory would be huge for that conference.
The Big 12’s last title squad? Kansas in 2008. Before that? Kansas in 1988, when the conference still was known as the Big Eight. In fact, no other Big 12 school has won a national title in men’s basketball.
So, yeah, another Red Raiders upset would shake up the world.
Remember where you saw it: Texas Tech 57, Virginia 52.