It was forty years ago that NCAA basketball’s last undefeated college team, Indiana University’s Hoosiers, faced Michigan in the finals. This was after Michigan defeated the other undefeated team in the tournament, Rutgers. Indiana came into the tournament as the favorite to win it all so this was no surprise. The legendary Bobby Knight, in his fifth year at Indiana, led the likes of Scott May, Quinn Buckner, Bobby Wilkerson, Kent Benson, and Tom Abernathy, into annals of sports history.
The team started out the year ranked in the top spot, with forward Abernathy replacing previous year’s graduate Steve Green. Knight did not stop to hesitate for a moment when he was asked about starting the season was a game against UCLA, the defending champions. For Knight and the Hoosiers, it was never a question that they would play the strongest schedule possible, with the Hoosiers beating out the Bruins 84-64. They would meet UCLA again in the Final Four.
They had started their march to the championship annihilating the Soviet national team in an exhibition match. Knight had previously gone to the Olympic trials to learn more about the motion offense style of play which he would later perfect. While a coach at West Point, he adopted the West Coast Offense, having been particularly influenced by the style perfected by Pete Newell at San Francisco, Michigan State, and Berkeley.
After putting UCLA away in the season opener, they went on to edge no. 8 Nortre Dame out in a close call and defeating no. 14 Kentucky by 9. As the season went on, they also eclipsed no. 17 St. John’s, and bested no. 19 Michigan twice, once in OT. It was a season full of blow-outs, even as the Hoosiers embarked on a formidable schedule not for the faint of heart
Despite their legendary performance during the regular season, which prompted FSU’s coach to lament that he wish the team would prove to the world that they “were human,” the difficult road that the Hoosiers had to trudge in the NCAA Tournament is one of the factors that prompted the NCAA to introduce seeding into the tournament. They faced St. John’s in their first game and no. 2 Marquette in the third. In the Final Four, they once again met the Bruins, and later faced off against Michigan for a third time that year, in the Championship Game. Although Michigan was leading at the half, Indiana came back with a strong showing by May, with 26 points, alongside Benson’s 25 and Buckner’s 16 points on the board.
Only seven other teams have gone undefeated in the regular season and tournament, all before the Hoosiers. Since then, a few teams have come close, but none has been able to duplicate the improbable feat. True, the ‘75-’76 Hoosiers were not the only ones to achieve a perfect season, and the introduction of the 3-point shot in the NCAA has made perfect records more difficult to get, but the Hoosiers stand alone, for their grueling schedule. They won every time, facing UCLA in the opener, Michigan three times, and no. 2 Marquette in the regional final.