RTC Bracket First Round Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)

Posted by rtmsf on March 30th, 2009

Welcome back.  The RTC Braintrust got together tonight and hammered out our 32 first round winners for the RTC Modern Bracket, one step closer to picking the team that we believe is the very best squad of the last quarter-century.

A reminder: we used resume/body of work to select and seed our 64 finalists, but that criterion now takes a step back to how we think teams would perform in head-to-head matchups.  So if your favorite team won a title but had a relatively weak inside game, don’t be surprised if a runner-up or at-large from another year with superb inside play knocks you out of the bracket.  Yes, we’re looking at you, Illinois fans.

Quick analysis of the numbers: fourteen of our 24 national champions survived the first round, but only eight of our runners-up made it through their first game.  Ten of our sixteen at-large teams also survived.

And now, the updated bracket through the first round of matchups, with brief explanations of how we analyzed each game below.


Instant Analysis

#1 Duke 1992 def. #16 Indiana 2002 – Coach K’s best team picked apart the Cinderella Hoosiers while the two Hills – Thomas and Grant – made life miserable for Jared Jeffries.

#8 Arizona 1988 def. #9 Maryland 2002 –   In a very close contest, Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott got it done from the perimeter despite Juan Dixon’s heroics to keep Maryland in the game.

#12 Arizona 1998 def. #5 Kansas 2008 – Upset Alert!  The defending champs led by Mike Bibby, Miles Simon and Michael Dickerson, took care of a Kansas team that could not bottle up the Arizona guards (think 2.5 Derrick Roses).

#13 St. John’s 1985 def. #4 Arkansas 1994 – Arkansas didn’t want to face a team with a superb PG in this matchup, and they faced one of the best of his generation in Mark Jackson.  Jackson continually hit Chris Mullin and Walter Berry for open looks to pull off the upset over the national champion Hawgs.

#6 Duke 2002 def. #11 Florida 2006 – In another very close game, Jason Williams was unstoppable, which more than compensated for the superior interior size of the young Gators (Brewer, Noah and Horford).

#3 UNC 1993 def. #14 Kansas 2003 – Donald Williams continued his hot shooting from outside the arc while Eric Montross and George Lynch neutralized the tandem of Nick Collison and Wayne Simien inside.

#10 Arkansas 1995 def. #7 UNC 1998 – Forty Minutes of Hell wore out the not-very-deep Heels as Corliss Williamson and Dwight Stewart outmuscled Antawn Jamison inside.

#2 Georgetown 1985 def. #15 Seton Hall 1989 – Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams and company methodically took care of Big East counterpart Seton Hall in an easy first-round win.


#1 UNLV 1990 def. #16 Syracuse 1996 – One of the best national champions of this era completely overwhelmed the John Wallace-led Orangemen with its amoeba defense and relentless offensive attack.

#8 UMass 1996 def. #9 Kentucky 1993 – The UMass defense, led by the NDPOY Marcus Camby, was able to get in the heads of UK’s interior players when they entered the lane, and the threes weren’t falling for the UK guards on the perimeter.

#5 Duke 1991 def. #12 Kansas 2002 – This Duke team loves playing teams with “Kansas” on their jersey.  Laettner and Hurley outdid Collison and Hinrich.

#4 UNC 1987 def. #13 Ohio St. 2007 – Greg Oden was a difficult matchup for the UNC front line, but a healthy Kenny Smith taught Mike Conley, Jr., a few things about how to find players like JR Reid in the proper position.

#6 Michigan 1993 def. #11 Kentucky 1997 – Since this isn’t a title game, the Fab Five advanced on sheer talent differential alone.

#3 Duke 2001 def. #14 UNC 2008 – There was no Matt Doherty to pick on, but Shane Battier showed Tyler Hansbrough what a versatile big man is supposed to look like in a surprisingly easy win.

#10 Syracuse 2003 def. #7 Illinois 2005 – This was a mild upset as Carmelo Anthony and Hakim Warrick exposed Illinois’ complete lack of a legitimate front line – James Augustine, please?

#2 UCLA 1995 def. #15 Michigan 1992.  The Fab Five hadn’t quite figured out how to become dominant yet, so the seasoned Bruins took full advantage behind the O’Bannon brothers and a bevy of talented freshmen.


#1 UConn 1999 def. #16 UF 2000: The Huskies led by Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin run the Gators out of the arena. Ricky Moore shuts down a pre-hair dresser’s nightmare Mike Miller.

#8 Oklahoma 1988 def. #9 Indiana 1993: Too much offense by the Sooners who topped the century mark an insane 20 times that season for Bobby Knight’s last great Indiana team to overcome. Stacey King, Mookie Blaylock and Harvey Grant run over a good Indiana squad led by Calbert Cheaney and Alan Henderson.

#5 Michigan State 2000 def. #12 Kansas 1991: Tom Izzo’s Spartans led by Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson had too much experience for the Jayhawks and Roy Williams in his first Final Four.

#4 Duke 1986 def. #13 Georgetown 1989: One of the historically underappreciated Duke teams (yes, it is possible) gets by a talented Georgetown team that is perhaps most famous for being the #1 seed that came the closest to losing in the first round (50-49 victory over Princeton). Alonzo Mourning destroys Jay Bilas inside, but it’s not enough for John Thompson‘s squad.

#11 Syracuse 1987 def. #6 UConn 2004: The Huskies were one of the most disappointing champs in terms of living up to their potential (Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Hilton Armstrong, Rashad Anderson, Josh Boone, Denham Brown, Taliek Brown, and Marcus Williams lost 6 games). This time their lackluster performance catches up with them as Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman (the college version) neutralize Okafor’s advantage inside and Sherman Douglas, who replaced Pearl Washington, is too much for the Huskies’ young point guards.

#3 Florida 2007 def. #14 Villanova 1985: Rollie Massimino’s squad fails to shoot 78.6% from the floor this time and loses to the repeat national champs. The Wildcats just don’t have the answers for Florida’s inside-out attack.

#7 Kansas 1986 def. #10 Duke 1994: Grant Hill’s heroics aren’t enough to get this group of overachievers out of the first round in this tournament. The Jayhawks team are one of the great forgotten teams of the 1980s (better than the 1988 champs) as they lost 4 games by a combined 16 points (including 2 to a great Duke team).

#2 UNLV 1991 def. #15 Utah 1998: Quite possibly the best team in this bracket, Jerry Tarkanian’s Runnin’ Rebels destroy Rick Majerus and Andre Miller. Unfortunately for Rick, Ashley Judd won’t be in attendance, but Tark might bring a few ladies to the game who will save Rick some money on the hotel bill.


#1 Kentucky 1996 def. #16 Georgia Tech 2004: Jarrett Jack and this bunch were fun to watch, but probably wouldn’t get 20 shots up against the smothering defense of Delk, Anderson, Walker, Mercer (the list of eventual NBA players continues) and the rest of one of the all-time steamroller teams.

#9 Louisville 1986 def. #8 Michigan 1989
: Louisville pulls off a mild upset; they beat a great Duke team in their final, and the inside combo of Billy Thompson and never-nervous Pervis probably would surprise Terry Mills, Rumeal, and the rest of them who could barely get past the Hall in 89.

#5 Kansas 1997 def. #12 Duke 1990: A tough 5-12 game, but this scary (but disappointing, in the end) Kansas squad and their balanced attack (Pierce, Vaughn, LaFrentz, Pollard) still sneak by Phil Henderson, Laettner, etc.

#4 UNLV 1987 def. #13 Arizona 1997: This 37-2 UNLV team with Basnight, Gilliam, Paddio, Wade are simply too physical and athletic for the 97 champs with Bibby and Simon.

#6 Memphis 2008 def. 11 Arizona 2001: This Memphis team probably should have won the title (no disrespect to Kansas) last year and with their quickness and athleticism would have little trouble with this fellow runner-up bunch from Arizona — assuming they hit some, um, free throws.

#3 UNC 2005 def. #14 UCLA 2006
: McCants, May, and M. Williams (plus an underrated bench) has the backcourt to neutralize this UCLA team’s guard-oriented attack and is too tough inside for these Bruins.

#7 Indiana 1987 def. #10 Kentucky 1998: This IU team, known for the Keith Smart shot in the title game, also had some fellows named Steve Alford, Daryl Thomas, and Dean Garrett and would have been a little too steady and especially tough up front for this semi-surprising Wildact squad.  Indiana’s victory over a tough Syracuse 87 team is also a little more impressive than UK just getting by Utah 98.

#2 Duke 1999 def. #15 Kansas 1988: The 99 Duke runners-up, with an absolutely loaded team (Avery, Brand, Battier, Langdon, Maggette), almost took down an all-time great 1999 UConn team and would be far too athletic and strong on defense against Danny and the Miracles.  On paper, at least.

Tomorrow: On to the Sweet Sixteen!

rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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One response to “RTC Bracket First Round Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)”

  1. West says:

    If you’re talking about that 2005 UNC team, you have to mention Raymond Felton. He was the one player they had to have on the court at all times. When you mention their bench, part of the reason it was so good was because Marvin Williams came off of it.

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