RTC Bracket Sweet Sixteen Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2009

We’re down to the Elite Eight of the RTC Modern Bracket.

There was some serious talent and accomplished teams on display in tonight’s games, but we’re left with three #1 seeds, three #2 seeds, a #3 seed, and (egads) a #8 seed.  Cinderella is still rollin’ in the Modern Bracket.

Interestingly, we only have four national champions remaining, three runners-up and one at-large team.  For the full 64-team bracket, click here.  The game analyses are below the bracket.


Instant Analysis

#1 Duke 1992 def. #13 St. John’s 1985 – This one is a closer match-up than the seeding suggests (perhaps the Redmen were underseeded) as Lou Carnesecca’s squad keeps it close for the first 30 minutes, but in the end Duke’s championship mettle wins out (remember this St. John’s team never won anything). Mark Jackson gets the better of Bobby Hurley in this one, but Hurley doesn’t back down much like what happened in his 1993 match-up against Jason Kidd. This time, Hurley has a completely healthy Grant Hill who does a phenomenal job chasing Chris Mullin around the court and preventing him from lighting it up from beyond the arc (something that he has lived on in the tournament and constantly talked about how much he loves this new rule that wasn’t around when he was in college), but most importantly Hurley has Christian Laettner. Laettner has his hands full in the 1st half battling Walter Berry, but his variety of tricks ends up getting Berry in foul trouble and as a result Berry has to be more cautious on both ends of the court. Over the last 10 minutes of the game Laettner picks him apart and gets some weakside help from Brian Davis and Thomas Hill on the defensive end. Laettner isn’t quite perfect tonight, but he’s close enough to get Coach K into the Elite 8.

#2 Georgetown 1985 def. #3 UNC 1993 – In contrast to the earlier game, this one isn’t as close as the seeding would indicate. This is just a bad match-up for the Tar Heels with Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams destroying Eric Montross and George Lynch on the inside. Dean Smith’s Tar Heels don’t know what hit them and by halftime they are out of it. The Tar Heels only have one legitimate outside threat and John Thompson is able to have his guards focus on Donald Williams because the Tar Heels cannot get anything inside against the Hoyas great frontline. After the game, Smith is visibly irate at the lack of goaltending calls against Ewing who notched 11 blocks in the game. Smith’s mood finally lightens up when the North Carolina media asks him about how his team’s chances next year when they bring in Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, and Jeff McInnis to play with this group that only loses George Lynch.

#1 UNLV 1990 def. #5 Duke 1991 – I know what you’re saying: Haven’t we seen this match-up before? Unfortunately for Coach K’s Blue Devils, Jerry Tarkanian got his hands on some tape of this Duke beating his team from 1991 that might have been even better. After hearing about what this Duke team did to their 1991 team in the preliminary rounds (1991 title game), the Runnin’ Rebels are furious and come out playing as if this game was in Denver like their 1990 title game was. This game is closer than the 1990 title game was thanks to the Blue Devils having a year more of experience, adding Grant Hill, and Bobby Hurley not having a bout of diarrhea. The Blue Devils hang tough for 30 minutes before the UNLV pressure gets to Hurley. Without Hill, who hasn’t developed the refined offensive game he had in 1994, back there to help him break the press ,Hurley succumbs to the pressure of Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon. Even the great Christian Laettner can’t bail Duke out this time as he has his hands full against Larry Johnson. They play to a draw, but Coach K needed Laettner to dominate this match-up if the Blue Devils were going to have a chance against the focused UNLV team. Over the last 10 minutes, UNLV stretches it out to a double-digit lead thanks to Greg Anthony, who isn’t in foul trouble this time around, breaking down Hurley and dishing it off to a red hot Anderson Hunt who kills the Blue Devils with his 3-point shooting yet again.

#3 Duke 2001 def. #2 UCLA 1995 – In the best game on this side of the bracket so far, Coach K put his 2nd team into the Elite 8 thanks to Shane Battier’s lockdown defense on Ed O’Bannon. Midway through the 2nd half, Jim Harrick draws a technical as O’Bannon gets called for his 4th foul on a charge with Battier standing under the basket. Only the sight of John Wooden in the stands calms Harrick down and prevents him from getting tossed from the game and requiring one of his assistants (Mark Gottfried, Lorenzo Romar, and Steve Lavin) to take over. Despite the questionable officiating, the Bruins are holding onto a 3-point lead with 10 minutes to go before Jason Williams goes off. Harrick throws all of his guards (Tyus Edney, Cameron Dollar and Toby Bailey) at Williams, but nobody can stop him as they repeatedly go under the screens that Carlos Boozer sets and George Zidek is too slow switching to bother Williams. After the game, an irate Harrick goes off in the press conference complaining about the favorable officiating that Duke gets before criticizing his guards for not understanding the fundamentals of basketball and how to guard a pick and roll. On the plane ride home, Harrick’s son approaches the Chancellor at UCLA about allowing him to teach a basketball 101 class next semester to prevent this from happening in the future.

#1 Kentucky 1996 def. #5 Kansas 1997 – Angry about their loss in the preliminary rounds (S16 to Arizona) Kansas runs out to a quick double-digit lead in this one, as Paul Pierce continually slices up the Kentucky defense for midrange jumpers and forays to the hoop.  Pitino’s team responds with Antoine Walker and Derek Anderson leading the charge off of the Cats’ pressure defense, which harasses Jacque Vaughn into some uncharacteristic turnovers.  Roy Williams responds with attempts to get the ball into their center Raef LaFrentz, but like UK did with Tim Duncan in the prelims (E8), the quick double-teams by Walter McCarty and Mark Pope render him ineffective.  A close game down the stretch turns on the superior scoring options that the Cats could throw at the Jayhawks, with Tony Delk and Ron Mercer making huge plays down the stretch.  Anthony Epps hit the FTs to salt it away.  Afterward, Rick Pitino was heard asking Roy Williams why his starters were still in the game when UK had an 8-pt lead with 11 seconds left.

#2 Duke 1999 def. #3 UNC 2005 – Carolina fans aren’t going to appreciate a runner-up Duke team knocking out one of their four national title teams, but there’s really not much question about this one.  Duke’s offensive attack of Will Avery, Trajan Langdon, Chris Carrawell, Shane Battier, Elton Brand and Corey Maggette off the bench were way too much for the Raymond Felton/Rashad McCants/Sean May/Marvin Williams Heels to handle.  An early Duke blitz of threes led by Avery and Langdon got the Devils off to a quick start, but it was Brand’s complete domination of the undersized May in the paint that ultimately led to the victory.  On the defensive end, Battier and Carrawell regularly switched off on the explosive Rashad McCants, frustrating him into an awful shooting night.  Duke rolls on to the Elite Eight.

#8 Oklahoma 1988 def. #5 Michigan St. 2000 – Cinderella’s slipper still fits, as the 1988 runner-up takes out another national champion by defeating the 2000 Michigan St. Spartans.  The incendiary offensive power of Billy Tubbs’ team was just too much for Tom Izzo’s Spartans to handle, despite being the defensive stalwarts of their generation.  Mookie Blaylock regularly carved up the MSU defense by penetrating past Mateen Cleaves into the lane for short dropoffs to Harvey Grant and Stacey King.  MSU had no answer for the bigger Sooners, but they were able to stay close due to Mo Pete’s sensational shooting.  Ultimately, it came down to free throws and surprisingly, Blaylock (a career 67% shooter) made just enough down the stretch to hold off the Spartans.

#2 UNLV 1991 def. #3 Florida 2007 – The Rebs are still rolling after their upset in the prelims (F4 to Duke) and quickly used their overwhelming pressure to get an early working margin on the back-to-back champion Gators.  Once Taurean Green and Walter Hodge settled down against the UNLV pressure, Florida began chipping away behind the active bodies of Al Horford and Joakim Noah underneath.  After a tight first half, though, Tark decided to switch Stacey Augmon over to defend Corey Brewer, and quickly the tide turned in the favor of the Runnin’ Rebs.  With the slower Horford on him, LJ started putting in work in the post, while Greg Anthony and Anderson Hunt started spotting up for open threes.  UNLV pulled away late to move onto the Elite Eight as the only at-large team still standing.

Tomorrow: From Elite Eight to a Final Four…

rtmsf (3992 Posts)

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9 responses to “RTC Bracket Sweet Sixteen Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)”

  1. Josh says:

    i’m actually curious how you’re deciding these games since the descriptions are terrific.

    Also Duke vs UNLV a bajillion times is amusing.

    I got my money on oklahoma to go all the way.

  2. West says:

    These are some great descriptions. As a North Carolina fan, I’m not completely unbiased, but the only two matchups I don’t quite agree with are UCLA 1995 losing to Duke 2001, and of course, UNC 2005 losing to Duke 1999. The Duke 1999 team is the second best team I’ve ever seen NOT to win a championship (of course, UNLV 1991 being the first). The Illinois 2005 team may be third on that list. Illinois 2005 and Duke 1999 were very similar: both only had one loss prior to the championship game, and both had only played in about two close games the entire year. UNC 2005 had enough talent to match up with Duke 1999, and I think they showed that they had enough heart to get the job done in a close game against a great team. Let Jackie Manuel be the guy who’s guarding Trajan Langdon when Langdon trips over his own feet with the clock expiring.

  3. landonc says:


    Frankly, the level of play in college basketball was close to its nadir in 2005. The epidemic of players leaving college early of not even making it to college really took its toll on the level of play in the college ranks. Eight of the first 19 draft picks in the previous year’s draft were high school seniors. Thirty seven players taken in the previous four drafts would have had eligibility remaining in the 2004-05 season, including 31 first round picks. This lack of talent allowed Illinois and UNC to dominate the season with only one NBA all-star caliber player between them (Deron Williams).

    The 2005 team was certainly a good squad. Four legitimate, though somewhat middling pros, provided a foundation that would have been solid in any era, though they certainly wouldn’t have been dominant. Perkins, Worthy and MJ, they were not. The Duke squad featuring future NBA stud Elton Brand surrounded by Maggettee, Battier, Langdon, etc., most likely would have taken them to the woodshed.

  4. rtmsf says:

    Landonc: I generally feel the same way. It’s tough looking at teams year-over-year, but one of the things we keep running into as we consider teams from the 2000s vs. some of the greats of the 80s and 90s is the issue of relative talent on these rosters. There’s a good argument to be made that the 1999 Duke team was the last “great” team, even though it lost the national title game to UConn. A fair argument could probably be made that nearly any team from the late 80s/early 90s would have mopped up the place with any team from the 2000s, but that wouldn’t make for a fun bracket, so we give the modern teams a little more credit than that.

  5. landonc says:

    Yeah, I get it. My argument wasn’t so much with you, I think the bracket is a great idea, and your analysis clearly isn’t based on who was “better.” Plus, upsets happen, etc. One might quibble with your seeding, but you’re right, if you acknowledge the truth that college basketball in the ’00’s was/is weaker than the 90’s or 80’s, it would make for a boring bracket. My argument was based solely for West, whose argument seems to indicate that he thinks the 2005 UNC team was truly great, rather than very good in a particularly bad year for college basketball.

  6. rtmsf says:

    Oh, I completely agree. Same thing if you look at 2004 with a 29-1 Stanford and a similar record for St. Joe’s. Those teams just didn’t match up, even with their late 90s counterparts. That Illinois team was good, but c’mon how good can a team featuring James Augustine as its sole low post threat really be? And the Carolina team was good also, but again, the reason they were so “good” was b/c their primary players (Felton/McCants/May) weren’t good enough to go pro earlier than that year. Eerily similar situation to this year’s UNC team, actually.

  7. tyus edney says:

    As a true UCLA fan I blame Steve Lavin for the loss to Duke 2001

    Just because the 2009 Battier is locking down Kobe in the New York Times and 2009 Ed O’Bannon is locking down car sales in Las Vegas doesn’t mean I am at all convinced that hte 1995 O.Bannon could have been stopped. I think UCLA lost because Tyus never recovered from the injury against 1995 OK state.

  8. rtmsf says:

    Wow, is Eddie O. really selling cars in Vegas?

  9. West says:


    I didn’t have a chance to get back to the site until today. You make some good points about how most of the great players were already in the NBA in 2005. I’m almost willing to concede to you.

    However, I’m mainly saying that as “great” as that Duke 1999 team was, they lost the championship game. They lost because they didn’t know how to play in a close game. They hadn’t been there before. That’s also why UNLV 1991 lost. UNC 2005 had been in a handful of close games that year. I’m thinking UNC had enough talent to keep it close, and that they would have pulled it out in the end. I still remember my dad (who likes Coach K and usually roots for Duke) in complete disgust about Duke’s last two offensive possessions. They were both clear outs for Langdon against Ricky Moore (UConn’s best defender). A truly great team should have come up with something better than that. It’s similar to Anderson Hunt throwing up that wild 3-pointer at the end of the Duke-UNLV game in ’91.

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