RTC Bracket Championship Results: Best Team of the Modern Era (1985-2008)Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2009
Ok, we’re ready for the firestorm. The four of you who are still reading this are going to swim the moat and scale the walls of the RTC castle after you read this post. You’re going to want to string up those responsible by their testicles, and ritualistically flog them until they admit that a grievous error has been made. We’re ready for it.
And the reason we’re prepared for such a thing is because the best team of the Modern Era is one that didn’t even win the championship in its given year (cringe). Hell, they didn’t even make the final game! But you need to hear us out, listen to what we’re saying, open your mind to the possibility, and it’ll all make sense soon enough.
For the full 64-team bracket, click here. The championship game analysis is below the bracket.
#2 UNLV 1991 def. #1 Duke 1992. You’re probably thinking… but RTC, we already saw this game, we know how it ends up. It was played in the 1991 national semifinals with 90% of the same principal players and themes involved. LJ, Augmon, Anthony, Hunt, Ackles vs. Hurley, Laettner, Hill, Hill, Davis. Tark vs. Coach K. Good vs. Evil. Glitzy vs. Coldly Efficient. Foot Stomps vs. Hot Tubs. Clean vs. Dirty. And you’d be right. The 1991 match-up was the de facto national championship game, and it has gone down in NCAA Tournament lore as one of the greatest games of all-time. Duke, of course, won the game with an 8-1 run to catch and finish off the Runnin’ Rebels, 79-77, after their floor leader Greg Anthony fouled out.
As we enter this championship matchup with most of the basketball world watching, we quickly discern that UNLV 1991 has been royally steamed ever since that loss eighteen years ago, and Duke 1992 is feeling a little overconfident after having dispatched UNLV 1990 in the previous round. Anderson Hunt in particular comes out firing, nailing three early treys to put considerable pressure on the Duke perimeter defense. Additionally, Stacey Augmon seems like a man possessed on the defensive end, denying the ball and limiting Grant Hill to only a couple of touches early (curiously, he seems much more active in this game than he did in the 1991 semifinal). After a quick 12-5 lead for UNLV, the lead dissipates just as quickly as Christian Laettner angrily demands the ball and rains a couple of long-range jumpers over George Ackles. Duke comes back to take the lead on a Hurley steal and layup, and it became painfully evident to both teams that they were in for another war tonight. They take turns exchanging the lead throughout the first half, but UNLV goes into the locker room with a two-point lead at 38-36 thanks to a tip-in at the buzzer by reserve Evric Gray. Laettner (14 pts) and Hurley (10 pts) are leading the way for Duke, while LJ (12 pts) and Hunt (11 pts) are pacing the Rebels.
At the half, Coach K, who knew that the most important strategy for Duke to win this game was to avoid the devastating UNLV fast breaks, implores his team to continue taking care of the ball. The Devils have only committed five turnovers leading to four fast break points. The strategy was working, as Duke had essentially played even with UNLV, but K was a little concerned with Grant Hill’s play thus far (2 pts, 2 turnovers in 19 minutes). In the other locker room, Greg Anthony has taken the pulpit and is reminding his team that Duke cannot handle them defensively so long as they continue to push the pace and work for open looks – the rest of the Rebels nod knowingly, while Tark simply nods off in the corner of the room.
UNLV once again comes out quickly, forcing three straight turnovers by trapping Hurley and G. Hill in the backcourt. A two-point lead balloons to nine once Greg Anthony’s drive-and-dish to LJ and-one occurs. Duke appears to be reeling when Coach K calls timeout to calm his troops. In the huddle, K starts to plan the strategy for the next few minutes when Laettner suddenly grabs the dry eraser board and throws it onto the floor, stomping it into fifteen pieces. A stunned Duke huddle goes quiet as Laettner gets in the face of the two Hills and Davis and tells them to stop playing “like pussies” and that he didn’t carry them through all these games just to lose to a bunch of chumps from Vegas again. Cherokee Parks is seen hiding under the team bench after this tirade by Laettner, but it works. Duke’s next six minutes are a clinic in offensive execution, as the Devils score on their next eight possessions to knot things up at 59-59 when the under-8 timeout hits.
As we head into the final stretch of the game, nobody is sitting in the arena. The quality of basketball on both ends of the court is awe-inspiring, unlike what anyone at this level of basketball has ever seen before. LJ backs his man down, then reverse spins for a power dunk. Hurley runs Duke’s motion and finds the ball back in his hands for a perfectly-placed three. Anthony penetrates the lane to kick out to Augmon, who ball reverses to Hunt for another dagger of his own. Laettner uses a myriad of low-post moves to repeatedly get back to the foul line, where he confidently hits every one (no rim). Those nearest the court are rewarded with trashtalk from both the UNLV and Duke players that suggests supreme confidence with the ability to back it up. With two minutes remaining, UNLV has the ball and a narrow one-point lead at 77-76 when Greg Anthony picks up his fourth foul on a questionable block/charge call. Could the same thing be happening again?
Anthony doesn’t even look to the bench as he heads back upcourt with #4, and Duke works the next possession superbly. Moving the ball faster than the UNLV defense can react, they find Thomas Hill underneath for an easy layup and a one-pt lead with 1:27 left. UNLV races upcourt, trying to find an opening to exploit, but Anderson Hunt passes on a corner three and the Rebels decide to go into their halfcourt offense. As Anthony tries to feed LJ on the low blocks, Brian Davis gets a hand on the ball leading to a loose ball scrum where the ball clearly goes out of bounds off of UNLV. Duke ball with 0:55 left. UNLV elects to not pressure in the backcourt, preferring to depend on their amoeba halfcourt defense to get the stop. Hurley works clock before starting the offense. Laettner gets the ball with 0:28 remaining on the left high post, and immediately dribble-drives to the left baseline before spotting a wide-open Grant Hill cutting to the hoop from the weak side. The pass is right on the money, and as Hill swoops to the goal for an earth-shattering dunk, Stacey Augmon creams him. Hill will go to the line for two shots with 0:22 remaining.
Hill is a 73% shooter, but his shot outside the paint has been shaky tonight (4-11). He steps up and hits the first to give Duke a two-pt lead, but the second one rattles out on him. UNLV will have a chance to tie or win in their last possession. This time around, however, Greg Anthony is still on the floor running the offense, so after a Tarkanian timeout, the Rebels look composed as they start their play. With twelve seconds remaining, Anthony drives to his right and spots a slashing LJ cutting through the lane. LJ catches and turns to shoot, but Laettner and Thomas Hill have both shadowed him to challenge the shot (in addition to Augmon), so Johnson has to shoot it a little higher than he normally would. It looks good en route, but it catches iron with 0:07 remaining. Ackles and Spencer Elmore both crash the boards from the weakside, with Elmore getting his hands on it and immediately spotting an idling Anderson Hunt standing in the left corner behind the three-point line wide open. Hunt catches the pass and releases a floater that seems to hang in the air forever before the ball splashes through the net with 0:2.1 remaining – UNLV now leads 80-79. The crowd goes wild, but Duke, ever vigilant, calls an immediate timeout.
Coach K calls everyone over to the bench and points at the clock with a knowing grin on his face. Every Duke player knows exactly what those numbers mean, and they go about calmly planning their play. On the other end of the court, Tark seems to recall that he should be remembering something about this situation but he can’t remember what that is, so he tells his guys to play defense and to not foul. After what seems like an interminable break, Duke lines up to take the ball out on the opposite baseline. Grant Hill will do the throw-in, with Hurley as the escape valve at quarter-court and Laettner as the target at the opposite foul line. Moments prior to the inbound, Stacey Augmon notices that Grant Hill hasn’t so much as glanced at Hurley since the huddle, so he immediately realizes what the play will be. He leaves his position near halfcourt (fading Hurley) and sprints toward the opposite foul line before Hill has even released the ball yet. By the time the ball gets to where Laettner is standing to receive the pass, Plastic Man has already swooped in to tip the ball from in front of Laettner’s reach. The tipped ball instead ends up in Thomas Hill’s hands, who has no choice other than to turn and shoot from 30 feet. The ball glances off the backboard and draws a little bit of the rim, but the horn sounds and the game is over!
UNLV 1991 has pulled off the upset over Duke 1992. Thanks to the timely Anderson Hunt three and the astute observations of the NDPOY Stacey Augmon, Duke was unable to get a good look at a shot to win the RTC Modern Bracket. Anderson Hunt had another great game in this series, going for 27 pts, while LJ had 22 for the champs. On the Duke side, Laettner finished his collegiate career with 27 pts on 8-11 shooting, and Hurley had 19/8. Afterwards, Coach K was overheard talking to an NCAA official about reviewing the eligibility of Anderson Hunt and Stacey Augmon, but we didn’t catch the rest of it. Tark, on the other hand, felt completely vindicated for his loss in 1991 to Duke, and kept repeating that the NCAA wouldn’t find anything on him even though nobody was asking.
So that’s it. The RTC Modern Era bracket is finished. We hope you’ve enjoyed it half as much as we have, and the question going forward will be: where does the 2009 UNC Tar Heels rank and how far would they have advanced in this thing? Check back next time (5 yrs?) for the answer…