Whatever the outcome of the Marquette Golden Eagles game tomorrow against the UNC Tar Heels, there is no doubt that Marquette's Jerome Whitehead and Butch Lee figure heavily in this year's game. The last game for legendary coach Al McGuire, perhaps better known as a TV commentator, came against the UNC Tar Heels in 1977 and Butch Lee was his star despite the famous play that made Whitehead a legend.
McGuire coached Marquette that year to a national championship against Dean Smith's Tar Heels. And it was not anywhere as close as the 67-59 final score.
So it is and will be that this game must have been played more than once, by the players themselves and as a group with their coaches. Nothing like great memories to stimulate sporting encores.
The 1977 UNC team was perhaps the best in school history. Phil Ford, the point guard who some consider the best of all time, led a superb team into the NCAAs.
Problem was, UNC's starting center Tommy LaGuard could not play. He had blown out his knee during the season. Walter Davis, one of the purest shooters ever to play the game, had two broken fingers on his shooting hand. And Ford himself hyper extended his elbow during the ACC tournament.
Despite these injuries, UNC was still favored in the Final Four. After disposing of UNC-Charlotte in the semifinals by lofting a seeming impossible last-second shot from the top of the key, Marquette's Jerome Whitehead was already a legend in NCAA championship lore, on every highlight reel in the country before the final game. Christian Laettner may be more famous for his shot these days. But Whitehead had the predecessor in practically the same position well over a decade earlier.
The game was really anticlimactic. The Tar Heels never seemed to be in the game, and Marquette seemed to win handily despite the fact that the score was close at times. Leave it to McGuire to go out on a big note.
This year, Marquette again boasts experienced players. And they are older and somewhat wiser than their Tar Heel counterparts. Will this make a difference?
History does have a strange habit of repeating itself. And the 17-7 1977 Marquette team could score from outside as well as this year's version. This year's Marquette team has an even worse record than the one in 1977, winning only 61 percent of its games.
Of course, there is one big factor that looms for both teams. Marquette was an independent in 1977. They are now part of the huge Big East, a group of teams scrabbled together after defections from the former Big East to the ACC. And that will add a lot of grist to this matchup.
Perhaps even more important, the ridiculous number of teams from the Big East invited to the NCAA tournament will add heat.
With these two elements, the Tar Heels better avoid being too fired up. The worst team performances have come when the Tar Heels have had something to prove. Like the Duke game in the tournament.
Given their growing maturity, and unlike the constant references to how young Kentucky is, we have seen little of this in the Heels' workmanlike performances in the tournament thus far. In the absence of an out-of-this-world performance beyond the arc, which Marquette has shown in a few games, this will be a Tar Heels blowout.
In this game, history will not repeat itself. No matter how much Al is pulling for them from his perch in heaven.