1944 College Basketball Recap
This was the year of Utah's Blitz Kids—Arnie Ferrin, Wat Misaka, Fred Sheffield, Herb Wilkinson, Dick Smuin and Bob Lewis. Average age: 181/2.
While the Whiz Kids of Illinois had stayed home in 1943, the Blitz Kids of Utah didn't even have a home in '44. The Skyline Conference had suspended play and the Army had taken over the Utes' fieldhouse in Salt Lake City, so coach Vadal Peterson was obliged to play mostly service teams in church gyms.
Utah went 18–3 and was invited to both NIT and NCAA tournaments. Peterson took the NIT offer because it included travel expenses, but the Utes were knocked out in the first round by Kentucky. Meanwhile, when Arkansas was forced to pull out of the NCAAs after a car accident injured several starters, the West Regional berth was offered to Utah. This time the Utes accepted and ended up back in New York for the Final Two. There, the Blitz Kids beat a transfer-laden Dartmouth team (including St. John's star Dick McGuire) 42–40, on a Wilkinson buzzer-beater in overtime.
The Utes met NIT champion St. John's in the second Red Cross Benefit game a few nights later before 18,125 at the Garden. St. John's had beaten George Mikan and DePaul in the NIT final, but Ferrin (17 points) and the rest of the Kids had finally found a home and won easily, 43–36.