1979 College Basketball Recap
The NCAA tournament, which began the decade with a 25?team field, had expanded to include 40 teams by 1979. In the process, the Final Four had become an annual rite of Spring, right up there with the Masters and Opening Day of the baseball season. But it wasn't a national obsession. Yet.
Then Indiana State played Michigan State for the NCAA championship in Salt Lake City.
And Larry Bird met Magic Johnson. It was a showdown made in TV heaven. Bird of the unbeaten Sycamores (fifth-year senior, Player of the Year and already a first round draft pick of the Boston Celtics) vs Magic of the Spartans (only a sophomore, but a 6-9 point guard who was every bit the ball wizard Bird was).
Michigan St. won the game by 11 as Magic outscored Bird, 24?19, but the numbers that really counted were these: NBC-TV pulled a 24.1 rating and a 38 share that are still NCAA tournament records.
A year later, Bird was Rookie of the Year in the NBA and Magic, who entered the '79 draft as an underclassman, helped lead the L.A. Lakers to the world championship.
No.6 DePaul upset third-ranked UCLA, 95?91, in the West Regional championship game, giving Blue Demons' coach Ray Meyer his first (and only) ticket to the Final Four. After a two-point loss to Indiana State in the semifinal, DePaul beat Penn for third place.