Of all the spellbinding performances during the 75 years of the NCAA tournament, none exceeded, over a six-game span, that of Glen Rice in 1989. Releasing his sweet stroke mostly from 20 feet and further out, the Michigan Wolverine accumulated a total of 187 points-the all-time record-while converting on 57 percent of his shots. His swish-fest catapulted his team to the national championship.
In basketball there is nothing more fun to watch than a player who is draining bombs all night long game after game as if it's a continuous, one-act performance. I remember being sure to watch whomever Michigan took on in each successive round, because Rice was going to rip the nets. There wasn't any doubt and everybody knew it.
In the first game against Xavier he scored 23. This turned out to be his cold night. In round 2 he popped in 36 against South Alabama, making 16 of 25. He went on to drop 34 on North Carolina, 32 against Virginia, 28 versus Illinois. In the title game, he rained 31 on Seton Hall.
Almost all were long range bombs. That was what was so mesmerizing-the distance from which he was making so many shots. it was awesomely absurd.
Why all this fuss about Glen Rice who did all this nearly 25 years ago?
Because when my Sports Illustrated special edition arrived this week featuring the ten best players in the 75-year history of the tournament, I thought for sure he would be in there. No one could have sustained his level of shooting for all six games. I know this tournament-it had never been done quite like Rice had.
But he didn't make the list. Yet he should have.
The magazine chose Christian Laettner, Lew Alcinder, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Bill Bradley, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Walton, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlain. These are all ballers of the tallest order, no doubt. Several of them seemed to have been selected for their lifetime achievements in the tournament or a single spectacular game or two. In 1973, Bill Walton's 44 points in the national title game in his junior year was alarmingly great. But he didn't score a total of 187 points over the whole tournament as Rice did-not even close. Plus many of his points came from layups as opposed to Rice's much more difficult long range shots.
It can be credibly debated that Rice didn't deserve to make the cut because others played great over several tournament seasons and/or had a lot more rebounds and assists than Rice. But after studying the article's stats, I would make the strongest case for Rice over Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain.
The Big "O" averaged 30 points in the tournament in which his team reached the Final Four twice. But his Cincinnati Bearcats never won the title. Rice averaged more points than Oscar and his team won it all.
As for Magic, he averaged 17 points, only about half what Rice did. And in the title game he scored eight fewer points than Rice, 24. For his part, Wilt averaged 30 points over 4 games and his team did not win the national title. I'd give the edge to Rice even though Wilt was a monumentally better rebounder than Rice. The yardstick should be about winning.
It's tough to argue that Rice should have been on the list instead of Jerry West but it's debatable. In 1959, West averaged 30 points over five games. Had he played six as Rice did, t's reasonable to assume he would have scored at least 30 and totaled 190, surpassing Rice. Plus Jerry West was Jerry West.
In 1965, Bill Bradley poured in 35 per game during his five-game stint in 1965, including 58 in the National Semifinal. Rice didn't quite rise to this ridiculous standard in one game, but he was awfully close factoring in his overall tourney heroics.
Regardless of what Larry Bird's numbers were in the tournament-and they were off-the-charts incredible, of course-I would choose him over Rice for purely emotional reasons. Larry is my favorite hoops player, favorite athlete, favorite lawn cutter, and favorite human being. Rice just isn't that, although I loved him that March of 1989. (For the record, in his 1979 senior tourney, the Legend of French Lick, the Hick from Indiana State gave Arkansas 31 and DePaul 35. Just typical for Bird his whole college career. But I digress.)
The best all around players made this Sports Illustrated list. No one ever said Glen Rice was a great all-around player. But for those six games, no on in NCAA tournament history shot the ball better than he did. Rice shot his team into college hoops history. The way he did it should have shot him onto this all-time top 10 list.