Old rivals Louisville, Dayton back on collision course

Does destiny dare to match the universities of Louisville and Dayton in another historic showdown on one of college basketball’s biggest stages in March?  The once bitter rivals last met with a championship on the line some 64 years ago.

Charlie Tyra, father of Louisville Athletic Director Vince Tyra, adorned the prestigious cover of the Street & Smith Basketball in 1957, following UofL’s NIT championship year.

A lot has happened since the 1955-56 season, with UofL becoming a nationally acclaimed program. The program won three national championships — in 1980, 1986 and 2013 and joined Atlantic Coast Conference in 2015. Meanwhile, Dayton has quietly labored in the mid-major Atlantic 10 Conference except for a 1967 loss to UCLA in the NCAA championship game.

Not to worry, Dayton is back stronger than ever.  According to this site, Dayton is among the serious contenders to win the NCAA championship. The Flyers are 28-2 overall and 17-0 in the Atlantic 10 Conference.  Their odds of winning it all are placed at +1200, behind only Baylor, Duke and Gonzaga. Louisville is below Dayton at odds of +1400.

The Flyers have won 19 straight games to occupy their highest poll position since finishing the 1955-56 campaign with a 25-4 record and a No. 3 ranking. They are currently ranked third in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls.

They are led by Obi Toppin, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward, averaging 19.8 points per and 8.9 rebounds per game. They have three other starters averaging double figures as well.

Back to that 1955-56 season. Louisville, led by 6-foot-8 Charlie Tyra, and Dayton, with 7-foot-1 Bill Uhl, were both among the top 10 when they collided. They played three times, with UofL winning by two points on last second baskets during both regular season games.

They next clashed in the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament, which at time was considered by many to be the premier basketball tourney. Louisville won 93-80, its biggest win ever, joining the ranks of the nation’s elite programs in the years that followed.

Louisville owns a 39-27 edge over Dayton in a series that dates back to 1948. However, the Cardinals lost the last two games to the Flyers in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. And Coach Rick Pitino never pursued a resumption of the series after those losses.

The diehards, or anyone remotely familiar with the series, will strongly disagree that the rivalry is only a distant memory.   The stakes will be high for both programs and intensity levels will be off the charts if they cross paths again in March.

Getting UofL number retired not easy

With the University of Louisville having captured its third NCAA tournament championship, some are wondering whether the University may decide to retire a player’s number.

Like maybe the No. 3 on jerseys worn by point guard Peyton Siva? Or the No. 2 belonging to Russ Smith?

No. 2 may have a shot.
No. 2 may have a shot.

The answer in Siva’s case is probably not despite the indispensable role he played in the championship run. Russ Smith has a much better shot if he lives up to expectations going into next season.

UofL has specific criteria for retiring numbers and only four players have had their numbers retired. There is one guideline, making it quite clear who can have their number retired, according to Kenny Klein, sports information director.

“To be eligible for retirement of a player’s number, the player must be, at minimum, a consensus All-America pick,” he told Card Game. Only four players in UofL basketball history have earned the honor. They are Pervis Ellison (42), Darrell Griffith (35), Charlie Tyra (8) and Wes Unseld (31).

So why are there so many banners with the names of former UofL players hanging in the rafters at Freedom Hall and the KFC Yum! Center? Well, there’s a big difference between “retiring” and “honoring” a jersey.

Klein says for a player’s jersey or number to be honored, the player must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Must be named to an All-America first, second or third team of a national publication or wire service; an Academic All-America selection; or be named conference player of the year;
  • Or must appear in the Top 10 of at least four U of L career statistical categories;
  • Or may be selected for the honor by a blue ribbon panel if he played prior to 1960. The last criteria is included as to not diminish the accomplishments of earlier years, realizing that statistical comparisons may be inconclusive.

Consideration may also be given for the player to have completed his eligibility for at least three years to be eligible. A committee shall present individuals for consideration to the Director of Athletics. Each player should be a member of a team which gained significant notoriety or earned a special place in Cardinal basketball lore.

Players whose numbers have been honored include: Butch Beard, Junior Bridgeman, Jack Coleman, Don Goldstein, Lancaster Gordon, George Hauptfuhrer, Bob Lochmueller, Rodney McCray, Jim Morgan, Allen Murphy, Chuck Noble, Bud Olsen, Jim Price, Kenny Reeves, Phil Rollins, Derek Smith, Billy Thompson, John Turner, Milt Wagner and DeJuan Wheat.

The criteria for retiring or honoring player numbers in football is similar.

Louisville-Western Kentucky flashback

Christmas has engulfed the observer’s house but we’ll take a break for the Louisville-Western Kentucky basketball game. Via DVR after the three visiting grandkids are tucked into bed.

The latest renewal of the 75-game series bring back memories of my introduction to the rivalry, way back in 1955-56.  Louisville rolled into the game with sparkling 9-0 record, led by Charlie Tyra and Phil Rollins.

No TV back then, just WHAS Radio, with George Walsh calling the play-by-play.  Don’t remember many details, except for the fawning over WKU coach and his mention of a sea of red towels in Freedom Hall. The game was close all night long, the lead seesawing back and forth. Western Kentucky would win that game 86-77.

Louisville would go on to win the National Invitation Tournament that year in one of the first U of L games to be televised nationally. That night, however, a 12-year-old kid would shed a couple of tears before closing his eyes.

Phil Rollins still a Louisville Cardinal

Seated right in front of the observer at the University of Louisville-St. John’s women’s basketball game Tuesday was none other than Phil Rollins, the captain of the 1955-56 team that won the National Invitation Tournament championship.

UofL defeated Dayton in the title game which, at the time, was considered college basketball’s national championship. Among his other teammates on a team with a 26-3 record were Bill Darragh, Roscoe Shackelford, Jim Morgan and All-America Charlie Tyra.

Believe it or not, the observer was able to recite all of Rollins’ teammates names to him. That was, in fact, the first season we strictly followed UofL to the exclusion of all others. That team started off winning its first eight games before losing to Ed Diddle and Western Kentucky at Bowling Green. When Rollins was told that a kid cried after that loss, he joked that the kid wasn’t the only one crying.

Rollins is the sole surviving senior player from that team. The others were Jerry Moreman, Herb Harrah and Dick Keffer. Phil was president of the U of L Alumni Association in 1980, the year his school won its first NCAA championship.

Good to see you again, Phil. Well done and thanks for the memories.