Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 3/8/12

This is the third post in our ongoing series of the Top 10 What Ifs in college basketball history.

In order to get ready for March Madness, we are counting down the Top 10 What ifs in college basketball history. We’re now at #8, which takes a look at the aftermath of a game that came in at #2 in Andy’s rundown of the 10 most memorable March Madness moment of all-time.

It’s one of the most famous airballs, putbacks, and celebrations in college basketball history.

What if… NC State hadn’t upset the Houston Cougars?

The replay would still be famous:

Whittenburg!  Oh that’s a long ways!!! SHORT!  And we are headed to overtime!

The headlines the next day would be just as memorable:

Upset-Minded Wolfpack Come Up Just Short

But of course, we all know the game didn’t end that way.

Whittenburg had indeed come up just short.  But his teammate, Lorenzo Charles, was there to convert the greatest ally-oop in college history.  Phi Slamma Jamma was dead, and the Cinderella story, highlighted by Coach Jim Valvano’s epic, sprawling victory lap was born.


You see, upsets had happened before…but never one of this magnitude.  Phi Slamma Jamma was unbeatable.

The Houston Cougars were 31-2.  They had won their games by an average of 18 points.  They had won 26 straight games since losing back-to-back road contests early in the season.  They were led by Michael Young, Clyde “the Glide” Drexler, and Akeem “the Dream” Olajuwon.

They were the indisputable #1 team in the land and had just crushed their closest challenger, Louisville, by 13 points in the National Semi-Final.

Meanwhile, NC State limped into the tourney with ten losses – no national champion had ever had that many.  They squeaked out first and second round victories over Pepperdine and UNLV by a total of three points.  Both games could have ended in losses had their opponents simply made free throws.

This wasn’t David vs. Goliath.  This was a baby vs. Superman.

And nobody thought that the baby had any kryptonite.

But you know how it ended.  Houston entered the game supremely over-confident.  NC State slowed the game down.  Phi Slamma Jamma couldn’t get out and run.  And Lorenzo Charles dunked home the victory.

But what if Lorenzo Charles hadn’t been there?  What if NC State ended up becoming just another Cinderella heartbreak that came up just short?

First, the NCAA Tournament may not have the same feel that it does today.

As I mentioned before, there had been upsets in the tourney but none of this magnitude, and definitely not an upset for the National Championship. When NC State won in 1983, the world was shocked.  All of the sudden, everyone realized that the impossible could happen.

No longer did underdogs go into the tournament fighting for respect.  No longer would they go in just hoping to win one game. Now they could go in with hopes of winning it all.

When Villanova upset Georgetown just a few years later, it cemented in America’s mind that miracles could happen in March.

Without NC State, the tournament today might not have the same feel.  If no Cinderella had ever come through at the end, we wouldn’t be cheering so hard in the first and second round for the upsets to happen.

NC State changed March Madness forever.

Second, not only would March Madness be different, so too might our view of Jim Valvano be different.

If you take out the upset victory over Houston, here are Jim Valvano’s final stats at NC State:

  • Ten years, seven tournament appearances, four trips to the Sweet Sixteen or better.
  • Overall record of 208-115; 71-69 in the ACC.
  • Two ACC Championships.
  • No season with fewer than 8 losses.
  • No season under .500.
  • Left NC State in 1990 amidst recruiting controversy.

Wow.  Those are some pretty mediocre numbers, aren’t they?

Would he be any better than Rick Majerus?  Actually, would he even be as good as Rick Majerus?

The fact is, one championship changes perception dramatically.  Because of that one huge win, and the iconic victory lap afterwards, Jim Valvano became an instant legend.  He was a likable guy already and now he finally had his “One Shining Moment.”

We liked Jim Valvano, and we enjoyed watching him run around, so we turned him into a better coach than he might have been.

The renown and respect Valvano gained from being a championship coach helped him inspire the entire world at the ESPYs and raise millions for Cancer Research.

Please believe me, in no way am I taking this topic lightly.

The beauty of What if… hypotheticals is that you can travel down a road that we really don’t know anything about.  As long as you keep things reasonable, the hypothetical can create thought-provoking discussion.

To me, when I think of Jim Valvano, I think of his enrapturing speech at the 1993 ESPYs before I think of anything else.

Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.


To this day, I get chills hearing him speak.

The crazy thing about the upset over Houston is that I 100% believe it helped Jimmy V to use his fame in order to accomplish something much greater.  Since 1993, the Jimmy V Foundation has raised over $100 million for cancer research.

Think about that number again.  $100,000,000.

Think about the number of lives that have been saved because of the research that has been done.  Think about the number of families that have been impacted.  Think about the number of moments that have been treasured.  All because a guy chose to be unselfish with his last few weeks on earth and share his struggles with the world.

And you know what?  If Lorenzo Charles wasn’t there to dunk it home for NC State almost thirty years ago, there may not be a Jimmy V Foundation today.

What If…


Top 10 College Basketball What Ifs of All-Time Series (All)

10.  What if Hank Gathers hadn’t died in the middle of a game?
9.  What if Christian Laettner had been suspended for stomping on Aminu Timberlake?
8.  What if Houston hadn’t been upset by NC State?
7.  What if the NCAA rules had been different for Pete Maravich? (coming soon)
6.  What if Chris Webber hadn’t called a time out? (coming soon)
5.  What if Gordon Hayward’s shot hadn’t rimmed out? (coming soon)
4.  What if Coach K had been fired from Duke after 3 seasons? (coming soon)
3.  What if LeBron had gone to college and the one-and-done rule was never instituted? (coming soon)
2.  What if Kentucky had beaten Texas Western? (coming soon)
1.  What if there wasn’t a snow-storm to keep John Wooden from going to Minnesota? (coming soon)

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