Tuesday, January 17, 2012

1949--62 Years Ago

The year of 1949 was one of the greatest years in Minnesota basketball history. Here's why.

Story #1--Hamline wins its 2nd NAIA championship

Hamline and coach Joe Hutton won 17 of 20 MIAC championships through 1953, but it's greatest team by far was the 1949 aggregation led by Vern Mikkelson and Hal Haskins. Consider that in January, the Pipers were the last unbeaten college team in America and were rated as the #5 team in the nation, regardless of class or division. Kentucky was #1, followed by St. Louis, Oklahoma A&M (now State), Illinois and Hamline. The Minnesota Gophers, then 13-1 and second in the Big Ten, were rated #7. 

The Pipers lost three games that year. Two of the losses were to the powerful Phillips Oilers sponsored by the Phillips Petroleum Company. The Oilers had represented the U.S. in the 1948 Olympics and featured 7-foot Bob Kurland, who had out-played George Mikan when they were in college. Mikkelson out-scored Kurland 16-14 and 18-14 in the two games. The third loss, to St. Thomas under coach Paul Sokol, created a tie for the MIAC title and almost knocked the Pipers out of the national tournament.

But in the end, Hamline was invited to play in the NAIA tournament, and defeated Arkansas State 76-43 and Indiana Central 83-66 as Haskins scored 53 points in the two games. Then Mikkelson scored 28 as the Pipers knocked off Texas Tech 80-56. Beloit and star guard Johnny Orr, later the Michigan coach, was the next victim 52-43, as Haskins and Mikkelson each scored 18 and Haskins held the high-scoring Orr to just eight. Finally Regis was dispatched 57-46 as Haskins scored 21 points and was named tournament MVP. Hamline finished the year at 31-3.

Story #2--The Gophers rebound under Ozzie Cowles

Long-time Gopher coach Dave MacMillan retired for the second time after the 1948 season. As his successor, the Gophers hires Ozzie Cowles, a Browns Valley, Minnesota, native and Carleton grad who had coached Dartmouth to the Final Four and then brought Michigan its first Big Ten title in almost 20 years. Now, he coached the Gophers to their best record (18-3) since the Gophers undefeated 1919 season, and a top ten ranking. But, a heart-breaking 45-44 loss at eventual Big Ten champion Illinois relegated the Gophers to second place in the conference.

Story #3--St. Paul Humboldt wins high school championship

The state's three top teams squared off in the lower bracket of the 1949 state tournament. Hibbing, led by 6-5 center Milan Knezovich, had defeated Mpls. Central earlier in the year, and was a heavy favorite. Instead, Central turned the tables on Hibbing in the 1st round 37-34. Then it was St. Paul Humboldt, with 6-6 center Jim Fritsche and 6-4 forward Myron Finn, who surprised Central 53-47. Finally, Humboldt easily dispatched Mankato 47-35 in the final as Fritsche became the second boy ever to score 20 or more points in all three tournament games. Humboldt finished 19-5.

Story #4--The Minneapolis Lakers win again

The Lakers moved from the NBL to the BAA for the 1948-1949 season, but the result was the same. They actually finished behind the Rochester Royals in the Western Division, but swept the Chicago Stags and the Royals to advance to the BAA finals. There they beat the Washington Capitals 4 games to 2, easily winning game 6 at the St. Paul Auditorium 77-56 to close out the series. George Mikan scored 40 points or more 7 times, and 50 or more twice, while leading the BAA with a 28.3 ppg scoring average.

Story #5--St. Thomas nearly derails the Hamline juggernaut

St. Thomas shocked Hamline 45-43 early in 1949, and lost in the MIAC only in its rematch with the Pipers. Initially the MIAC announced that there would be a play-off for the right to represent the conference in the NAIA District 13 play-off but, instead, for reasons that are unknown, it was then decided to flip a coin instead. The Tommies won the coin flip and defeated Mankato Teachers 56-55 to advance to the national tournament. Eventually the NAIA announced that Hamline would play, too, filling a vacancy because the New York district would not be sending a team. Mankato fans were enraged at their slight, but Hamline went on to justify the NAIA's selection by winning the national title. St. Thomas, for their part, won one game, then lost to the eventual runner-up, Regis, 53-52. 

Player of the Year

1. Vern Mikkelson, 6-7 senior center, Hamline Pipers
2. Hal Haskins, 6-3 junior forward, Hamline Pipers
3. Jim McIntyre, 6-10 senior center, Minnesota Gophers
4. George Mikan, 6-10 center, Minneapolis Lakers
5. Jim Fritsche, 6-6 senior center, St. Paul Humboldt
6. Milan Knezovich, 6-5 senior center, Hibbing
7. Whitey Skoog, 6-2 sophomore forward, Minnesota Gophers
8. Jim Pollard, 6-6 forward, Minneapolis Lakers
9. Don Olson, 6-3 senior forward, Mankato State
10. Bob Leiviska, senior guard, Hamline Pipers

Team of the Year

1. Hamline Pipers 31-3, NAIA national champion
2. Minnesota Gophers 18-3, Big Ten runner-up
3. Minneapolis Lakers 44-16 and 8-2 in post-season, BAA champion
4. St. Paul Humboldt 19-5, state high school champion
5. St. Thomas, co-MIAC champion
6. Mankato State, NTC champion
7. Mankato, state high school runner-up
8. Hibbing, state high school consolation champion, rated #1 to start the tournament
9. Rochester, state high school 3rd place
10. Mpls. Central, state high school 4th place

Coach of the Year

1. Ozzie Cowles, Minnesota Gophers
2. Joe Hutton, Hamline Pipers
3. Paul Sokol, St. Thomas Tommies
4. John Kundla, Minneapolis Lakers
5. Steve Ruzich, Dawson
6. Art Peterson, St. Paul Humboldt
7. Jim Withan, Mankato State
8. Mario Retica, Hibbing
9. Whitey Thoreson, Mpls. Central
10. Louis Todnem, Mankato

Game of the Year

1. Philips Oilers sweep Hamline 52-38 and 49-46
2. St. Thomas shocks Hamline 45-43
3. Gophers lose a heart-breaker at Big Ten champion Illinois 45-44
4. Hamline 52 Beloit 43 in NAIA semi-final
5 (tie). Mpls. Central upsets Hibbing in 1st round of state high school tourney 37-34
    St. Paul Humboldt surprises Central 53-47 in state tournament semi
7. Gophers lose to Wisconsin 45-43 in final game
8. St. Thomas 56 Mankato State 55 for the right to play in the NAIA tournament
9. Regis knocks St. Thomas out of NAIA tournament, 53-52
10. Mpls. Lakers 77 Washington Capitols 56 to win NBA finals 4 games to 2

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