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March 18, 2003

  Hoops and Helmets 2002 & 2003 
  
Which schools had the best combination of the two major sports?


By Richard Cirminiello | All-Time Greatest Hoops and Helmets combos
Tearing down the goalposts and cutting down the nets.  Its only the most fortunate college fan that gets a chance to see his school do both in the same year.  From the period of November to January, the collegiate football and basketball seasons overlap, sending some backers into a state of euphoria and others into a state of depression.

Its quite uncommon for one university to be home to national contenders in both sports in the same season.  By some twist of fate, most of our traditional football powerhouses have had only limited success over the years on the hardwood.  Sure, programs like Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami, Florida, Tennessee, Texas, Penn State, Nebraska, Alabama and USC have had their moments in March, but how many championships have they won?  Or Final 4 trips have they made?  Try zero and nine, respectively.

Likewise, many of the elite college basketball programs that have gobbled up their share of top seeds and titles over the years wont be contending for a New Years Day bowl game anytime soon.  Schools like Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Indiana, Kansas and Louisville fall into this category.  Toss in the fact that college basketball has 209 eligible teams that dont even have a I-A football program and the hoops-helmets equation gets muddled even further.         

With the madness of March about to grip a nation, its time to celebrate those schools that have given their fans the most to cheer about since the dog days of summer.

#1 Oklahoma
Hoops Since arriving in Norman in 1994, Kelvin Sampson has built the Sooners into a perennial power with his tireless work ethic.  Riding the momentum of their third consecutive Big 12 Tournament crown, Hollis Price-led OU earned the East regions No 1 seed as they begin their quest for a return engagement to the Final Four. 

Helmets For the second consecutive year, a late season upset derailed the Sooners hopes for a national title.  In 2002, it was actually a pair of losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State that had OU packing for Pasadena instead of Tempe.  However dissatisfied the school may have been, winning the Big 12 championship and the Rose Bowl is not a bad way to drown your sorrows.  

#2 Texas
Hoops The inside-outside combo of T.J. Ford and James Thomas helped make the Longhorns one of the most intimidating teams in the nation this winter.  In Ford, coach Rick Barnes simply has simply one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country.  The top seeded team from the South bracket finished 22-6, including a pair of wins over rival Oklahoma.

Helmets Not unlike the past couple of seasons, UT started fast, lost to Oklahoma and finished with a flurry.  For most any other school, an 11-2 record and an impressive Cotton Bowl win over LSU would constitute a fine season.  Of course, Texas is not most any other school.  

#3 Pittsburgh
Hoops After getting knocked off in the final the past two years, Pitt finally broke through on Saturday and grabbed the schools first Big East basketball championship.  The 26-4 Panthers are a balanced, veteran bunch that could make some serious noise as the No. 2 seed out of the Midwest.

Helmets The Panthers best season since the early eighties was marked by wins over Boston College and Virginia Tech and a near upset at then No. 1 Miami on national TV.  A convincing 38-13 win over Oregon State in the Insight Bowl vaulted the team to No. 19 in the final AP poll.   

#4 Georgia
Hoops Had it not been for alleged improprieties by the Harricks, Georgia would have settled in at no worse than No 3 in this ranking.  Even without the excitement of the SEC or NCAA tournament, the Dawgs gave their fans plenty to bark about this season.  Fueled by Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams, Georgia was the third best team in the stacked SEC.

Helmets It wasnt a perfect season, but it came darn close for the third ranked Bulldogs and their faithful.  In one of the most memorable seasons in program history, Georgia went 13-1, losing only to hated Florida in the Cocktail Party.  The schools SEC championship title was its first in two decades.     

#5 Florida
Hoops Their 24-7 regular season was highlighted by an impressive 14-game winning streak that stretched from December 6 to February 4.  Had it not been for three close losses against Georgia, Kentucky and LSU to end the year, the Gators would have had a valid argument for a No. 1 seed.  Instead, theyll begin their quest for New Orleans out of the No. 2 hole. 

Helmets In a role reversal, it was the Gator basketball team that propped up the football squad this past season.  Under first-year head coach Ron Zook, Florida sputtered to an 8-5 record, their worst in more than a decade.  Wins over SEC East rivals Tennessee and Georgia were the two bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season.

#6 Maryland
Hoops After losing Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter from 2002s National Championship squad, a letdown was to be expected.  Still, the Terps battled hard in the always tough ACC and finished tied with Duke behind Wake Forest in the regular season standings.  In an off year, 11-5 in the ACC is not too shabby.

Helmets After stumbling out of the gate, Maryland caught fire, winning eight consecutive games before getting spanked by Virginia.  A resounding 30-3 thumping of Tennessee in the Peach Bowl and a No. 13 ranking in the final AP poll capped the Terps 11-3 season. 

#7 Notre Dame
Hoops The Irish are limping into the tournament, but were good enough in December to bounce Marquette, Texas and Maryland in a span of six days and finish the regular season with 22 wins.  The fifth seed out of the West are led by their backcourt tandem of Chris Thomas and Matt Carroll.

Helmets Viewed in its entirety, 2002 was a special season for the Irish.  With almost no expectations and an average talent base, Tyrone Willingham led his new team to an unthinkable 8-0 start out of the gate.  Naturally, we all know that a 2-3 finish ended any championship chatter, but, for a time, ND ascended to No. 4 in the country and that was far more than anyone could have imagined.    

#8 Oklahoma State
Hoops The 21-9 Cowboys had plenty of moments this year, going 10-6 in the Big 12 and finishing only behind the Kansas-Texas-Oklahoma triumvirate in the conference.  OSU was near perfect at home, where they knocked off Fresno State, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri.  A 4-8 finish kept Eddie Suttons kids from do better than a No. 6 seed in the East.

Helmets Few teams were a more pleasant surprise than Les Miles 2002 squad.  Behind the Josh Fields to Rashaun Woods aerial connection, the Cowboys wrapped up an 8-5 season with wins over Nebraska, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Southern Miss in the inaugural Houston Bowl.  The Bedlam victory was a blowout that saw OSU leading OU 35-6 at one point in the third.  

#9 Kentucky
Hoops The favorite heading into the tournament, UK is riding a 23-game winning streak.  In running the conference table, the 29-3 Cats became just the second team in SEC history to finish the regular season 16-0.  Keith Bogans is the undisputed leader of a team that can shut down an opponents offense like no other defense in the country.

Helmets An NCAA probation ensured that UK would not be bowling in 2002, yet all was not lost last season.  The Cats finished a surprising 7-5 and were a tough out in nearly every contest.  Had it not been for a bizarre tip drill at the conclusion of the LSU game, Kentucky would have had their first 8-win season since 1984.  

#10 Wake Forest
Hoops Picked by many in the pre-season to finish in the lower tier of the conference, Skip Prossers Deacons shocked the ACC by winning the regular season title with a gaudy 13-3 mark.    Star forward Josh Howard led the Deacons in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocks and is a legitimate candidate for player of the year honors.

Helmets By Deacon standards, head coach Jim Grobe has got a thing going in Winston-Salem.  Wake capped last years 7-6 campaign with a blowout of Oregon in the Seattle Bowl.  The team also won at Purdue, had their way with in-state rivals Duke and North Carolina and took heavily favored Florida State to the wire in November.

11. Wisconsin
Won the regular season Big Ten hoops title and beat Colorado in the Alamo Bowl.
12. North Carolina State
Julius Hodge got the Wolfpack to the ACC Championship game and a No. 9 seed. The football team had won of its best seasons ever complete with a bowl blowout over Notre Dame.
13. LSU
The Tigers got to the Cotton Bowl and earned a No. 8 seed in the basketball tournament after a great SEC Tournament run.
14. Oregon
The Ducks slipped a bit, but still got to a bowl game in football and won the Pac 10 basketball tournament.
15. Ohio State
The basketball team didn't get in the NCAA tournament, but it did get into the Big Ten Tournament title game. The success of the football team gets the Buckeyes into the H&H top 25.
16. Louisville
This was a disappointing year for the football team, but it did get to a bowl game. Rick Pitino has UL basketball back winning the Conference USA title.
17. Purdue
This was a bit of a resurgent year for Gene Keady and the basketball team, while Joe Tiller's gridiron squad finished the season strong with a big win over Washington.
18. Auburn
The Tigers died down the stretch in basketball, but at least they got into the tournament as a No. 10 seed. The football team beat Alabama. What more does the football team need? It also beat a good Penn State team in the post-season.
19. Colorado
Chris Brown helped carry the Buffs to the Big XII North title, but they lost in the Alamo Bowl. The basketball team got into the tournament with a No. 10 seed.
20. Colorado State
The Rams won the Mountain West title in both sports getting a No. 14 seed in hoops.
22. Illinois
Ron Turner and the football team came on at the end of the year, but it was too little too late. The Illini won the Big Ten basketball tournament and came .4 seconds away from winning the regular season title.
21. Texas Tech
Bobby Knight's team was the bubble team that many of the experts thought should've gotten into the Big Dance. Kliff Kingsbury capped a magnificent football season with a blowout bowl win over Clemson.
23. Missouri
Brad Smith has given the Mizzou football program a renewed excitement. The basketball team made a great run in the Big XII tournament and is peaking at the right time.
24. Connecticut
Husky football fans have to be ecstatic over the performances to end the season including a road win over Iowa State. The basketball team got to the Big East title game and earned a No. 5 seed in the tournament.
25. Alabama
Probation and a loss to Auburn put a damper on a big football season. The basketball team underachieved all year, but still got a No. 10 seed.












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