The 1966-67 Princeton Tigers: Greatest Ivy team of all time?

Gary Walters and Chris Thomforde on the Feb.
27, 1967 cover of SI.
(Sports Illustrated)
Is it really a debate? Many scribes and Ivy observers say no. The greatest Ivy team of all time? Easy.
It’s either the 1964-65 Princeton Tigers with the greatest Ivy player ever, Bill Bradley, or the 1970-71 Penn Quakers with their gaudy 28-1 record, which included a perfect 26-0 in the regular season.
Those Tigers never rose higher than No. 20 in the polls, and that Penn team had the bewildering 90-47 loss to a Villanova team which it had beaten during the regular season.
But wait a minute. How about the long forgotten 1966-67 Princeton team, coached by Butch van Breda Kolff? They did a few things which no other Ivy has done.

The Tigers that season went 25-3 and 13-1 in Ivy play, beating No. 2 UNC at fabled Carmichael Arena. They blew out the second-best Rutgers team ever, led by All-American Bob Lloyd and Jim Valvano, on the road and came within a hair of beating Carolina again, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 78-70 in overtime, after beating West Virginia in the first round. They came back to blast a very strong St. John’s team in the Regional consolation game, rising as high as No. 3 in the polls and finished No. 5.

 Who better to ask than Gary Walters, the star sophomore point guard on the ’64-’65 team and the all-everything on the ’66-’67 team? There is no question in his mind that the latter Tiger team was superior. It didn’t boast the best player in the land in Bradley but nevertheless enjoyed incredibly balanced scoring and rebounding and probably was the only team in the country capable of giving the Lew Alcindor-led UCLA national championship team a run for its money.
Two Princeton players adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated on Feb. 27, 1967, whose title read, “Princeton Builds a Basketball Dynasty.” That was probably prophetic, as from 1964 to 1979, Princeton was easily one of the top 20 programs in the country. The ’66-67 Tigers’ two top players were Walters and sophomore center Chris Thomforde from Long Island. Thomforde had a tremendous high school career and chose Princeton over the likes of Northwestern, Duke and Dean Smith’s UNC. Frosh were not eligible to play varsity when Thomforde entered, and his frosh team was undistinguished.
Thomforde had to beat out talented Robinson Brown for the coveted center spot on the varsity and did so quickly. Brown was classy about losing his spot and at times, both players played simultaneously. Thomforde and Walters developed a quick chemistry and played like veterans together. Thomforde cites the road Rutgers blowout win and the win at UNC as season highlights and firmly believes that the ’67 team could have competed with UCLA for the national championship if it had not entered the NCAA tourney so injured. Thomforde had played competitively against Alcindor in high school. But Walters had injured his hamstring against Rutgers, John Haarlow had a high ankle sprain and Ed Hummer had a bad hip.
Thomforde got to know Bradley in his junior season, when Bradley returned from his two-year Rhodes Scholarship stint. They have maintained a lifelong friendship. Bradley credits Thomforde for playing on the second-best Princeton team of all-time. Thomforde felt that he knew better but never engaged the former New Jersey senator and presidential candidate in a debate on the topic. He respected Bradley far too much.

Read moreThe 1966-67 Princeton Tigers: Greatest Ivy team of all time?

Penn all-time moment No. 1: The 1979 Final Four run

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. We covered Penn now because Steve Donahue knows what’s up:

YQ = Young Quaker, of course. Bob Weinhauer = forever.
YQ = Young Quaker, of course. Bob Weinhauer = forever.

For those who did not experience it, the 1979 Penn Final Four season is almost indescribable. It was a once in a lifetime moment that happened to last two weeks. As students, our time in Philly was indelibly shaped by the completely unexpected rise of the Red and Blue to national prominence. School spirit was at an all-time high, and people who otherwise knew and cared little about college basketball were swept up in the mania that those few weeks in March brought. USA Today ranks it as the greatest Final Four ever and it is still, 36 years later, one of the highest-rated in terms of television viewership. This is because it not only changed our lives, but it changed the panorama of college basketball in America forever.

The ‘78-79 campaign started out like most for the Quakers in Bob Weinhauer’s second year as head coach. The team had finished 20-8 in his rookie season and was well on its way to repeating as Ivy League champions. The Quakers deftly handled their nonconference schedule, losing only to Iowa in two overtimes and getting blown out by San Diego State, 110-86. Then in late January came the Georgetown game at the Palestra. It was a nationally televised contest, a rarity for an Ivy League school, on a freezing Saturday afternoon. (Let’s face it, the networks certainly weren’t going to give it Brown or Cornell). The Cathedral was packed. Georgetown was ranked 10th in the nation and featured All-American guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd and forward Craig “Big Sky” Shelton. (They just don’t make nicknames like that anymore.  Tony “Big Float” Hicks? Nah.)

Read morePenn all-time moment No. 1: The 1979 Final Four run

Penn all-time moment No. 9 – Daly inducted into Hall of Fame

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Penn is next because Quakers are your Friends.

Before he was the head coach of the Dream Team, or his two NBA Championships with the Detroit Pistons, or his 1994 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, before he was “Daddy Rich” and Dennis Rodman’s online casino surrogate father, Chuck Daly was the most successful head coach (by percentage) of the Penn Quakers. From 1971-77, he complied a 125-38 record which included a 74-10 Ivy League mark. His 1971-72 team finished 25-3 and advanced to the NCAA East Regional Final, eventually losing to Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels.

Read morePenn all-time moment No. 9 – Daly inducted into Hall of Fame