On March 19, 1977, the Charlotte 49ers pulled off one of their most impressive victories in program history.
The place: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. The setting: the Mideast regional finals in the 1977 NCAA tournament. The opponent: the Michigan Wolverines, entering the game as the #1 team in the country and being led in scoring by Phil Hubbard (19.6) and Rickey Green (19.5).
The Niners weren’t going to win this one, were they? Even with Charlotte entering the game with a 27-3 record, the Wolverines were supposed to top the Niners and head to the Final Four in Atlanta.
But on one night, the tables turned.
Charlotte defeated the Wolverines, 75-68, and set themselves up with a trip down I-85 to the Omni in Atlanta, as Cedric Maxwell led the way with 25 points and 13 rebounds while Lew Massey chipped in 19 and 11. They didn’t win the tournament (losing to eventual champion Marquette in the semifinal and UNLV in the consolation game), but the nation took notice.
That’s been the first and only time the two teams have met.
Fast forward to November 24, 2013, over 36 years later. Charlotte and Michigan will meet on the basketball court once more, this time not for a national championship, but for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off crown.
Charlotte, who hasn’t made a Final Four since 1977, is looking to get back on the map, seeking its first NCAA appearance since 2005. Michigan has been to four (two, 1992 and 1993, were vacated due to the Ed Martin situation), won a national championship in 1989, while returning to prominence in the college basketball world while going to three straight tournaments
The chips are stacked against Charlotte going into this one. But a win over the Wolverines would put the Niners in the nation’s consciousness once more and would stand as a much-needed season-defining win for not just head coach Alan Major, but for the team.
It happened once. Why not again?