Monday, April 12, 2010

Turn Back the Clock: ECAC Team of the Year

Before the season even began, there were high expectations for the 1966-67 MIT basketball team. The year before, MIT finished with an 18-8 record, secured an 86-84 victory over rival Harvard, and had one of the region’s top emerging stars in sophomore Dave Jansson, who was named New England honorable mention. Five of the seven men who head coach Jack Barry would rely upon during the 1966-67 campaign were seniors, and the Engineers’ devastating front line might still be the best the program has ever seen.

The Cardinal and Gray opened the year with five quick wins over Trinity, Wesleyan, Brandeis, RPI, and Bowdoin, before dropping a double-overtime heartbreaker to Dartmouth, 70-68. After shrugging off two more losses, the Engineers reeled off 10 wins in a row, topping 100 points against Bates and Coast Guard and thumping the University of New Hampshire, 96-64. A nine-point loss at Northeastern was the only tilt preventing the Engineers from running the table as the squad ended the year with double-digit wins against Amherst and Middlebury, as well as victories at Tufts and WPI. With a 19-4 overall record in tote, MIT was named ECAC College Division Team of the Year, while the unit’s .826 winning percentage remains an Institute record.

Although there was no official national championship for Division III at the time, the Engineers were considered for two post-season NCAA tournaments. For the one at Springfield, they were edged out by such perennial New England cage dynasties as Northeastern, Assumption, St. Michael's, and AIC. For the tourney at Central Connecticut, NCAA officials had to choose between MIT and Rochester, and again went with the more established basketball power.

The co-captains for the 1966-67 team served as two of the best big men in Tech's history. Bob Hardt '67 and Alex Wilson '67 were 1-2 in both scoring and rebounding for MIT, Hardt with 18 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and Wilson with 17.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per tilt. Wilson, who established a new school record for career points during the season, finished with 1,224 markers in his three years and still ranks 13th all-time. His effectiveness was never more evident than in a crucial game with Assumption, where he scored a season-high 30 points. Hardt bounced back after missing 16 games the previous season to illness. In the last two games of the season against Tufts and WPI, the MIT offense was sluggish until Hardt's jump shot pulled both games out of the fire. He also paced the team with 13 double-doubles on the year.

Dave Jansson was the nucleus around whom the following year's squad was built. With a deadly jumper from the corner, he hit for 16.5 points per game while averaging 8.1 rebounds. MIT would have been in serious trouble without the superb defensive job he did on such great scorers as Brown of Lowell Tech and Letzmann of Wayne State. Jansson would go on to have one of the finest individual seasons to ever don the Cardinal and Gray in 1967-68 and he currently ranks seventh on MIT’s all-time scoring list with 1,457 points.

Completing Tech's starting five were the backcourt twins, seniors Bob and Ray Ferrara. Unselfishly giving up scoring opportunities to the powerful front line, they helped make MIT one of the top defensive teams in the country. With Bob on Leo Osgood and Ray on Dave Laudati, they held a high-scoring Northeastern outfit to 69 points in the Beavers' hard fought setback. Ray's 4-for-4 performance from the field helped crush Bowdoin, 84-59, and Bob came up with crucial plays in the closing minutes of the 72-63 win over Tufts, allowing MIT to win 14 of their last 15.

The part of sixth man was played by Roy Talus '67. In his 20-point effort against UNH, Talus entered the game after eight minutes and with MIT trailing by three. He hit two straight jumpers and minutes later stole the ball twice on consecutive possessions, outracing everybody for driving layups. By the end of the half, Tech led by 24. Alec Bash '68 spelled the big men and was the difference in several games. With Wilson out with a back injury against RPI, Bash stepped in, scoring 11 and grabbing 10 rebounds to propel the Engineers to a 70-54 triumph.

The 1966-67 out-fit served as the program’s undisputed best team for nearly 40 years, until head coach Larry Anderson and All-American Mike D’Auria revitalized the Engineers with the Institute’s first 20-win season in 2005.