Since the onset of the NCAA Tournament’s expansion in 1976 there had been surprise regional winners, and 1979 saw the first occasion of the modern phenomena of the “gutted regional”, where favorites fell left and right. The 1980 NCAA Tournament took it a step further and produced the first-ever gutted Final Four, where three of the participants were seeded #5 or lower and it left the door open for powerhouse Louisville to roll to a national championship.
UCLA had a down year under new coach Larry Brown, finishing fourth in the Pac-10 and being seeded #8 in the West. But the Bruins stunned #1-ranked DePaul 77-71, thanks to 18 points from Rod Foster and the Bruins wearing down a thin DePaul bench. UCLA then went on to beat #4 seed Ohio State, surviving a 54 percent shooting night from the Buckeyes in the Sweet 16.
The other side of the West was gutted, with Pac-10 champ and 2-seed Oregon State being eliminated, and the Bruins beat Clemson 85-74 in the regional final behind 22 points/10 rebounds from Mike Sanders. Even when UCLA was down, they weren’t out.
Two Big Ten teams made surprise runs to a Final Four that would be held in Indianapolis. Iowa was an interloper in the East bracket, upending N.C. State to get to a regional in Philadelphia that included Georgetown, Maryland and top-seeded Syracuse. The Hawkeyes, coached by Lute Olson, nailed the Orangemen 88-77 and then rallied from ten points down to beat Georgetown 81-80 in the final.
Purdue was a 6-seed and went to a regional in Lexington that would pair them up with conference champion Indiana, along with Duke and Kentucky. The Boilermakers, anchored by center Joe Barry Carroll beat the Hoosiers and then got a break. Home team and top seed Kentucky lost to Duke, 55-54. The bracket opened, Carroll took over in the final with 26 points and led the way to the Final Four.
Meanwhile, Louisville had the national Player of the Year in Darrell Griffith and a lineup so athletic they were called the “Doctors of Dunk.” In spite of this, they had to survive an overtime game against Kansas State to reach the regional, and another OT affair against Texas A&M to get their crack at top seed LSU. It was then the ‘Ville found their form, blowing out Dale Brown’s Tigers by twenty points and earning the short drive north to Indy.
Griffith took over at old Market Square Arena. He scored 34 points to lead the Cards past Iowa and into a title bout with UCLA. The Cardinals trailed 50-45 with five minutes left, but with Griffith’s 23 points leading the way, turned it around to win 59-54. Louisville coach Denny Crum was a former John Wooden assistant and now he had beaten his old school for the national championship.