1939 was a big year for college basketball and for the world of sports. That was the year that the first college men's basketball playoff was held, the tournament that would eventually become what we know as March Madness. It wasn't quite as mad back then, though. Eight teams battled it out for the title, which made for a much lousier office bracket pool. The Ohio State Buckeyes were a part of that historic tournament and were paired in the East Regional with Brown, Wake Forest, and Villanova.
It would be an understatement to say how different the tournament was to its current version. It may not have even been the most prestigious tournament at the time, as undefeated Long Island decided to play in the NIT instead. Could you imagine Florida State deciding, "Nah, we'd rather play in the GoDaddy Bowl, forget these Playoffs?"
Playing in the historic Palestra in Philadelphia, PA, the '39 Buckeyes took on Wake Forest in the quarterfinals and won 64-52. They moved on to beat Villanova 53-36 in the semifinals. That took them to Evanston, IL, to play in the final game of the inaugural tournament, which is funny, since Northwestern has never actually made the NCAA tournament themselves. Ohio State was set to face off against the champion of the West Regional, which contained Texas, Oklahoma (they were in different conferences back then), and Utah State.
Their opponent? The University of Oregon.
In 1939, Oregon ended up winning 46-33, even though Ohio State's Jimmy Hull was named the MVP of the tournament. Hull was the only Buckeye to reach double digits in scoring (12 points), while Oregon's John Dick rang up 15, and Bobby Anet scored 10, pacing the "Tall Firs", as they were known. Next time you complain about Ohio State's basketball teams being slow scoring now, imagine watching this one.
Ohio State has a 3-1 all time record against the Ducks in basketball, and is currently 8-0 against Oregon in football, so that lone 1939 win was the only one Oregon has had over Ohio State in a major sport. Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it, they say. So now that we all know it, the outcome should be more to our liking.
It seems only right that now, 75 years later, the first college football playoff gives us the same matchup. On January 12th, the Buckeyes and the Ducks will once again face off in a historic championship game. Hopefully, this one goes better for the Buckeyes. At the very least, there is a good chance it will be higher scoring.