Every so often we’ll take a break from analyzing real-life events and look back at some of our favorite sports movies with the intention of setting odds on the film’s pinnacle game. With NCAA March Madness coming to a close and just three games of college basketball remaining until next season, let’s break down one of the sport’s most epic cinematic clashes between two powerhouses that didn’t recruit by the rules. Here’s the story of the 1995 Western University Dolphins from the 1994 film “Blue Chips.”
The fictional Western University Dolphins won three national titles under head coach Pete Bell’s direction in the 1970s and 1980s, but the 1990s marked a new age in the college basketball world. Graduation rates and coaching prestige no longer made the difference in recruiting, as teenagers instead gravitated towards whoever could pony up the most money or best car. Bell went from biggest star on campus to punchline who simply wasn’t attuned to new-age college basketball.
His solution? A recruiting race that would put the college basketball scandals of 2018 to shame.
Regardless of how you feel about paying athletes, the 1994 offseason’s total lack of discretion from coaches around the country helped give us one of the greatest opening day basketball games in history: Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers versus Bell’s Dolphins. It’s rare to find a handful of legitimate All-NBA talents on a college court at one time, and it’s even rarer to find them in a high-stakes environment with two of the sport’s marquee coaches.
Let’s break down some of the film’s key moments in the buildup to the big game in an attempt to set a reasonable spread for one of the most star-studded matchups in college basketball history.
“Honest to Christ. I just wanna go home and cry when I watch us play. Don’t you boys understand? Don’t you know how bad I wanna see this team play? I wanna see this team play so f*cking bad, I can taste it.” – Pete Bell
The 1994 Dolphins were an embarrassment to Bell’s legacy at Western University. In his own words, they were “the worst and dumbest team that has ever sat in this locker room,” and watching them play made Bell “want to throw up.” Bell admitted to his coaches that the team was full of losers with the exception of their starting point guard, Tony, whose status for the following season was dependent on his ability to not flunk his TV course. Western University’s 14-15 record marked the coach Bell’s first losing season. Bettors cashed in with a simple but effective motto: “fade the Dolphins.”
Bell would later call the experience the best coaching job he ever did, but it’s tough to find much factual evidence of that. Bell’s team may have had plenty of heart and given solid effort, but Bell routinely sabotaged them and failed to display any sort of strategic expertise. This was exposed in a late-season matchup against Rick Pitino’s Texas Western Cowboys, when Bell literally stopped watching the game at one point.
Bell ended up punting the basketball into the stands to earn an ejection before the end of the first half. His teams were short on talent, but Bell’s sideline antics and lack of direction had understandably grown thin with everyone involved in the program. Bettors on began to reap rewards from the “Bell boost” as his lack of structure on both offense and defense regularly led to high-scoring affairs for everyone on #TeamOver. It was abundantly clear that wholesale changes needed to be made before the 1995 season
“Mr Bell, I don’t know a great deal about basketball. But I do know this: A foul is not a foul unless the referee blow his whistle.” – Five-star recruit Butch McRae’s mother
Bell and his assistants traveled the country in search of top recruits, but quickly discovered that other schools were promising teenaged ballers all kinds of money and gifts. Still, Bell and his staff focused their attention on two studs who had the ability to return the Dolphins to the final four:
- Point guard Butch McRae (6-foot-7, 195 pounds): McRae’s talent was akin to Penny Hardaway‘s, as he displayed an all-around game that was almost unfair. McRae had length and a soft shooting stroke.
- Power forward Ricky Roe (6-foot-6, 215 pounds): Every team could use a Matt Nover clone, and Roe’s ability to seamlessly integrate his physicality and range into an offense made him one of the nation’s top recruits.
And then, of course, there was Neon Boudeaux, a 7-foot-1, 301-pound center poised to become the second-coming of Shaquille O’Neal. Bell found the prized-jewel recruit in a random run-down gym in Algiers, Louisiana, where the big man’s ridiculous blend of size and quick feet were evident even against less than stellar competition.
Naturally, every school in the country lined up to hand these men a scholarship, so Bell and the university’s boosters were forced to hand over a Lexus, a house with a lawn, and a tractor, among other gifts, to receive the players’ services. Dolphins beat writers were understandably skeptical of the methods used to sign these athletes, but the general sense of joy surrounding the return to prominence of Western University basketball was more than enough to silence a few whistle-blowers.
But how ready was this talented young team to take on the best of the college basketball world?
The last time Michael Jordan lost a playoff series was against Shaq and Penny, so it’s not surprising the 1995 Dolphins had such high expectations. Still, history indicates it’d be surprising if they entered their season-opening matchup against the nation’s No. 1 team as a favorite. Per our tools at BetLabs, the only instance of a top-ranked team being favored by fewer than 19.5 points in their season opener since 2005 is Stephen Curry and the 2007 Davidson Wildcats (-11) at home against North Carolina.
And then there’s Knight and the Hoosiers. Knight went 22-7 with an average margin of victory of 19.5 points on opening night during his 29 seasons with Indiana. Bell possessed all of Knight’s faults and temper tantrums, but arguably none of Knight’s motivational or strategic skills. While there’s no doubt that Bell’s 1995 Dolphins were loaded, their best player flew under the radar as a recruit, and the team had yet to display their new-look squad to the public. This leads us to an opening-night line of …
Indiana (-10.5) at Western University, over/under 185.5.
Bettors continued their tradition of pounding the over in any game Bell coached, while sharps were all over the Hoosiers’ veteran-laden squad that had captured the 1994 national championship. The bigger question on everyone’s mind was whether Knight (+150) or Bell (-105) would earn the night’s first technical foul.
Bell’s motion offense proved to be more than the Hoosiers could handle initially, as Western University grabbed a 54-50 halftime lead. The Dolphins featured the Diesel to an alarming extent, and he converted dunks on three consecutive possessions at one point. Still, bettors were used to Bell’s teams putting up a first-half fight before wilting under the pressure of late-game moments. The public and sharps alike had no issues with backing the Hoosiers second-half moneyline of +150.
The only problem for Knight and the Hoosiers was they had absolutely no answer for Shaq Daddy’s brand of bully ball. The spacing provided by Roe and McRae made the Dolphins offense impossible to handle, but the Hoosiers wouldn’t go down without a fight. Led by Calbert Cheaney and Bob Hurley (lol), Indiana found themselves with a 93-92 lead with 12.2 seconds remaining on the clock. While everyone who backed the Dolphins at +9.5 were already celebrating, bettors with action on the total or moneyline watched one of the most miraculous #MooseAlerts in college basketball history.
The ecstasy at Western University was only rivaled by bettors of the over, who relished another trip to #GreenDotCity thanks to the last-second cover.
Of course, Bell’s postgame admission to cheating quickly turned the chapter on his coaching career and the 1995 Western University Dolphins, but fans and bettors alike will never forget the day a few 18-year-old kids proved too dominant for even the greatest coach in the sport’s history to overcome.
Images from “Blue Chips” (1994), directed by William Friedkin.