What if…NCAA rules had been different for Pete Maravich?

This is the fourth post in our ongoing series of the Top 10 What Ifs in college basketball history.

In order to get ready for March Madness, we are counting down the Top 10 What ifs in college basketball history. We’re now at #7, which takes a look at the career of “Pistol” Pete Maravich, one of the most legendary college basketball players of all-time.

But do you realize that he could be even more legendary had the rules of college basketball not worked so directly against him?

Imagining Pistol Pete playing in today’s college basketball is quite the compelling hypothetical.

What if…

NCAA rules had been different for Pete Maravich?


Pete Maravich at LSU (Photo source: Total Pro Sports)

The numbers are beyond staggering.

  • 3,667 career points – most ever.
  • 44.2 points per game – most ever.
  • 28 games with 50 points – most ever.
  • 56 games with 40 points – most ever.
  • 30 FTs in one game (off 31 attempts) – most ever.

For most players, those stats would tell the story, finish the story, and cement the legacy.

But with Pistol Pete, they are only scratching the surface.

Pete was a guy who legendarily laughed at his opponents after he broke them down off the dribble.  Magic Johnson admitted that he stole the phrase “Showtime” from Maravich.

The guy even inspired Bob Dylan songs!

And really, without a whole lot of imagination, those numbers could look like this:

  • 5,822 career points – BY FAR the most ever.
  • 57.2 points per game – RIDICULOUS.
  • Who knows what else?

We are only left to ponder, What if…?

What if the NCAA Tournament had been different when the Pistol played?

When Maravich was at LSU, the NCAA Tournament only featured from 22-25 teams.  Beyond that, only one team from each conference was allowed to go to the dance.

Sharing a league with Kentucky in the late sixties was not the best way to get to the tournament.

This rule didn’t affect just Pete Maravich.  There were several instances when many people thought that the two best teams in the nation were in one conference, but they couldn’t both go to the Dance.  However, just think about what might have been had Pete been able to play in the Tournament.

The NCAA Tournament, as we know, is so often decided by good guard play.  Would LSU have had a chance to be successful with Pistol Pete running the show?  Most definitely.

The other characteristic of the Tourney is that it so often rewards a team that gets hot at just the right time.  Is it at least plausible that Pete may have been able to lead his team to one or two Final Fours?  Of course it is.

Now, we can’t get carried away too much.  Pete happened to play during UCLA’s incredible run of dominance.  To insinuate that he might have been able to win a championship is probably a stretch. But wouldn’t his legend be that much greater if he had led LSU on a few tournament runs even if they ended with the Maravich Tigers being knocked out by UCLA a few times?  He could always say, “The greatest team of all time was the only thing standing between me and a championship,” rather than a poorly structured NCAA Tournament.

And boy…what if he had been able to knock off UCLA just once?  Wow.

With today’s rules, what could Pete’s records possibly look like?

One of the most remarkable things about Pete is that he was only allowed to play for three full seasons, yet he still holds the all-time record for scoring. And he probably always will.

If a player played 30 games a year for all four years, he would need to average 30.56 points per game for his entire career in order to break Pete’s scoring record.  Interestingly enough, nobody has even approached this average for a single season since 1991.

Add to that the fact that if a freshman did come in averaging 31 points a game, he would most assuredly leave college after only one or two seasons.

Let’s just agree that Pistol’s scoring record is safe.

But could it have been even more safe?

As you probably know, Pete played before the 3-point line had been invented.  In the 60s, long shots were “bad shots” even if you made them.  Why would anybody shoot from 25-feet when it counted the same as a layup?

Well, Pistol Pete helped to crush that “logic.”

For years, the legend of Pistol Pete just grew and grew.  Players, coaches, and old fans would laud his amazing shooting ability, even quipping that he might have averaged 60 points a game had there been a three-point line.

Finally, former LSU Coach Dale Brown wanted to put such talk to rest.

He watched every single game of Pistol Pete’s career, and charted every single shot he ever took.  What he found out will absolutely blow you away.

Brown discovered that with a three-point line of 19’9″ (the distance it was for over 20 years), Maravich would have averaged 13 three-pointers a game.

Let me quickly point out that the college record for three-pointers in one game is 15, held by a guy named Keith Veney in 1996.  The Pistol’s average would have only been two below the all-time record.

So by adding an additional 13 points per game to Pistol’s average, he’s now averaging over 50 points per game for his entire college career.

We hold Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA-record 50.4 points per game as an untouchable standard of scoring excellence.  Pete would have shattered that…in college games that were eight minutes shorter!

For anyone who has ever played basketball, it is easy to postulate that had there been a three-point line, than teams would have been forced to guard him more closely out there, and he would have been able to get around his opponents even more easily.


In a weird sort of way, you could also argue that the lack of a three-point line may actually have helped his scoring because of how he was defended. We will never know.

We can only wonder…

What if…?


Top 10 College Basketball What Ifs of All-Time Series (All)

10. What if Hank Gathers hadn’t died in the middle of a game?
9. What if Christian Laettner had been suspended for stomping on Aminu Timberlake?
8. What if Houston hadn’t been upset by NC State?
7. What if the NCAA rules had been different for Pete Maravich?
6. What if Chris Webber hadn’t called timeout?
5. What if Gordon Hayward’s shot hadn’t rimmed out?
4. What if Coach K had been fired from Duke after 3 seasons?
3. What if LeBron had gone to college and the one-and-done rule was never instituted?
2. What if Kentucky had beaten Texas Western?
1. What if there wasn’t a snow storm to keep John Wooden from going to Minnesota?

About Jon Washburn

Jon Washburn grew up in Indianapolis, IN and as such, is a diehard Pacers, Colts, and Cubs fans. When it comes to college, he cheers for Notre Dame football fan and Purdue basketball. Yes, this sounds shady, but since he grew up without cable, he learned to love Notre Dame - the only team on TV. Glenn "The Big Dog" Robinson was at Purdue when Jon was in his formative years, so he latched onto them as well. Did that make him a fair-weather fan at the time? Sure. Give him a break...he was 8...and he has stayed with those teams ever since. Currently, he lives in Charleston, SC with his wife who grew up in Cleveland. Although he is no longer physically in the Midwest, his heart will always be there. Jon goes by the name "Twitch" because he has Tourette's Syndrome. Hit him up on his twitter @jwtwitch.


  1. anthony81860 says:

    Every year, like clockwork, during March madness, I see at
    least a half dozen articles that proclaims and try to justify that Pete Maravich
    was a great basketball player. I feel like I am being proselytized about Maravich
    greatness, but I know the truth.  Lets
    get one thing straight. Pete was never a great basketball player; he was a good
    basketball player with great talent who refused to use those talents to make
    him and his team better. Great players do more than score, they are winners,
    they make teammates better, and they are leaders. Pete was never any of those.

    Whenever you read about Pete, his admirers parade out his
    stats like the cliché article above. They talk about his scoring, average, and
    what he could have average if they had a three-point line in his day.

    When looking at his stats, lets look at what Pete’s admirers
    never mentions. From the stats squad, we know that Pete averaged 44 points a
    game at LSU, but they never discuss his 44% shooting percentage which is
    horrible if you average 44 points a game. 
    Lets put his shooting in real numbers. In Pete’s career at LSU, he
    averaged making 17 out of 38 field goals attempts per game. That means he
    averaged missing 21 shots a game.  Does
    missing 21 shots a game sounds like greatness? Can you imagine any coach today
    letting a player shoot the ball 38 times, and allowing him to miss 21 shots per
    game and perennially losing too. The coach today would have a mutiny on his
    hand with the other players. Pete had the talents to be great, but not the
    mental make up, thus greatness eluded this talented player. 

    • Wow.  I guess there are two sides to every story.
      One could also say that LSU was better than .500 in exactly ONE of the previous 13 seasons before Pete Maravich arrived.  Achieving a 22-10 mark with a trip to the NIT Final Four as a senior is a pretty impressive feat all things considered.
      As for your idea that one player can singlehandedly win a championship, please show me one championship team in NBA History that had only one great player.  
      I will be waiting…

    • “Pete was never a great basketball player; he was a goodbasketball player with great talent who refused to use those talents to makehim and his team better.” Really? He didn’t work to make himself better? Do you know what his work ethic was like in college? It was unmatched. As for the team, they were 3-20 the year before he arrived. Pretty good assist stats, too.

  2. The speed, strength and depth of modern teams, coupled with officiating that allows heavy hand checking and reaching in puts slender players like Maravich at an insurmountable disadvantage. The modern game is low scoring and possession oriented, so no one will ever touch Pistol Pete’s numbers.

  3. What if they hadn’t outlawed the dunk during Alcinder’s years at UCLA. He may have set records beyound anyones imagination for points scored, attempted etc, etc. Maravich was good, but I think Jabbar(Lou Alcinder) was better.

  4. The Pistol was an offensive machine. Also remember the SEC did not have black ball players in the league during his time. The introduction of the black athlete into the SEC changed a lot of things. The league became more athletic.

  5. obviously anthony81860 knows little about roundball (“Pete Maravich was never a great basketball player”)….but then the nowaday generation, especially bloggers like this…..enjoy to comment, and make references that they know very little about……..and to bring race into this issue, he is probably black, and idolizes Lebron……there was not only NOT the 3 point line back then, nor there was the shot clock…….so the game was different,….and Pete faced zone denfenses left and right…..and with ‘his’ talent was able to penetrate those defenses …..if he was not being dogged by a ‘diamond-and-one’ (box-and-one) where two and in some cases….3 players were on/ near him…..

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