If somebody will clear the place of all this debris; if the probation sufferers over here and the ineligibility cases over there and all the college basketball people everywhere who have been charged with forgery, bribery, robbery, extortion, kidnap, child abuse, old age and failure to replace the cap on the toothpaste will kindly move out, maybe we can get some kind of a tournament started. Now.
The NCAA coasted into its 35th annual basketball playoffs last week with visions of perfection dancing ahead. Unfortunately, after many seasons of trying, the venerable organization seemed no nearer its ideal than ever before. For when the 1973 NCAA playoffs are remembered in the years to come, it will not be for any sense of logic or sweet reason. Who wasn't there will seem as basic as who was, who retained sanity as important as who won games.
This was the year the NCAA sent South Carolina and its carpetbag full of New Yorkers all the way to Wichita where there isn't even a delicatessen worth the cream cheese. It hid Oklahoma City's Abe Lemons way up in the mountains of Logan, Utah where nobody could hear his funny lines. ("We'll have to parachute in there," Abe was heard to say in the distance. "Plus battle some grizzlies.") And finally this was the year North Carolina State—unbeaten, untied and, some said, unscrupulous—was forced to sit at home on probation while everybody else fought for the championship of the other 49 states. A moment of silence, y'all, while the Wolfpack bays at the Carolina moon.
State's problems were of its own making, but baffling any cogent analysis was the NCAA's first-round pairings last Saturday that had the two best teams in the East and the two best in the Midwest facing off against each other. This ploy immediately eliminated the splendid Olympian, Mike Bantom of St. Joseph's, as well as Houston's carnival style. What the pairings also did was establish the credentials of Providence (which beat St. Joseph's 89-76) and Southwestern Louisiana (whose Dwight Lamar scored 35 points while the Cajuns were running away from Houston 102-89) as forces to be reckoned with in the ensuing rounds.
As always, the question is can Providence or Southwestern Louisiana—or anybody else—reckon with UCLA? Can Long Beach? Can Marquette? Can Maryland? Can Austin Healy? Uh, Austin Peay? Come again?
All season long, rival coaches have been puzzling over the true worth of the current Bruins. Overrated is one opinion. Can't shoot outside. Don't press that well. One-man team. Other observers claim just the opposite. Pacific's Stan Morrison says there are two leagues in college and one contains only UCLA. New Mexico's Norm Ellenberger insists it is yet to be determined if UCLA is human. Southern Cal's Bob Boyd says the Bruins may be better than ever and that they are to be compared only to the UCLA team of 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's junior year.
With all of this on the UCLA side, can the NCAA tournament be as thoroughly set up for the Bruins to win again as it appears to be? Consider that here is UCLA with its John Wooden and its Bill Walton and its Keith Wilkes and it is permitted to play the West Regional at home in Pauley Pavilion, where its record is 117-2. Here are the Bruins with their 71 consecutive victories and their six straight national championships (eight in the last nine years) and their rebounding strength and their barbed-wire defense and their loaded bench and maybe their best team of all time, and they are granted another favor?
Late developments seemed to make UCLA's task easier than ever. Before the qualifying even started, two more teams with high potential faltered—North Carolina, beaten in the ACC tournament by lowly Wake Forest with the help of the familiar Last Ditch Soviet Bomb Pass; and Minnesota, which had all the talent but not enough heart to withstand the Big Ten's final week.
So we are left with a veritable Poseidon Adventure of an NCAA tournament, where audiences at the four regional sites will have to make do with watching 16 survivors of conference races and preliminary rounds battle each other this weekend at Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Houston and Los Angeles. The next week the four winners will meet in St. Louis in a revised semifinals format that sends the West against the Mideast and the East against the Midwest with the championship game scheduled for Monday night, March 26.
The annual frenzied pursuit of UCLA was put in fine perspective in Logan last week when Lemons was asked how he might play the defending champions. "A horrifyin' subject," said Coach Abe. "That's like thankin' about buyin' a cemetery plot." But Lemons was spared any chance when Arizona State dropped in layups all night to beat OCU in the opening round, 103-78.
Coach Ned Wulk's Sun Devils came out of nowhere this season, using "The Flying Chicano," Mike Contreras, along with eight other men to win their league on the final day. They may be the most physical team in WAC history and, against UCLA, they will have history on their side: Arizona State was the last team to defeat the Bruins in championship play. That was in 1963.
Contreras and Jim Owens compose a good backcourt, but the Sun Devils will need 6'11", 260-pound Ron Kennedy playing well above his head and bulk to stay in the game with UCLA. "The Bruins can do a few more things than Oklahoma City," Wulk winks, "and Walton is a comer."
Bill Walton will especially come to play if, as expected, Long Beach gets past San Francisco to qualify for another renewal of that long-running series, The Armenian Meets The Wizard. Coach Jerry Tarkanian's 49ers are not a cinch. If they are sluggish and looking ahead, as they were against Weber State, they will be defeated by an excellent Don team that has rugged shooters in Kevin Restani and Phil Smith as well as size, poise and a notable lack of fear. But Ed Ratleff (sometimes referred to as Ed Ret-Laff by NBC announcers) should prevail and get his team to UCLA on individual talent alone.
In the past two West Regionals the sideline by-play between UCLA and Long Beach has been as nasty as any bitter rivals could want. It erupted in 1971 when a UCLA administrator sat at courtside and badgered the referees while being hassled himself by a Long Beach radio announcer. Last year during their rough, spitfire contest, Wooden had words with two Long Beach players and called the 49ers' play "disgraceful and unethical," after which Ratleff claimed UCLA was "protected" by the officials.
This week Tarkanian is already upset about his ticket allotment in Pauley, where UCLA closed public sale and reserved most of the seats for its own fans. That is SOP for a host team, of course, but the Long Beach coach also says that, to be fair, the NCAA West Regional should be held in Houston anyway. Right on, Armenian.
As for Ratleff, this is his Last Tango in Pauley and he aches to bring off his winterlong prediction that the 49ers will beat UCLA. Two years ago, employing its vaunted 2-3 zone, Long Beach had the game won until Ratleff fouled out. Last year no defenses worked and the 49ers were never in it.
Tarkanian believes the Bruins' outside shooting is vulnerable and that a zone still is the way to stop them, but his own defense has been ineffective with little Rick Aberegg in the lineup, and that is Tark's quandary: Aberegg is too valuable offensively to be replaced.
"UCLA is making a mistake showing its games on delayed TV," said Long Beach's 6'11" Center Nate Stephens recently. "I go home and figure out ways to stop Walton. He can be stopped." Stephens made his observation just after he had held San Diego State's 6'7" John Anderson, a starter who was averaging fewer than 10 points, to 18. So much for Long Beach logic.
However, if the twin power boys, Leonard Gray and Roscoe Pondexter—who is the best sixth man in college—play to their strength...If Aberegg, a flaky sort, can maintain composure...If Stephens can stay awake and help keep Walton off the boards...If the 49ers can shoot well, keep close, hold their poise and let Ratleff take over the game, it is possible they will win.
Southwestern Louisiana, its suit vs. the NCAA now in the law courts, should get out of the Midwest without too much trouble. Of course, trouble has been the school's middle name since January when it was charged with 125 violations and afflicted with a neat case of galloping paranoia. Just after that USL was humbled by 42 points at Jacksonville and the season looked gone. But two days later, trailing Cincinnati by 19 points at halftime and on the verge of quitting, something stirred inside the Cajuns and right then they turned the season around. USL won that game and the team has played with determination and a new sense of purpose ever since.
Coach Beryl (the Peryl) Shipley, Bo Pete Lamar and all the rest have even kept in good humor while being subjected to all kinds of innuendo, insults and "Hey, Big Spender" tunes from opposition bands. "I was supposed to have received $100 after a game we played and Roy Ebron $450," jokes Lamar. "Now, man, that sounds kind of backwards, doesn't it?"
During recent months Lamar has become a proud father and a complete player; the formerly morose Ebron—whose white headband makes him look like someone the MASH people lost hold of—has stopped loafing; and freshman Larry Fogle has quelled his tempestuous personality enough to help considerably. No fewer than eight Cajuns could have a future in the pros, and when this team is zooming and unworried by what it considers biased referees, it is nearly impossible to contain.
Kansas State, whose Jack Hartman bemoans the worthlessness of his Tartan floor, the lack of media attention for his team and hot water in its showers, will get first crack at USL. His Wildcats have strong Steve Mitchell and Larry Williams up front, feisty Lon Kruger in backcourt and a fine sense of discipline and coaching. They are the soundest team in the regional, but they are used to playing with that old 30-second clock on the Big Eight wall. The quicksilver Cajuns should easily beat the K-State zone down the floor, and when they do not Lamar will fire his grenades. The Wildcats should learn quickly enough that Bo Pete can get off a lot of grenades in 30 seconds.
In the other half of the draw the Happiness Boys of Memphis State will meet South Carolina's Kiddie Korps. Though Frank McGuire talks a lot about freshmen Alex English and Mike Dunleavy, the Gamecocks continue to play their awful "passive" zone and they have to rely too much on smooth senior Kevin Joyce to carry them.
The man with Ulster in his eyes will not be enough against the hungry Tigers from Memphis, whose Larry Kenon should have a field day inside against South Carolina's 7-footer, Danny Traylor. If there must be a dark horse, Coach Gene Bartow's Memphis team is a good choice. Besides having rebounders Kenon and Ronnie Robinson, who can go get the ball with anybody, and Larry Finch, who smiles all the time he is killing an opponent softly, the Tigers may-bring along their Shaft fan, Isaac Hayes, to do his number.
Still, Memphis State is not a tournament-tested club and its lack of quickness will be a major factor against a foe like Southwestern Louisiana. It is obvious now that the Cajuns have become almost passionately motivated by their indictments and they are primed to un-limber on anyone who gets in the way. This tournament may be USL's last before banishment ("It's a shame they're in," says the NCAA's Tom Scott. "I hope they get beat quick"), and the Cajuns want it to be memorable.
The surprise of the year in the Mideast is the appearance of Austin Peay ("didn't he play opposite Nita Naldi in The Loves of Satan?). In reality, Austin Peay is that wild team that came from last to first in the Ohio Valley and did it under a Lake and through a Fly. Coach Lake Kelly and freshman James (Fly) Williams qualified last week when the Governors made enough of the 53 shots they cast off in the first half against Jacksonville to hang on at the end so Fly could score the winning basket in a 77-75 victory.
"I hadda pop the top," said Fly.
It has been a storybook season for high-scoring Williams, who because of his nickname has had to withstand fly-swatters, flypaper and at least one baiter dressed as a can of Raid. But it isn't over yet. Sheer, raw speed will stand the Governors in good stead Thursday in Nashville against a Kentucky team that has never been accused of setting sprint records.
The Wildcats, appearing in their 21st NCAA tournament (a record), have had quite a fairy tale of their own going this March. At one point they were 3-3 and being booed at home. Worse, they were being ignored by everyone except Adolph Rupp, whose slings and arrows kept zinging into the back of first-year Coach Joe Hall.
Then Hall patiently brought his charges on, watched them "grow up" more times than Tuesday Weld and led them past Alabama at midseason. That contest reversed the flow of things; the 'Cats won their last nine games and Kevin Grevey turned into one of the hottest sophomores in the land.
"We wanted to show that a good white team can beat a good black team," sophomore Mike Flynn said after the Alabama victory. It is likely the Wildcats will get another chance at that since their old sparring partner, Marquette, is back again in the other half of the draw.
The Warriors always have found a way to lose this regional in the past, but the clues say now is their time. They are probably the quickest team in America, for one thing. They have a new dominant big man in Maurice Lucas, for another. Even the superb scrap and hustle that Bobby Knight's Indiana will bring to their game should not be enough to offset Marquette's dazzling movement and board play.
Bobby T, or "General Patton," as Marquette's Al McGuire calls Knight, has done the coaching job of the year in molding a freshman backcourt to go with a couple of sophomores and team leader John Ritter. The Hoosiers" tenacity in outlasting Minnesota at the bell was impressive, and they are very deep. For Indiana to keep winning, however, senior Center Steve Downing has to have exceptional nights, and it is probably too much to expect him to battle alone Marquette's Lucas, Larry McNeil and the King of Garbage, George (Sugar) Frazier, up above the rims.
"General Patton will have his troops ready," says McGuire. "All I hope is they let us play. We like to be physical."
The winner of this game should get by Kentucky to St. Louis. The Warriors especially have a score to settle with the Wildcats from last year when Kentucky not only beat them but took some cheap shots, too. McGuire, certainly, is a master at score-settling, and his team finally should take the Mideast.
Down at Charlotte, meanwhile, all of Lefty Driesell's fans in Carolina are sure to lay out the welcome mat for the prodigal son. Lefty coached at Davidson for nine years. Now he coaches Maryland. You remember Maryland—the Pepperdine of the East. Well, after N.C. State was banished and North Carolina was upset last weekend, Driesell suddenly found himself with the stupefying prospect of having only to beat Clemson, Wake Forest and Syracuse to reach the East final. Quickly, Maryland was two-thirds there, backing in all the way, and everybody still had Lefty to kick around some more.
Maryland is one of the more interesting teams in the country, combining guys who play tennis, quote Ferlinghetti, impersonate clowns, dig paintings by Cézanne and serve on presidential committees. The Terps have two Whites, two Browns, a Bo, a Bozo, a Mac, a Mo and much more—Len Elmore by name. Despite the presence of the more publicized Tom McMillen, it is the 6'9" Elmore upon whose broken foot the hopes of the Terps now rest. Maryland needed him against Wake Forest last week and he won the game with his hobbling-rebounding. The next night Driesell's men played so well they almost beat N.C. State without him.
Now peaking and playing its best under the direction of freshman John Lucas, Maryland should get by small and pesky Syracuse, but the East finale might be a different story. There, Driesell's guards, Lucas and defensive ace Bob Bodell, will be hard-pressed to stop a Providence backcourt that is probably the best in the country.
This assumes the Friars defeat their nemesis of last year, Penn, which is no certainty. The Quakers under Coach Chuck Daly have led the nation in defense all season and they eliminated St. John's in the first round by holding Bill Schaeffer to just 16 points. Penn's reconstructed backcourt, with sophomore John Beecroft, handles pressure well, and everybody plays defense with savage flair. But the offense depends entirely on Phil Hankinson and Ron Haigler, and Daly admits to having "reluctant shooters."
This is a grudge battle for the Friars, who thought they could go far in the tournament last season before Penn took them apart. Now Providence has the bigger—and the littler—guns. Little is Ernie DiGregorio, who scored 31 against St. Joe in the first round and who, with 6'4" Kevin Stacom alongside, causes nightmares for any defense. Forward Fran Costello is a clutch shooter. And Marvin Barnes, though a mere 6'8", may be second only to Bill Walton among commanding pivotmen. The Friars had one shot at UCLA already and got rolled. But they proved they could score on the Bruins even on Stacom's worst night of the year, and the handsome transfer from Holy Cross, whom Coach Dave Gavitt calls "our icing on the cake," should not have another game as bad as that one.
"Barnes gets away with being a center in the East," a Maryland scout said the other day, "but in our league he wouldn't be that effective." O.K., stop Barnes. Now, stop Stacom. Now, stop Ernie D. It is doubtful that Penn or Maryland will be able to pull out that many stops.
Whatever team makes it through the East should bear in mind that it is there on a borrowed ticket, courtesy of the man in the red velvet suit, Coach Norman Sloan.
One last word must be said for Sloan's N.C. State crew, which unquestionably is at least the second-best in the land. It is difficult to live in purgatory, much less play there. Yet that is where the Wolfpack has been all season knowing it could not compete for the national championship. In such a situation it would have been very easy not to care, to ease up, to lie down, to cop out, to fold, or to finesse the year. But with the brilliant sophomore David Thompson, the tall center Tom Burleson and the mini-guard Monte Towe, N.C. State won 27 games and lost none.
The Wolfpack did it while playing in the most harshly competitive league in the country. They did it with everyone pointing for them. They defeated top 10 teams a total of six times and they won the hearts of all fantasists everywhere, if only by giving hope and stirring dreams. In the required mythical matchup between N.C. State and UCLA, State surely would be prepared to acquit itself admirably.
No doubt Towe could handle the champions' press; none of the middle-size Bruins could stop Thompson; and the other fine State shooters—of which there are a bunch—likely would be very effective also. But Burleson is not yet mature enough to contain Walton on defense or get anything done against him offensively either. Walton would run Burleson's legs off, get him in foul trouble and the contest would change right there. Probably, then, the Wolfpack would not win such a game. But it would have been great fun to watch them try. Now, there remains only the prospect of watching all the others. Against UCLA and Mystique. Try.
A LOOK BACK AT THE UCLA RECORD
The Bruins have won the NCAA eight times in nine years. Had freshmen been eligible in 1966 it could have been a sweep.
Unranked in preseason polls, this team led by 6'2" Walt Hazzard still is Coach John Wooden's favorite among all UCLA titlists. It was also his smallest championship team—no starter was taller than 6'5"—but it compensated for its deficiencies with a merciless full-court zone press that shattered opponents. The Bruins were 29-0 when, in the finals, they met Duke with its two 6'10" pivotmen and two future NBA All-Stars, Jeff Mullins and Jack Marin. UCLA harassed the Blue Devils into 29 errors and won with a record score, 98-83. A dynasty had begun.
The power of the press became Subject A in off-season clinics as coaches debated methods of coping with UCLA's swarming defense. The answer seemed immediately at hand when the team was upset 110-83 by Illinois in the season opener. That was only wishful thinking. Wooden decided to let Gail Goodrich, a shooter, run the offense. The Bruins lost just once more before meeting No. 1 Michigan in the NCAA final. Goodrich's thrusts fouled out the entire Wolverine front line. He scored 42 points in a 91-80 victory and UCLA had its second title in a row.
At its freshman-varsity game, UCLA got some good news along with the bad. The Brubabes thrashed the varsity, presaging a year in which UCLA would not win a third straight NCAA championship. But the star of the game was 7'1 3/8" freshman Lew Alcindor, who scored 31 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and would soon begin his own three-year era. Had freshmen been allowed to play then, it might have been four. As Don Haskins, coach of champion Texas Western, said, "This was probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing." It was, at least, a once-in-a-decade thing.
Alcindor set a difficult precedent for himself by ramming home 56 points in his debut against USC. Scattered about the postgame debris were some dozen single-game records. But he later followed that with 61 points. Despairing coaches were beginning to say that the last two initials in UCLA stood for Lew Alcindor. The Bruins went over 99 points 12 times and to stop this assault rivals turned to a non-offense, the stall. It did no good. UCLA won each of its last 10 games by at least 15 points, including the NCAA title game against Dayton, 79-64.
College basketball was reduced to two last defenses against Big Lew. One was the NCAA rules committee, which took his dunk shot away; the other was Elvin Hayes of Houston, who said, "Alcindor's not at all what they put him up to be." Prophetic words, it seemed, when the Cougars snapped UCLA's 47-game win streak 71-69 before 52,693 in the Astrodome. But Alcindor was playing with double vision caused earlier by a finger in his left eye. When the two met in the NCAA semifinals, UCLA routed Houston 101-69. The North Carolina final was anticlimactic.
UCLA and Alcindor played out their unprecedented string of three titles in a row with the detached air of those whose success has been preordained. Lynn Shackelford tossed in the free throws that nailed down an 85-82 thriller over Drake in the semifinals, one of the Bruins' few interesting victories, and said: 'A lot of it has been boring. Everybody said we would win three. That has taken a lot out of the accomplishment." Alcindor made 15 of 20 shots against overmatched Purdue in the finals and stood on a chair to cut down the nets after the 92-72 trouncing.
Wooden hated to lose the man he would soon call Lewis Kareem, but he looked forward to coaching to win rather than not to lose. South Carolina was the preseason favorite to break UCLA's latest streak, but the pickers had overlooked Steve Patterson, a mechanical 6'9" center who had been redshirted for the day when Alcindor was no longer around, and two multitalented forwards, Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe. For a change, in the NCAA finals Jacksonville had the 7-footers but the Bruins dominated Artis Gilmore and UCLA won easily 80-69.
The team Wooden calls his "most confident" lost only once—when Notre Dame's Austin Carr drove through it for 46 points—but came close half a dozen other times. With reports of racial friction on the squad and Henry Bibby"s shooting far off, winning became more difficult than it had been in five years. Patterson's 29 points just did stave off Villanova 68-62 in the NCAA final. When the clock had almost run out, Wicks told Wooden on the bench, "Coach, it's been a great career." Bounding back to play, he added, "You're really something."
Straight off the Walton Gang looked like another of those three-year UCLA afflictions. It began with seven 100-point games and finished with 30 victories. Comparisons between Center Bill Walton and Alcindor were inevitable. Alcindor's intimidated opponents shot .383, Walton's .382, and each had 466 rebounds as a sophomore. Louisville's Denny Crum, a former UCLA assistant, was back in Los Angeles to see the Bruins beat his Cardinals and Florida State in the NCAA finals. He called this the best UCLA team he had seen. The beat goes on.