And another NCAA tournament goes ka-pow. How?
Comebacks. Kansas State, 12 points behind San Francisco, 11 points behind Oregon State, its plain, just-folks coach finally out from the shadows of media neglect, survived.
Way backs. Arkansas, hogs' hopes deep in the muck of almost certain doom until a guy named U.S. threw one in from halfway across the U.S., survived.
Get backs. LSU and Notre Dame, both still wincing from the stench of last year's tournament embarrassments as well as this year's pre-tourney foldups, survived.
March 23, 1981
And stand backs. Most of all, stand backs: those magical occasions when fans of college basketball have only to stand back and let its handiwork inimitably unfold. The perfection of Indiana. The versatility of Brigham Young's Danny Ainge. The surprise of Alabama-Birmingham. The shock of Oregon State. The shame—no, not again!—of DePaul.
No mattter what happens from now on—and nothing could be more discombobulating than the day 1981 's top two seeds and 1980's two finalists went west—there will be no more memorable vision than that of a young coach named Jimmy Lynam, out of Southwest Philadelphia by way of Our Gang, searching for the clock, bounding along the sidelines, finally falling into the arms of Denise Lynam, 15, who was weeping and laughing concurrently because of St. Joseph's 49-48 victory over No. 1 DePaul, a fait accompli of only seconds before.
Never mind that the Hawks were representing a school with but 2,340 students, which until last week hadn't won a postseason game for 15 years, which had barely beaten American University to get into the NCAAs and Creighton to get to DePaul.
Never mind that the Hawks may exit the tournament as suddenly as they stunned it. Last Saturday in the Mideast second round at Dayton, the resolute Philadelphians out-shot, out-hustled, out-poised and out-brained the conceited, haughty Blue Demons. In the end St. Joseph's had dispensed a dose of aspirin to the spoiled children of DePaul which they will remember the rest of their lives.
Even after Lynam had controlled the pace with an offense that sought only short shots; even after the Hawk zone had frustrated DePaul's Mark Aguirre (six shots, eight points, one rebound), the Roberto Duran of campus hoops; even then the heavily favored Demons looked safe leading 42-35 with 11:15 left. But Clyde Bradshaw, the Demons' backcourt catalyst, picked up his fourth foul and Coach Ray Meyer's team became cautious, tentative, tight. "We're not going out there to have fun," Assistant Coach Joey Meyer had warned his father before the game. "They were scared of it."
Three times the Hawks cut the lead to three points; at 48-45 DePaul, a bad half-court delay team, was in a half-court delay offense. Just about where Lynam wanted the opposition to be. Three stupid, sloppy plays cost DePaul the game. First 6'8" Teddy Grubbs lost a jump ball to St. Joe's 6'5" John Smith (remember the name), following which Bryan Warrick hit a jumper to narrow the margin to a point with 48 seconds remaining.
After two time-outs during which the DePaul bench became "mass confusion," as the younger Meyer put it, the Demons barely got the ball in bounds to Skip Dillard, who acted as if it were the last thing he wanted. He was fouled anyway at :13. While Dillard, named "Money" for his .851 foul shooting, thought a while—"I've dreamed all my life about being in that situation," he said later—young whippersnapper Lynam set the Hawks up for what he called a "scramble situation": get the rebound, race downcourt, no time-out, spread yourselves, take a good shot. Which is exactly what happened after Money Dillard, dreaming, did indeed miss.
On the scorecards it was St. Joseph's Warrick racing on the dribble (as Aguirre gave up on him at midcourt in a "no màs" defense) to freshman Lonnie McFarlan open at the right corner baseline to John Smith (you remembered) all alone underneath for the winning lay up. "Just an ordinary Fourth and Shunk [a Philly playground] number," said Smith, who had summoned McFarlan's pass by yelling, simply, "Please."
As Aguirre walked off toward downtown Dayton and probably the NBA with his stereo earphones shutting out the world, Ray Meyer could be forgiven if he was thinking. Thanks again, Mark, but please go ahead and turn pro and leave this marvelously talented team to fend for itself, find its soul elsewhere and maybe discover some character in the clutch.
"I'm supposed to have the team of my life," Meyer had said. "But I can't enjoy them. I never know whether these kids are going to loaf or put out. Honest to God, I never thought basketball was going to be this way again."
Que serà, Ray. And so long, again.
For another old-timer, Oregon State's Ralph Miller, a better team may not pass his way than the Beavers who brought a two-year 52-4 regular-season record into the West sub-regional at Los Angeles. But they also lost primarily because of too much dependence on one man, he being the big moose with the big caboose, 6'10½" Center Steve Johnson. "We were too timid. We didn't play our game. I don't know what went wrong," said Johnson after Kansas State eliminated Oregon State 50-48.
Guard Ray Blume figured he knew. "We choked," he said.
Hold on and back up a bit. K-State Coach Jack Hartman's squad is in his image—quiet, colorless, collected; a friendly hardware dealer camouflaging the mind of a crafty terrorist. Down by 12 points against San Francisco, Hartman had replaced his struggling star, Rolando Blackman, with Brazil's own Eduardo Galvao, who despite being called "Edweirdo" by his teammates, was instrumental in the Wildcats' 64-60 victory. Then, against Oregon State, Hartman went from Edweirdo back to Rolando, who showed his appreciation by sinking the gamer with two seconds left.
Before that happened Kansas State plugged along 10 points in arrears until 6'7" Center Ed Nealy and his backup, Les Craft, wore down Johnson and forced him into fouls and turnovers so that the 'Cats could proceed on a 16-6 tear and tie the game at 48 with 3:23 to play, precisely the point at which Johnson fouled out for the 51st time in his career. "We were working our butts off," said Craft. Not to mention Johnson's, a feat of some magnitude.
Now it was a chess game between masters. And, as Miller said, "You don't beat a Jack Hartman team making mistakes. They're too smart." Miller elected to slow things down, but the Wildcats fouled Charlie Sitton, who, being a rookie, missed on the one-and-one. Kansas State then held the ball down to 10 seconds when Blackman, the Olympian from Brooklyn, backed Mark Radford to the baseline, where they were joined by Blume. "He made a good strong move and I cut him off," said Radford. "Then he made another strong move."
It was the second one—Blackman spinning in the air from 16 feet, swish (see cover)—that did it. "I had the good release," Blackman said. "I wasn't even aware that anyone was on me. It was just me and the rim."
The failures of DePaul and Oregon State to last the NCAA's second round for the second year presumably left Indiana and Utah with the favorites' roles in the Mideast and West if only because the regionals will be played on their home courts. For their part, LSU and Virginia—the top-ranked teams in the Midwest and East—escaped the curse which dispatched eight seeded teams, and they appear to be the class of their respective regions. Nevertheless, in the NCAA tournament nothing is as it seems.
Now for what's ahead:
"Champions die hard," said Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton. Surely none died harder than the NCAA's title-defending Louisville Cardinals, whose recent momentum after a faltering start was halted exactly 49 feet, 4[4/5] inches away from the Arkansas goal, the spot from which U.S. (Ultimate Strike?) Reed unloaded a pig soooooey of a heave at the buzzer for a 74-73 victory. Only seconds before, Louisville's Derek Smith had nailed a miracle on-my-back rebound shot of his own to give the Cards the lead. But at the ensuing time-out Sutton told his men merely to get the ball into Reed's hands. Because they did, Arkansas earned a rematch with fearsome LSU in New Orleans.
"We want 50,000 Cajuns screaming in the Superdome," said LSU Coach Dale Brown after the Tigers buried Lamar 100-78 as Rudy Macklin, Howard Carter and Leonard Mitchell combined for 75 points. Earlier in the season, Arkansas defeated LSU in Alaska, but Sutton has no illusions. "They are not the same," he says. "LSU is probably the best team going right now." Arkansas' backcourt of Reed and Darrell Walker are prodigious leapers, while the serpentine center, Scott Hastings, helps keep the Razorbacks in every game. But Hastings is prone to foul; with him on the bench the Hogs sometimes get roasted. LSU would seem to have too strong a motive, too much weaponry and too many ragin' Cajuns to let this one get away.
The other matchup in the grudge grouping is none other than Wichita State vs. Kansas. Last week this duo beat Iowa 60-56 and Arizona State 88-71, respectively, in consecutive upsets, the former when Hawkeye Coach Lute Olson called a time-out he didn't have (Wichita's Randy Smithson invented the fall-down technical free throw in celebration of making it), the latter when the Sun Devils tripped over press clippings they didn't deserve.
The Wheatshockers of Gene Smithson—Randy's dad—are this year's bad guys, what with Center Ozell Jones ineligible and the team under NCAA investigation. However, Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston, who shared 45 points and 28 rebounds against Iowa, pose considerable problems up front for their cross-state rivals.
Kansas' Tony Guy (36 points against Arizona State) and his more illustrious backcourt mate, Darnell Valentine, who was a high school teammate of Carr's, can score on the Shocker guards, and the Jay-hawks play a well-disciplined zone. But Carr and Levingston should find enough openings for the Wheatshockers to win.
An LSU-Wichita State final featuring two of the best rebounding teams left in the tournament would compare with any Bourbon Street brawl. Take LSU and give the blood.
The Hoosiers of Indiana tried their best to downplay the ferocious 99-64 mauling they handed Maryland last week. Coach Bobby Knight: "A lot of things broke well for us." Guard Isiah Thomas: "I think we can play better."
If that's true, the NCAA ought to call this whole thing off rig`ht now. After spotting the speedy Terps an 8-0 lead—like Renaldo Nehemiah giving Jackie Gleason a few hurdles' head start—Indiana began blasting away. Ray Tolbert had 26 points and four blocks. Thomas had 14 assists and zero turnovers. Landon Turner must have made at least 100 dunks. If the Hoosiers only play to 80% of that performance, they'll win the national championship.
Default this regional at Bloomington to Indiana. DePaul did, by losing to Jimmy Lynam. Wake Forest did, by losing to Boston College. And Kentucky did, too, by losing to Clean Gene Bartow's team, Alabama-Birmingham, which had no business rousting Kentucky, 69-62, but did anyway, thanks to 5'10" Glenn Marcus, who made 12 of 15 free throws while Wildcat Coach Joe B. Hall was leafing through the phone numbers of some more high school Ail-Americans.
Knight will get all the coaching competition he wants from the survivor of St. Joe's-Boston College, whose Dr. Tom Davis has done wonders with the spectacular John Bagley (35 points against Wake Forest) and a crew of overachievers. But chalk should prevail.
It's difficult to imagine that at one time Indiana was 7-5 and floundering. Then Turner came around, Thomas' play began to glow like his smile and the Hoosiers peaked just right. Knight's 1976 Indiana team won the NCAAs in Philadelphia. Bob knows the way back.
No Mormon major league in-fielder with back spasms ever had a better day on the basketball court than Brigham Young's splendid Danny Ainge did against UCLA. While the Bruins were looking ahead to Notre Dame, Ainge personally outscored UCLA in the first half, 23-22, and ended the day with 37 points and several RBIs in a 78-55 runaway. Then he said he didn't even miss not being at spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Digger Phelps' Irish wouldn't still be around if they had been playing somebody other than Dolley, make that James, Madison, surprise winners over Georgetown. Tracy Jackson had to save Notre Dame's 54-45 victory while Kelly Tripucka and Orlando Woolridge were missing 11 of 15 shots. Jackson may be called on to guard Ainge in the next round at Atlanta unless Digger comes up with one of his Mickey Mouse gimmick defenses. The Irish will slow down the fast-breaking Cougars, but if Ainge is the best player on the floor, Brigham Young can block Notre Dame's path to another encounter with Virginia.
The last team to play the Cavaliers' 7'4" Ralph Sampson man-for-man was Ohio State, and Sampson knocked down 40 points. The next will be Tennessee, whose 6'7" center, Howard Wood, held his man without a basket in the Vols' 58-56 overtime win over Virginia Commonwealth. But now Tennessee draws Sampson. And the muttonchopped, squashed-nose Wood, who looks old enough to have dated Delilah, admits "I'll need help."
Help is exactly what Sampson himself got from Lee Raker off the bench and Othell Wilson on the foul line when the Cavs beat Villanova 54-50. But that game again displayed Virginia's inability to get Sampson the ball low, even against massive John Pinone. And unless Jeff Lamp learns to shoot in TV games, Virginia could easily be defeated.
After Kansas State beat Oregon State, the only questions remaining in this region were who had the best front line in the land, Utah or North Carolina? And what is there that Wyoming's Charles Bradley can't do?
Bradley, the Cowboys' 6'5" monster guard, did everything but round up the herd against Howard and Illinois, but a teammate's late rebound foul enabled Illinois Forward Mark Smith to make two free throws, granting the Big Ten's third-place team, along with Illinois Governor James Thompson (orange and blue war-paint daubed on his executive dimples), another trip west.
Mobile guards Derek Harper and Craig Tucker, scoring Forward Eddie Johnson and defensive Center Derek (The Incredible Hole) Holcomb have made the difference for the Illini. But this team is most effective in a sprinting contest and the wily Hartman with his deliberate Kansas Staters, will have none of that. Color the game K-State purple.
While the North Carolina trio of Sam Perkins, James Worthy and Al Wood (the beauties who combined for 56 points against Pitt) and the Utah trio of Danny Vranes, Tom Chambers and Karl Bankowski (the beasties who combined for 63 points against Northeastern) are working each other over, the Tar Heel-Ute game may well be decided by whose point guard performs more consistently, N.C.'s Jimmy Black or Utah's Scott Martin. Still it's the 6'9" scoring marvel, Perkins, who makes North Carolina the choice to win here.
Perkins has given the Tar Heels the capability to play Virginia and Sampson head on. Coach Dean Smith's team led the Cavs by 13 and 16 points in their two regular-season meetings before losing both; there is genuine dislike between the coaches and the squads, and the Tar Heels swore they wouldn't be denied in a third challenge.
All in all, an appetizing menu. Be prepared for more super stand backs.