The more the merrier seems to be the feeling of the NCAA Division I basketball committee. The postseason tournament field continues to grow like the national debt, from 48 teams in 1982, to 52 in '83, to 53 next March. And there's considerable talk of a 64-team field in 1985. This season the NCAA will hold an elimination round for the champions of 10 less prestigious conferences, with the five winners advancing to the round of 48. Four of them will be seeded 12th in the four regions, and the other will be seeded 11th in one of the regions.
"If I were making 60 grand a year as a coach at a big-time school, having to play in this early round would probably be an insult to my ego," says Robert Morris Coach Matt Furjanic. "But it's better than nothing." The Colonials are expected to make the eliminations by winning their third straight ECAC Metro championship. The nine other teams entering through the side door should be Boston University (ECAC North Atlantic), William & Mary (ECAC South), Iona (Metro Atlantic), Hofstra (East Coast), Yale (Ivy), North Carolina A&T (Mid-Eastern), Alcorn State (Southwestern Athletic), Houston Baptist (Trans America) and Loyola of Chicago (Midwestern City).
Kansas should be one of the 43 teams bypassing the elimination round. First-year Kansas Coach Larry Brown was taken aback when a preseason poll of Big Eight coaches and media chose the Jayhawks to win the title. "We go four and 10 in the conference two years in a row, and now we're picked to win it. That's hard to believe," says Brown. Not so hard when you consider the talent. Greg Dreiling (below), a 7'1" Wichita State transfer, joins workhorses Kelly Knight and Kerry Boagni on the front line. Brown hopes to compensate for the lack of a point guard by creating mismatches inside for swingmen Carl Henry and Calvin Thompson.
Syracuse and Villanova of the Big East should make the tournament despite heavy graduation losses. Orange freshman Dwayne (Pearl) Washington is such a talented play-maker and penetrator that senior Gene Waldron, a two-year starter at the point, has moved to shooting guard. Villanova Forward E-Z Ed Pinckney realizes that replacing John Pinone, Stewart Granger and Mike Mulquin won't be E-Z, of course. "I'll have to score more and rebound more this year," says Pinckney, who was third in points last season (12.5 per game) and tops in rebounding (9.7).
The Pack isn't back, the Pack never left. North Carolina State proved its win over Houston in the NCAA finals last April was no fluke by beating the Cougars again, 76-64 last week in Saturday's Tip-Off Classic. The Wolfpack may not miss its three NBA draft choices after all. Anthony (Spud) Webb, the 5'7"—they say—junior college transfer, is the important addition. Center Cozell McQueen is more physical than he was last season, and Forward Lorenzo Charles, who beat Houston in April with a dunk, now has an outside shot.
University of Alabama, Birmingham Coach Gene Bartow is all fired up about his Blazers, who were 19-14 and won their second straight Sun Belt tournament title last season. "We may go over 100 points a few times," he predicts. Bartow has several reasons to be excited: Three starters return and UAB hosts the conference tournament for the third straight year, as well as first-and second-round games of the NCAA Mideast Regional.
South Florida, also of the Sun Belt, surprised everyone last season by going 22-10 in what was to have been a rebuilding year. The 1983-84 Bulls should earn a bid to the NCAA tournament thanks mainly to the redoubtable Charlie Bradley, who was the nation's fourth-leading scorer with 26.7 points per game.
Question: Is it possible for a team to finish as high as third in the SEC with just three proven veterans and a passel of talented but unproven newcomers? Answer: Yes, if the team is Auburn. The Tigers' Charles Barkley, all 6'6", 272 pounds of him, became the first player since Bernard King in 1977 to lead the league in rebounding two years in a row. He averaged 9.5 rebounds per game, along with a team-high 14.4 points. Forward Chuck Person was a consensus choice for the All-SEC freshman team, and Frank Ford, Florida's Mr. Basketball, heads a Cadillac-quality freshman class.
"So much of what we did last year was based on chemistry," says Georgia Coach Hugh Durham, who hasn't had a losing record in his five seasons in Athens. To re-start that chemical reaction, Durham drilled the Dawgs twice a day, at 6:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., during the preseason. Look for the same sort of scratching, active bunch that last March stormed through the SEC and East Regional tournaments and into the Final Four. Though the lone holdover up front is Forward James Banks, the MVP of the East Regional, the backcourt, featuring 6'5" Vern Fleming, who went for 16.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season, is loaded.
Indiana's Four Freshmen are not a musical aggregation. Two of them—Guard Steve Alford and Forward Marty Simmons—won Mr. Basketball honors in Indiana and Illinois, respectively; the other two are Daryl Thomas from Illinois and Todd Meier from Wisconsin. The Hoosiers need all the help they can get because they have only one starter back from the 1982-83 team that went 24-6 and won its seventh Big Ten title in 12 years. Coach Bobby Knight hopes 7'2" Uwe Blab and the Four Freshmen will be in harmony come March.
With Guard Derek Harper drafted early by the NBA, the spotlight at Illinois shifts to 6'9" Forward Efrem Winters, last year's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. "If there's a better power forward in the Big Ten," says Coach Lou Henson, "I don't know where he is." Sophomore Doug Altenberger, who has recently recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, will be in the Illinois backcourt with another sophomore, Bruce Douglas, the Big Ten leader in assists last season.
Nebraska Coach Moe Iba is building a basketball team the Cornhusker football team can be proud of. The Husker hoopsters tied a school record with 22 victories last season and advanced to the NIT Final Four. Four players with starting experience are back, including sophomore Center Dave Hoppen. The Big Eight's premiere big man, though, is Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale, the 6'10" center-forward who set 10 Sooner records, made history by becoming the first freshman ever named first-team All-America by the Associated Press and broke Wilt Chamberlain's Big Eight single-season scoring record with 810 points. He's the only starter back from a 24-9 team, but Sooner Coach Billy Tubbs says his freshman class is so good that at least three of them, probably Darryl Kennedy, Tim McCalister and David Johnson, should start and produce. "That's not false confidence," says Tubbs. "This is a superior group."
Tulsa Coach Nolan Richardson has assembled his deepest and most experienced team ever. Returning from a 19-12 club are three starters and 79% of the 1982-83 offense. Richardson says his best player. All-Missouri Valley Guard Steve Harris, who shared team scoring honors with Forward-Guard Ricky Ross at 18.5 points per game, is "as good as Michael Jordan."
"I hope I'm not getting senile," says Lamar Coach Pat Foster, "but I think our three perimeter players [Jerry Everett, Tom Sewell and Lamont Robinson] are just as good down the line as the Triplets." The Triplets were Arkansas' fabled trio of Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph, who led the Razorbacks to a three-year 77-15 record and a berth in the 1978 Final Four while Foster was an Arkansas assistant. The Cards should breeze to their sixth Southland Conference title in seven years.
At Cal State Fullerton, four starters are back from a 21-8 team that finished second in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association behind the University of Nevada, Las Vegas but ended the Rebels' 25-game winning streak. The key man is play-maker Leon Wood (left), who last year led the nation in assists (11.0 a game), and Fullerton in scoring (18.1). Wood is so good he was chosen for the U.S. Pan Am team last summer, even though he missed the trials while recovering from a foot injury.
UT-Chattanooga has earned three straight Southern Conference titles and the best two-year record (53-8) in the nation. Still, the Mocs have yet to receive much national attention largely because they have yet to make a big splash against top regular-season opponents or in the NCAA tournament. With four starters, including senior Willie White, the Southern's Player of the Year as a sophomore and league tournament MVP last March, returning from a team that went 26-4, Chattanooga could be splashy, indeed. Ohio University, the surprise Mid-American winner last season, should also repeat. Morehead (Ky.) State is expected to win its first Ohio Valley Conference regular-season title and to have its first 20-victory season.
Other conference favorites will be looking to end NCAA tournament victory droughts. Temple, the choice in the Atlantic Ten, hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1958. Santa Clara should win the West Coast Athletic Conference championship and make its first trip to the tournament since 1970, when it lost in the second round. Weber State, the pick in the Big Sky, hasn't won in the NCAAs since 1979.
The independents most likely to receive NCAA bids are Notre Dame and Southwestern Louisiana.