If choosing one's time was as simple as selecting a new car or the proper cravat or a special flavor down at the ice cream parlor, it is reasonable to assume that no college basketball coach would have picked the season 1984-85 unless he was extremely tall, wide, outspoken and he carried a towel over his shoulder, the easier to wipe his brow in relief because he had Patrick Ewing on his team and nobody else did.
This is not to deny the leadership qualities of Georgetown coach John Thompson. Indeed one rival, John Chaney of Temple, called the Hoyas the best "taught" team in the land and presented Thompson with an apple "for the teacher" before Georgetown shooed the Owls from the NCAA tournament last Saturday. Nor can one question the skills of the rest of the Hoyas. They probably have enough talent and moxie to reach the Final Four on their own, even if Ewing would rather sit on the bench tatting some more ruffled doily accessories for academic coordinator Mary Fenlon's wardrobe.
Realistically, however, Ewing has become such an overwhelming figure—"Just his presence in the gym affects the game," Thompson has acknowledged—that last week's opening rounds of the NCAAs seemed nothing more than an investiture preparatory to the official presentation of a second straight national championship trophy to the Hoyas as well as a distinguished place in the record books. After all, only five schools in the 45-year history of the tournament have accomplished the rare double that appears to be within easy reach of the intimidating platoons from the Potomac: Oklahoma State (1945-46), Kentucky ('48-49), San Francisco ('55-56), Cincinnati ('61-62) and UCLA ('67-73). And none of them had more or better athletes than Ewingtown. Just ask Lehigh.
What this means for the remaining dregs of the college game is that '84-85 was a good season to be bad—Indiana, Louisville, Houston and, uh, UCLA, which collectively had won 15 national championships and had made eight trips to the Final Four in the '80s, didn't even qualify for the tournament; to be too young—Michigan; too restless—Alabama-Birmingham; and too, too bored—LSU, which accomplished another characteristically shameless no-harm, no-heart, give-up early exit.
On the other hand, with Georgetown glowering at everyone, it also was a bad year to be good: to have the team of a lifetime, as St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca has; to be the scorer of a lifetime, as Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale is; to submit your resignation in February and then watch your team survive six post-season lose-and-you're-gone games, after which you want to un-resign, as Auburn's Sonny Smith apparently does.
Finally, it was an especially unfortunate time to be Illinois or Georgia Tech or Memphis State, any of which, going into the regionals, might be a good bet to win it all—in other years. Or to be Louisiana Tech, a dangerous sleeper in Mailman's togs. Or if you couldn't be the real Kentucky, why pick this season to duck into a phone booth, throw on Wildcat uniform No. 34, emerge as Kenny Tucky and actually turn out to be Cinderella?
Kentucky as Cinderella? Well, that gives a fair indication of how Georgetown has turned college basketball inside out. Remember the 'Cats shooting 3 for 33 against the Hoyas in the second half of their NCAA semifinal last March? Kenny Walker and mates have been searching for their other slipper ever since. In like manner, just facing Georgetown a couple of times this season steeled several of the Hoyas' Big East buddies enough so that when they were finally rid of Ewing, they went and kicked some tail of their own. Along with Georgetown, Big Easterners St. John's, Villanova and Boston College account for a quarter of the final 16 teams in the field.
After coaching Georgetown to its first national championship last year, Thompson announced that the monkey was off his back. But last week, admitting to the pressure of defending the title, he had second thoughts. "I feel like I'm in the monkey's house" said Thompson. "You become greedy." Later, a striking admission: "We have a great team. That's probably an understatement."
Although it may be true that the 32-2 Hoyas are not the dominating defensive colossus of last season, they still held opponents to 39.9% field goal shooting and outrebounded them by 9.2 boards a game going into the tournament. Both marks led the nation, so what fallibility are we talking about here? Ewing's power; the versatility of forwards Bill Martin, David Wingate and Reggie Williams; the ball-handling expertise and game direction of Michael Jackson at the point; the bench work of Ralph Dalton and Perry McDonald; everyone's aggressive quickness to the ball; plus the Hoyas' confrontational posturing—all of this devastates the enemy. Without Jackson, the Hoyas might be vulnerable. Williams had off nights (2 for 9 shooting) in Georgetown's two regular-season losses to St. John's and Syracuse. The Hoyas shoot only 63% from the foul line. But then there's always Ewing—the Terminator—who seems to take over only when he has to. Nervous joking has replaced strategy in rival camps. Syracuse's Pearl Washington: "Maybe Ewing's mind could be taken off the game. Put some naked women on the court." Nevada-Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian, whose Rebels were blown out 82-46 by the Hoyas on Dec. 8: "If I had to play them again, I'd get sick and let my assistant coach."
Naturally, Georgetown has treated any speculation that it is dethronable with serious contempt. Back in December Georgetown beat DePaul, then the nation's No. 2-ranked team, so viciously (77-57) that the Blue Demons never recovered. Then came the midseason slump that lasted all of 55 hours. But after St. John's accomplished its treasured 66-65 Jan. 26 upset, the Hoyas subsequently retaliated with two thorough slaughters of the Redmen. (After falling behind St. John's 57-39 in that first meeting, the champions have now out-scored the Redmen by 46 points.) Their two get-back whippings of Syracuse were equally as brutal.
"We're wary of no one. A good team is never wary. If Larry Holmes had been wary of David Bey he would have lost," said Jackson in yet another pugilistic analogy emanating from the Georgetown camp. Anyone not wary of Georgetown, though, is a major fool.
Item: A worker at the Hartford Civic Center charged with filling the water coolers for the eight teams at the East sub-regional confessed to an enterprising sleuth that Georgetown wouldn't permit him near its cooler. "Guess they're worried someone might contaminate it," he said. Short of poisoning the Hoyas, the key to beating them, if there is one, remains twofold: a) Willingness to take individual responsibility on defense. Forget the zones; Hoya second-story men annihilate zones with their shooting, and Hoya rebounders muddle box-out responsibilities with their spring and zest for combat, and b) When-in-doubt, kick-it-back-out patience on offense. Especially since there is no shot clock in the tournament, a smart opponent must shorten the game, thus negating G'town advantages in depth, shooting ability and shot availability and/or selection. If these problems sound familiar to Georgetown's three rivals in Providence, it is possibly because Georgia Tech has no bench to speak of, Illinois would have trouble shooting tuna fish in a can and Loyola, with Alfredrick (The Great) Hughes, may start firing before the team reaches the Rhode Island border.
This is the "form" regional—all four top seeds having produced blowouts—and it is by far the strongest, thus a good, true test for our Jesuit heroes. Unfortunately, the Hoyas won't have to face both the Fighting Illini and the Ramblin' Wreck—which seem to match up with them best—because they must play each other first.
This is not to say tiny Loyola is not fearless, and rightly so, after shaking off opening night jitters to nip Iona and then pound SMU for consecutive wins numbers 18 and 19. "Georgetown plays a lot of zone but it'll be hard for them to do that against us 'cause we got a lot of shooters," said the nation's No. 2 scorer (26.9 points per game) Hughes, who is a lot of shooters himself. If the Great was sanguine, his running mate, 5'9" Carl (Go-Go) Golston was audacious. "We're gonna take Georgetown to the rim," said Golston. "We're gonna see who can run the best. And we're gonna take it to Pat [Ewing] just like we took it to [SMU's Jon] Koncak."
Before Ewing hears of this and deposits Go-Go gone-gone as if he were a missile in one of those Australian dwarf-hurling contests—make the score something like 140-80, Georgetown—flash back to the Boston shoot-out of four summers ago when four of the current Ramblers' starters represented Chicagoland schoolboys and lost to Ewing's Boston team by a point. "We owe Pat a little something; I know he remembers," says Golston.
But seriously, folks.... Despite the Ramblers' courage and inner-city pedigree diminishing any Georgetown " 'timidation" (Golston again); and even bowing to the fact that the Great, Go-Go and Andre Battle will shoot instantaneously and from distances not even Ewing thought possible or can reach by bus, it is doubtful that the Windy City kids possess enough frontcourt depth to survive, or sufficient poise and passing ability (an exotic art surely of troglodyte origins to the Ramblers) to get the ball over midcourt once the Hoya press cranks up. Loyola's best chance may lie in 80-foot jumpers, and Hughes takes but a few of those a night.
While Illinois arose from a midseason grave dug by horrendous shooting to blast Northeastern and Georgia, Ken Norman emerged as a star in the middle. The hot, confident Illini have size and experience in the corners with Efrem Winters and Anthony Welch, while Bruce Douglas and Doug Altenberger are the toughest defensive guards in the land. If Lou Henson's hulks can slow the tempo and squirrel the naturally conservative Thompson into a deliberate game, they have a chance, as SMU did in a 37-36 loss last year. "We're doing everything well now," says Douglas. "We're reaching our peak, and we couldn't pick a better time."
Ah, but can Illinois beat Georgia Tech, with coach Bobby Cremins cracking the whip, Mark Price and Bruce Dalrymple exhibiting admirable versatility in the backcourt and the Engineers slapping low fives all around? Probably not. Though Tech is getting better by the game, it will still need monster performances from big men John Salley and Yvon Joseph. "I've never played against anybody as big and strong as Joseph," Oklahoma's Tisdale has said. Which is to presume the 7-foot, 27-year-old Haitian sensation isn't about to take any guff. Moreover, he has a nice jumper to draw other centers, even other Caribbean-born ones. "They don't want to fight Yvon, I don't care how big Pat Ewing is," says Salley. "Yvon is ready for father age. He'd beat on the kids if they acted up. Once he told [Maryland's Len] Bias to stop bumping him: 'Lenny, if I hit you, I put you out for the season.' "
Goodness. Stay tuned to see who gets put out of this season.
In the midst of a rematch and a Smith-off in Birmingham, puzzled onlookers may wonder what happened to this region's No. 1 seed, Michigan. What happened was that having barely withstood Fairleigh Dickinson—raise your hand if you remember the Knights' Redonia (Red) Duck—59-55 for their 17th-straight victory, the Big Ten champs turned Fairly Ridiculous themselves, losing by the identical score to Villanova.
Against the battle-tested Wildcats, the green Wolverine backcourt of sophomore Antoine Joubert and freshman Gary Grant took their lines from that new standard: "We are the world, we are the children." Initially, they tried to do too much. Ultimately, they never found a way to cope with the alterations in the Philadelphians' defense. Gary played like Cary, taking the collar on 0-for-4 shooting; the Judge mistook the Wildcat match-up zone for a "box." Both ignominiously fouled out.
From a 30-26 halftime lead, Villanova didn't score for 7:44, but Michigan could take only a 35-30 lead. "From then on, everything they did was perfect," said Michigan coach Bill Frieder. Including the coaching lesson. Head Wildcat Rollie Massimino, looking more like Taxi's Danny DeVito with every screech, had told Dwayne (D-Train) McClain to "get physical." So, catapulting his J from behind his left ear, McClain hit a game-high 20 points; Ed Pinckney was not so E-Z on Michigan center Roy Tarpley, neutralizing him inside; 'Nova converted 25 of 31 free throws; and the Wolverines went up in smithereens. "Name me another team that's played Numbers 1 or 2 in the country six times," said Massimino. And finally won one. Up next for roly-poly Rollie is another previous Villanova conqueror, Maryland, which ended the brief but glorious run of everybody's favorite under-goat, Navy.
Actually, Lefty Driesell's Terrapins were scared out of their very shells by Miami (O.) before Adrian Branch's steal and Jeff Adkins's rebound basket pulled out a first-round overtime win. They were frightened even more by the Midshipmen, whose 78-55 sinking of fraudulent LSU was the most surprising tournament development. "It's like having a child on drugs," said coach Dale Brown of LSD, or rather LSU. "I'm responsible. [No kidding!] I'm the admiral of the ship." Brown reacted so zombielike to his team's submarining, he might as well have gone overboard.
As for the Middies, 6'11" David Robinson followed up his 18 points and 18 rebounds against the Tigers by nearly helping Navy record another belowdecks shocker over Maryland. Navy led by 11 early in the second half, but the rudder fell off, and Maryland won 64-59. "I'd like to get to the Final Four before I die, but if it don't happen, so be it," said Lefty. Did he think it possible this year? "Yeah, I could kick off anytime."
Having previously stunk out the joint against Maryland, Villanova should make amends and save Driesell the trouble of being beaten yet again by his close pals from North Carolina. For its part, however, 'Nova has been outrebounded 42-60 so far in the tournament, a failure that could prove disastrous.
If anybody can upstage Carolina's Smiths, coach Dean and guard Kenny, it may be Auburn's own homespun, can't-help-but-be-funny Sonny, whose travels have earned him the moniker, Suitcase Sonny Smith. "When I came here, they gave me a mobile home and told me not to take the wheels off," Smith said. But just as he was packing for an announced leave-taking, the Tigers started winning and haven't stopped: Squeakers over Purdue and Kansas postponed Smith's sentimental journey and suggested that Auburn forward Chuck Person (41 points, two games) is as clutch-minded as Smith is wry. "Four play, four play," the Auburn coach shouted at his players. And he didn't even blush.
A clutch play is precisely what Kenny Smith used to save the Tar Heels from elimination against Notre Dame. The fleet sophomore stuffed the business end of a David Rivers turnover in the waning seconds to win a taut and terrific game, 60-58. As Irish coach Digger Phelps eschewed a time-out to blow kisses to Rivers, the disciplined Heels blocked the freshman's path, doubled up and forced him to bounce the ball off his knee to Carolina. A kiss is just a kiss, but the South Bend home crowd howled at such St. Patrick's Eve shenanigans.
The loss of splendid guard Steve Hale with a separated shoulder will hurt the Heels. "Losing Steve is like losing my left hand," says K. Smith. But center Brad Daugherty (43 points, 23 boards in two games) and the imposing Carolina forward wall are extremely effective against smaller teams, which are all that remain in the Southeast. The Tar Heels should advance to D. Smith's eighth Final Four.
As Oklahoma, college basketball's answer to Air Coryell, barged by North Carolina A & T and Illinois State, Sooner coach Billy Tubbs kept defending his defense, but not very convincingly. "I don't know if we play D or not, but I'd like to hear what those other 30 teams we beat were playin'," Tubbs said. More to the point: "We want to be the worst defensive team ever to win the NCAA. Nobody can hold the ball against us."
Even Tisdale, whose picturesque turn-around shots and chest-thumping slams earned him 29 points on 14-of-16 shooting against ISU, joined in the party fun line. "We have ways to get teams out of slowdowns," said the Sooner junior. "We let them score so we can get the ball back." Against the dark horse (accent on the horse) from Louisiana Tech, however, Oklahoma will get all the competition it wants. And both teams know it, having gotten acquainted in Oklahoma's 84-72 victory on Dec. 30, a game in which Tisdale shot a career-worst three for 16. If he repeats that display in Dallas, Wayman can sign his early pro contract immediately; the Sooners will be finished.
Louisiana Tech, out of the Southland Conference and featuring Karl (Mailman) Malone, no longer has to play second banana to the school's Lady Techsters. Not after crushing Pittsburgh and Ohio State. The Dunkin' Dogs' frenzied supporters, one of whom was decked out in full letter-carrier regalia, chanted "Big East, Big Deal; Big Ten, Big Deal." In fact, when the bangathon between the 6'9", 250-pound Malone and the 6'7½" 250-pound Tisdale is over, Louisiana Tech should emerge the winner. Of course, center Willie Simmons, he of the Kareem-like hook and goggles, has to help check Tisdale so guard Wayne Smith can probe the fissures in the Oklahoma zone trap that gave the Sooners a huge early lead in the teams' first meeting. Smith, 6'4", is rangy enough to contain the Sooners' explosive Anthony Bowie as well. When the Okies can't break and Tisdale is bottled up, Wayman and the boys are just another squad of jumpshooters. Those are hefty suppositions but coach Andy Russo, out of New Trier High in Winnetka, Ill., where Charlton Heston matriculated, is a master planner. Tisdale-Malone will be a chariot race, and Ben-Hur won most of those.
The Oklahoma-Louisiana Tech winner in Dallas is more likely to face Memphis State than upstart Boston College. (Eagle alumni: You should have paid those Cotton Bowl parking tickets.) But wait a minute. While BC coach Gary Williams stalked the sideline like a candidate for a straitjacket, his preposterous band of overachieving no-star prep "teammates"—Dominic Pressley was a high school teammate of Duke's Johnny Dawkins, Roger McCready played with St. John's Chris Mullin—narrowly nailed both Texas Tech and Duke with their brand of uglyball. "That's just the way we play," said Williams. "If the ball's on the floor it's our game." McCready scored 20 points against what he called Duke's "soft" front line, and Adams followed up his game winner against Tech by stroking the Blue Devils for 19. Oh yes, senior Mark Schmidt, who is an unknown even on the Eagles, put together a career stat line—zero points, three steals, three rebounds and one fall, the one across David Henderson's ankle which put the Duke sixth man out for all but two minutes of the second half. While Blue Devils Dawkins and Tommy Amaker brick-laid themselves into Hades, BC made every big play down the stretch of the 74-73 upset.
Can the mean-street Eagles do it to Memphis State? "Pinocchio, you're a real boy now," cracked a doubting Charles Pierce of The Boston Herald. But wait another minute. Williams must have recognized from the Tigers' sloppy-lucky, 67-66 overtime victory over Alabama-Birmingham that the weak defense and overall laziness of Memphis State's Keith Lee (28 points despite fouling out) can be exploited. The Tigers don't like to play too hard for too long, and BC's scrappy dead-enders are just UAB all over again, only smarter and smaller, without Jerome (Grace Jones, we hardly knew ye) Mincy. Skateboarder Adams would never have dribbled into a tie-up violation the way the Blazers' Steve Mitchell did against Memphis at the end of regulation; he might have thrown the ball into the scoreboard, but he would have gotten a shot off.
Nonetheless, Memphis's Andre Turner, whose jumper in OT saved the Tigers, is Adams's sprinting equal, and Memphis should wake up in time to win once more. But it is staggering into Dallas. Somebody else will stagger out. By special delivery, Louisiana Tech.
The last four winners of the West regional have been imports from the East, and don't be surprised if the results from Denver make it a nifty 5 for 5, or stunned if the winner is coached by a wisecracker of Italian heritage who sounds suspiciously as if he might be from Noo Yawk.
Jim Valvano of North Carolina State arrived in Albuquerque last week and abruptly kneeled and kissed the ground where his team won the 1983 national championship. "It was unrehearsed," he insisted. "I cut my lip."
Lou Carnesecca of St. John's arrived in Salt Lake City, natty in a new sweater, a pointillist's bad dream of blacks and browns and bizarre splotches that were either stitching flaws or snowflakes. "They're snowflakes," Looie said. "It's apropos. When in Rome, you know. The other sweater was 16-2 so it got traded."
Although St. John's triheaded Mull-Berry bush—Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and the 7-foot, bearded Bill Wennington—rounded up the usual prisoners in the Redmen's 68-65 rock 'em, sock 'em affair with Arkansas, it required some outrageous faux pas by the infant Hogs (Piglets?) and some strange judgments by Arkansas coach Eddie Sutton before Wennington, a Canadian sometimes known as the Great White North, could block a William Mills jumper in the lane and send Arkansas back south. If Sutton is coaching's newest genius, why was 6'2" Allie Freeman guarding the 6'6" Mullin (26 points whenever he wanted them), not the 6'7" Mills? And why was Sutton constantly walking away from the bench to bellyache to NCAA officials? Once he sat down beside a huge trash can in a terrific impersonation of Oscar the Grouch. Oh, well. Anybody would be out of sorts if he had to sit helpless while the immaculate Mullin tore his loved ones apart. "The more you play the game, the slower the game becomes," Sutton said. "You learn shortcuts. Chris is as smart as I've seen."
As good an individual year as Mullin has had, Kentucky's Kenny (Sky) Walker's has been better. After carrying a mediocre 16-12 team into the tournament on his bony back, Walker scored 52 points in twin upsets of Washington and Nevada-Las Vegas. Yet two amazing blocked shots were the plays that will help Walker endure in Kentucky basketball lore. The first was against Washington's Reggie Rogers, Walker swatting the ball four rows into the end-zone seats. "I got carried away," said Walker. "Next time I was careful." Next time merely saved the 'Cats from extinction as Sky accompanied Vegas's Richie Adams into the rafters and smashed away a jumper that would have given the Rebels the lead with less than 30 seconds left in the game. Somehow freshman Richard (Master Blaster) Madison saved the rejected ball from going out of bounds, and somehow Walker recovered to race down the court, receive a fast break pass and convert the clinching layup in Kentucky's 64-61 victory.
When the Wildcats last faced St. John's, Carnesecca's team was demolished 102-72 by Kentucky's 1978 national championship crew—in Lexington. Though these 'Cats are riding a wave of passionate commitment following Walker's lead, it is folly to believe that they have enough lives left in them to get home still breathing. Kentucky's road to Lexington dead-ends at the Mull-Berry bush.
But what of N.C. State? Lorenzo (Lo) Charles celebrated his return to the scene of his dramatic championship-clinching dunk with 52 points in two games, including 30 on 12-of-15 fielders, and 5'1" Anthony (Spud) Webb was a very big man with 29 as the Wolfpack shot a blistering 73.2% while beating UTEP 86-73. Cozell (Co) McQueen is the most underrated defensive center on earth. And the legal crises of suspended freshman Chris (Uh-Oh) Washburn are all behind the Pack. State should make short work of Alabama, which used good defense to expel VCR or VCU or whomever was the imposter that Sun Belt commissioner and NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Vic Bubas seeded so high (second) in the West.
But, Valvano says, "As our backcourt goes, so we go." And that backcourt—Webb, Terry Gannon, et al.—shot a pitiful 5 of 32 in the Wolfpack's 66-56 loss to St. John's over the Christmas holidays. Then again, that defeat came at a time when the team had to endure such barbs as Q: What do you say to an N.C. State athlete in a three-piece suit? A: Will the defendant please rise?
"I just don't feel this club has that time bomb in it like it did two years ago," confessed Valvano. "That team was a real survival group. This is not a high-five squad."
If Valvano or Carnesecca can find some legitimate pasta in Denver, they may high-five everybody in sight. But St. John's should win their matchup again, though not so easily this time. Since East meets West in the national semis at Lexington, the Redmen would then face that familiar adversary with the silver silks, red welts and dark scowls. Buona fortuna, Looie.