Upset? Did someone say upset? Why, yes—West Virginia coach Gale Catlett was upset, because Mountaineer guard Holman Harley tried a bounce-it-off-the-floor dunk shot in a first-round loss to Old Dominion—and missed. That zany play had nothing to do with upsets, but could anything better symbolize the wildest and unlikeliest opening rounds of NCAA tournament play in recent memory? Catlett wouldn't discuss how upset he was, but Syracuse's Jim Boeheim—before he was upset—would. "There aren't any upsets these days," he said. "There's only bad predicting."
Or questionable seeding, smug favorites and juiced-up underdogs. The tournament was barely four days old, and the body count was already long and grisly:
•One top seed (St. John's), two seconds (Michigan and Syracuse), three thirds (Memphis State, Notre Dame and Indiana) and three fourths (Illinois, Georgetown and Oklahoma) had lost.
•A year after three of its teams held a requiem Mass for the rest of college basketball at the Final Four, the Big East flamed out utterly—four teams losing by a total of 45 points.
March 24, 1986
•The Big Ten found its honor vouchsafed solely to the stubby hands of Michigan State's Scott Skiles, a scrappy 6'1" miscreant who may need a cut man more than a coach.
Certainly the conference tourneys offered no clue to this madness; the postseason title in nearly every major conference—ACC, Big East, SEC, Big Eight and Metro—went to the regular-season champion. And even after the NCAAs began, the upsets kind of sneaked up. Lower-seeded teams beat higher seeds in only six of the 32 first-round games; one such "upset"—LSU, seeded 11th in the Southeast, beating No. 6 Purdue—owed itself largely to the Boilermakers' playing the Tigers on their Deaf Dome home court in Baton Rouge. And Cleveland State's 83-79 defeat of Indiana and Arkansas-Little Rock's 90-83 victory over Notre Dame seemed less startling under closer scrutiny. The Vikings led the nation in victory margin, the Trojans were second in rebounding margin.
But raw reason couldn't explain Dale Brown's faith healing actually working for LSU, Auburn's thumping the Redinthefacemen, Navy's avenging (by a swing of 34 points) a Pearl Harbor Day rout in Syracuse and Iowa State coach Johnny Orr's defeating Michigan, a team he coached for 12 years.
"I want the kids to understand that in the tournament there are going to be teams you haven't heard much about who you've got to respect," said Kansas coach Larry Brown, sounding as if he had been placed in the Mister Rogers' Neighborhood Regional. "Everyone who gets this far is pretty special."
Indeed. With such heavy demand for glass slippers, the NCAA may have to raid the basement and boudoirs of Malaca√±ang Palace for enough crystal footwear to go around.
Students of this region will want to know how Cleveland State, a school-yard bunch described by its coach as "mad" and "chaotic," from a conference—the AMCU-8—that seems to have taken its name from a vaccine, could overcome the redoubtable discipline of Bob Knight and Indiana (see box, page 16); how DePaul—DePaul!—could turn tiger at tournament time; how Mississippi Valley State, a pretournament 100,000-to-1 shot to win the championship, could lead 3-to-1 favorite Duke for more than a half; and how Syracuse could get blown out of its own Carrier Dome by Navy.
As for the riddle of the Orangemen, it's worth starting with the rhetorical question raised by a Syracuse newspaper: "Will the masses 30,000 strong turn out in full battle array, descend upon the great bubble at $17 a pop to watch the Orange play a bunch of shorthairs they beat by 22 (89-67) 98 days ago?"
If the masses had heard Navy center David Robinson at a Saturday night party, they might have paid a lot more. "Tomorrow," he whispered to his father, Ambrose, "I own the paint."
Robinson's entire supporting cast, most notably 6'7" Vernon Butler, conducted joint maneuvers with the 6'11" junior star. The Middies scored all but two of their 28 baskets from the lane. But Robinson claimed the rest of the floor as well, making defensive saves at one end and outrunning the Syracuse big men to the other, where he found alley-oop passes left for his disposal. He had 35 points, 11 rebounds, three steals, seven blocks and countless intimidations in the paint in the Middies' 97-85 win. "Not bad for a bunch of shorthairs," said Navy coach Paul Evans.
The tournament has not been much kinder to DePaul in recent times—when, that is, the tournament has seen fit to let the Blue Demons into the field. So coach Joey Meyer could hardly be faulted for canceling practice in celebration when the 16-12 Demons received a bid. With fewer than four minutes left and Oklahoma, behind Darryl (Choo) Kennedy (21 points), having come from 12 points down to pull to 64-63, the Blue Demons discovered the Road to Dallas, as in Dallas Comegys, the center who had recently been relegated to the bench. In a two-minute stretch, Comegys claimed a rebound at one end and tossed in a baseline jumper at the other, answered a Sooner bucket with a shot in the lane and snuffed Anthony (Boo) Bowie's follow shot. Boo, Choo and crew were through, 74-69.
Mississippi Valley State, a school in Itta Bena, Miss. that lives with a $1 million deficit and occasionally plays 6'1" Carl Binder at center, put out a tournament media guide with such giddiness and haste that the coach's name is spelled three different ways. "We've got some things in our bag for those guys," promised coach Lafayette Stribling—not Stribiling, not Stibling—before his Delta Devils came face-to-face with the Blue Devils. After seeing his team take a 54-49 lead over Duke with 14:24 left, Stribling said, "How'd we lose 10 games? I'm wondering that myself."
Alas, Duke's Johnny Dawkins scored most of his 27 points late to pull the Blue Devils' 85-78 win from the fire. Dawkins then shot 10 for 12 against Old Dominion on Saturday as Duke romped 89-61.
Duke's only two losses this season came against Georgia Tech and North Carolina, teams with exceptionally large and mobile front lines. No reason for the Devils to fear the Demons of DePaul, their opponent in the all-Blue regional semi at the Meadowlands, on that account. But Mr. Robinson's Navy, provided it gets by pesky Cleveland State, should give the Dookies a rousing battle.
The joke here is that they've finally found a league worse than the Pac-10, and it's the Big East. Chuck Person was a VIP in Auburn's 81-65 rout of St. John's. His 27 points and 15 rebounds made ever more glaring his lack of All-America mention.
The Tigers, drawing on their experience at erecting picket fences around the three quick SEC pivotmen still alive in the Southeast Regional (Buck Johnson, John Williams and Kenny Walker), kept dropping guard Frank Ford into the middle of their zone, thus preventing the formerly unstoppable Walter Berry from operating in the wheelhouse of the Red-men's offense. Berry's only baskets of the second half came on tap-ins. From the perimeter, the Johnnies couldn't drain their outside shots. "We looked anemic, if I can use that word," said Lou Carnesecca. Yes Looie, you can use that word.
The other two carpetbagging top seeds, Louisville and North Carolina, looked more robust, though not at first. Cardinal coach Denny Crum allowed that he didn't have a fix on Drexel, Louisville's first-round opponent, so guard Milt Wagner took a stab. "I think they're an academic school," Wagner said. North Carolina coach Dean Smith, desperate to regain the form that had led the Heels to a 25-1 start and a 13-week run as AP's No. 1, housed his team in a condominium complex in the hills above Ogden, Utah. No phones. No cable TV. No Dick Vitale. "Nothing," said Tar Heel forward Joe Wolf. "Just the wilderness and us."
Utah gave the Heels a game in the first round, before Carolina wore down the Utes 84-72. Alabama-Birmingham and Steve (3 for 21) Mitchell suffered a similar fate (77-59) two days later. Carolina's restful, rustic quarters no doubt helped cure the injuries, not to mention the chokes that had resulted in the Heels' losing four of their last five pre-NCAA games. "We had to touch base with each other," said center Brad Daugherty. "Guys were taking personally what they read in the papers."
Though most of Louisville's recent notices have been raves, the Cards seemed to suffer from the same problem in their opener with Drexel. Up by only six at halftime, Crum motivated his team by incanting a partial score from the Duke-Mississippi Valley State game. "I knew eventually our prowess would take over," said Card forward Mark McSwain after the—ahem, academic—93-73 win.
Bradley, whose coach, Dick Versace, pronounced his "lads" to be "very happy" to be playing some of these "TV teams," stayed with the 'Ville for 33 minutes, thanks to the acrobatic scoring of guard Hersey Hawkins, who finished with 22 points. But with the score 55-55, Wagner, who was checking Braves point guard Jim Les in a box-and-one, blocked a Les jumper, took a return pass from Billy Thompson and was fouled on the breakaway. "I pieced it," said Wagner, referring to the shot he blocked. His two free throws began the final assault on Bradley, which fell 82-68.
With a 41-33 second-half lead and his opposite number, UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, keeping sixth man Eldridge Hudson on the bench because he mistakenly believed that Hudson had fouled out, Maryland coach Lefty Driesell watched the Rebels' Anthony Jones toss in jumper after jumper. Jones, a transfer from Georgetown, finished with 25 points in Vegas's 70-64 win, which left the West with the strongest regional field.
Carolina-Louisville will be the best of the regional semifinals. Smith, who's 4-0 in head-to-head meetings with Crum, held private meetings with each of his players last week. "I want them to relax," he says. For its part, Louisville seemed too relaxed in its 20-turnover performance against Drexel. One recalls, however, that in 1980 the Cards were similarly unimpressive in their first-rounder, needing a late overtime jumper to beat Kansas State. Those Cards didn't lose again. Don't be surprised if these don't, either.
You could see Michigan's 72-69 loss to Iowa State coming. Last season, the Wolverines, seeded No. 1 in the Southeast, struggled to beat Fairleigh Dickinson before losing to Villanova. This year, the Akron Zips, whose mascot (6'4" Zippy) is taller than their center (6'3" Russell Holmes), made No. 2 seed Michigan look fairly ridiculous even as the Big Ten champs won 70-64. That set up Michigan coach Bill Frieder's fateful meeting with the Cyclones' Johnny Orr, Freeds's former boss and mentor in Ann Arbor. "I feel sorry for Bill, and I'd have rather not played him," Orr said. "But this has to be my biggest victory. When I went to Iowa State six years ago, people thought I was nutty."
The Cyclones' Jeff Hornacek had already sunk a 17-footer to send Iowa State into overtime against Miami, O. and fired in another jumper, a buzzer job from 25 feet, to win, 81-79. So it was no surprise Sunday when clutch player Hornacek, the Big Eight's alltime assist leader, flipped a timely inbounds pass to teammate Elmer Robinson, whose dunk pushed Iowa State to a 66-63 lead going into the final minute and took the starch out of the Wolverines. Meanwhile, another little big man, 6'3" Ron Virgil, who's all of 165 pounds, hit seven of his eight shots against 6'11" Roy Tarpley, Michigan's All-America. "Tarpley said something to me about being short," Virgil said. "I said, 'I'm gonna take you every time.' And he said, 'Come on.' "
No one took Arkansas-Little Rock seriously, either, especially when coach Mike Newell insisted that his team matched up well with what many people thought was Digger Phelps's best Notre Dame team ever. "Your only limitation is your imagination," said Newell, who looks like a young Troy Donahue, after Trojan horses Myron Jackson, Pete Myers and Michael Clarke combined for 78 points in the 90-83 upset of the Irish. There's no truth to the rumor that Phelps will join Gerry Faust at Akron.
"You don't like to play teams with hyphens," said North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano before the Wolfpack's second-rounder with Arkansas-Little Rock. But the Trojans had already spent the one Little Rock in its slingshot. N.C. State seemed as jittery as the Trojans when the two teams played out their first overtime, but the Wolfpack ran away behind Bennie Bolton and Ernie Myers in the second OT for an 80-66 victory.
All the upsets had not escaped the notice of North Carolina A & T coach Don Corbett, but he said they "didn't really apply" for the Aggies, 71-46 losers to Kansas. "You see, Danny Manning [14 points] was here." After Scott Skiles and Michigan State (see box, page 20) had cleared Georgetown from the Dayton Arena earlier Saturday afternoon, Manning fired a 35-foot, behind-the-back outlet pass to cue up a Jayhawk break in Kansas's 65-43 rout of Temple. Said Larry Brown, "Now Skiles has our guys throwing those passes."
Kansas survived the Temple of Doom, but can the Jayhawks cope with Indiana Scott? Skiles, the Plymouth, Ind. native, kept busy during Michigan State's 72-70 defeat of Washington by helping guard Chris Welp, the 7-foot Husky center, and by coolly sinking two winning free throws. The Jayhawks' Cedric Hunter will guard Skiles this week in K.C.
"A brief, introductory statement," A & T's Corbett said at his postgame press conference. "Kansas is for real." A brief, closing statement: So is Iowa State. In the regional final, look for the Cyclones to avenge their controversial loss to Kansas in the Big Eight final two weeks ago.
With the SEC providing three of the semifinalists, the Southeast Regional might as well be called the Southeastern. Alabama and LSU won dramatically, Kentucky won emphatically and Georgia Tech, once an SEC school, won erratically.
Tech was terrific for nearly 26 minutes of its 66-61 defeat of defending NCAA champ Villanova. Mark Price had his shooting stroke and the Rambling Wreck's frontline was climbing all over the backboards. But the heroic Cats crawled back with a press and some timeout oratory from coach Rollie Massimino, making up 16 points in a hurry to draw within two, with 2½ minutes to go. Afterward, Massimino was near tears with pride, and Tech coach Bobby Cremins was exasperated. Muddling past Marist in the first round, as Georgia Tech had done, may have been a laugh, but as Cremins said, "This is no party time. It's been going on all year. We broke down in leadership, we broke down mentally."
Alabama reacted with more aplomb when Illinois caught up with the Tide, which had led by as many as 13 points. With the game tied at 56, 'Bama's Buck Johnson blocked Efrem Winters' baseline jumper with 28 seconds left, giving the Tide final possession. As Illini defensive ace Bruce Douglas bellied up to him, 'Bama guard Terry Coner backed just inside the foul line and picked up his dribble. Some saw him shuffle his feet and waited for a traveling call. But the officials only saw Coner leap, twist, hang and squeeze off a jumper that fell through as time ran out.
LSU's buzzer beater came after the Bayou Bengals' Don Redden missed a jumper in the key with the score tied at 81 and seven seconds left. Redden followed his shot, scrambled behind Memphis State's 7-foot William Bedford, who had the rebound, and knocked the ball to the floor. For two, three, four seconds, no one could gain control until, finally, LSU's Anthony Wilson grabbed the ball and, just as time elapsed, flicked an arching 12-foot fall-away onto the rim. Clang. Clang. Plunk. Pandemonium. Said Redden, one of the LSU players who did not succumb to a midseason chicken pox outbreak, "We've caught the tournament bug."
Bedford took only two shots in the second half, and his rebound total was nearly doubled by 6'7" Ricky Blanton, the LSU center who was being groomed as an off-guard before 7-foot Tito Horford left school and 6'11" Nikita Wilson became ineligible. "We're six players short of what we'd expected," said coach Dale Brown. "Yet we've never looked for an excuse." O.K., Dale; if you won't, we will. The troubles on the Bayou have included academic ineligibility, an office-bugging attempt, a player disappearance, that chicken pox bout, an NCAA investigation and, last week, flu that had star forward John Williams taking nourishment intravenously. Said Brown, "They call me Billy Graham in sneakers. Well, I'm not changing." But Brown figures to run out of miracles. After winning twice on its home floor, LSU will get its comeuppance against Georgia Tech in Atlanta's Omni.
But Kentucky is the cohesive and confident group that Tech has vainly aspired to be all season. As the Cats laid waste to Davidson 75-55 and kept Western Kentucky at bay 71-64, Kenny Walker's play demonstrated why his coach, Eddie Sutton, had said he would "go to war" with all those who picked Walter Berry or Johnny Dawkins over the Sky Man for Player of the Year. Walker sank all 11 shots he took against "Western University," as he called the Hilltoppers. Kentucky's 17-1 league record (the lone loss was to Auburn, out of harm's way this week in the West) and SEC tourney title make the Cats the clear favorite in this clubby, intraconference regional.
To Kentucky-ize something folks say in Texas, where the Cats should wind up playing Louisville for a place in the final against Duke on March 31: There are only two sports, basketball and spring basketball. This spring, we should get a lot of whoops with our hoops.