Now that the NCAA tournament selection committee has gone to the mat to prevent teams from playing on their home courts, made sure that no conference brethren would face each other before a regional final, refused to force Purdue to play Fairleigh Dickinson in Teaneck, N.J. (they'll play in South Bend) and had the sense to send Bobby Knight and Dale Brown back to an original colony (a subregional in Hartford) where they might settle their hilarious snit in the traditional way—with snuffboxes and dueling pistols—you might think that everybody would be satisfied with the draw.
You would be wrong.
If the ACC tournament was important enough—and it was—to determine that the winner (Duke) would stay on Tobacco Road while the loser (North Carolina) would be moved West, why weren't the WAC and PCAA tournaments given equal value? Brigham Young, which nearly lost to Hawaii and did lose to UTEP right there on its home court, remained an NCAA fourth seed while the WAC tournament winner, Wyoming, was seeded seventh. Moreover, UNLV lost in the PCAA tourney and has beaten but one Top 50 team all year. But the Runnin' Rebels also received a fourth seed, whereas the eminently more worthy Loyola Marymount, 27-3, was seeded 10th.
Such machinations set up the greatest first-round game in the history of mankind, between my former favorite team, Wyoming, and my current throb, Mary Martin, uh Marymount. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, one of them will have packed its bags. My guess is Wyoming.
March 21, 1988
The fact is, the Loyola Lions, averaging 110.4 points per game and under orders from coach Paul West-head to fire "every seven seconds," were the most intriguing crew invited to the tournament. Having added three key transfers—Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers from USC and Corey Gaines from UCLA—and having perfected Westhead's 40 frantic minutes of full-court press and strafe attack, Loyola went from under .500 last season to 24 straight victories in this one after a shaky start.
Loyola gives up lots of easy buckets, but it also averages 11 steals and almost 23 forced turnovers a game. Pepperdine coach Jim Harrick calls its style "very inconducive to typical basketball." I wouldn't be surprised if Loyola disrupted the vulnerable backcourts of both Wyoming and North Carolina in Salt Lake City, and went all the way to the regional finals to challenge top seed Arizona in the West.
Other upsets? In the Midwest, how about Xavier to beat Kansas, and La Salle to beat Kansas State and then, should the two meet, Wichita State? In the East and Southeast, isn't it about time Missouri did some damage in the NCAAs and about time, again, for Villanova?
The field is wide open for surprise, essentially because the quartet of top seeds has a recent history of playoff failure. Arizona: early-round eliminations three years in a row. Purdue: 1-4 in the last four NCAA tournaments. Temple: second-round loser four straight years. Oklahoma: upset victim for three seasons before reaching the round of 16 last March.
In the Southeast, Kentucky, with its wondrous guards—Rex Chapman, Ed Davender and the new stray Cat, freshman Eric Manuel (he's a forward as well)—is the more solid team and should administer the Oklahoma whipping this time. And if North Carolina State's Jim Valvano can find a decent lasagna house in Lincoln, Neb., and then keep his shoots-with-either-hand, turnsdunks-into-fadeaways, funknomenal natural scorer, Charles Shackleford, under some kind of control in Detroit's Silverdome, the Wolfpack should upset Pittsburgh and Purdue and win the Midwest.
Which leaves only the East, where No. 1-ranked Temple may face the formidable task of knocking off two recent national champions, Georgetown followed by Indiana, just to get to the regional final. There the Owls might face one of the last two national runners-up, Duke or Syracuse.
Everybody but the pollsters has given Temple short shrift—the Owls are not deep enough, not big enough.... Except, Temple has also had many desultory nights from the floor, and the team has continued to win because of the inside power of Tim Perry and the mistake-free backcourt of Howard Evans and Mark Macon. A month ago Macon was the freshman of the century and Indiana was just another tournament dark horse. Then the Hoosiers rallied behind the breathtaking long-range accuracy of Jay Edwards, Macon's rookie match.
It's another shame that this pair would meet in a mere regional semifinal in the New Jersey Meadowlands. Why? The winner of Temple-Indiana could very well win the national championship. Unless, of course, Loyola Marymount gets in the way.