Several questions popped up following the first week of the NCAA basketball tournament. Among them: Is there any truth to the rumor that Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt is about to bolt for the Atlantic 10? How can there be only one Sweet 16 team from west of Norman, Okla., but four species of Wildcat still on the prowl? And how might Mars Blackmon, the bespectacled, gold-chained rim-possum of the Air Jordan commercials, respond to what happened in these first two merry-go rounds? Serious. Very serious. Do you know what's going on here? Do you know, do you know, do you know?
Points, Mars. Points, points, points. Nine times a team broke into the 100's. On 17 other occasions teams found their way into the 90's, all without any help from Nevada-Las Vegas, which suddenly thought it was Princeton. Three years ago only one team broke 90 in the entire tournament.
You can thank (or blame) all the pressure defenses that every coach and his graduate assistant added to his team's repertoire after the success of Providence, UNLV and Iowa in last year's NCAAs. Blame (or thank) the tyrannical rules committee and its guiding bulb, Dr. Ed Steitz, the godfather of the three-point field goal. Nearly 7% more treys were made last week than in the first two rounds of the 1987 tournament. After a regular season in which the team with the longest ride atop the polls, 31-1 Temple, lost to UNLV, which lost to UC Santa Barbara, which lost to San Jose State, which lost to Michigan State, which lost to George Washington, which lost to American, which lost to Navy, which lost to Slippery Rock, there figured to be a few more slippery rocks and other oily obstacles to trip up the high seeds on their way to Kansas City.
But the three-pointer and pressure D both accelerate play, thus guaranteeing more possessions, thus ensuring that talent will prevail. Even the results that sent you reeling in the office pool—victories by Rhode Island, Loyola Marymount, Vanderbilt and Richmond—didn't astonish the cognoscenti. Little Rhody, the Vandy Gun Club and the stouthearted Lions all had taken a turn in the Top 20, while the Spiders, who are tournament veterans, aren't exactly eentsy-weentsy. "The teams are evenly matched," said Indiana's Bob Knight before Richmond upset his Hoosiers. And afterward: "I'm not surprised we lost this game."
March 28, 1988
While Murray State's 78-75 win over North Carolina State did seem to have a bewitched quality to it, the Racers' success shouldn't have startled those who had watched them on Late Night with the OVC, the Ohio Valley Conference's post-prime time slot on ESPN. After all, anybody who plays after midnight can't rightly be called a Cinderella.
Indeed, the only entity that turned into a pumpkin was the Big East. Six of its teams went in on Thursday and only one came out on Sunday—Villanova, and just barely. Having a ball was the Atlantic 10, which sent Temple and Rhode Island along as the East's new beasts. The league's ascendance was even sweeter because it came at the expense of its vaunted neighbor: Rhode Island disposed of supposedly mighty Syracuse, and Temple embarrassed Georgetown by 21 points. As Mars would say, That's cold. Very cold.
Considering the coaches on hand in Hartford—Indiana's Bob Knight, LSU's Dale Brown, Georgetown's John Thompson, Georgia Tech's Bobby Cremins and Iowa State's Johnny Orr—this subregional deserved its own shoe contract. With such hallowed names abounding, it was refreshing to see Richmond and Temple emerge and, in the process, discredit the cult of the coach. "It's not me, and not my assistant coaches," said the Spiders' Dick Tarrant, a 58-year-old New Jerseyite who has to assure recruits that his school is indeed in Division I. "Good kids making good plays—that's how you win."
The Owls of John Chaney are much the same. They're drilled in those 5:30 a.m. practices to treat every possession with reverence, but then, at the tip-off, matters are put largely in the hands of senior point guard Howard Evans. "We don't play on emotion, because it only lasts a few minutes," says forward Mike Vreeswyk. "Our challenge is always against the game itself and not a particular opponent."
Temple beat Basketball twice as Evans distributed the work load. In the Owls' 87-73 first-round defeat of Lehigh, precocious freshman Mark Macon scored 18 first-half points, and then, after the Engineers had closed to within two points, forward Tim Perry ripped off 17 of Temple's next 18. Vreeswyk scored 21 points and Ramon Rivas had 12 rebounds in the Owls' 74-53 victory over Georgetown, which had escaped first-round opponent LSU on Charles Smith's inadvertent board 'n' cord three-pointer at the buzzer.
Buzzer beaters are the putative specialty of Indiana's Keith Smart, who won the NCAA title with just such a shot last spring. As the Hoosiers broke a late timeout huddle with Richmond ahead by a point, Smart turned toward press row and said, "Don't worry, we're going to win." Whereupon, with 19 seconds to play, Smart clanged a 15-footer. Smart had seen it done the right way just moments earlier, when Rodney Rice sank a top-of-the-key jumper in Smart's face that gave Richmond the lead it wouldn't lose. In a 59-55 win over Georgia Tech two days later, the Spiders' Peter Woolfolk, who's built like something out of a Tidewater Navy yard, had 27 points and nine rebounds and outplayed the Yellow Jackets' frontcourtmen, Duane Ferrell and Tom Hammonds. "He just tore us apart," said Hammonds.
With North Carolina shipped west, the Chapel Hill subregional produced two curious interlopers. One of them, Duke—the Tar Heels' archrival—took over Carolina's Dean Smith Center and cruised past Boston University and SMU. With the Blue Devils' star, Danny Ferry, muddling through a two-game, 12-for-33 shooting slump, outside scorer Kevin Strickland went inside for most of his 31 points in Duke's 94-79 defeat of the Mustangs. But let us praise Alaa Abdelnaby, the Blue Devils' reserve center from Egypt, who called his 13 points "just gravy on the cake."
The Deandome was positively paradisiacal for Rhode Island, which shares North Carolina's colors, mascot and fight song, if not its high-rent conference affiliation. The Rams' Tom Garrick (see box, page 30) scored 29 points against Missouri as the Tigers fell in a first-round upset for the second straight season. Garrick added 28 points against trash-talking Syracuse, whose Stevie Thompson disparaged the Atlantic 10 in a midgame conversation with Ram guard Carlton (Silk) Owens, and at one point advised the gap-toothed Owens to make an orthodontic appointment. The Orangemen, who lost 97-94, could have used a session with the shot doctor. As usual, better free throw shooting might have won the game for Syracuse.
The work of Rhode Island forward Kenny Green in the paint makes the Rams a dangerous foe for Duke. "If they keep playing like this, they could beat anybody," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. All season Duke's devilish man-to-man has isolated and shut down high-scoring guards, thanks largely to ace defender Billy King. But Rhode Island has two scoring guards who between them committed but one turnover against the Orangemen. The Dookies will need a restored Ferry to reach the regional final, but it will take more than they can muster to doom Temple.
Senior pat enright was on the team only because Villanova coach Rollie Massimino had needed warm bodies back in December 1985. In desperation he asked Enright, whom he had cut twice before, to walk back on. Enright was in the game only because three Wildcat regulars weren't: Doug West had a concussion, and Tom Greis and Gary Massey had fouled out. So who converts the three-pointer from the right corner in the last minute to put Villanova in front of Illinois by a point after the Wildcats had trailed by eight with 2:45 to play? That's right, Enright. "A prayer," he called the shot. When senior Mark Plansky shrewdly pump-faked Kendall Gill into a foul and sank two free throws with four seconds left, Villanova had a 66-63 win and had salvaged a smidgen of honor for the Big East.
Villanova may have some important intangibles going for it. A third-place finish in the Big East, a Southeast subregional win in Ohio, a regional semifinal date in Birmingham—the exact parallels to 1985's national championship season are portentous. "It's very similar," said Plansky, the one holdover from the title team. "It's really bizarre." Too bizarre, probably.
"My bad, fellas," said Kentucky guard Rex Chapman, using playground parlance to apologize to his teammates at halftime after hitting one of six shots from the floor and one of six from the line against Maryland. But by game's end Chapman had 23 points, including three three-pointers. He and his back-court partner, the ever steady Ed Davender, combined for 99 points in Kentucky's 90-81 defeat of Maryland and its 99-84 win over Southern.
Garbage time comes early when Oklahoma plays, even if coach Billy Tubbs doesn't treat it as most teams do. Tennessee-Chattanooga was the victim of the Sooners' first-round trashing, 94-66. The refuse began accumulating quickly in Oklahoma's 107-87 blowout of Auburn, too—and didn't stop, as Sooner starters Stacey King, Harvey Grant and Ricky Grace were still on the floor at the finish. But, Coach, what if one of them had broken a limb? "We'd just put on the black armbands," said Tubbs, "and go on to the next game."
Tiger coach Sonny Smith refused to carp about Tubbs's notion of sportsmanship. "If I had to say one word about Oklahoma, it'd be 'defense,' " said Smith diplomatically. On Thursday the Tigers survived 44 points by Bradley greyhound Hersey Hawkins to win 90-86. but on Saturday the Sooner garbagemen didn"t even leave Auburn any bones. Said Tiger center Jeff Moore after the defeat, "We've lost the last two years to the national champions, and I believe they're going to make it three."
Louisville fancies itself as the defending national champion, once removed. The titlists in 1986, the Cardinals didn't receive an invitation to last year's NCAAs. Center Pervis Ellison sleepwalked through the first half of Louisville's opening-round game with Oregon State, letting Bill Sherwood, a 6'6" transfer from mighty Oglethorpe University, outscore him 14-5. Said Sherwood afterward, "If I were him and I saw me, I'd be overconfident, too." But the Cards went on to win 70-61 behind Ellison's 18 second-half points. All the Cardinals shone in a 97-76 drubbing of Brigham Young, against whom the Cards committed only six turnovers.
That performance left Ellison wondering what spoils might await a 1988 Final Four MVP. "A pair of matching boots would be nice," he said. Indeed they would be, if the Sooners don't first gouge their heels into Louisville and then into Kentucky, causing both, as they say in horse country, to spit the bit.
When Vanderbilt senior center Will Perdue fouled out with four seconds to play and his team trailing Pitt by a point, Commodores coach CM. Newton met him as he came off the floor. "Your basketball isn't over yet," said Newton.
"He's been coaching a lot longer than I've been playing," Perdue said later, "so I figured he must know something I don't." As Perdue took his seat, Charles Smith made two foul shots to put the Panthers ahead by three points. But in the ensuing four seconds, Vandy guard Barry Goheen negotiated three-quarters of the floor and let loose a three-pointer as two Panthers flew at him. It found nothing but net. Goheen wasn't through. As Perdue watched, he sank five free throws in overtime as Vanderbilt upset Pitt 80-74.
Another coach Newton, Murray State's Steve, came within a shanked 12-footer of the Sweet 16. The Racers, who ambushed North Carolina State 78-75 in Round 1, have a roster studded with hometowns like Cherry Valley, Ark., home to Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year Jeff Martin, and Dyers-burg, Tenn., which produced Don Mann, Murray State's 5'8" water bug leader. No one comes from Monkeys Eyebrow, Ky., but, says Newton, "If you find it, you've been right through Murray."
Mann, whose shirttail sticks out of the bottom of his shorts, misfired on the shot that might have provided an abrupt ending to the Kansas career of Danny Manning. And in the final 37 seconds, Manning did everything necessary, including sinking the winning field goal, rebounding Mann's prayer and tossing in two foul shots to ice the 61-58 win.
Kansas State found seven of its players in the fecund Midwest junior college ranks and found its game round about Christmas. Coach Lon Kruger, who has the carriage of a first-term Republican congressman, downshifted from a full-to half-court attack and turned the team over to point guard Steve Henson, the nation's leading free throw shooter. Since the change, the Cats have gone 20-5 and beaten Oklahoma and, on Saturday, DePaul, 66-58. The Blue Demons were bamboozled by seven treys from guard Will Scott and the versatility of Mitch Richmond, who scored with dunks and from downtown.
After a 94-79 walkover against Fairleigh Dickinson, Purdue had an outstanding second half against Memphis State to nail down the Boilermakers' 100-73 win and bury any doubts that may have lingered after their early exits from the last five NCAA tournaments. "It used to get depressing around here at tournament time," said center Steve Scheffler. Used to—just as Purdue coach Gene Keady used to attend K-State. But he doesn't figure to treat his alma mater kindly in the regional semis. Vandy, meanwhile, matches up very well with Kansas, leaving the Boilermakers and the Commodores. Given that confrontation, Will Perdue? No. Purdue will.
It's a pity that Loyola Marymount coach Paul Westhead is a Shakespearean scholar, because Loyola's two-game tournament run against Wyoming and North Carolina would best be left to a professor of accounting. In the Lions' 119-115 defeat of the Cowboys, the two teams set an NCAA tournament record for most points scored in a game. Loyola forward Hank Gathers likened the Lions' light-it-up style to an amusement park: "So many rides, so much to do."
The joyride ended against North Carolina when the Lions shot 32.1% in a 123-97 loss, missing more shots (70) than North Carolina took (62). The Tar Heels broke the single-game tournament marks for points and field-goal percentage (79%). But the game was such an aberration that it hardly gave a measure of how the Heels might fare against Michigan in the West Regional Friday night.
The Wolverines put on a show of their own in beating fractious Florida, which had somehow won its opening-round game with St. John's with only eight Gators suited up. Michigan, meanwhile, had struggled to defeat Boise State 63-58. Wolverine forward Glen Rice played with eight stitches in his shooting hand, cut, he said, while reaching into a dishwasher. Or was it, as Michigan coach Bill Frieder jokingly suggested, while reaching into a garbage disposal? Whatever, Rice healed in a hurry, scoring 39 points in a 108-85 romp past Florida.
Arizona had a rehabilitated big man of its own, center Tom Tolbert, who twisted his back during a 90-50 first-round rout of Cornell. But he managed to score 13 points in the Wildcats' 84-55 dismantling of Seton Hall. "That's the best anybody has played against us all year," said Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo, "and that's the poorest anybody has made us look."
The UNLV team that lost 104-86 to Iowa wasn't the same band of Runnin' Rebels who, in last season's West Regional, made up a 16-point deficit to deny the Hawkeyes a trip to the Final Four. "I'm not sure we could score 20 points in a half" said UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian. Ed Horton and Jeff Moe scored 24 points apiece for Iowa, though Moe was totaling the wrong numbers. "I was supposed to take a statistics test," said Moe. "Now I have to call my professor and tell him I won't be able to for another week."
The Hawkeyes aren't the team they were last year, either, and Michigan is somewhere between what it was against Boise State and what it was against Florida; figure Iowa to fall to Arizona and Michigan to North Carolina in the regional semifinals. The Tar Heels and Wildcats match up well—J.R. Reid and Jeff Lebo are Sean Elliott and Steve Kerr—but Arizona has a certain something, a synergy. It's a togetherness that a devout fan and hoops aficionado like Mars Blackmon can surely appreciate.
But Mars probably didn't appreciate the technical foul slapped on Iowa swing-man Bill Jones in Friday's game against Florida State. Jones got the T for wearing two gold chains. Now that's cold. Very cold.