It was a holiday of mixed blessings for the Big Ten. On the one hand, Ohio State won the ECAC Holiday Festival in Madison Square Garden behind an MVP performance by senior guard Jay Burson (37 points against Florida, 23 against St. John's); Indiana won its own Hoosier Classic for the seventh straight year; and Illinois's championship romp through the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii included an 80-75 semifinal win over potent Georgia Tech.
But those achievements didn't command nearly the attention that two defeats did: Iowa's 110-92 pummeling by UC Riverside in the Chaminade Christmas Classic and Michigan's 70-66 failure against Alaska-Anchorage in the Utah Classic. Both the Hawkeyes and the Wolverines were undefeated before these games; what's worse, both losses were to Division II schools.
Iowa lost because UC Riverside sank 21 three-point shots (in 36 attempts), an NCAA record for any division. In the case of Michigan, Alaska-Anchorage used a sort of freeze (what did you expect?) to beat the Wolverines. "Going in, we knew we couldn't run or rebound with them," said coach Ron Abbegglen. "No way in the world. We wanted to hold the ball down to 10 or 12 seconds on the shot clock—just hold it—to nullify the tremendous rebounding of Michigan. I think they got frustrated with the way we were holding the ball."
The two upsets left Illinois as the only undefeated team in the Big Ten. The Illini got 24 points from Lowell Hamilton and 15 from Nick Anderson in their win over Georgia Tech, then dispatched Hawaii in the championship game behind Kenny Battle's career-high 29. Although they lack an intimidating big man in the middle, the Illini compensate with depth and balance. Says Tech coach Bobby Cremins, "They remind me of a Louisville team—a lot of good athletes and tough defensively. They'd be incredible with a 6'11" man."
As Vanderbilt hosted the Music City Invitational last week—the Commodores lost to Stanford 89-68 in the final—there was growing speculation that Vandy coach CM. Newton would resign at season's end to become athletic director at Kentucky, where he played on Adolph Rupp's 1951 NCAA championship team.
The 58-year-old Newton, who has restored Vanderbilt to respectability in his seven-plus seasons in Nashville, was coach of the fine Alabama teams of the 70s that signaled the rise of the SEC as a basketball conference. Between his stints at Alabama and Vandy, Newton worked in the SEC office as an assistant commissioner.
After Cliff Hagan resigned as Kentucky's AD last November, Newton was immediately mentioned as a logical choice for the job, but he said he was happy in Nashville. However, Newton is apparently reconsidering and has already had at least one conversation with Kentucky president David Roselle.
The timing appears to be good for both sides. Newton has accomplished much as a coach and is approaching a milestone—at week's end he was only four away from 500 career wins. From Kentucky's standpoint, Newton has the record of achievement as well as those Kentucky bloodlines tracing back to Rupp. And, perhaps most important for this tarnished program, he has a Mr. Clean image.
Vanderbilt's Newton is not the only coach closing in on victory No. 500. At week's end Indiana's Bob Knight was only three wins away from becoming the 26th Division I coach to reach that career plateau, one that was achieved last week by Alabama-Birmingham's Gene Bartow and earlier this season by Missouri's Norm Stewart.
At 47, Knight, who has been a head coach for 24 years, would be the youngest coach to reach 500 wins. If he were to coach another 19 seasons and average 20 wins in each, he would surpass the record of 875, won by Rupp in his 41 years at Kentucky.
Another coach with at least a mathematical chance to catch Rupp is North Carolina's Dean Smith, who earlier this season passed retired Washington coach Marv Harshman's 642 wins to move into seventh place on the alltime list. The 57-year-old Smith, who has coached 28 years, could surpass Rupp by averaging 25 wins over the next nine seasons.
Oregon State's Ralph Miller, at 69 the oldest active Division I coach, is in his 38th, and last, season, and at week's end he had 642 wins. He, too, is certain to pass Harshman on the alltime list. Only 11 Division I coaches have won as many as 600 games, the most recent being Florida's Norm Sloan, who reached that level last year, in his 36th season.
At his current rate, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse will join the 600 club in about 2002. Last week Boeheim won No. 300, in the 13th game of his 13th season, when the Orangemen beat St. Francis 105-63. Of all major-college coaches, only North Carolina State's Everett Case and Louisville's Denny Crum got to 300 earlier in their careers.
Because Columbia is a New York City school situated just uptown from the major networks' TV headquarters, its basketball players, many grooming themselves for careers on Wall Street or Madison Avenue, surely had no trouble grasping the profit motive behind their curious trip to Las Vegas last week to play in the Bud Light Holiday Classic, hosted by UNLV.
Under the original format, the Lions were to play twice in a four-team tournament. However, before the season began, NBC offered UNLV a national TV shot against Oklahoma on Jan. 28, and Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian had a dilemma. The Oklahoma game would put the Runnin' Rebels over the NCAA limit of 27 regular-season games, so Tark—who certainly doesn't need any more conflicts with the NCAA—had to find a way to stay within the limit while still playing both nights in the Bud Light Classic to assure good crowds.
The creative solution was to eliminate the tournament format—and Columbia's second game—and bring in San Jose State, which Vegas had been scheduled to play at home later in the season in a Big West Conference game. Columbia played one game, against Hartford, and went home $46,000 richer. So the Lions flew some 4,600 miles round-trip to play a school that's located only 110 miles from the Columbia campus.
Crazy? "It's great for us," contended Columbia coach Wally Halas during the brief Vegas visit. "It's an opportunity to see another part of the country. Some of our kids have never been on this side of the Mississippi, and Columbia University is based on providing a variety of experiences."
And, he might have added, providing an education that enables former Columbia players to earn an average annual salary of $181,000. That's the big number a member of the team's advisory committee came up with in a survey of the school's basketball graduates over the past 10 years—a figure made more remarkable by the fact that it does not include any NBA megasalaries.
When asked why a player should go to Columbia, which hasn't had a winning record since 1982, Halas pointed to the career advantages of living in New York. "Our kids get internships at Paine Webber, Salomon Brothers, IBM," he said. "When they get out of college, our kids have resumes that look like they've been out five or six years."
Now that UCLA and Loyola Marymount have stubbed their toes a time or two, hoops aficionados in California, not to mention the rest of the nation, may begin to pay a little more attention to UC Santa Barbara and St. Mary's, two teams that are quietly on their way to standout seasons. UC Santa Barbara's 9-0 record includes victories over Colorado, Pepperdine, Oregon, Arizona State, Iowa State and Loyola Mary-mount. For future reference, file away the name of Eric McArthur: he's only 6'6", but he has already blocked 29 shots this season, as well as averaging 15.3 points and nine rebounds.
Up the coast in Moraga is St. Mary's, the West Coast Athletic Conference team that last season was snubbed by the NCAA tournament committee and the NIT despite a 19-9 record. With all five starters back—5'9" David Carter, 6'9" Dan Curry, 6'7" Robert Haugen, 6'3" Al Lewis, and 6'4" Erick Newman—the Gaels have breezed to a 10-1 start, losing only to Stanford, by a point.
St. Mary's style is the exact opposite of that of high-scoring, hated rival Loyola Marymount. Coach Lynn Nance's team wins with a defense that has so far held opponents to 57 points a game and sub-40% shooting. The Gaels' goals: to become the first St. Mary's team since 1942 to win 20 games and to sweep Loyola Marymount in their two conference games, the first of which will be played Feb. 3. And, of course, to make it impossible for the tournament honchos to overlook them again.
Rick Majerus, whose ample girth is as impressive as his Ball State team's 10-0 start, says of his sweaters, "You could house 20 homeless families in them."...
The Cornell-SMU game scheduled for Dallas was postponed because the Cornell team was stranded at Chicago's O'Hare field by a snowstorm. Unfortunately for the Big Red, they emerged in time to make their appointment at Duke two nights later, and got snowed under, 94-59....
Tie-Me-Wallaby-Down-Sport Dept.: Kansas State played back-to-back games against the only two Division I schools with kangaroos for mascots, hopping from an 83-57 win over Missouri-Kansas City to a 70-68 victory over Akron....
After scoring a career-high nine points to help Cincinnati beat North Carolina Wilmington 72-63, senior Jeff Flynn made his debut in the interview room with this comment: "I didn't even know they had this room."
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Loyola Marymount's 6'7" junior forward averaged 44.0 points and 19.5 rebounds in two games last week. In a 130-125 win at Nevada-Reno, he scored 49 points and grabbed 26 rebounds.
NORTH CAROLINA (11-1)
OHIO STATE (9-2)
SETON HALL (12-0)
FLORIDA STATE (8-1)
N.C. STATE (6-1)
GEORGIA TECH (7-2)