Hello, everybody! We're here liiiiive at the MaxiDome, where 400,000 stunned spectators have just watched Princeton's Tramplin' Tigers hold off the Gallopin' Gaels of St. Mary's and take a 174-165 lead into the locker room at the half of the NCAA Midcentral Submetro Semiquarterfinal Regional as we continue the countdown toward the 2001 NCAA Final Four. Coach Billy Tubbs's Tigers converted a passel of their patented five-point field goals from midcourt of the new 150-foot playing floor to get an early 49-point lead before Rick Pitino's Gaels took advantage of the 12-second shot clock to get back in it. Let's look at some highlights.
Here's Princeton's 7'7" Hobey (Dock) Worker absolutely face-jobbing the Gaels with one of his characteristic monster dunks over the 15-foot-high rim. You may recall that following the NCAA's 1998 decision that athletes could be put on an unlimited collegiate payroll, Tubbs dipped into Old Nassau's vast endowment to outbid Duke, UNLV, Stanford, and Franklin and Marshall for the rights to Worker.
But here's Roosevelt (Socio) Path coming right back for the Gaels. Path picked up eight of his allotted 24 fouls in the first four minutes but then broke loose to score 29 baskets in Pitino's laser-break attack. Providence, Kentucky, Puget Sound, Disney Studios, Dantoni Milano, ESPN...everywhere Pitino goes, gangbusters! Rick and the NCAA's wide-open game is a marriage made in heaven.
Stay tuned for the second half and our final two hours of excitement. Is College Basketball 2001, run 'n' gun 'n 'tons of fun or what?!?!
O.K., so that's a bit of an exaggeration. College basketball isn't really headed toward 650-point games at the start of the 21st century. It only seems that, given the NCAA's propensity for changing the rules shortly after each tip-off, the sport is racing into a cross-trained version of equal parts Arenaball, Roller Derby and—aaarrggghh!—the NBA.
Which is not to say that this isn't partly wonderful. By the time the 1982 ACC tournament championship game between North Carolina (with Michael Jordan and James Worthy) and Virginia (with Ralph Sampson) ended 47-45 for the Tar Heels, coaches Terry Holland and Dean Smith had walked their sport into heated controversy. As everybody playing within the jurisdiction of NCAA national rules editor Edward Steitz soon found out, this low-scoring fiasco soon begat:
1) Steitz himself, the previously obscure athletic director from Springfield College, who suddenly began wielding more power than all the Bobby Knights and Billy Packers put together.
2) The brainchild of Steitz's rules committee, the 45-second shot clock, which by the 1985-86 season had become mandatory for all college games and had eliminated those awful delay tactics and most other strategies that had been designed to equalize talent.
3) The three-point goal—from 19'9" away, four feet closer than the NBA's three-pointer—which the rules committee virtually ramrodded into place before the 1986-87 season; it inflated scores, encouraged spine-rippling finishes and gave the have-nots something to replace the stall as a means of beating the big boys.
4) The specter of Loyola Marymount, a small school located across the tarmac from Los Angeles International Airport and coached by Paul Westhead, terrifying purists with a team that last year scored 94 points in a half, had 181 points in a game and finished the season averaging 112.5 an outing.
After the installation of the almighty ticker in 1985, scoring in the NCAA tournament jumped to 143 points a game for both teams, a 15.6-point increase over the previous season, and it climbed steadily to 158.5 last March. Meanwhile, in the final season of the '80s, total scoring in all Division I games rose to an average of 151.4, the highest level since 1975. Much of this came as a result of the increased use of the three-pointer. Last season nearly one of every five shots attempted was a trey, and almost nine baskets per game were made from behind the 19'9" arc.
Do all these numbers make college ball irresponsible? Or irresistible? Does such speed kill—or save—the game? And is this passionate affair with rapid-fire shooting and scoring all that new, or simply dèjà vu?
In 1976-77, UNLV averaged 107.1 points a game on the way to the Final Four. Of course, Runnin' Rebels coach Jerry Tarkanian was a proponent of the helter-skelter, no-system, no-defense style of play, which couldn't win consistently and would never last. At least, that was the rap.
"In 1976, when I took Rutgers to the Final Four, we averaged 93 points," says Tom Young, now the coach, at Old Dominion. "But when I told Abe Lemons [another practitioner of the running game, who was then at Pan American] how much people were enjoying that style, he said, 'Yeah, but nobody thinks you :an coach when you play that way.' "
However, as Young points out, "it might be the most difficult way to coach—keeping things in control when everything looks like it's going bananas. I know it goes against all the basic concepts: Get the ball in the paint. Balance the floor. Be patient. Take good shots. But is it good or bad? I think we're in the entertainment business. Defense isn't bad; it's just that offense is more exciting."
But more exciting than winning? "Two years ago we beat Southern Mississippi in double overtime, 141-133," says Virginia Tech coach Frankie Allen. "I didn't have as many people tell me they were glad we won as said, "I really enjoyed that game.' "
On the other hand, score in the 50's enough times and, win or lose....
In March 1988, Bob Weltlich of Texas was dismissed as coach after some of his players, fed up with the slow pace of Weltlich's game, went to Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and just...said...no.
Into Austin rode Tom Penders, late of rootin'-tootin' Rhode Island, who guided the Longhorns to 25 victories while averaging 94.3 points, an increase of almost 24 red-hot ones a game. Suddenly, home attendance climbed from an average of 4,028 (less than the Texas women's team drew) to 10,011. "To me, with the clock and the three-point are, there are few benefits to playing any other way," says Penders.
The Longhorns' success only mirrored that of the Southwest Conference as a whole; last year its teams cracked the 100-point mark 26 times, the most memorable game being a 120-101 victory by Arkansas over (who would have guessed?) Loyola Marymount.
"The fast game fits me," says Nolan Richardson, whose Razorbacks were 25-7 in his fourth season at Arkansas. "Everything I do is fast. When I play golf, I swing way too fast. I can't help it. That's me. But I can't imagine anything better than what we had last year. We totally won over the fans. The more we scored, the more they wanted. A lot of them were blue-collar people who came in tired or dissatisfied with their jobs. They left unwound and happy. That's what up-tempo basketball can do."
"That's why I don't like baseball," "says South Ala bama coach Ronnie Arrow "You sit there for three hours and the score is 1-0." Arrow's Jaguars led the Sun Belt Conference in scoring last year with 91 points a game (ninth in Division I) and have now won 38 games in the last two years. But Arrow made his mark at San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena, Texas. It was the jucos-along with the NBA-influence of Pitino, Westhead and Bradley's Stan Albeck-that have fostered the sprint-and-stun attack that is so fashionable now at the major college.
But some coaches still don't like the no-defense connotations of the running, game. "We're not a run-and-gun team," insists Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, who would be hard pressed to persuade the 30,000 or so upstate New Yorkers who trek through snow squalls to view UNLV East games of that fact. "We're fast-break like the Lakers or Celtics, but I'd be very upset if we were ever referred to as a run-and-gun team. Our defense generates our running game. A team like Loyola Marymount lets; the other team score, then tries to outscore them with threes. We don't even emphasize the three."
Traditionalists might be surprised to discover that amid all this newfangled scoring mess, the conference that led the nation in three-point accuracy last season (.409) was the supposedly tedious Big Ten. Moreover, the reputedly deliberate formerly fourcornered Tar Heels of North Carolina have led the ACC in scoring in three of the last five seasons. The Heels scored 90 points per game last year.
The Big Eight has been more affected than any other conference by the careening of the college game. It has been transformed from a plodding conglomerate into a glamorous collection of speed merchants and has led all other conferences in points scored for six years running.
For many years the Big Eight couldn't attract players who could run. That changed when the conference built new arenas, which lured better players, which in turn attracted television in a self-perpetuating cycle. The big Eight got turned around quickly after Tubbs came to Oklahoma from tiny Lamar in 1980 and began ''getting players like Stacey King and Mookie, Blaylock, NBA first-rounders this season; arid after Johnny orr moved to Iowa State from Michigan, also in'80. Larry Brown contributed to the style "at Kansas from 83 to 88. This season the runnin'est Big Eight team might be, that's right, Oklahoma State, which was called Oklahoma A&M back in the 1940s, when Henry Iba's teams won two NCAA titles by scores of 49-45 and 43-40.
"I heard the rumblings when I came into the league that I couldn't play this way, says Tubbs. But I knew if I got the players I wanted, I'd play any old way I wanted. What I want to be like is the UCLA of the old days. The Bruins scored 100—and nobody ever accused them of being out of control.
We re in a cycle that says it's neat to score points. But we think at a different level at Oklahoma. One hundred points is an average game for us. People yawn and say O.K., what else is new? At 120, we're not doing too bad. At 130 to 135, that's better. At 150 and above, we're really cooking.
"What's coming? A 100-point half, a 200-point: game. It's going to happen [best bet: Sooners at Loypla Marymount, Dec: 23]. Look, I'm not advocating-everybody play this way, bat we've got 10 games on national TV this season. Tell you something? We go into homes across the country, and people know the names of players on our bench! You go into a home and a 14-month-old kid is nicknamed Mookie. That's TV, like it or not. I like it."
That's also entertainment. And run 'n' gun. And college basketball exploding on the brink of the 1990s. And Tubbs hasn't even considered the Princeton job yet.