THE RICH GET RICHER
Nobody has actually ever seen the 10 wise men of the NCAA tournament selection committee at work, so we have to take it on faith that they actually spend hours poring over computer printouts—polls, power rankings, statistics, etc.—instead of just drawing names from a hat or, when all else fails, arm wrestling to decide the last four or five teams that make the field. But last weekend there must have been a gremlin (or a leprechaun) in their computers. What other explanation is there for why Notre Dame is in the tournament—as a 10th seed, no less—and DePaul isn't?
This was easily the committee's most puzzling decision. It wasn't really surprising that it would bypass low-profile teams with good records—Southern Illinois, Centenary, Penn State and Hawaii, for example—in favor of traditional powers with so-so records. After all, teams like Indiana and North Carolina are good box office, even in down years, and the committee surely isn't above thinking about revenue and TV ratings. However, the Notre Dame-DePaul situation had everybody stumped. You figure it out. The Blue Demons had an 18-14 record to the Irish's 16-12. The teams played twice, and DePaul won both times, the most recent being a 64-59 victory last Saturday. The Blue Demons beat tournament-bound Louisville and Ohio State, and also defeated ineligible N.C. State, while Notre Dame's only claims to fame were a last-second win at Syracuse and a romp over a Missouri team that just lay down and quit.
Even Irish coach Digger Phelps, silver-tongued devil that he is, would have a difficult time explaining to De-Paul coach Joey Meyer why his team is in and Meyer's isn't. It would have made more sense to take neither of the independents or, if you had to pick one, take the Blue Demons. The selection committee's chairman is Jim Delany, the commissioner of the Big Ten, and his only explanation was that the committee just felt that Notre Dame was more deserving. We're sticking with the leprechaun-in-the-computers theory until somebody comes up with something that makes more sense.
THE MUSH GOES ON
When Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim greeted Connecticut's Jim Calhoun before the championship game of the Big East tournament, he said, "Gee, I didn't realize how smart you got over the summer." That was Boeheim's way of complimenting Calhoun, who took a team that finished seventh in the league last season and turned it into one good enough to win the tournament by beating Georgetown 65-60 in the semifinals last Saturday and Syracuse 78-75 in Sunday's title game.
Calhoun explains the Huskies' success by saying, "Our talent blends well together—that's the key to any good basketball team." Last season the blend wasn't there, mostly because Calhoun built Connecticut's offense around one player, 6'10" Cliff Robinson. The Huskies had to settle for an NIT bid. Robinson's departure coincided happily with the arrival of Nadav Henefeld, a 21-year-old former Israeli soldier and member of that country's national team, and Calhoun decided to use a more team-oriented concept that emphasizes constant pressure on defense. The 6'7" Henefeld thrived in the system, setting an NCAA record for freshmen, with 130 steals, and Connecticut became a national championship contender. "Henefeld's the key," Boeheim says, "even if he doesn't score. He creates turnovers and matchup problems."
Some observers of the Big East feel that Henefeld, and not Syracuse senior Derrick Coleman, deserved to be the conference's Player of the Year. Of course, other observers feel just as strongly that Henefeld shouldn't have been eligible for the Newcomer of the Year award he won, given his age and experience. Henefeld and his teammates couldn't care less, because awards are not as important as winning. When sophomore guard Chris Smith was given the tournament MVP award, he looked as if he didn't know what to do with it, although he did finally allow that "I could get used to this."
After dropping behind Syracuse 10-0 in the final, the Huskies clawed their way back into the game with their defense. "When you first get the ball against them, you see so many openings on the court that you get excited," said Syracuse guard Stevie Thompson after the Orange's loss. "They force you into making passes that you really don't want to make." That explains why Syracuse had 20 turnovers.
Guard Tate George led UConn with 22 points, while Smith added 20 and reserve John Gwynn 16 in only 12 minutes. "They're a team that can go far in the NCAA tournament," said Georgetown coach John Thompson, and he's right. As top seed in the East, the Huskies play first in Hartford, where they played eight home games this season. If UConn wins twice there, it will move on to another friendly Big East court, the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.
Before last week's Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament began in Dayton, Marquette coach Kevin O'Neill continued his needling of the league about its decision to let Dayton host the tournament for four consecutive years, beginning last season and ending in 1992. "I'm all for them having it here every year," O'Neill said jokingly. "I got myself a condo here. I'm going to rent it out the rest of the year."
Nothing against Dayton, you understand, but it is rather difficult to figure out the conference's fascination with the city, especially since the league also has teams in larger places, such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, St. Louis and Detroit. The Flyers weren't complaining, though. With the help of a sold-out home crowd of 13,202, they beat regular-season champion Xavier 98-89 in the tournament final and picked up the conference's automatic NCAA berth.
That made Dayton one of 13 teams to win a conference championship in its home city. The others were Arkansas-Little Rock (Trans-America), Idaho (Big Sky), Illinois State (Missouri Valley), Temple (Atlantic 10), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Northeast Louisiana (Southland), Northern Iowa (Mid-Continent), Richmond (Colonial), Robert Morris (Northeast), Texas-El Paso (Western Athletic), Texas Southern (Southwestern) and Towson State (East Coast).
The rule of thumb for most conferences is to hold the postseason tournament in a city where it will generate the most revenue, because, as you may know, making money is the point of such events. Still, we would like to see more leagues adopt the policy of the Southland Conference. It allows its regular-season champion to host the postseason tournament. Sure, that gives the best team even more of an advantage, but it also puts some importance back into the regular season.
The Louisiana Tech women's team heads into the NCAA tournament with a 29-0 record and strong hopes for its third NCAA title in nine years, and never mind that the Final Four will be held on March 30 and April 1 at Tennessee, where the Lady Vols—along with Stanford—figure to be the Lady Techsters' most formidable challengers. "You have to go to places where there is interest in the game, and Knoxville is one of those places," says Tech coach Leon Barmore. "I've got no complaints."
To get to Knoxville, where Tech beat Tennessee 59-58 on Dec. 9 in its closest call of the season, the Lady Techsters will first have to win the Midwest Regional, which begins Mar. 22 on Texas's home floor in Austin. Tech has beaten Texas on that same floor in two of the last three regional finals, but, says Barmore, "I've got to respect any team on its home court because it's such an advantage." He knows what he's talking about: Louisiana Tech is 126-3 at home since its own Thomas Assembly Center opened in 1982.
Tech's star player, 6'4" senior center Venus Lacy, is averaging 24.3 points, 12.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocked shots despite playing only about 20 minutes a game because of her lack of stamina. She has had calls about playing professionally next season in Italy but might not go because she's afraid to fly—in airplanes, that is, not around the basket.
Although Tech's average margin of victory is 35 points, Barmore says Tech will have to pick up its level of play if it is to make its 10th Final Four appearance in 12 years. "I'm concerned about my team," he says. "We are not playing very physical right now. This team has got to show more scrap."
Typical coach—still not happy, at 29-0.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF 1990-91?
Former Kentucky player Eric Manuel, a 6'6" guard, scored 30 points last Saturday as Hiwassee Junior College of Madisonville, Tenn., defeated Sullivan J.C. of Louisville, Ky., 89-80 on its march toward this week's 16-team national juco tournament in Hutchinson, Kans. It was the kind of performance that has kept NCAA teams interested in him.
Manuel, you may remember, was ruled ineligible to play at any NCAA school in the wake of the investigation of coach Eddie Sutton's program at Kentucky. The 1989 finding against Manuel centered on the jump in his college-entrance ACT score when he took the exam in Lexington, the site of the University of Kentucky, in June 1987. He got a 23 then, after twice scoring less than 700 on the SAT—a score roughly equivalent to a 14 on the ACT—while attending Southwest High in Macon, Ga. Furthermore, 211 of his 219 answers were identical to those of the person sitting next to him at the Lexington test site. Manuel maintains that he is innocent. "The [NCAA] didn't have any real proof throughout the whole thing," he says. "They just said I don't tell the truth." Manuel, who has averaged 23.9 points and 7.7 rebounds for Hiwassee, says he wants a school to appeal to the NCAA for him—the only way he can gain reinstatement—on the grounds that if cheating did occur, it was done after the exam left his hands.
If Manuel can regain his Division I eligibility, he won't have any trouble finding a new home. According to Hiwassee coach Hugh Watson, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Florida State and San Diego State have expressed interest in helping Manuel—and themselves. Says Manuel, "I want to be in Division I next season. A lot of schools have been calling."
Coppin State and Towson State, located five miles apart in Baltimore, will each make its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. But while Towson's five starters are all from the Baltimore area, Coppin State has only one homegrown player....
Texas coach Tom Penders, who was ejected from the Longhorns' 89-86 loss to Houston in the Southwest Conference tournament's semifinals, said this about the league's officiating: "If you are going to have a circus, put a tent over it."
...When Duke decided to retire the number 25 worn by Art Heyman, the college player of the year in 1963, it meant that freshman swingman Thomas Hill had to search for a new number for next season. "I'll take 10," said Hill, only to be told that that number had been retired in honor of former All-America Dick Groat. Hill finally settled on number 20, which will be fine unless Duke decides to honor Gene Banks, a star of its '78 national runner-up team....
The Foot-in-Mouth Award goes to LSU coach Dale Brown, who said after a home loss to Georgia on Jan. 24: "We're going to win the conference. You can put that down. I know some people will call me the white man's Muhammad Ali or Joe Namath, but I know we'll win the conference." The Tigers finished third in the regular season and were upset by Auburn in the first round of the SEC tournament.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
MEN: Shaun Vandiver, a 6'9" junior center for Colorado, averaged 25.0 points and 13.7 rebounds and was MVP of the Big Eight tournament as the Buffaloes upset Missouri 92-88 in OT, beat Oklahoma State 82-72 and lost to Oklahoma 92-80.
WOMEN: Auburn's 5'8" junior guard, Carolyn Jones, the SEC Player of the Year, had 28 points, seven rebounds and four steals as the 10th-ranked Lady Tigers beat Tennessee, ranked No. 3 nationally, 78-77 in the final of the SEC tournament.
SMALL COLLEGE: Chris Fife, a 6'8" sophomore center for Rochester (N. Y.), had 61 points and 24 rebounds as the Yellowjackets beat Southeastern Massachusetts 92-80 and North Adams (Mass.) State 50-47 to advance to the Division III Final Four.