Preseason prognosticators tend to make the same mistake coaches do. Even as the college game becomes faster, the three-point shot more critical and a steady playmaker ever more indispensable, the basketball cognoscenti—pollsters and coaches alike—still believe that you can't win without big people.
Well, we're getting off that bus. We have abandoned the maxim "Size is wise" and transferred our focus to guards and outside shooting. Pittsburgh, for instance, with its backcourt of two seasons ago restored, is ranked ahead of Big East rival Georgetown because the Hoyas' backcourt rotation is muddled. Virginia is listed here but fellow ACC member Georgia Tech isn't; as good as Tech's Kenny Anderson is, the Cavaliers will be better because of several proven guards and star forward Bryant Stith, who can sink the trey. Alabama may not be the most pedigreed basketball school in the SEC, but the Tide has depth and talent in the backcourt. Likewise, recruiters for our sleepers—Southern Mississippi, New Mexico State and Texas—weren't snoozing when the NCAA adopted the 19'9" three-point shot four seasons ago.
That said, Arkansas has to be No. 1, given its backcourt of Todd Day and Lee Mayberry (page 86). Although steady forward Lenzie Howell is gone, a deep recruiting class, highlighted by 6'8" juco transfer Butch Morris, arrives to join front-liner Oliver Miller.
It's a fact: All but one player on the Hogs' roster played high school or juco ball in Arkansas or in an adjoining state.
So's this: A popular bumper sticker around Fayetteville reads AVOID THE RUSH. HATE TEXAS EARLY.
As talented as UNLV is, take a look at—yes, again—the Runnin' Rebels' guards to understand why we don't put them ahead of Arkansas. Sure, Anderson Hunt was sublime in the NCAA title game, and Greg Anthony, the sinistral slasher at the point, led the club with unsentimental efficacy. But people forget that only a few weeks earlier, Hunt was considered too streaky and Anthony too erratic to take Vegas all the way. Does a single game wipe out all those doubts?
It's a fact: For all of coach Jerry Tarkanian's success, Larry Johnson (page 52) is only UNLV's sixth McDonald's High School All-America ever.
So's this: Shelley Fischer, until recently the academic adviser for the UNLV basketball program and now working in the Alumni Office, will prepare your astrological chart for $65.
People are already calling Arizona transfer swingman Chris Mills the best player in the Pac-10. The Kentucky refugee, who sat out last season, will step into a lineup that will probably include 7-foot Ed Stokes, 6'11" Sean Rooks and 6'11" Brian Williams. Only dissension can waylay this team. With the addition of Mills and young gun Khalid Reeves, coach Lute Olson's first Arizona recruit ever out of New York City, incumbent guards Matt Othick and Matt Muehlebach may get squeezed.
It's a fact: The Wildcats' home winning streak of 47 is the nation's longest.
So's this: Six-foot-eight freshman Tony Clark got $450,000 in a bonus from the Detroit Tigers, almost what his coach makes in a season. "If I need a ride in a nice car," Olson says, "I'll call Tony."
It took more than a decade, but Michigan State finally circled back to the top of the Big Ten last season, winning the league for the first time since the days when Magic Johnson was casting his spell. The Spartans' strength comes from their new star system: Steve Smith (page 48) is the stellar presence around which Mike Peplowski, Parish Hickman, Matt Steigenga, Dwayne Stephens and Mark Montgomery will cluster.
It's a fact: Michigan State averaged more than 17 turnovers in its six losses last season.
So's this: Coach Jud Heathcote isn't the slickest ball handler; he once caught an errant Spartan pass on the sideline and slammed the ball on the floor in frustration—only to draw blood when it bounded up and hit him in the face.
Coach Wimp Sanderson's favored sport coats are a lot louder than his unassuming Alabama teams have been in rising to the top of the SEC. Robert Horry, the 6'9" forward who led the Crimson Tide in both blocked shots and steals last season, was also second in scoring, rebounding and three-pointers, and third in assists and free throw percentage. But he may be only the third-best player on the team, after 6'8" Melvin Cheatum and guard James (Hollywood) Robinson.
It's a fact: High Tide usually comes late in the season; 'Bama has won three of the last four SEC tournaments.
So's this: Wimp is named after an uncle who blocked a punt and died shortly thereafter.
By recruiting point guard Derrick Phelps, shooting guard Brian Reese, small forward Pat Sullivan, power forward Cliff Rozier and center Eric Montross, North Carolina coach Dean Smith brought in an entire starting team. Smith is notoriously wary of depending on freshmen, but at least three of these players—Reese, Rozier and Montross—are too good to sit. Senior playmaker King Rice will be counted on to hold the Carolina kids together.
It's a fact: None of the last seven ACC teams to reach the Final Four wore Carolina blue.
So's this: At Chapel Hill's Four Corners Restaurant and Bar, where dishes are named after erstwhile Heels, sandwiches in honor of departed Carolina stars Kevin Madden and Scott Williams will soon be added to the menu.
For Pittsburgh it's back to the future; the same five starters are reunited from a team that two years ago went 17-13. Of the three new frontcourt players on the roster, two are back from academic purgatory, the other arrives from a juco. Assistant coach John Sarandrea recruited freshmen Omo Moses, Gandhi Jordan and Ahmad Shareef, and now he says: "If guys named Gandhi, Ahmad and Moses can't take you to the promised land, nobody can."
It's a fact: Guards Sean Miller and Darelle Porter co-coached a local 15-and-under AAU team for the third straight summer.
So's this: At 12, Miller gave a dribbling exhibition on The Tonight Show.
Over the summer, Mike Krzyzewski passed up a five-year, $2.5 million offer to coach the Celtics to remain at Duke. Credit that decision to the Blue Devils' penchant for postseason success, as reflected in four Final Four appearances in the past five seasons. To replace the speed and aerial skill lost with the departure of Robert Brickey, Coach K brought in a couple of freshman wingmen, 6'7" Grant Hill, son of former NFL standout Calvin, and 6'8" Antonio Lang. Then there is Duke's experience at the point, in Bobby Hurley (bruised by a rocky freshman year, but wiser because of it), and up front, in Christian Laettner (stronger after a summer of weight work and toughening on Coach K's U.S. national team).
It's a fact: None of last season's seniors—Brickey, Alaa Abdelnaby or Phil Henderson—graduated on time; Krzyzewski says he won't raise the Blue Devils' NCAA banner in Cameron Indoor Stadium until they all get their degrees.
So's this: Although he turned the Celtics down, Krzyzewski did have a parquet floor installed in an addition on his Durham home.
Cynics have learned to expect little from Ohio State when the Buckeyes are highly touted. Hopes have rarely been this high in Columbus, where three terrific recruiting classes are maturing. If 7-foot, 240-pound junior Bill Robinson proves to be a big league center, the rest of the lineup will fall into place, led by 6'6" Jimmy Jackson, a sensational sophomore forward.
It's a fact: Coach Randy Ayers has all 12 players back from a team that beat six highly ranked teams last season.
So's this: The Buckeyes may not be champs yet, but they attract them: Ex-heavyweight champion James (Buster) Douglas and Reds outfielder Paul O'Neill are regulars in St. John Arena.
Much like Alabama, Georgia has ascended without fanfare, rising from ninth in the SEC only two years ago to first place last season. Coach Hugh Durham has five players 6'10" or taller, including 6'11" Antonio Harvey, the Missouri Valley's freshman of the year at Southern Illinois two seasons ago. The Bulldogs also have a deep backcourt anchored by the reliable Rod Cole and Litterial Green, a corsair of a scoring guard who will no longer be overshadowed in the SEC by Chris Jackson.
It's a fact: Durham's son Doug was an assistant coach at Georgia's "farm club," defending national J.C. champion Connors State in Warner, Okla., where five current and former Dawgs have matriculated.
So's this: Georgia's veterans shaved the heads of all Dawg pups before the team's first practice.
Indiana coach Bob Knight had always looked down upon Big Ten rival Purdue and its emphasis on weight work. Then Knight's callow Hoosiers were pushed around all last season, going 8-10 in the conference and losing in the first round of the NCAAs. Suddenly Knight got lifting religion. Bulkier are forwards 6'9" Eric Anderson and 6'6" Calbert Cheaney, both of whom will start; freshman prodigy Damon Bailey (page 58) debuts in the backcourt.
It's a fact: Knight used 22 different starting fives during last season.
So's this: Knight, who usually gets in the last word, was roasted for his 50th birthday in November by such skewerers as Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus and Vice-President Dan Quayle.
For the past two seasons, protocol kept Billy Owens and his multifarious talents from becoming the focus of the Syracuse attack. Owens deferred to his elders, Sherman Douglas and Derrick Coleman. Now the Orangemen belong to the 6'9" junior, who has Douglas's playmaking skills and Coleman's knack around the basket. Freshman guard Adrian Autry must adapt quickly, and 6'10" frontliners LeRon Ellis and Conrad McRae need to show more than they did last season—particularly Ellis.
It's a fact: Last December, Owens provided a clue to his future plans, saying, "I always think about leaving. I can't hack school no more, getting up and going to classes."
So's this: Autry's favorite pass, a football center's hike between the legs to a trailer on the fast break, should go over well in the Carrier Dome.
No trash-talking. No earring. No skipping class. No letup. That is how one observer at Southern Mississippi describes the businesslike style of Clarence Weatherspoon, last season's Metro Player of the Year over NBA draft choices Felton Spencer and Bimbo Coles. The 6'7", 240-pound junior has added a medium-range jumper and leftward spin move to the assortment of skills that already had people calling him Barkley-in-Waiting. Three other returning starters, plus 6'8" forward Joe Courtney, a transfer from Mississippi State, join Weatherspoon.
It's a fact: The Golden Eagles lost three games last season by two points and two games by just three.
So's this: Freshman guard Bernard Haslett, Mississippi's high school Player of the Year, fractured his arm in a preseason pickup game when Spoon blocked a dunk attempt.
Every year Oklahoma disappoints opponents eager to see the Sooners' theatrically obnoxious coach, Billy Tubbs, finally get his comeuppance. In 1989, Oklahoma lost Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock, but the team went 27-5 last season. Now, despite losing Skeeter Henry, William Davis, Jackie Jones and Smokey McCovery, Tubbs seems once again to have replacement parts. Brent Price, kid brother of Mark Price of the Cleveland Cavaliers, is eligible as a transfer from South Carolina. "We didn't have a guy last year who could guard him [in practice]," says Tubbs. Two holdover guards, Terry Evans and Terrence Mullins, join Tubbs's brace of juco transfers. If 6'7" Damon Patterson overcomes academic problems in time for the second semester, Oklahoma will again be atop a suddenly weaker Big Eight.
It's a fact: In the 10 years of the Tubbs era, Oklahoma has gone 94-0 when scoring 100 points or more.
So's this: The Sooners, who over the past few years have supplied us with such sprightly names as Smokey, Choo, Mookie and Skeeter, welcome freshman Kiki Hicks.
Despite the departures of Jackson to the NBA and 7-foot Stanley Roberts to Italy, Louisiana State should be a DuPont kind of team—better living through chemistry. Throughout last season, Jackson's frenetic outside game was at odds with the post work of Roberts and 7'1" Shaquille O'Neal, who seemed to get in each other's way. Now O'Neal is on his own, and coach Dale Brown is so high on Jackson's replacement, Tennessee-Martin transfer Mike Hansen, that he has already named him cocaptain. If the Tigers seem to have lost an awful lot, remember that Brown is better at jawboning undermanned teams into overachieving than at getting superstars to play in harmony.
It's a fact: O'Neal, despite playing 18 games in a conference with a six-fouls-and-out rule, still fouled out nine times last season.
So's this: Brown vows to take the Tigers on an international tour this coming summer to promote world peace, but it should be noted that the eight-year Iran-Iraq war broke out a decade ago, the same year Brown helped coach the Iraqi national team.
Last season it seemed as if New Mexico State loosed on the Big West about 77 juco transfers from Chicago. The Aggies relied on the all-around play of 6'3" Randy Brown, now a senior, along with forwards Reggie Jordan and Michael New. Yet as good as Jordan and New proved to be last season, juco transfers Terry Butler, David Lofton and Tracey Ware will vie for their starting positions.
It's a fact: Ware, a swimmer at Houston's Yates High, and Jordan, a gym rat at Proviso East (Ill.) High, never played high school basketball.
So's this: Reserve center Jason Trask has vanity plates that read HOOPIST.
Years ago, if someone were to describe the sublime offensive skills of 6'10" Alonzo Mourning and the raw abilities of 7'2" Dikembe Mutombo and tell you that a single team had been blessed with both men and their considerable shot-blocking skills, you would have handed the national title to Georgetown—even if they started two guards out of F Troop. Alas, coach John Thompson will probably audition everyone but Larry Storch for his backcourt. There are putative shooters (coach's son Ronny Thompson and Antoine Stoudamire) and green point-guard prospects (Charles Harrison and 5'10" Joey Brown, both freshmen). The Hoyas will still play menacing defense, and Thompson can count his blessings; at least he didn't take the job as general manager of the Denver Nuggets this summer.
It's a fact: Mourning blocked 169 shots two years ago as a freshman but only 69 as a sophomore. Hmmm.
So's this: Those who carp unjustifiably about the racial composition of Georgetown teams should note that the Hoyas' roster includes three whites.
Time was when Virginia wouldn't even launch a trey, much less make one. Former coach Terry Holland then brought to Charlottesville forwards Stith and Kenny Turner and guards John Crotty and Anthony Oliver. They are juniors and seniors now, starters all, and none is uncomfortable with eyeing and flying from anywhere. Holland has stepped down, yielding to his former player Jeff Jones, but 96% of the scoring and 91% of the rebounding from last season's 20-12 team isn't a particularly miserly legacy to leave.
It's a fact: Over three seasons, Virginia has won its last eight OT games.
So's this: Reserve guard Terry Kirby had averaged nearly twice as many points a game (6.7) as a tailback on the Cavs' football team this fall than he did last season for the hoops team (3.4).
This is the season that will determine whether Texas becomes like Oklahoma, a school where the system is paramount, not the players. Lance Blanks and Travis Mays, two thirds of the Longhorns' BMW Ultimate Scoring Machine, are in the NBA, but the leftover W, Joey Wright, turned in the team's single-game highs in points (46), rebounds (17) and assists (9) last season. Redshirts (like 6'3" slam master Tony Watson), transfers (like former Maryland guard Teyon McCoy) and jucos (like 6'8" Dexter Cambridge) are newcomers, joining returning forwards Locksley Collie and Guillermo Myers.
It's a fact: In 67 games since Tom Penders arrived as coach, the Horns have taken fewer than 10 treys in a game only once.
So's this: Six-foot-eight freshman Albert Burditt will enjoy home cooking this season, because his dad, Bubba, is chief chef at the Texas athletic dining hall.
The giddy hopes of UCLA took a pratfall on a wet spot on the Pauley Pavilion floor. The Bruins, beneficiaries of the NCAA's draconian sanctions against UNLV, signed superb local high schoolers Ed O'Bannon and Shon Tarver, both of whom had originally committed to Vegas. But days before the opening of practice, O'Bannon, a 6'8" power forward, blew out his knee in a pickup game. Nonetheless, four starters return from a club that reached the NCAA Sweet 16 last season. Tarver will see plenty of time, mostly at the expense of junior guard Gerald Madkins, a defensive specialist. Coach Jim Harrick has finally quashed the notion that the Bruins can't recruit in their own backyard. Now he must persuade those recruits that basketball is more than taking shots.
It's a fact: Last season the Bruins were 20-3 when they held opponents to 80 points or fewer, 2-8 when they didn't.
So's this: Surgeons reconstructed O'Bannon's torn anterior cruciate ligament with a graft from a cadaver.
O'Bannon was already a terrific player. When he heals, he will be even better if the graft came from a guy who played guard.
4 MICHIGAN STATE
6 NORTH CAROLINA
9 OHIO STATE
13 SOUTHERN MISS.
15 LOUISIANA STATE
16 NEW MEXICO ST.