The Beast Lives
The conference tournaments provided their usual share of upsets, but in the end the back-of-the-pack teams that tried to sneak into the NCAA tournament—in particular, Louisville (see below), ninth-seeded Tennessee (which fell 88-69 to Alabama in the SEC finale) and seventh-seeded Fresno State (which, after taking a 16-6 lead, lost 98-74 to UNLV in the Big West title game)—each came up one game short. Still, a look across the tournament landscape shows that a great deal worth noting took place.
As usual, the Big East had one of the most competitive tournaments. Syracuse lost its chance to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament by falling 70-68 to Villanova in the quarterfinals. Georgetown proved itself worthy of an NCAA bid by going all the way to the championship game. The Hoyas beat Connecticut 68-49 in the quarters behind 13 points and a Big East-record 27 rebounds from center Dikembe Mutombo. Georgetown then knocked off Providence 71-55 before losing 74-62 to Seton Hall.
The Pirates wouldn't have reached the final had it not been for the clutch play of guard Oliver Taylor, the tournament MVP. A 6-foot senior, Taylor scored the game-winner on a layup at the buzzer in a 70-69 victory over Pitt in the quarters and sank a 15-foot jumper with a second to go in a 74-72 semifinal defeat of Villanova. "He carried us through some tough times," said Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo. "His game against Villanova was almost perfect. The team could feel his confidence."
March 18, 1991
The tournament must have helped the Hoyas' confidence as well. Before the tournament some observers said Georgetown, which was seeded sixth, didn't deserve an NCAA bid. Afterward, many believed the Hoyas could pose a formidable challenge to UNLV if the teams meet, as expected, in the second round of the West Regional.
It's Cryin' Time Again
Everyone at the Big Eight tournament in Kansas City, Mo., seemed to be angry at something or someone. Nebraska's point guard Jose Ramos was upset at his coach, Danny Nee, and left the team in a huff. Iowa State coach Johnny Orr was irked that Missouri, which is on NCAA probation, was even allowed in the tournament. Tiger coach Norm Stewart was upset with Orr. And just about everybody was mad at the game officials. In the end, Missouri beat Nebraska 90-82 in Sunday's final behind a brilliant performance by senior forward Doug Smith, who set a Big Eight tournament record with 92 points in three games and was named MVP.
The strangest development of the weekend was the departure of Ramos, who had transferred to Nebraska from Central Florida Community College, which is where he ended up after clashing with the University of Florida coaching staff in January 1989. At a team breakfast on Friday morning, Nee criticized Ramos for having ordered two filet mignon dinners at a restaurant the night before, and Ramos got up and left angrily. He didn't return for any of the Cornhuskers' three tournament games, and at week's end his status for the NCAA tournament was in doubt.
"I told the team I felt bad," said Nee. "I felt unsuccessful with Jose in that the things I said caused him to be so upset. He's got a temper. So do I."
So do Orr and Stewart, who verbally sparred before the tournament. Said Orr: "It would be an embarrassing thing to the league if Missouri wins." (Orr must have been doubly upset when the Tigers beat his Cyclones 97-81 in the first round.)
Stewart's response to Orr was, "He's a crybaby."
Several coaches could have been accused of being crybabies when discussing the officiating during the tournament. For example, after Kansas lost 87-83 to Nebraska in the semis, the Jayhawks' Roy Williams referred to the referees as "three totally incompetent people who act like perfect dictators out there on the court."
As it turned out, all the caterwauling was moot. Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma State had NCAA bids locked up before the Big Eight tournament started, and in all likelihood one of them would have won if Missouri hadn't played. But then, logic has never gotten in the way of bad feelings in the Big Eight.
Going Out with a Bang
At the Metro Conference tournament in Roanoke, Va., Louisville finally came out of a coma, Southern Mississippi slid deeper into one, and four teams waved goodbye to the league. Given all that, it's little wonder that Florida State's victory in the tournament seemed to be almost a sidelight. But the 20-10 Seminoles deserve some attention. They enter the NCAA tournament on a roll—the Seminoles have won seven straight games and 15 of their last 20—and with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. It seems Florida State coach Pat Kennedy thinks that, in previewing the Metro championship game between the Seminoles and the Cardinals, both CBS and ESPN focused on Louisville's resurgence and ignored his team.
"They never talked about Florida State," said Kennedy. "They just kept mentioning Louisville. Sure, it ticked us off. This was a national profile game for us." What the TV guys might have said is that the Seminoles have one of the nation's top sophomores in 6'9" power forward Douglas Edwards (16.1 points per game) and another strong inside player in 6'7" senior forward Michael Polite.
Still, it was hard not to notice the eighth-seeded Cardinals, who entered the tournament with a 12-15 record. They opened with an 83-76 defeat of the league's regular-season champion, Southern Miss (which goes into the NCAA tournament with four losses in its last five games), beat Memphis State 72-70 the next night and led Florida State by 20 points in the second half before falling apart. Louisville coach Denny Crum may have made a crucial tactical error in resting star guard LaBradford Smith, who finished with a game-high 26 points, for three minutes late in the second half, when the Seminoles were making their comeback run. "We were all hoping he'd stay on the bench just a little bit longer," said Kennedy. "He was killing us."
Next season Florida State will join the ACC South Carolina the SEC and Memphis State and Cincinnati the new Great Midwest Conference. That leaves the Metro with only four teams—Louisville, Southern Miss, Tulane and Virginia Tech—although South Florida and North Carolina Charlotte are expected to join the league next season. Some of the defectors left the impression that life hasn't been rosy in the Metro. Florida State, in fact, seemed as happy about leaving the league as it did about winning its tournament to earn an NCAA berth. "This is a great way to head off to the ACC" said Kennedy.
Not-So-Fond Farewell II
Another team that said goodbye to its conference after winning its league tournament was Penn State of the Atlantic 10. The third-seeded Nittany Lions beat the No. 4 seed, George Washington, 81-75, in perhaps the unlikeliest tournament final of all.
Penn State, which qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1965, had particular reason to feel gratified. When the Lions announced that they would be joining the Big Ten starting in 1992-93, the other Atlantic 10 teams decided that they didn't want Penn State around next season. So the Lions will spend 1991-92 as an independent.
But Penn State coach Bruce Parkhill was far more interested in celebrating his team's NCAA bid than he was in debating conference politics. "This is like the cherry on top of the sundae," said Parkhill, who inherited a 5-22 team when he took over the Nittany Lions eight seasons ago.
George Washington's turnaround was much faster. The Colonials finished 1-27 two years ago and 14-17 in 1989-90 but are 19-11 this season under first-year coach Mike Jarvis, who coached Patrick Ewing at Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge and Latin High before beginning a successful run at Boston University in 1985. In the game against Penn State, Jarvis drew a technical on George Washington's first possession. That helped the Lions get off to a fast start, and the Colonials never recovered. Still, Jarvis wasn't discouraged. "I'm going to pray for these kids to be accepted to the NIT," he said.
On Sunday his prayers were answered. More important, George Washington's prayers may have been answered when it hired Jarvis.
Utah coach Rick Majerus, who underwent bypass surgery in December 1989, had an unsavory gift awaiting him when he arrived at his hotel room in Laramie, Wyo., site of the WAC tournament. "I've got heart trouble, and I get to my room where there's a welcoming goodie basket with fudge, peanut brittle and chocolate bars," said Majerus. "Why don't you just shoot me?"...Lamont Strothers, a guard for Division III Christopher Newport College in Newport News, Va., ended his collegiate career with 20 points in a 110-50 loss to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. That game marked the 116th consecutive time that Strothers scored in double figures, which is an NCAA record. The previous mark of 115 was set last season by Lionel Simmons of Division I La Salle.... As if Georgia State isn't going to have enough trouble with Arkansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament this Friday, the Panthers faced the possibility of having to make do without their best player, 6'6" senior forward Chris Collier. As a devout follower of the Worldwide Church of God, Collier does little more than rest and pray from sundown on Fridays to sundown on Saturdays. Georgia State successfully petitioned for an afternoon starting time on Friday, and Collier will be able to play.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Purdue's Jimmy Oliver, a 6'6" senior forward, helped the Boilermakers land an NCAA tournament bid by scoring 27 points in a 72-67 upset of No. 2 Ohio State and 26 in a 77-48 rout of Northwestern.
Genia Miller, a 6'3" senior center, averaged 31.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 7.7 blocked shots as Cal State-Fullerton beat Fresno State 79-41 and New Mexico State 108-80, and lost to Long Beach State 71-60.
Keith Hill, a 6'8" senior center for Division II Shippensburg (Pa.), averaged 26.3 points and shot 76% as the Red Raiders beat California (Pa.) 87-72, Bloomsburg 69-67 and Slippery Rock 76-75 in double OT.