Does it really matter? does it matter that Fordham, the regular-season and tournament champion of the—this should have been a postwar lock—Patriot League didn't get into the NCAA tournament, but Northern Illinois did? Does it matter that Southwest Missouri State and the college game's most exciting little guy, 5'5" point guard Arnold Bernard, didn't get in but seven Big East teams did? Does any of this matter when UNLV is so obviously one clever bald head and several burly shoulders above everybody else?
Sure it does. It matters because all the omnipotent adjectives used to describe Jerry Tarkanian and the Runnin' Rebels sound too awfully familiar. Remember Mike Tyson? The A's? The 49ers? The champions aren't unbeatable, no matter how much they act the part, not until they prove it by winning six more games. "It's really a long shot to beat UNLV, but..." says Nebraska Coach Danny Nee, "I believe in miracles."
While we wait, the selection committee must be congratulated for providing some compelling first-round games: Princeton versus Villanova for the championship of 1-95, if not Merrill Lynch; Murray State versus Alabama, in which Popeye (Jones, the Racers' star) meets another Wimp ('Bama coach Sanderson); and New Mexico versus Oklahoma State, whose centers, Luc Longley and Johnny Pittman, respectively, provide a stark contrast of elegance and glitch. Longley is a graceful player, while Pittman's teammates call his free throws Scuds because nobody knows where they're going to land.
Moreover, in the second round, zealous coach-watchers will be overjoyed if:
•Syracuse and Purdue meet in the East in College Park, Md., where the Orangemen's Jim Boeheim and the Boilermakers' Gene Keady can finally settle the debate: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the biggest whiner of them all?
•Indiana and Southern Cal meet in the Southeast in Louisville, where the Hoosiers' Bob Knight and the Trojans' George Raveling can renew the bizarre argument that occurred on the bench at the 1984 Olympics, when Raveling was Knight's assistant.
•LSU and Nebraska meet in the Midwest in Minneapolis, where the Tigers' Dale Brown, who always acts like a U.S. Marine wannabe, can shake hands with Nee, who was the real thing.
Speaking of Round 2, there may be some serious roadblocks out there for a couple of top seeds. Ohio State can't exactly relish taking on Georgia Tech when an energized Kenny Anderson could be playing his last collegiate game. And North Carolina facing Princeton might jar coach Dean Smith's memory back to December 1971, when Pete Carol's Tigers beat a much better Tar Heel team than his current model.
Then of course there's the potential UNLV-Georgetown matchup in Tucson, a nifty example of deck-stacking against the favorites. So be it. In the 1976 tournament Indiana had to defeat the Nos. 6, 2, 5 and 9 teams to win the title. After its opening round against Montana, UNLV may have to whip Georgetown, a dangerous Michigan State team, No. 8 Arizona, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 2 Arkansas to win the title. Or, the champs might have to survive a different Terminal Three—my picks—of No. 6 Duke, No. 3 Indiana and No. 4 North Carolina. Fact is, though, the Runnin' Rebels should again render the term Final Four obsolete; they're the Only One.