BEWARE OF BIG DOG
Glenn Robinson, Purdue's 6'8" sophomore forward, answers to a variety of nicknames. There's G-Man, because he sometimes plays like a man among boys, and G-Money, because he's as good as money in the bank. There's G-Force, because he's such a powerful force on the court, and G-Love, because, well, we won't speculate. "I guess it just sounded good," he says.
But Robinson's most appropriate sobriquet is Big Dog, which was hung on him when he was growing up in Gary, Ind. It speaks to the ferocity with which he plays the game and to his status in the Big Ten. At week's end he led the conference in scoring and rebounding, averaging 27.5 points and 9.7 boards per game. He could become the first rookie to lead the Big Ten in both categories since George McGinnis did so for Indiana in 1970-71.
Although Big Dog is without question the best first-year player in the nation, nothing makes him growl more than being singled out as a one-man team for the Boilermakers, who were 15-6 following Sunday's 93-78 loss to Indiana in Bloomington. Robinson has gone so far as to refuse to give interviews after some games when he felt reporters were concentrating on him to the exclusion of his teammates.
"Sometimes the writers and camera people all come over to me as if I were the only guy who played," he says. "If I'd just played a game of one-on-one, I could understand that, but everyone on the team contributes to our success, and they should get attention too. People might think I don't like to talk, but that's not it. I just want the credit to get spread around."
Robinson declined all interview requests last season, which he sat out as a Prop 48 player, and watched as two fellow freshmen, Michigan's Chris Webber and Indiana's Alan Henderson, helped lead their teams to the Final Four. That was especially frustrating for Robinson because he had beaten out Henderson for Indiana's Mr. Basketball award in high school and he had held his own against Webber in several summer AAU games.
Robinson is often compared with Webber, who is the more powerful inside player. Robinson, though, is the more versatile. He is as comfortable leading the fast break as he is posting up near the basket, and he's a remarkably accurate outside shooter for a player his size, as he proved by converting all five of his three-point attempts en route to scoring 31 points in an 84-76 loss to Michigan on Feb. 7.
"I've been coaching for 30 years, and I've come across maybe four or five players who combine his skill and attitude," says Purdue coach Gene Keady. "He's ornery, and I like that too. But the best thing about him is that he doesn't think he's a big deal."
Robinson did display a bit of bravado recently when he declared that he was the equal of Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal—as a rapper. "Tell Shaquille I'm coming for him in a couple of years," said Robinson, smiling. But then he reverted back to the team approach: "No, just tell him I'll make the music, and he can do the rap. We could be a pair."
LET THE SUN SHINE IN
Far be it from us to tell the NCAA men's tournament selection committee what to do, but...well, it's not that far from us: Take New Orleans and Western Kentucky. SI's William F. Reed explains why these two teams from the Sun Belt Conference deserve bids to the tournament.
At week's end New Orleans was 81-36 since 6'11" center Ervin Johnson began playing for the Privateers four years ago. But not until this season has Johnson, a senior who is averaging 18.8 points and 13 rebounds, gained as much recognition for his basketball prowess as he has for his name. The difference between this New Orleans team, which was 20-2 through Sunday, and last season's, which lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament to Southwestern Louisiana, is that Johnson has some help.
Melvin Simon, a 6'8" junior forward, is knocking down 13.6 points and 7.5 boards a game. And bookend junior guards Reni Mason and Gerald Williams, a pair of 5'9" transfers, form the team's best backcourt in years. Mason, who came from Louisiana Tech, and Williams, who played at Tyler (Texas) Junior College, are averaging a combined 17.1 points and 7.4 assists. Their size—or lack of it—hasn't hurt the Privateers on defense because, says coach Tim Floyd, "The big guys inside cure a lot of mistakes on the perimeter."
The 39-year-old Floyd came to New Orleans five years ago after having spent nine years on Don Haskins's staff at UTEP and two more as the coach at Idaho. When the Privateers finished 23-8 in 1991 to earn their second trip to the NCAA tournament in school history, Floyd became one of the hottest coaches in the country. He received so many feelers that New Orleans signed him to a contract that expires on March 27,2000.
The Privateers' two losses this season were to Notre Dame (45-43) and No. 4 Arizona (72-69). That should impress the members of the selection committee, though they should also consider this comment from Floyd: "I'm not so sure that Western Kentucky's not the best team we've seen this year."
Floyd is not simply promoting his conference. The Hilltoppers, who were 18-4 at week's end, had an eight-point lead over New Orleans on Feb. 2 before finally succumbing 89-80. However, what brought Western to national attention was its 78-77 upset of Louisville on Feb. 16 at Freedom Hall. Playing against a Cardinal team that two days earlier had ended UNLV's 59-game home court winning streak, Western controlled play from the outset and had as much as a 14-point lead in the second half.
Like the Privateers, the Hilltoppers have a pair of hard-to-defend guards, 6'5" Darnell Mee and 5'8" Mark Bell, and a hot coach, Ralph Willard, who's in his third year in Bowling Green. A longtime friend of Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, Willard, 46, was on Pitino's staff during Pitino's two years with the New York Knicks and accompanied him to Lexington. After a season with the Wildcats, Willard, armed with Pitino's recommendation, landed the job at Western.
Willard is charged with returning the Hilltoppers to the glory they enjoyed under "Uncle" Ed Diddle, who won 759 games (fourth on the Division I alltime list) from 1923 through '64. Under Willard, Western was a Diddlesque 53-29 through Sunday. The Hilltopper fans' only fear is that Willard will follow the examples of Gene Keady and Clem Haskins, who used Western as a launching pad to big-time coaching positions at Purdue and Minnesota, respectively.
The Hilltoppers play an up-tempo style that makes them seem like a watch-pocket version of Pitino's Kentucky teams. The system especially suits Mee, a willowy ball hawk who is averaging 20 points and 6.8 rebounds, and Bell, who is scoring 16.5 points per game while leading the team in assists. Says Reni Mason of his rivals at Western, "I tell you, they're two of the best perimeter players in the country. You can never let up on them."
If Western Kentucky reaches the Final Four at the Superdome, it will be astounding. If New Orleans does, it will be historic. The last time a team played in a Final Four in its home city was 1972, when UCLA won the national championship at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Will someone please explain what right Pittsburgh coach Paul Evans had to be upset with Boston College coach Jim O'Brien after BC's 79-56 win at Pitt last week? Evans was angry because O'Brien had his starters in a four-corners offense with eight minutes left and a lead of more than 20 points—perfectly acceptable strategy as far as we can see. The Panthers had won the previous three games against BC in Pittsburgh, two of them blowouts, so Evans had little right to complain....
The Vermont women's team tied an NCAA women's record with its 49th consecutive regular-season victory, a 68-67 win over Maine last Saturday. The 22-0 Catamounts can break the record, set by Butler from 1978 to '81, with a win over Northeastern on Thursday.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
La Salle's Kareem Townes, a 6'3" sophomore guard, scored 67 points, sank nine three-pointers, grabbed nine rebounds and had seven assists to lead the Explorers past Detroit Mercy and Loyola-Chicago.
Lauretta Freeman, a 6'1" senior forward at Auburn, averaged 26 points and 18 rebounds in wins over Alabama and No. 2 Vanderbilt. At week's end Freeman had 23 double doubles this season.
Steve Honderd, a 6'7" senior center at Calvin College, a Division III school in Grand Rapids, Mich., scored 24 points in an 86-68 defeat of Alma and 61 in a 96-90 overtime victory over Kalamazoo.