Sure, it's possible that the 1994 NCAA champion will come from outside our Top 20, but don't bet the pizza-and-beer money on it. These days you can't find Cinderella with a search warrant, and the truth is, March Madness isn't nearly as mad as it used to be. Mark it down: Bob Knight will coach Indiana wearing a black-and-gold Purdue sweater before any team seeded below No. 6 makes it to the finals in Charlotte.
Yes, we remember the four opening-round NCAA tournament megaupsets last year in which teams seeded Nos. 15, 13, 12 and 11 defeated teams seeded Nos. 2, 4, 5 and 6, respectively. But three of those upset winners (Santa Clara, Southern and Tulane) were zapped in the very next round. (George Washington made it to the Sweet 16, but did so by beating Southern.) The climate just no longer exists in which a Drexel or a Coastal Carolina can realistically expect to make more than a cameo appearance. They take their No. 14, 15 or 16 seed and their week's worth of fame, then ask for a blindfold and a cigarette. Nowadays even the Sweet 16 is an impossible dream for anybody from off the beaten ESPN path.
So who whacked Cinderella as we have always known and loved her? Well, most fingers are pointing to the NCAA rule makers. Everything they do seems designed to benefit the talented teams that least need the help. This season, for example, they've cut the shot clock from 45 seconds to 35, and they've eliminated the five-second held-ball violation, which heretofore forced players to either advance the ball or pass off. The idea, apparently, is to speed games up, especially at the end, because too many had degenerated into tedious free-throw-shooting contests. However, the result may be something else again.
Most coaches say they fear that these rule changes will result in college ball's becoming more of a one-on-one, NBA-type game in which dribbling is more important than passing and moving without the ball. They see games becoming showcases for multitalented big men such as Duke's Grant Hill and Purdue's Glenn Robinson. Mostly they see meddling where none was needed.
"There has always been great diversity in the college game," says Holy Cross coach George Blaney. "One team is big, the other is small. One team plays fast, the other slow. One team plays full-court pressure, the other soft pressure. All of these things make college basketball what it is. And then television comes in and wants to speed up the game and wants instant gratification."
The math involved in the new rules is pretty simple: Shorter possessions equal more possessions for each team, and more possessions equal a bigger advantage for the teams with the most offensive talent. Says Wisconsin coach Stu Jackson, the former coach of the NBA's New York Knicks, "Taking away the closely guarded rule in conjunction with the shot clock caters to teams that have the talent level to break defenses down, particularly off" the dribble. Those are generally your more talented teams."
He's right, and that's why, after analyzing all the teams outside our Top 20, we can come up with only eight teams that we think have a genuine chance to pull off a major surprise and make it to the Sweet 16.
•Memphis State lost Anfernee Hardaway, whose already marvelous game would have risen a notch or two under the new rules, but the Tigers get back 6'9" forward David Vaughn (page 62), who sat out last season with a knee injury. He'll team with three new transfers, as well as with four freshmen who were ranked as one of the nation's top recruiting classes. Vaughn is weary of being asked "How's the knee?" He reports that it's fine. The larger concern for coach Larry Finch is how quickly his newcomers get up to speed. One of them, freshman Sylvester (Deuce) Ford, has requested that the media refer to him by his nickname. Deuce will probably start at point guard once he recovers from surgery for stress fractures in both shins.
•Marquette has been seeking a new nickname to replace Warriors, which is peculiar when you consider what coach Kevin O'Neill has been seeing in this preseason. "Our practices are more physical than football practices," O'Neill says. The guys delivering the most blows are 7'1" senior center Jim McIlvaine, 6'9" sophomore forward Amal McCaskill, 6'7" freshman forward Faisal Abraham and, of course, 6'8" senior forward Damon Key, the top rebounder returning from last season's 20-8 team. Sounds like a team that Al McGuire would love, right? Well, the old Marquette coach would probably like 6'8" sophomore swingman Roney Eford most of all. Eford is a New York City playground product who has been known to put himself into games when he gets bored watching from the bench. "He continues to shock us all," says O'Neill.
•Without question, our No. 1 sleeper is Tennessee State, mostly because of 6'10" center Carlos Rogers, who led the Tigers to the Ohio Valley Conference title by averaging 20.7 points and 11.7 rebounds last year. "Carlos is the best player I've ever had," says coach Frankie Allen. When Rogers stays awake, that is. Before a crucial league game against Middle Tennessee State last season, Rogers wanted so badly to shake a lingering cold that he ingested every over-the-counter medicine he could find: Benadryl, NyQuil, AlkaSeltzer Plus. The result was that he passed out in the locker room and didn't make it out on the court until eight minutes into the game. No problem. Once his wake-up call sounded, Rogers roused himself for 20 points and nine rebounds in the 84-67 victory.
•Virginia Commonwealth has a player who might really flourish under the new rules. "We're going to use a dribble-oriented offense," says coach Sonny Smith, "because I've got Kenny Harris." A 6'1" point guard who transferred to VCU after two seasons at North Carolina, Harris will control the ball and find ways to get it to 6'8" forward Kendrick Warren, who was first-team All-Metro Conference despite missing the last 11 games of the season with a foot injury.
•In picking Texas, we're taking the bull by the horns and saying it's possible for a team from the lowly Southwest Conference to stampede a significant distance through the NCAA tournament in March. Coach Tom Penders goes so far as to say, "We could be a Final Four team." That's a stretch even by Texas standards, because the Longhorns are long on talent but short on chemistry. One of the few sure pluses on the team is junior guard Terrence Rencher, who's on track to become the Longhorns' alltime leading scorer next season. Transfers Tremaine Wingfield, a 6'6" small forward from Louisville, and Rich McIver, a 6'9" banger from Michigan, should both like the weaker competition in the SWC. But there are still lingering questions about point guard B.J. Tyler. This fall Tyler checked himself into the John Lucas Center, a rehab clinic in Houston, and is not expected to be available until Dec. 15.
•Kentucky coach Rick Pitino thinks Georgia could be the surprise team in the SEC this season. The Bulldogs were so disappointing last year—struggling to finish 15-14 and averaging fewer than 6,000 fans at home—that the university sent a message to veteran coach Hugh Durham by declining to roll over his four-year contract. With his job on the line, Durham isn't likely to tolerate underachievement from any of his five returning starters. The biggest letdown last year was 7-foot, 265-pound junior center Charles Claxton, who has a world of potential but averaged only 11.5 points and 6.6 rebounds. Point guard Bernard Davis also needs to do a better job of running a team that last season committed 35 more turnovers than it forced.
•Difficult as it may be to think of Indiana as anything other than a title contender, the loss of consensus national Player of the Year Calbert Cheaney and three other seniors means the Hoosiers have a lot more questions than answers. Can 6'3" senior guard Damon Bailey finally become the kind of scorer he was in high school? Will 6'9" junior forward Alan Henderson's surgically repaired right knee and 6'5" senior swingman Pat Graham's delicate left foot—the one with the bone that has broken each of the last two years—hold up the whole season? Is 7-foot Todd Lindeman, a redshirt last year, just too nice to be a force in the middle? And how many of the team's five freshmen will be able to make a contribution? Knight already seems to see a role for freshman guards Steve Hart and Sherron Wilkerson. "I would like to think that, eventually, Wilkerson and Hart are going to create a lot of problems on defense," says Knight. "As soon as they learn to spell it."
•And then there's Purdue, with Glenn Robinson. Had he opted to go out for last season's NBA draft, after only one year of college ball, Robinson would have been one of the top five picks. Instead he's back for a second season that could be fascinating. The changes in the rules might allow him to play like a 6'8" version of Oscar Robertson. "I can play him wherever I want to play him, right?" says Boilermaker coach Gene Keady. "He'll be like Oscar used to be—a little point, a little center, a little forward. And if they don't double-team him: dribble, dribble, dribble, dunk. I'm not going to screw around with guards. We'll just give it to Glenn."
Call off the search. Who needs Cinderella when we've got Glennderella? The teams in the Top 20 should consider themselves warned.