Forget for a moment that the 1995-96 college basketball season
is due to reach its climax on April 1, 1996, in the Meadowlands,
a grim expanse of asphalt and swampland in East Rutherford, N.J.
(Unfortunately, we're not fooling.) Just because this year's
road to the Final Four is going to be traffic-choked and
pothole-pocked, the season itself won't be any less appetizing.
If it's too painful to think about the prospects of obtaining a
Final Four ticket in the 20,039-seat Meadowlands Arena--which
will be the last nondome venue to host a Final Four--ponder
instead these nuggets of truth about the coming season.
1. Duke and North Carolina aren't Top 25 teams.
It's likely that for the first time, neither the Blue Devils nor
the Tar Heels will finish in the top three of the ACC. Last
year--without Grant Hill, Antonio Lang or, for much of the
season, coach Mike Krzyzewski--Duke finished dead last in the
conference after going to the '94 Final Four. And now Carolina,
having lost early NBA draftees Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed
Wallace and three other top players from last year's national
semifinalist team, appears poised to follow the Blue Devils into
the ACC's nether reaches.
How callow are these teams? With just Dante Calabria left to
enjoy coach Dean Smith's senior caste system, Carolina has
scotched the traditional senior group photo for its media-guide
cover in favor of an illustration. Duke has Coach K back but no
senior starters returning; the vets in the lineup are a junior
and two sophomores. As further signs of desperate straits, both
teams will be centered by underskilled foreigners--Canadian Greg
Newton at Duke and Serge Zwikker of the Netherlands at
Carolina--and both coaches just took in their first transfers.
Roshown McLeod left St. John's to sit out a year in Durham, and
ex-Michigan Wolverine Makhtar Ndiaye will take a breather at
October 23, 1995
Calabria, for one, has prepared himself for an ugly year by
purchasing a smiley-face pendant. "Every time I start to worry,"
he says, "I just touch it and say, 'Be happy.'"
Officials at a certain California school might want to order a
few equally perky talismans because ...
2. Fresno State will make news, and it won't all be good.
Since former UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian took over, the Bulldogs
have sold more tickets than in any season in a decade and
donations to the school's athletic fund have shot up by $1
million. But controversy seems to have followed Tark to the San
Joaquin Valley, even if the towel nosher and his new charges
seem to be blameless on all counts.
In October, Tarkanian's son and assistant coach, Danny, and
players Chris Herren, Terrance Roberson and James Gray were
searched at gunpoint outside a Fresno restaurant by police who
had received a report of a man with a gun creating a
disturbance. No weapons were found, and no arrests were made.
But the most surreal incident occurred--or purportedly
occurred--over the summer. Rumor, nothing more, placed Tarkanian
at a health club, Dan Gamel's Racquet Time, watching his players
in summer pickup games in violation of NCAA rules. What's more,
word had it that Tark wasn't just watching them, but watching
them while having his nails done. Interim athletic director Ben
Quillian looked into the story to determine whether there was
any substance on which to base an investigation. He concluded
there wasn't. "I personally visited the room in which that
allegedly took place," Quillian said, "and it is absolutely
impossible to see the basketball court from the manicure station."
Speaking of manicures, nail-biting will be a popular bench
activity this year because ...
3. Several coaches are on the hot seat.
Although he is expected to sign a new contract in November, Joey
Meyer can't feel too secure at DePaul, where he no longer has a
do-everything guy like Tom Kleinschmidt to mask his team's
shortcomings. The Blue Demons, who were mediocre in the Great
Midwest last year (6-6), will find the going much tougher in
Conference USA. Randy Ayers brought in a decent recruiting class
at Ohio State, but there isn't a Lawrence Funderburke, a Jimmy
Jackson or a Chris Jent in it, and Ayers, in his seventh season
in Columbus, will need to keep his players out of trouble to
keep the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten cellar and himself off the
Speaking of cellars, sixth-year N.C. State coach Les Robinson
can't expect Duke to serve as league doormat again this year,
nor can he expect the Wolfpack faithful to put up with a fifth
straight losing season.
Other schools may not be so generous with their time. Paul
Westhead has been at George Mason for only two years, but his
run-and-gun offense has misfired for the 17-37 Patriots. At
Vanderbilt, AD Paul Hoolahan has quit, which could mean that Jan
van Breda Kolff won't last beyond a third subpar year.
Fourth-year St. John's coach Brian Mahoney reeled in Felipe
Lopez, Zendon Hamilton and Tarik Turner, but can he get the
sophomore trio to the NCAAs before Lopez bolts for the NBA? And
John MacLeod, in his fifth year at Notre Dame and his first in
the Big East, will feel the heat if he doesn't improve on his
Joe Harrington at Colorado may have saved his job last year by
successfully recruiting Denver schoolboy star Chauncey Billups,
a 6'3" guard who will be lining up with 6'8" sophomore transfer
Martice Moore, the ACC Rookie of the Year two years ago at
Georgia Tech. This year, Moore will be just one example of how ...
4. Transfer players will make an impact.
Remember Avondre Jones, the hotshot freshman center at USC two
years ago? Well, he and coach George Raveling didn't hit it off.
But with Raveling gone and a juco stopover behind him, Jones is
back at Troy. Forward Tchaka Shipp, the former Brooklyn high
school star and Seton Hall reserve, is back for UC Irvine after
recovering from a car accident that left him in a nine-day coma
and with amnesia for six months. After bolting Duke, forward
Joey Beard suits up at Boston University for Dennis Wolff, the
ex-Virginia assistant who tried unsuccessfully to woo him to
Charlottesville out of high school. Senior forward Jerome
Lambert, whose 14.8 rebounds per game at Baylor led the nation
two years ago, is now at Oklahoma State, as is former Florida
State forward Maurice Robinson, another good rebounder.
Among those sitting out a transfer year now are Rodrick Rhodes,
who left Kentucky for USC, and onetime hot recruit Herren, a
guard who departed from Boston College after an injury-riddled
year and plans to suit up for Tark at Fresno State. And Bobby
Crawford is at Rice, having fled the talent glut at Michigan
like his former teammate Ndiaye. Which is no bother for
Wolverine coach Steve Fisher because ...
5. For the third time in five years, Michigan has reeled in the
best recruiting class in the nation.
Fisher has baffled the recruiting experts again by following up
last year's five-star haul with three McDonald's All-Americas:
6'6" forward Albert White from Inkster, Mich.; 6'9", 310-pound
forward Robert (Tractor) Traylor from Detroit; and 6'2" guard
Louis Bullock from Laurel, Md., a shooter who claims he has won
every three-point contest he has entered since sixth grade.
Asked about Michigan's seemingly undeniable appeal, one
prospective recruit said, "I think it's the baggy pants."
Meanwhile, the allure of Mississippi State remains shrouded in
mystery, though it may be revealed this year because ...
6. Starkville will become a popular travelers' destination.
And yes, as a matter of fact, pigs can fly. Razorbacks--as well
as Tigers, Wildcats and Volunteers--get to Starkville, the home
of the fourth-ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, through its
Golden Triangle Airport. It's just that nobody ever stays there,
which must be puzzling to a town that calls itself "the home of
hospitality." Visiting teams and media often hole up in
Columbus, which is a good 30 miles away but at least has things
to do, like buy a bag of M&M's after 10 p.m.
But now that the Bulldogs, led by Erick Dampier and Darryl
Wilson, are a national power, Starkville's six hotels may have
to air out their 504 beds. Approximately 8,500
entertainment-starved folks showed up for Midnight Madness in
October, an event televised by ESPN2, and the ticket office
fears that it will have more season-ticket requests than it can
Starkville isn't the only burg where talent will come out of
hiding this year. The NBA has snapped up the college game's most
obvious talent, so ...
7. Here's where you should look for this season's player of the
For the record, Storrs, Conn., is where UConn junior Ray Allen
can be found. Junior Tim Duncan is at Wake Forest, and senior
Kerry Kittles hangs out at Villanova. Long shot Allen Iverson at
Georgetown may be the easiest to locate, but remember, even if
you can get parking, you still have to get through the Hoyas'
formidable sports information fortress. Fortunately, there are
signs at G'town and elsewhere that ...
8. The Big East's pugnacious reputation is outdated.
To say that John Thompson has gone from paranoid to overjoyed
would be overstating matters, but how do you explain the
overprotective Georgetown coach's allowing his players their
first-ever Midnight Madness party on Oct. 20? Might he, like the
Big East itself, have been rejuvenated by uncharacteristic
backcourt dazzle? Iverson, the Hoyas' sophomore point guard;
Kittles; Allen; and Lopez of St. John's--all shooting
guards--have given a new face to a league whose image was
founded on the bruising frontcourt play of Georgetown and
Syracuse. And the Big East isn't just prettier this year, it's
bigger. By absorbing Rutgers, West Virginia and Notre Dame, the
conference has ballooned to 13 teams, which just goes to show
you that ...
9. For conferences, as for entertainment conglomerates
everywhere, it's "swallow or be swallowed."
The 12-member Conference USA (page 124) has consumed almost
everything about the Metro and the Great Midwest
conferences--except for their automatic NCAA tournament bids.
The Atlantic 10, a nine-member league last year, is larger but
still mathematically incorrect. Its 12 teams include newcomers
Dayton, LaSalle, Virginia Tech, Xavier and Fordham.
Towson State has made the somewhat miraculous migration from the
Big South to the North Atlantic without leaving Towson, Md.
Meanwhile, Virginia Commonwealth has left the defunct Metro for
the more felicitous Colonial. The Mid-Eastern says hello to
Division I newcomer Hampton (Va.), while Jacksonville State
makes its Division I debut with the Trans America. Oral
Roberts, believe it or not, is the only school left to welcome
Division II graduate Wofford to the ranks of the Division I
With the Big South and the Mid-Continent regaining automatic
tournament bids, look for UNC Greensboro and Valparaiso to get
their first taste of life as tournament fodder. And speaking of
grist for the mill ...
10. When you have nothing else to do, chew on this:
The use of smokeless tobacco by student athletes, coaches and
bench personnel will now be penalized by a technical foul. (So
much for the Skoal Preseason Invitational Tournament, which
would have been known, naturally, as the SPIT.)
This is the last we'll see of the Big Eight, a conference that
thrived for 88 years, and the Southwest Conference, which dates
back to 1914. Meanwhile ...
The Big Ten celebrates its 100th anniversary. Like many
centenarians, it's a little low on spunk. Things have been so
grim for Indiana that, in an unusual move, coach Bob Knight has
added three junior college transfers to his roster, his most
ever. Of course, the last time Knight relied heavily on jucos,
their names were Dean Garrett and Keith Smart, the year was
1986, and the Hoosiers won the national title. Just something to
COURTSIDE CHANGES: MAJOR OFF-SEASON COACHING MOVES
Date March 16
School South Alabama
Former coach Ronnie Arrow (resigned)
New coach; previous position Bill Musselman;
head coach, Rochester Renegades (CBA), 1993-94
[Date] March 20
[School] Florida International
[Former coach] Bob Weltlich (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Marcos (Shakey) Rodriguez;
head coach, Miami (Fla.) H.S., 1981-95
[Date] March 23
[School] Arkansas State
[Former coach] Nelson Catalina (reassigned)
[New coach; previous position] Dickey Nutt;
assistant coach, Arkansas State, 1987-95
[Date] March 29
[Former coach] Coleman Crawford (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Dan Hipsher;
head coach, Stetson, 1993-95
[Date] March 29
[Former coach] Hugh Durham (fired)
[New coach; previous position] Tubby Smith;
head coach, Tulsa, 1991-95
[Date] March 30
[School] SW Missouri State
[Former coach] Mark Bernsen (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Steve Alford;
head coach, Manchester (Ind.), 1991-95
[Date] March 30
[Former coach] Dan Hipsher (took job at Akron)
[New coach; previous position] Randy Brown;
assistant coach, Stetson, 1993-95
[Date] March 30
[Former coach] Tim Grgurich (medical reasons)
[New coach; previous position] Bill Bayno;
assistant coach, UMass, 1988-95
[Date] March 31
[Former coach] Stan Van Gundy (fired)
[New coach; previous position] Dick Bennett;
head coach, Wisconsin-Green Bay, 1985-95
[Date] April 3
[School] Wisconsin-Green Bay
[Former coach] Dick Bennett (took job at Wisconsin)
[New coach; previous position] Mike Heideman;
assistant coach, Wisconsin-Green Bay, 1986-95
[Date] April 4
[Former coach] John Carroll (fired)
[New coach; previous position] Scott Edgar;
head coach, Murray State, 1991-95
[Date] April 5
[School] Fresno State
[Former coach] Gary Colson (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Jerry Tarkanian;
head coach, San Antonio Spurs, 1992
[Date] April 7
[School] Oregon State
[Former coach] Jim Anderson (retired)
[New coach; previous position] Eddie Payne;
head coach, East Carolina, 1991-95
[Date] April 11
[School] East Carolina
[Former coach] Eddie Payne (took job at Oregon State)
[New coach; previous position] Joe Dooley;
assistant coach, East Carolina, 1991-95
[Date] April 12
[Former coach] Steve Steinwedel (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Mike Brey;
assistant coach, Duke, 1987-95
[Date] April 12
[Former coach] Tubby Smith (took job at Georgia)
[New coach; previous position] Steve Robinson;
assistant coach, Kansas, 1989-95
[Date] April 25
[School] Murray State
[Former coach] Scott Edgar (took job at Duquesne)
[New coach; previous position] Mark Gottfried;
assistant coach, UCLA, 1988-95
[Date] May 5
[Former coach] John Shumate (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Mike Dement;
head coach, UNC Greensboro, 1991-95
[Date] May 18
[School] UNC Greensboro
[Former coach] Mike Dement (took job at SMU)
[New coach; previous position] Randy Peele;
assistant coach, UNC Greensboro, 1991-95
[Date] July 1
[School] Michigan State
[Former coach] Jud Heathcote (retired)
[New coach; previous position] Tom Izzo;
assistant coach, Michigan State, 1983-95
[Date] July 20
[School] St. Joseph's
[Former coach] John Griffin (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Phil Martelli;
assistant coach, St. Joseph's, 1985-95
[Date] Sept. 6
[School] Penn State
[Former coach] Bruce Parkhill (resigned)
[New coach; previous position] Jerry Dunn;
assistant coach, Penn State, 1983-95