When picking the most preposterous mismatch, the poor dollar against the song-and-dance team of Earl Butz at the supermarket keyboard and William Simon playing the gas pump is right up there. So is a fatso fighting the temptation of a chocolate bar. But neither can compare with the best of last week's season-opening dreadfuls: Indiana against Tennessee Tech.
Why doesn't Indiana, which has size, speed and a single-digit ranking in all the preseason polls, bite the bullet and pick on somebody its own size instead of an opponent with dark glasses and a white cane? That's simple. It is a basketball tradition for a top team to seek out one of the lowliest to get the season off to an easy start. So while North Carolina fattened up on Biscayne 101-74 and Memphis State mauled Montclair State 96-60, there were the Hoosiers with the plumpest Thanksgiving turkey of them all.
Tennessee Tech won seven games last year. When Sports Information Director Doug Stone was asked about the current squad's prospects, he drawled, "Awful." Still, continued Stone, the Golden Eagles were accustomed to facing super teams. "We played Austin Peay last year." he said pridefully. And, Stone boasted, the school has a championship rifle team. "I wish I could interest someone in doing a story," he said. "The trouble is, you never know whom to send the letter to."
Rifle writers can contact Stone at Cookeville, Tenn., Zip Code unnecessary. A pleasant town set in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Cookeville bills itself as "The Hub of the Upper Cumberlands" and Tennessee Tech is at the hub's hub. Its basketball arena once was the largest in the state, but since it seats only 4,750 people it has dropped in the standings.
Tech did have a quality guard named Frank Jones to use against Indiana, but Willie Smith, one of its best players, was out with his third attack of tonsillitis, floor leader Tony DiLeo was recovering from mononucleosis, and every time 6'7" Center Alton Roark turned sideways he seemed to be missing too, since he weighs only 195 pounds. He also had bruised ribs and a wrist that can be used as a barometer. "Whenever it hurts, I know it's going to rain," he says. Surrounding Roark were a group of Twiggys, including a 6'8", 190-pound freshman starting at forward. "We could send them all to Indiana in a mailing tube instead of a bus," mourned Tech Coach Connie Inman, who has scheduled subsequent games against Mercer, David Lipscomb and Milligan, which are schools, not people. Things can only get better for Tech.
Last February, just about the time Tech's record was 5-18, Indiana called Inman about playing a game. Inman spent his apprenticeship coaching at rural high schools in Ohio and he knows all about being an underdog. While he did not admit it loudly, he harbored dreams of an upset. He scrounged up old Indiana game films, scanned scouting service reports, gratefully received telephone calls from former players and strangers offering advice, attended a high school clinic to hear Hoosier Coach Bobby Knight speak ("He told me we would win," Inman says), dispatched an assistant coach to scout an Indiana intrasquad scrimmage, canceled a scrimmage of his own to thwart similar strategy on the part of the Hoosiers and took to greeting people with, "Do you think their press will hurt us?"
Meanwhile a rumor spread around the Tech campus that a janitor had discovered a scruffy red wig, cigarette butts and some film wrappers in one of the gymnasium ventilating shafts. However Knight gathered his information, Indiana was well briefed. The Hoosiers knew the Golden Eagles' starting five on a first-name basis and Knight told them solemnly that Tech "has two 6'9" centers and Frank Jones is an All-America."
Knight never has been an advocate of mercy killing. Indiana defeated Notre Dame 94-29 three years ago and its fiery leader was clearly aiming for a shutout Saturday. Practices were closed as usual, and when the team suffered a rash of mistakes during one of them, Knight angrily kicked over a chair, punched an assistant coach in the back and berated his players in a manner that would have caused less stoic young men to cry. At Knight's home on Thanksgiving the team had roll call, performed calisthenics, sang Hail to the Chief, dined on bread and water and conducted passing drills for dessert.
Indiana's Assembly Hall is a terrifying place for visiting teams. The Hoosiers have lost only twice there since the arena opened three years ago and on Saturday there were just 60 Tennessee Tech fans sprinkled among the 16,094 spectators. When the visitors walked out for the tip-off, they could be forgiven for trembling as the bright lights and awesome sound beat down on them. The Indiana players, huge red-haired Center Kent Benson, star Guard Quinn Buckner and the rest, moved alongside Tech's men. For a moment the Golden Eagles must have endured vertigo as the scene froze to soundlessness and the impact of their task crushed in upon them. The Hoosiers scored the game's first 12 points. The final score was 113-60. There was no upset.
Later Inman and his players, disconsolate and embarrassed, filed aboard their wretched bus, their dreams abruptly dead as they settled down for their trip back into the hills.