Somewhat like sex goddesses of Hollywood past, the Indiana Hoosiers' only lament as the NCAA tournament hove into view last week seemed to be that they are loved for their bodies, not their souls. So before they keel over from lack of appreciation, here they are, the good guys.
Center Kent Benson is president of the I.U. chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Forward Steve Green has been accepted to dental school. Guard Quinn Buckner visits the children's ward at the local hospital and gives speeches to PTA groups. Coach Bob Knight employs a down-on-his-luck former player as a statistician. Now, with that out of the way, let's get back to basketball.
While they have been so busy cornering the market on Samaritanism, child care, Christianity and clean teeth, these terrific humanitarians have found time to go unbeaten through 30 games, outscore the opposition by an average of 23 points and dominate the college game all winter. They are a marvelous blend of strength, speed, discipline, intelligence and a positively vicious defense that forces the opposition to begin its attack somewhere in the vicinity of the lobby. Not to diminish the power of Benson or the shooting of Green, John Laskowski and the injured Scott May, it is Buckner and his running mate in backcourt, Bob Wilkerson, who are responsible for this Indiana tyranny.
Both have mobility, flexibility and unusual size for guards. On defense they rarely let opponents pass without pressure, and on offense they are masters at developing a game rhythm that enables the Hoosiers to flaunt their versatility. Simply put, the backcourt will not allow Indiana to play a bad game. "When they're in trouble," says one coach, "Indiana doesn't come to Buckner. He goes to them."
After the Hoosiers' 78-53 dismantling of UTEP last week in the first round of the NCAA playoffs, Buckner and his buddies looked ready to keep on rolling. During recent weeks, doubts had popped up about the Indiana defense without May. In 25 games with him, the Hoosiers had given up an average of only 63 points, but after May broke his left forearm against Purdue, they allowed 82, 89, 78 and 79 in the last four regular-season contests. Then, against UTEP's rawhide outfit, the Hoosiers out-defensed the national defense leaders and wore them down. May showed up with a "soft cast," a pin in his arm and played—for about a minute. Everybody else went back to the drawing board.
Before anyone signs a concession treaty, it should be added that Indiana remains only a slight favorite over the rest of the NCAA field. Except for UCLA (which did it four times) only two teams, San Francisco (1956) and North Carolina (1957), have entered the tournament unbeaten and exited as the national champion. And even if the Hoosiers end up winning, the tournament will be worth watching. By expanding its format to 32 teams, the NCAA guaranteed that this would be Trivia's tournament, chock-full of memories we'll want to treasure for years to come.
For starters, what team does Jud Heathcote coach? Who are The Hoyas? What school might play three opponents to which it has already lost? What team dropped back-to-back contests to Harvard and Navy? Which had a technical foul called against its athletic director? If you answered Montana, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and, surprise, UCLA, you win two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.
This week in Providence, R.I., Dayton, Ohio, Las Cruces, N. Mex. and Portland, Ore., the 16 survivors of first-round play will battle for the opportunity to qualify for the finals at San Diego on Easter weekend. Unless somebody sets fire to the Easter bunny, all the eggs are going to be colored red and blue: red for Indiana and Maryland, blue for North Carolina and UCLA.
At Dayton, Oregon State has the next chance to stop Indiana. Like their namesakes, the Beavers are industrious and resourceful, but they depend too much on huge Lonnie Shelton, who gets in foul trouble. Also, steady guards are needed against the Hoosiers, and OSU has only George (Ice T) Tucker. Against backcourt pressure, Ice T sometimes becomes Tea Bag.
The Hoosiers may face their stiffest test in the Mideast finals. Their opponent should be Kentucky, and after being embarrassed by Indiana in December, the Wildcats have made the biggest comeback since Neil Sedaka.
That 24-point defeat at Bloomington was the game in which Knight rapped Kentucky Coach Joe Hall on the head and the Wildcats' freshman centers, Rick Robey and Mike Phillips, were intimidated by Benson. Afterward Kentucky Captain Jimmy Dan Conner said, "Indiana is great; too bad they have a damn kid for a coach."
Playing as if possessed and with a deep bench, Kentucky is the highest-scoring team in the tournament. When backed by their rabid fans, as the Wildcats will be in Dayton where many emigrants from Appalachia have settled, they perform recklessly. Surely blood will be spilled here. If 24-point scorer Kevin Grevey, Conner and the freshmen big men get going early, Kentucky also could spill the Hoosiers.
Kansas State, Boston College, Syracuse and North Carolina are a surprise package in the East. But is it really a surprise when any Dean Smith team appears here? No coach is held in such high esteem by his peers; fittingly, after his most resourceful season, Smith is on the verge of being named the U.S. Olympic coach for 1976.
The Tar Heels earned the trip to Providence with brains, luck and the famous Ford corners. "If we get ahead, the other team has to chase the pony," says Forward Tom LaGarde of 6'2" freshman Phil Ford, who masterfully works the middle of Smith's patient four-corners offense.
Syracuse has the estimable Rudy Hackett, a much-overlooked forward. Kansas State has a slick backcourt of Chuckie Williams and the masked man, Mike Evans, who wears a plastic cover over his broken nose. BC, featuring Bob Carrington and Wil Morrison, is peaking just right.
But Carolina's tall Mitch Kupchak, leaping Walter Davis and Ford should be too much for all of them. Smith is nine for nine in regional games, and his Tar Heels should ride their little pony all the way to San Diego.
Two rematches are scheduled among the cacti in Las Cruces: Cincinnati against Louisville and Notre Dame against Maryland. Both the freshman-dominated Bearcats and the Irish, starring Adrian Dantley at the foul line, had inspired seasons. But the talented Cardinals and Terps should repeat their earlier victories.
Louisville is the enigma, loafing here, bickering there. The joke is that the team cannot get up for the little ones, and indeed it suffers alarming lapses of concentration. "It's cookin' time now though," says Louisville's smooth Allen Murphy, who splits his time between forward and guard.
If Forward Wesley Cox can recover from a pulled hamstring and his sulking moods, and Junior Bridge-man, another two-position man and the world's most underrated player, can keep the Cards shuffling, their contest with Maryland should be a frenetic struggle.
Having staggered down the stretch, the Terps are defenseless and foul-prone. Lefty Driesell has only six men, but his three-pronged backcourt of John Lucas, Mo Howard and Brad Davis, the best freshman guard around, directs a transitional offense that is nearly impossible to stop. In the rush to lionize Indiana, it often has been forgotten that Maryland finished first in the country in shooting percentage, third in rebounding and seventh in scoring. "Will we win the NCAA?" says Lucas. "Does a bear hibernate?"
Does a Bruin? This year's UCLA edition is happier than before, but also more suspect. UCLA is no lock to win its regional at Portland, not with the rootin', tootin', harassin' gang from Arizona State on hand.
Lionel Hollins and company beat strong Alabama 97-94 in the best first-round game, and they must defeat another toughie in Ricky Sobers-led Las Vegas to play UCLA. ASU's midcourt traps demoralized 'Bama, but the Bruins' back-court of Pete Trgovich and Andre Mc-Carter is more poised. With Dave Meyers, Marques Johnson and Rich Washington up front, UCLA should prevail.
Coach John Wooden calls his team "essentially passive." The exception is Meyers, the fearsome Spider with the crazed visage. Last week he was slowed by a sprained ankle and charley horse, but his 26 points proved it will take a herd of trampling broncos to stop Meyers now that the end is in sight.
If Easter weekend turns out to be a red and blue affair, one semifinal will be a return engagement between UCLA and Maryland. The Bruins won the December game when Meyers pumped through 36 points and Lucas was semi-injured. The Terps' three-guard system got them in trouble against taller UCLA then, but Davis is no longer a babe and he would have much more to say in a rematch.
In the other semifinal, it would not be astonishing to see UNC's Smith go with his stalling Ford at the opening bell in an attempt to control the tempo against Indiana's superior forces.
The coaches of the likely final four are not exactly strangers. The eldest daughter of Maryland's Driesell is a student at Indiana and gets Hoosier tickets from Knight himself. Knight and Smith frequently discuss tactics over the telephone. And the first time the Indiana coach spoke at Wooden's UCLA clinic, he arrived for his lecture with a black eye, the result of a disagreement with a motorist while he was on his way to the campus.
If Knight and Indiana make it back to Southern California this time, they will be equipped to give the other fellows the black eyes.
Captain Conner and his emotional teammates scratched Marquette and now are itching for Indiana.