Pulling together a special section such as this week's college basketball preview, which begins on page 42, is certainly nothing new to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. We have been producing such preseason packages since 1954, SI's first year. But even old hands at culling the Top 20 teams from more than 200 candidates invariably find enough surprises to make all the weeks of research and writing rewarding. In this issue, for example, Michigan is ranked No. 1, thereby becoming the first school to be top-rated by SI in both basketball and football in the same year.
"On paper a lot of teams had the talent to make the Top 20, and there were quite a few possibilities for No. 1," says Barry McDermott, who has written a lot of basketball for us since joining the staff in 1971. "The only way you can separate the best from the rest is go out in the field and see for yourself. So that's what we do." McDermott is in the field about 25 days a month during the season and, if he has any complaint, it is that traveling has cut into his own game. "I used to play every day," he says. "Now, I'm losing my jump shot."
Larry Keith, who wrote this week's story on coaching eccentricities and contributed two scouting reports, also used to play a good deal of basketball—evidently without ever finding a jump shot. "I grew up in North Carolina where I was a member of the Pinewood Sewer Rats," says Keith. "I hate to admit it, but in all the years I played for them, I scored only one basket."
Kent Hannon, whose story on the best of the small colleges, Philadelphia Textile, starts on page 75, spends most of the season digging out facts and checking the accuracy of finished stories. But while the special issue is in its formative stages, he travels as much as McDermott, suffering from the effects of overlapping seasons. "I'm either in a rented car with an inoperative radio or in an airplane waiting for the pilot to announce the score of the World Series, which begins just as basketball practice gets under way," he says.
In addition to McDermott, Keith and Hannon, Don Delliquanti, Joe Jares, Jim Kaplan, Melissa Ludtke, Bruce Newman, Billy Reed and Nancy Williamson—our expert on the women's game—wrote scouting reports for Basketball Editor Walt Bingham, who claims the best foul shot on SI's special-issue team. "I still use the two-handed set shot," he says.
Bingham's expertise aside, SI's basketball department does not expect a revival of the old-fashioned set shot this winter. But after two seasons dominated by Indiana University, we do foresee the return of vigorous competition for the top spot, with teams from all over the country challenging Michigan. That's one reason McDermott could hardly wait for play to begin.
"This year it looks like we'll be getting some variety," said McDermott, as he headed to the Far West to cover early-season games. "For the first time in three years, I won't be eating Thanksgiving dinner in Bloomington, Ind."
SI'S BASKETBALL TOP FOUR: BINGHAM, HANNON, McDERMOTT AND KEITH