5 TO WATCH
Since SPORTS ILLUSTRATED instituted its Five to Watch category in 1972, the selectees have done nothing if not make fans do double takes. For example, Colorado, a choice in 1973, went on to a 9-17 season. Duke, one of the picks in 1977, won 27 games and met Kentucky for the NCAA title. The point is that Five to Watch selections are not intended to be Nos. 21-25 in our rankings. Rather they are talented teams that for one reason or another—youthfulness, injuries, previous failures to live up to their potential, etc.—could go bang or go bust. With that in mind...
Take Weber State, and this season few teams will. Since joining the NCAA's Division I in 1962, the Wildcats have played in eight NCAA tournaments. Last season Weber went 25-9 and won its second straight Big Sky title. Back now, and presumably savvier, are four starters and two top reserves who in 1978-79 accounted for 80% of the Wildcats' points and most of the rebounds, a category in which Weber placed among the national leaders. Among them are all-conference seniors Richard Smith, David Johnson and Bruce Collins, a swingman whose 1,488 points leave him just 75 shy of passing Willie Sojourner's school career scoring record. One good omen for Wildcat fans is that Guard Mark Mattos, a three-year starter, is being challenged by junior college transfer Eric Watson. Another is that the first round of the NCAA regionals is scheduled for Dee Event Center right there on the Weber campus.
Oregon State, another traditional big winner, is also optimistic. In 78 seasons the Beavers have won more games than any school except Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and St. John's. Trouble is, since 1966 UCLA's talent has been far too much for Oregon State. Now things may change; the Beavers have all five starters back from last year's 18-10 team. Guards Ray Blume and Mark Radford are both double-figure scorers, which takes pressure off Center Steve Johnson, who pumped in 18.5 points a game and shot 66.1% from the floor last season. State's major problem was inconsistency, a flaw Coach Ralph Miller thinks he has remedied. Indeed, in an exhibition against Yugoslavia's national team, the Beavers were remarkably consistent, bombing the World Cup champs 94-73.
After facing UCLA in the NCAA final in 1970, Jacksonville hit the skids. Then last season in came new Coach Tates Locke, who said it was time to "pick up the pieces." He took a team that had suffered three consecutive non-winning seasons and turned it into a 19-game winner that became known throughout Florida as—better brace yourself—Locke's Net Monsters. Two starters are back from that squad, but the key to continued success for the Dolphins lies with their biggest and littlest players. The big one is Center James Ray, a two-time field-goal-percentage leader in the Sun Belt Conference. The little one is 5'8" freshman Guard Maurice Roulhac, who is counted on to give Jacksonville more quickness. Locke, a noted stickler for defense, isn't troubled a bit by Roulhac's lack of height. "The question isn't who is Maurice going to guard," he says, "but, who can guard Maurice."
Last year Missouri lost nine of its first 13 games and then won nine of its last 15, including upsets of Big Eight powers Kansas, Oklahoma and Kansas State. The Tigers were awfully young then, but now they have four experienced starters back, including the high-powered guard combination of Larry Drew and Steve Wallace. Coach Norm Stewart can also use Forward Ricky Frazier, a transfer from St. Louis U. who in 1978 was the Metro Seven Freshman of the Year. On top of that, Stewart has recruited a budding superstar in Steve Stipanovich, a 6'11" center who shot 62% and scored 24.8 points a game in leading St. Louis' DeSmet High School to a 32-0 record and back-to-back state championships.
Furman Center Jonathan Moore is unique. What else can you say of a guy who has trained his pet fish to jump out of an aquarium and eat worms that Moore dangles over the surface? Well, you could also say that Moore is a whale of a player. He has been All-Southern Conference three straight seasons and in 1978-79 was the league MVP as well. This year Moore leads a veteran team that put together a 20-9 record last season. Of equal significance is the fact that second-year Coach Eddie Holbrook now feels much more at home. He came to Furman following 14 seasons at Gardner Webb, where he won 344 of 411 games. He says last season was frustrating because he tried to blend his pressure style of play with the more deliberate approach of his predecessor, Joe Williams. "This year we'll play baseline to baseline," says Holbrook.
Brigham Young may be king of the mountains in the WAC, but Utah and New Mexico are not far down the slopes. The Lobos retain three starters from a rebuilding season and are bolstered by newcomer Kenny Page, a guard who transferred from Ohio State. Nonetheless Norm Ellenberger, like most coaches, is pessimistic. "We're so bad, I can't stand it," he says. Utah should pose the most serious threat to BYU. The Utes have the league's other dandy Danny in Danny Vranes, their leading rebounder and field-goal shooter last year, plus two other ' holdover starters.
San Diego, 19-7 last season in Division II, has stepped up to play with the big boys of the WCAC. "No one knows what we have," says Coach Jim Brovelli, "and I like that." It may not matter, though, because San Francisco should retain its title despite the loss of All-America Center Bill Cartwright. The Dons will be overpowering because 7-foot Wallace Bryant fills the void in the middle nicely, and there are two promising freshman guards, Raymond McCoy and Quintin Dailey, to bolster a strong backcourt. San Francisco's toughest challenge should now come from Portland and Seattle. The Chieftains' 7-foot center, Jawann Oldham, will be joined by several newcomers, including Oliver Manuel, who is capable of jumping 40 inches straight up. Portland is depending on improved depth and Center Bryan Beard, a redshirt last season.
"I don't think there's a clear-cut favorite in the Pac-10," says Washington Coach Marv Harshman. He's right. Although the odds favor UCLA and Oregon State, Harshman's Huskies are no pushovers; they retain the entire roster from last season's 11-16 team. Among the holdovers is 7'2", 265-pound Center Petur Gudmundsson from Iceland. Washington State lost all-league Center James Donaldson, but the Cougars return three other players who scored in double figures. According to Arizona Coach Fred Snowden, to beat the big boys from California you have to start in their own backyard. So he did, coming up with Leon Wood, the leading high school scorer in California history, and David Mosebar, the state's JC Player of the Year. Southern Cal is suffering because bone chips have hobbled Center Doug Widfeldt and the pros snapped up Cliff Robinson. Arizona State's dominating center, 6'10" Kurt Nimphius, will get help from Alton Listor in the ASU two-post offense, but the Sun Devils shouldn't rise higher than the middle of the league. Stanford and Cal should battle for the conference cellar, even though the Cardinals have outstanding Forward Kimberly Belton and the Bears brought in their best class of recruits ever. Oregon may figure in the basement battle, too, because five new faces will line up for the Ducks.
Long Beach State Coach Tex Winter just shakes his head and says, "We sure look good on paper." They sure do, which means the 49ers may win their first PCAA title in two seasons. Winter has four starters back, including Francois Wise and Michael Wiley, both of whom suffered mid-season injuries when Long Beach was 9-0 and nationally ranked. The 49ers went 7-12 thereafter. Defending champion Pacific has four holdover starters, including Ron Cornelious, the league's best player.
Jerry Tarkanian can stop biting his towel because Nevada-Las Vegas is off its two-year probation and eligible for postseason play. And just in time, too. In the early going the youthful Rebels will rely heavily on Guard Ray Williams, the only senior and starter from last season's 21-8 team. Later on Tarkanian will be able to shift some of the burden to three newcomers, each of whom was named Player of the Year in his home city: Sidney Green (New York), Michael Johnson (Los Angeles) and Larry Anderson (Pittsburgh). Another factor that should help offset UNLV's inexperience is that 11 of its first 12 games are at home.
A Kansas basketball insider warns anyone trying to gauge this year's Jayhawk squad that "we can make you look very bad. We could be anywhere from 27-3 to 18-12." The Jayhawks will capture the Big Eight title and challenge for 27 wins only if Coach Ted Owens can find a big man to support junior Guard Darnell Valentine, freshman Guard Ricky Ross and the rest of the fast-breaking, pressing team.
If Kansas goes belly up and Missouri never gets off the ground, watch out for Oklahoma. The defending conference champion Sooners, 21-10 last season, have lost Big Eight Player of the Year John McCullough and supersub Cary Carrabine, but they retain the services of four starters with double-digit scoring averages. Among them is ever-improving Raymond Whitley, an explosive guard who won the Big Eight tournament MVP award.
Although Texas A&M and Arkansas figure to dominate the Southwest Conference, rebuilt Houston will spring plenty of surprises. The Cougars recruited Forward Larry Rogers, an ex-Army star and New York Knick draftee, Guard Robert Williams, a blue-chipper from nearby Milby High, and Center Darryl Brown and Guard Walker Russell, two heralded junior-college transfers.
Indiana State, the darlings of college basketball last season, lost the spectacular Larry Bird to the Boston Celtics, but Brad Miley, Alex Gilbert, Steve Reed and Carl Nicks are back. So is Bob Heaton, often called "the best sixth man in the country." The Sycamores just might win the Missouri Valley again, but they won't win their first 33 games as they did in 1978-79. In the Valley, Indiana State must worry about Creighton. The Blue Jays were only 14-13 last season, but that record was accomplished with nine freshmen and sophomores. Wichita State Coach Gene Smithson welcomes his son Randy, a transfer from Cowley County (Kans.) Community College, and five promising freshmen—including an exciting forward, Antoine Carr. Drake will miss Wayne Kreklow and Chad Nelson, but not as much as one might think. Newcomer Lewis Lloyd, from New Mexico Military Institute, was the nation's top junior-college scorer last season with a 31.5-point average.
Though Dr. Dunkelstein, Darrell Griffith, is still around, Louisville's domination of the Metro Conference appears to be over. The Cardinals will be good again—but not good enough to hold off Virginia Tech and Florida State. Griffith's supporting cast includes the McCray brothers, freshman Rodney and sophomore Scooter. The older McCray is a passing whiz who will be more at home now that he's moved from center to forward. The 6'7" Rodney and 6'8" sophomore Wiley Brown might help the Cardinals overcome the absence of an intimidating center. Brown will be helped by his lower weight—217, down from 225—greater experience and new thumb. A childhood accident cost Brown his right thumb and turned him into a lefthander, but last season he had trouble gripping the ball on rebounds and free throws. So Louisville has had him fitted with an artificial thumb. It works fine, when it stays on. The thumb came off in a collision in a preseason game and flew toward the bleachers. Brown nonchalantly picked it up, tossed it to the bench and then slammed home a dunk the next time he touched the ball.
Ken Hayes, who never had a losing season in 11 years at Tulsa and New Mexico State, should keep his streak intact at Oral Roberts. Titan fans have not seen the last of their former coach, Ken Trickey, however. Trickey is now at Oklahoma City, and the Chiefs should be Oral Roberts' toughest competition in the new Midwestern City Conference.
LSU and Kentucky are not about to lap the rest of the SEC field, not with 38 of the league's 50 starters from last season back in action. "There isn't a cinch win in the SEC," says LSU Coach Dale Brown, and he's right. Tennessee, the surprise champion of the conference's 1979 tournament, has four of five regulars on hand, including All-SEC Forward Reggie Johnson, who scored 21.2 points a game. Another thing the Vols have going for them is the brand of defense that second-year Coach Don DeVoe learned as Bobby Knight's assistant at West Point. DeVoe is on the offensive, though, when it comes to talking about rival Georgia's schedule. "Hugh Durham will have the best winning percentage in the conference going into the month of January," he says. "I don't think he should be able to sandbag a schedule." DeVoe is upset over Georgia's non-conference games with such juggernauts as Troy State, Whittier, Eckerd, Erskine, Belmont and Lenoir Rhyne. Durham has defended the schedule on grounds that he will start three freshmen this season. One of them, Forward Dominique Wilkins, scored 51 points in the Bulldogs' first public scrimmage. Off its past performances alone, Alabama figures to be tough again: the Tide has won 22 games in six of the last seven years.
Iowa might be right up there with Indiana, Ohio State and Purdue in the Big Ten, and that's no corn. Coach Lute Olson thinks he has the best point guard in the country in Ronnie Lester, a senior who needs only 100 points to break the Hawkeye career scoring record of 1,522 set by Don Nelson. Olson can also count on Kevin Boyle, the conference's best freshman last season, and a pair of 6'10" junior centers named Steve: Waite and Krafcisin.
Illinois started out last season by going 15-0 and then went into a tailspin that the FAA couldn't have explained. The Illini finished at 19-11. Five starters are back, but no one except 6'11" Center Derek Holcomb will play the same position he did in 1978-79. Minnesota could have the biggest front line in the country if 7'2" freshman Randy Breuer comes along fast enough to join 6'11" Kevin McHale, already one of the best big men around, and 6'10" Gary Holmes. As for defending national champion Michigan State, well, the magic is gone.
The teams chasing Toledo in the Mid-American Conference can be consoled by a new postseason tournament designed to keep almost everybody happy: seven of the 10 teams will qualify.
Should Jacksonville falter, UNC at Charlotte is ready to pounce on the Sun Belt championship. The 49ers have an excellent guard in Chad Kinch, a 20.6-point scorer. The battle for the Ohio Valley Conference should be as close as it was last year when Eastern Kentucky beat Western Kentucky 78-77 in the tournament final. Eastern again has the edge with James Tillman, who has the highest scoring average (26.9) of any returning major-college player.
As for the independents, Detroit will have its third coach in four years, former NBA player Willie McCarter. He inherits three starters from last season's team that finished 22-6 and once again showed a penchant for failure in postseason tournaments. Marquette Coach Hank Raymonds must be feeling a bit like Job. After all but being shut out in the recruiting game, he lost his center, Dean Marquardt, until at least mid-January because of injuries suffered in an auto accident. Then, one of the Warrior's best forwards, Oliver Lee, broke his left foot in practice. He should miss at least a month. Raymonds ended up asking two walk-ons to come out for the team. "I really don't know what we're going to do," says Raymonds. "Probably take the air out of the ball."
Except for newcomer Georgia Tech, the ACC teams lining up behind North Carolina, Duke and Virginia are nothing to sneeze at. That's good news for the conference faithful who were chagrined after five of their representatives caught bad colds in the NCAA and NIT tournaments last March. But it's bad news for Georgia Tech (a-choo!) which picked a poor time to enter the conference. The Engineers could become the first team since 1955 to go winless in league competition.
Up north, the new Big East Conference may rival the ACC, seeing as six of its seven members were in postseason tournaments last year. Connecticut has to play the three front-runners, St. John's, Syracuse and Georgetown, on the road, but the Huskies should still have a good record. They feature two of the best sophomores anywhere in Corny Thompson and Mike McKay. Providence's chances can be expressed this way: the Friar center's name is Rich Hunger, as in strictly from.
Holy Cross is hoping that star senior Guard Ron Perry will be better than ever after surgery on his right knee. Even if Perry does hobble a little, the Crusaders should still be the best team in the ECAC North.
Iona should be the class of the ECAC Metro region, even though Center Jeff Ruland left some of his fight on the football field. Ruland, who had 20.4 points and 11.3 rebounds a game last season, suffered a fracture in a finger of his shooting hand during a scuffle at an intramural football game and must play himself into shape.
The men's team may take a back seat to the women's at Old Dominion (page 94), but the Monarchs will dominate the ECAC South. Returning from a squad that finished 23-7 last season are Ronnie Valentine, a 23.4-point scorer, and Ronnie McAdoo, cousin of Bob. Old Dominion's center may be a freshman who's a spelling bee unto himself, Bert Kragtwijk (pronounced Kragtwijk) from The Netherlands.
Because Rutgers brought in some excellent recruits, the Scarlet Knights' opponents in the Eastern Eight aren't buying Coach Tom Young's assessment that this will be a rebuilding year. Although they are looking for an adequate replacement for departed Center James Bailey, Forward Kelvin Troy and Guard Darius Griffin are outstanding. La Salle is the East Coast Conference favorite mainly because its new coach, Dave Ervin, inherits Forward Michael Brooks, who had 23.3 points and 13.3 rebounds a game for the Explorers before starring in the Pan-Am Games.
NCAA semifinalist Penn should fall back closer to the rest of the Ivy League, but the Quakers nonetheless should win their eighth title in 10 years. Although last season's starting front line is gone, Penn has capable sophomores Vincent Ross and Tom Leifsen to fill two of the holes, and the backcourt is exceptionally strong with five good guards. Yale has six of its eight top scorers back and the league's best rebounder, sophomore Tim Daaleman. Princeton has six freshmen who are all good enough to help, but the Tigers' early schedule will probably prove to be rigorous.
Furman won't have an easy time in the Southern Conference because every team except defending champion Appalachian State has improved. The Citadel, paced by leading scorer Tom Slawson, could be the best of the challengers. Independent South Carolina will spend the year saying goodby to Coach Frank McGuire, who will retire after this, his 16th season. All of the starters are back, and 20 wins would salve some of the wounds that were opened when the school tried to remove the 65-year-old coach before the season began.