Joe Ponsetto, stalwart forward for DePaul a few seasons ago when the Blue Demons were merely good, recently paid a visit to his old coach, Ray Meyer. After watching the current Blue Demons fly through their practice, Ponsetto heaved a sigh of relief. "Whew, Coach, I'm glad I got out when I did," he said. "Yup, Joe, I think you'd have been in a little trouble with this bunch," said Meyer.
Ponsetto shouldn't feel too bad because everyone will be troubled by DePaul this season. With all but one player back from the 26-2 powerhouse of 1979-80, the Blue Demons are not merely good, they're great.
DePaul is led by Mark Aguirre, the Player of the Year in 1979-80 (page 34) and smooth playmaker Clyde Bradshaw. Joining them in the starting lineup will be streak-shooting Skip Dillard (12.1 points a game) at guard, tough sophomore Terry Cummings (9.4 rebounds a game) at center and Teddy Grubbs, another soph, at forward. According to Meyer, Grubbs is the key. "If he comes on, we've got a super team," he says. "I feel sorry for him sometimes, I yell at him so much, but I have to get him going."
To show off all that talent, DePaul has shifted its home games to the Rosemont Horizon in suburban Chicago. The move will allow as many as 18,000 people to see the Blue Demons in action, but, say some pundits, it will take away the big advantage DePaul enjoyed when playing in Alumni Hall, a 5,308-seat pit. Meyer isn't worried. "There will be more people screaming, and our kids are hot dogs enough to respond," he says.
Bradshaw, a self-motivated sort who cut the mustard with 215 assists and 99 steals last year, is hoping something can turn on his teammates. "Evidently they don't realize how close we are to winning the whole thing," he says. "Catch us on a night we're up for a game and there's no one in the country who can beat us, but we have to play that game all the time. People know we're good, but we let a lot of folks down last season when we lost two of our last three games.. Now we'll have to show them again. I think we're the best team, but we've got to prove it." DePaul began doing just that last Saturday when it beat defending-champion Louisville, 86-80.
Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell threw down the gauntlet at the Terps' basketball dinner last spring. "I challenge you guys to win the national championship," he said. That was a pretty tough proposition to lay on his players for a coach who's never won an ACC tournament or an NCAA regional championship, but the Terrapins really shouldn't settle for anything less. Forward Albert King (page 34) is one of five starters and nine top scorers back from a 24-7 team that finished eighth in the final AP poll and second in the nation in field-goal shooting (55.1%). Now Maryland figures to be even better with the addition of junior-college transfer Charles Pittman.
"We've got to turn the ball over fewer times and work on our rebounding because we're small," says Driesell, trying not to sound overconfident. If the Terrapins occasionally kick the ball away, they'll get it back more often than not with an effective zone press. It's also true that Maryland operated at a height disadvantage and had to switch from a double-post, the offense Driesell prefers, to a 2-1-2 to compensate for that shortcoming. Nonetheless, the man in the middle, 6'8" Buck Williams, who's really better suited to being a power forward, wasn't outscored by any of the centers he opposed in the ACC. Lineman-tough and fast enough to run a 4:53 mile, Williams outmaneuvered taller men on offense and outmuscled them on defense. When 6'8" sixth-man Pittman, who twice led Merced College to the California J.C. finals, enters the lineup at center or forward, 6'1" Ernest Graham will move from forward to guard.
King, the ACC's Player of the Year, wasn't satisfied with his 21.7-point average and Dr. J moves of last season; he has been working on his outside shot and dribbling through a slalom course of rubber cones to improve his ball handling. Graham led the Terps in assists despite being switched from guard to forward, while Greg Manning became the ACC's first player to lead the league in field-goal (64.3) and free-throw (90.8) percentage in the same season. Paradoxically, point guard is the Terrapins' deepest and weakest position. Neither Reggie Jackson nor Dutch Morley is an all-round player, but by using them for 20 minutes apiece Driesell can alternate Jackson's defense, shooting and leadership on the fast break with Morley's quickness and deft passing.
Driesell got yeoman duty from his capable new assistant coaches last year, Tom Abatemarco, Sherman Dillard and John Kochan. They helped the Terrapins, who had been picked to finish sixth in the ACC, win their second regular-season title. Maryland at last has outstanding coaching to go with its talent.
The team locker room has the usual slogan—THE HARDER YOU WORK THE LUCKIER YOU GET. For Maryland, intangibles have special significance. "It comes down to wanting to win more than the other guys," says Graham. "We won't be outmanned by anyone."
Adolph Rupp's longtime assistant, Harry Lancaster, agreed to come out of retirement at the age of 69 and serve this season as a volunteer aide to Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall. The other day while watching 7'1" Sam Bowie soar high to stuff a rebound, Lancaster sighed and said, "Adolph would have given all the gold in his teeth for one like him."
It's not Rupp's gold, but his silver, that has been a topic of conversation around Lexington of late. Shortly after last season, 13 sterling silver trophies, including those awarded for the 1948, '49, '51 and '58 NCAA basketball championships, were stolen from the school's trophy cases. In Kentucky, that was like stealing the crown jewels. The crime hasn't been fully solved, and it's now suspected that the trophies were melted into ingots.
The only appropriate response to such a heinous deed is, of course, to win additional trophies, and that's exactly what Kentucky could do, beginning immediately. Hall has more talent on hand than he did in 1977-78 when he won the only NCAA championship trophy that remains.
For two straight years, Kentucky has done the best recruiting job in the country. This means that the Wildcats are young—only two upperclassmen are among the top 10 players—but so what? They also are extraordinarly deep, proficient and versatile. Hall's only concern is replacing the leadership that Kyle Macy, who graduated, provided in the backcourt.
In sophomore Dirk Minniefield and 5'11" freshman Dicky Beal, Kentucky has one of the quickest pairs of guards in the country. Minniefield started last season and did an excellent job of getting the ball up the floor and penetrating zones. Beal has the same ability and may be a better passer. If Hall doesn't want to put their similar styles together, he can use one of them with freshman Jim Master, UK's best outside shooter, or sophomore Derrick Hord, who will swing between guard and forward.
Hord is one of several 'Cats who could play a lot at forward with Fred Cowan, Kentucky's only senior. Hall might also use Bowie at forward. At 7'1"? That's right. Now that Kentucky has a true center in 6'11" freshman Melvin Turpin, Hall has the option of letting Bowie roam outside and take the 20-foot jumpers he dearly loves—and can make. Turpin is back home in Lexington after spending last season improving his grades at a military academy.
During his freshman season, Bowie at times looked weak and timid. However, by March, he was vastly improved. And in the off-season he made the U.S. Olympic team and more than held his own in the exhibitions against NBA players. Now, at 235, 17 pounds heavier and much stronger than he was a year ago, he appears to be the kind of dominant shot blocker that a team trying to replenish its stock of silverware needs.
Another national championship is a distinct possibility for Louisville, even without Darrell Griffith, the master dunker who led the Cardinals to last season's title. Six of the top seven players are back—frontcourt men Derek Smith, Rodney McCray and Wiley Brown, Guard Jerry Eaves and supersubs Roger Burkman and Poncho Wright. In addition, Rodney's older brother, Scooter, who was redshirted after an early-season knee injury in 1979-80, is on hand and trying to give the Cardinals a 6'9" guard in the mold of Magic Johnson.
There are also a couple of promising freshmen—Forward Charles Jones and Guard/Forward Lancaster Gordon—whom Coach Denny Crum plucked out of Mississippi. Jones, in particular, could help right now. "He's the best tipper I've ever seen, and he tips with either hand," says Crum, referring to Jones' work on the rebounding machine, not at a restaurant. Jones also throws a strong outlet pass and does an excellent job of being the last line of defense in the 1-2-1 full-court zone press.
Louisville's most nettlesome preseason problem has been finding the right combination of players. If Crum starts Jones, he would have to bench Scooter McCray or one of the starters from last season's championship team. He likes to have Scooter on the floor because he's the team's best passer and anticipates well in the zone press.
Regardless of who starts, the Cardinals' all-out, hurry-up style will assure that all 10 top players will get plenty of court time. None of them will be more important than Smith who must provide some of the scoring and leadership that Griffith gave. "I'm going to score more points than the 14.6 I averaged last season, but only because the ball will come my way more," he says. "I'm going to do the same things I did last year, but do them harder. Not making the Olympic team last summer changed me more than winning the NCAAs."
Smith and Rodney McCray—who made the U.S. squad but didn't play as much as he wanted to during the team's exhibition tour—are plotting revenge. Their plotting began in the preseason when they would meet at the school running track at 10 p.m. and run a couple of miles in the dark. Now that the season is starting, they are anxious to meet the players who were rated ahead of them by the Olympic coaches—DePaul's Mark Aguirre, Maryland's Buck Williams, Utah's Danny Vranes, North Carolina's Al Wood, Kansas State's Rolando Blackman. Their teams are all on Louisville's schedule, and Smith and McCray undoubtedly also will want to do their best against Providence, where Olympic Coach Dave Gavitt is the athletic director. "Yeah, we play 'em all," Smith says. "That's good."
Smith and McCray lost their first revenge game last Saturday to DePaul, 86-80—that's bad—but they shouldn't lose many more.
With his campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate going poorly, Birch Bayh played his trump card: he got his friend, Indiana Coach Bobby Knight, to do a television commercial for him. Knight was asked why he lined up for Bayh, a liberal Democrat (and an eventual loser), when it's well known that Knight's politics put him to the right of Ronald Reagan. He said, "Aw, he [Bayh] has helped me a lot." Then he grinned. "Besides, I just wanted to let people know that I'm not a puppet of the Republicans."
That's not the only surprise Knight has popped recently. At preseason practices, for example, he was busy putting in a carefully retooled offense and defense so that the Hoosiers might take better advantage of sophomore Guard Isiah Thomas' myriad talents. Thomas does certain things so well and is so much better a player than the other Hoosiers, except Randy Wittman and Ray Tolbert, that Knight felt it would be wise to install some subtle changes in his intricate "motion" offense.
"Isiah is our most obvious asset," says Knight. "But to capitalize fully on his skills, we have to use him in a different way than we did last season. When we were recruiting Isiah, we told him he wouldn't have the freedom here that he'd have somewhere else. Now that's not true. Within our framework, he'll have more freedom than he would elsewhere. But it's not a freedom to throw the ball away or take bad shots."
With Mike Woodson gone to the NBA, Thomas will be asked to do more shooting and scoring this season. To help him get more shots and points and take greater advantage of his quickness, ball handling and passing, Indiana will try to fast-break more often. And to ensure a maximum number of fast-break opportunities, Knight wants the Hoosiers to trap on defense in an attempt to create turnovers.
He also would like to use Tolbert more at forward, leaving Landon Turner to play center. Although Tolbert has mostly played in the pivot during his three previous seasons at IU, he is better suited to forward. He goes to the hoop better than any of the Hoosier big men, he can put the ball on the floor and he can work the baseline. However, Knight will have to use Tolbert at center again if he can't find a way to hide Turner in Indiana's offense. Turner can be a scoring machine if he gets the ball in certain spots near the basket, but he doesn't have the basketball instinct necessary to handle all the difficult picks and cuts in IU's attack.
Knight considers Wittman, a sophomore who was redshirted in 1979-80 after an early ankle injury, to be his most intelligent player. This season Wittman will swing between big guard and small forward. If Turner doesn't play as well as Knight hopes, Indiana can either keep Wittman at guard and use Glen Grunwald and Ted Kitchel at forwards, or move Wittman to forward and play either Jim Thomas or Tony Brown at guard with Thomas.
With that kind of versatility Knight should have a more successful campaign than his friend Bayh did.
6 Oregon State
Ralph Miller, the chain-smoking patriarch of basketball at Oregon State, isn't the kind of guy who goes around beating the drum for himself. But even Miller says his Beavers are loaded. "I have to admit certain facts," the 61-year-old coach says. "I've got more talent at all positions than I've ever had. We'll be a better passing team. We'll have more firepower." Indeed, Oregon State has four starters back from a 26-4 team that broke UCLA's 13-year grip on the Pac-10 title, has landed two of the country's most coveted recruits and will have Center Steve Johnson starting a season completely healthy for the first time in his college career.
"There's no way anybody could pick a team other than the Beavers to win the Pac-10. They're just like the old UCLA powerhouses," says Washington State Coach George Raveling.
Forward Dwayne Allen and backup Center Tony Martin are the only significant losses from the club that was upset by Lamar in the second round of the NCAA West Regional. Their absence costs the Beavers two valuable defensive players, but their replacements, Swingman Les Conner and freshman Forward Charlie Sitton, are so good that Allen and Martin will hardly be missed. Conner, the California junior-college co-Player of the Year last season, is a marvelous passer and ball handler. He'll nominally be listed as a forward but, in effect, will team with returning seniors Ray Blume and Mark Radford to form the three-guard attack Miller prefers. "Conner has no offensive weaknesses," says Miller.
The lanky Sitton, potentially the best player the state of Oregon has produced, appears frail at 190 pounds, but a lifetime of working on his family's 1,500-acre farm outside of McMinnville has made him deceptively strong. Although he was a center throughout high school, Sitton's outside shooting and passing ability make him the perfect high-post complement for Johnson in Miller's high-post, low-post offense. In junior Rob Holbrook, a starter last season, senior Jeff Stoutt, a streak shooter who is the Pac-10's premier sixth man, and senior Billy McShane, who started at center in place of the injured Johnson three years ago, the Beavers possess unusual talent and depth in the frontcourt.
Johnson established an NCAA single-season field-goal shooting record (71.0%) while averaging 17 points and seven rebounds a game last season when he was a junior. If he can stay out of foul trouble—he was disqualified from 13 games in 1979-80—there's no telling what he might accomplish. After a summer of weight training upped his-weight 10 pounds to a muscular 240, Johnson reported to practice better than ever. Heretofore not much of a leaper, he now is regularly blocking shots and throwing down whirling dunks. "My play this year is going to affect my pocketbook," he says. "I have a wife and an infant son and I have to take care of them." He'll accomplish that by taking care of Oregon State's opponents.
As an indication of what a difference one year and a second-place finish in the NCAA tournament can make, consider what has happened to UCLA Coach Larry Brown. When he arrived in Westwood last season nobody gave the Bruins a chance to accomplish much of anything because of two straight recruiting years that were disastrous by UCLA standards. Sure enough, the Pauley Pavilion jeers that were once reserved for opposing teams were frequently directed at the Bruins as they staggered through a nearly ruinous early season. Meanwhile, Brown thought he was an outsider. "The only time I felt like the coach was in practice with the kids from two to six," he says. Rumors of Brown's imminent return to the NBA surfaced throughout the season. But he stayed, and he should be glad he did.
With one gigantic exception, 7'3", 270-pound J.C. transfer Mark Eaton, UCLA will again be small. The Bruins also will be inexperienced, and they'll sorely miss the scoring, rebounding and senior maturity of Kiki Vandeweghe. Brown talks about "peaks and valleys" and about being a year away. But then he talks about his love for the Bruins' "athletic ability" and how this club is even quicker than the one that in a three-week span last March went from being a 17-9 fourth-place finisher in the Pac-10 to a 22-10 NCAA finalist.
UCLA has three starters back—mercurial guards Rod Foster, the leading returning scorer at 11.5 points per game, and Michael Holton and Forward Mike Sanders. Holton, however, may have to make way for Guard Ralph Jackson, who led his Inglewood, Calif. high school team to a 29-0 record last season and the mythical national championship. "If God ever created a point guard, Ralph came out of that mold," says Brown.
Sanders will move permanently to forward after having averaged 14.3 points and 7.2 rebounds in the 17 games he started last season at center. Sophomore Cliff Pruitt and freshmen Kenny Fields and Dean Sears will share time in the middle when the Bruins play the high post. But when the massive Eaton enters the game, UCLA will shift to a low-post offense and the Bruin fast break will slow to a snail's pace. Eaton is a 23-year-old former master auto mechanic who learned his basketball at Cypress (Calif.) Community College from the same coach—former UCLA backcourt star Don Johnson—who sent the Bruins Swen Nater. Eaton possesses a soft lefthanded touch, but he is woefully slow. "I hope no one looks at him and sees Wilt or Kareem," says Brown. Rest assured there is no chance of that.
Brown says he finds it hard to temper the confidence of his team, which is still high from last season's surprise finish. "I want them to realize that they came in fourth in the Pac-10," he says. Brown believes the Bruins are one solid recruiting class away from being "kind of special." Everyone else thinks they're kind of special right now.
The University of Virginia has a double identity crisis. First, there's the matter of its nickname. Most of the time the team is referred to as the Cavaliers, but it's also known as the Wahoos, Wahoo being the sound you make when your center is Ralph Sampson (page 34), a 7'4" sophomore of nearly limitless potential.
Second, there's the question of whether this season's Cavahoos are the same ones who tied for fifth in the eight-team ACC and then got knocked out by Clemson in the first round of the league tournament. Or are they the Wahliers who went 24-10 and won the NIT title? Virginia Coach Terry Holland would like to know, too. "Last year we were a team without a strong identity," he says. "We had a lot of good shooters, but the team didn't always mesh. This year the roles will be more clearly defined. We'll be good."
Just how good will depend largely upon how consistently the Cavaliers are able to blend their many formidable talents into a single force. "We went through a lot last season that I'm sure will help us now," says 6'6" senior Guard Jeff Lamp. "A lot of the expectations last year—all the hype that was around us—was for a team nobody had ever seen play." Adds senior Forward Lee Raker, "Having a new player as important as Ralph took some getting used to. We got away from the things we do best and tried to do too many other things. We know each other a lot better this year."
Lamp, who led the ACC in scoring as a sophomore, will give Virginia outside punch, and Jeff Jones, the conference's top assist man the past two seasons, will see to it that Sampson gets the ball in low. Virginia often suffered at the hands of small, quick guards last season, so Holland's only recruits this year were 5'10" Ricky Stokes and 6-foot Othell Wilson. "They give us a dimension we didn't have last year," Holland says. "When other teams threw small guards at us we could not change our offensive style to offset their quickness. One of those two will be playing a lot for us." Now the Wahoos will be able to pick up the tempo on nights when Sampson is vacuuming the ball off the boards.
Sampson set an ACC record last season by blocking 157 shots, but his 14.9 points a game and 11.2 rebounds were good, not great. His stats should improve this time around. And Raker, a 6'5" bruiser with a nice outside touch, is healthy again after last season's separated shoulder. Terry Gates, a senior forward, is the team's defensive mainstay and will usually draw the ACC's Albert King and Al Wood types.
The Cavaliers are not deep, but they are so strong up front that it may not matter. If Sampson has the kind of year that causes the NBA to start throwing large sums of money at him again, Virginia fans could find themselves in Philadelphia in March chanting, "Wahooooooo!"
9 Notre Dame
It'll be a long and dangerous road for the Irish. Notre Dame will encounter Wildcats, Warriors, Terrapins, Cavaliers and Blue Demons along the way, not to mention a home game against Indiana and home-and-home series with UCLA and San Francisco. All of which adds up to a prepackaged excuse for a poor season, except that Coach Digger Phelps doesn't see it this way. "Play some tough games, get used to hostile crowds, find out what's wrong and prepare for the NCAAs," is his philosophy. But couldn't Notre Dame, 22-6 in 1979-80, lose too often to qualify for postseason play? "Are you kidding?" Phelps says. "Forty-eight teams go to the tournament this season. We'll be there."
Ever the iconoclast, Phelps also ridicules the homage paid to "dominant centers." In fact, Phelps is taking 6'9" Orlando Woolridge, who shot 58.5% in the pivot, and returning him to his natural forward position. Notre Dame's starter in the middle will be a freshman, Joe Kleine, with sophomore Tim Andree and senior Gil Salinas in relief. Kleine is an imposing (6'11", 240) fellow with a surprisingly deft outside touch, and Andree and Salinas have lettered, but none of the three matches up with a Ralph Sampson. No matter, says Phelps. "The importance of a single, overwhelming center is overrated. We made the final four in 1978 by alternating centers."
Many coaches still hesitate to use more than one or two freshmen. Phelps will make generous use of four: Kleine, Forward Cecil Rucker and swingmen Barry Spencer and Tom Sluby, all of whom averaged between 21.2 and 31.3 points and 13.0 and 20.1 rebounds a game as high school seniors. And so what if Phelps uses more offensive and defensive alignments than the Joint Chiefs of Staff? "Our kids are special," he says. "They can do it. If you have the athletes, play them."
Oh, does he have the athletes. The most notable among them is Forward Kelly Tripucka, who scored 18 points a game for the season and 21.8 over his last 14 outings. Having lost 18 pounds and worked over the summer to improve his already impressive 55.6% shooting, he could be even quicker and surer. And thanks to Phelps' penchant for shuttling in players—no one played more than 32 minutes per game last year—Tripucka shouldn't wear out. Just in case, top sub Bill Varner is coming off an excellent showing in preseason practices.
There's a potential problem at guard, where graduation spirited away Rich Branning to Athletes in Action and Bill Hanzlik to the Seattle SuperSonics. Ball-hawking (51 steals in 1979-80), streak-shooting Tracy Jackson will move from forward to guard to work alongside sophomore playmaker John Paxson, who must take full control of the offense.
A good-shooting (51.4% last season) team, Notre Dame will be gunning for its sixth straight 20-win season and eighth straight NCAA bid. Could the Irish fall short? As Phelps says, "Are you kidding?"
Last season fans in Columbia, Mo. dubbed their Tigers "The Silent Nine" after a string of injuries and ineligibilities cut the squad down to a precious few. After Mizzou beat Notre Dame 87-84 in an overtime thriller in the NCAA Midwest Regional it didn't even have enough players to suit up two practice teams.
Even after Missouri's bubble burst in a 68-63 loss to LSU in the next round, Tiger hearts were aflutter in anticipation of 1980-81, when All-Big Eight Forward Curtis Berry would return to action following knee surgery, freshman sensation Steve Stipanovich would be a year stronger, flashy Forward Ricky Frazier would shake and bake, and Mark Dressier would again come off the bench to score 32 the way he did against the Fighting Irish.
Unfortunately, things haven't worked out exactly that way. Dressier tore up a knee in a pickup game the day before school began, and freshman Richie Johnson dropped out of school and returned home to New Albany, Ind. the day before practice began. But, indeed, Stipanovich is stronger, Frazier is shakin' and bakin', and best of all. Berry's rehabilitated left knee is stronger than his uninjured right one. Add in steady guards Jon Sundvold and Mark Foster and junior college transfer Marvin (Moon—as in jump as high as the) McCrary, and it's little wonder that Berry's assessment of the Tigers' chances for success in the Big Eight and NCAA championship races is so positive and direct: "I'd bet on us."
Not a bad idea. Perhaps, as Coach Norm Stewart says, "It's better to lose someone early, so you don't know what you would have missed." Stewart explains that the Missouri program has been built around "self-motivated, driven people, because if a player won't do it for himself, I can't do it for him." In keeping with that attitude, Mizzou runs a rather laissez-faire offense, preferring to take advantage of favorable situations as they develop instead of running set plays. "People watch us and don't think we have an offense, and I'm not sure they're too far off," Stewart says. "We just throw the ball around and get a shot when we can." Last season the Tigers could—and did—making an NCAA record 58% from the field.
Of course, it helps to have personnel like the 6'11", 250-pound Stipo, who made NBC's All-Freshman Team in 1979-80, averaging 14.4 points a game. All he wants to do this season, he says, is "dominate the game at both ends of the floor." Stipanovich may do just that, provided he keeps above water, so to speak. A heavy perspirer, he loses as many as 15 pounds in a single practice, often finds it necessary to change his uniform and sneakers during games and has become dehydrated on occasion. By bringing Stipanovich into camp overweight, the Tigers hope to prevent the dehydration from occurring again, which means the people doing the most sweating will be Missouri opponents.
It's minutes before practice and Hawkeye fans are starting to roll into Iowa Field House. Look, fellows, there's Kevin Boyle jumping rope. Check out the muscles on Vince Brookins when he stretches out. And there's silver-haired Lute Olson, last season's Coach of the Year.
People come from all over the state to watch the Hawks practice because Iowans know a good thing when they see one. The Hawkeyes may not be as flashy or as talented as some other teams, but they've done well, having earned a share of the Big Ten title two years ago and a trip to the Final Four last season. Their two-year record is 43-18.
The basis for this success becomes apparent in practice, when the Hawks really go at it. Bodies bang through picks and on rebounds; guys even box each other out during the water breaks. It's not that the Hawkeye players don't like each other (indeed, most of the squad stayed together on campus last summer so they could begin practicing informally for this season); it's just the system. And the system is predicated on hard work. Iowa drills hard on everything—traps, presses, shooting—and does it at full speed.
Another reason for this intensity is the severe competition for playing time, seeing as Iowa has 11 players back from last season. The only 1979-80 starter not on hand is Guard Ronnie Lester. He was troubled by knee problems in his senior year; Iowa was 15-1 with him in the lineup and only 8-9 without him. But Lester's absence should be overcome because, as Olson says, "We're better everywhere else."
The Hawkeyes have a pair of freshman guards, Steve Carfino and the appropriately named defensive wizard, Dennis Johnson, who, Olson feels, could someday constitute the best backcourt in the nation. Nonetheless, the starting guards figure to be Kenny Arnold, who scored 13.5 points per game in 1979-80, and Bobby Hansen, if each fully recovers from the sprained knee he sustained this fall.
The Hawks are set everywhere else. The twin Steve towers, 6'10", 230-pound Krafcisin and 6'10", 225-pound Waite, will share the pivot, and will be joined in the frontcourt by a triumvirate of talented forwards: tough Mark Gannon sharing time with starters Boyle (11.8 points) and Brookins (11.0).
Iowa's depth gives Olson the luxury of being able to adjust his lineup according to the characteristics of the opposing team or the circumstances of the game. But no matter who's on the court, you can be sure Iowa will press all game long. In the process, the Hawkeyes hope to wear down the opposition and equal or improve on the defensive statistics of last season when they allowed 65.6 points per game and held teams to 47% shooting. But while Iowa may be impressing everyone else, Hawkeye fans can watch with the satisfaction that they saw it all before—in practice.
12 Ohio State
It was always Kelvin Ransey. Ransey on a jump shot. Ransey on a drive. Ransey beating a defender to set up a 3-on-2 fast break and passing to the open man. While conducting the Ohio State offense last season, Ransey scored 16.2 points a game and led the Buckeyes with 177 assists. Now that he's playing for the Portland Trail Blazers, some critics wonder if the team he left behind will have any offense at all.
Fear not, Buckeye fans. Though there's no virtuoso guard of Ransey's skills, the Ohio State offense may be more balanced without him. It previously consisted of Four Guys Waiting for Kelvin, too often a costly approach in close games. The Buckeyes lost six of 13 contests decided by five or fewer points, including four games to teams trailing them in the Big Ten race and an overtime heart-breaker to Indiana that cost Ohio State the conference title. "This year we'll have more of a team offense," says Coach Eldon Miller. "We'll move the ball more."
Mitch Haas, a member of the bruising bunch competing for playing time in the forecourt, says "Eldon has us moving without the ball, passing instead of dribbling, seeing the whole floor and keeping the defense honest with a versatile attack." Normally the Buckeyes will work the ball inside to either Center Herb Williams or Forward Clark Kellogg. If the defense collapses on them, the other three players on the floor will fire away. Both left-handed Carter Scott and Ransey's successor, Larry Huggins, have good range. Defensive specialist Jim Smith is back at the other forward spot, but if Miller needs more scoring he'll turn to one of the three very capable sophomores, Haas, Nate Sims or Granville Waiters. Oh, that Ohio State frontcourt. There are seven players who are taller than 6'6", and a lot of them are built like tight ends. That's good: the Buckeyes must play with gridiron-like precision and toughness because they won't be getting the easy baskets Ransey used to give them.
Not that there aren't stars of his magnitude still on hand. Williams scored 17.6 points a game and tied Purdue's Joe Barry Carroll for the Big Ten rebounding crown with a 9.4 average. But the most gifted Buckeye of all is that superhero off a cereal box, Kellogg. As one of the few freshmen starting in the Big Ten last season, he played 32 minutes a game and led the conference in offensive rebounding. When it comes to ball sense and timing, Kellogg boosters claim he outranks every Ohio State player since Jerry Lucas, who played in 1959-62. Miller expects Kellogg to lead the fast break and be more effective close to the basket. The Buckeyes are also confident that he has overcome the deficiencies that bothered him last year when he led the team in turnovers with 104 and shot only 40.9% in conference games. How confident? "By January," says Haas, "Clark Kellogg is going to be the best player in the country."
Practice sessions this fall at Georgetown's McDonough Arena were so incredibly quiet that a rumor circulated briefly among the Jesuits on campus that the Hoyas had taken vows of silence. Even when the team warmed up with an exercise in which each player got to drill his teammates in the gut with an 11½-pound medicine ball, there wasn't a peep. The Hoyas walk softly and carry a big coach—6'11", 300-pound John Thompson (page 88)—but before the season is done they'll probably make a very loud noise in the East.
Last year Georgetown got to the finals of the East Regional, losing to Iowa 81-80 after leading by 14 points. Three starters from that team have graduated, most notably Guard John Duren and Forward Craig Shelton, who took 29.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and more than eight assists a game with them. Although Thompson has quality replacements, he is justifiably concerned by his team's lack of experience. "We won a lot of games at the end of last year because we were a very stubborn team," says Thompson. "We have to reestablish some of those chemical compounds as well as some of our skills. We have versatility among our players, but the level of competence remains to be seen."
The only thing that remains to be seen about 6'3" junior Guard Eric (Sleepy) Floyd is how much better he can become before he has to have his eyelids placed in traction. Floyd scored 18.7 points a game as a sophomore and hit 55.4% of the jumpers that he generally launched from the vicinity of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue. Thompson used to flinch at Sleepy's sloppy shot selection (which was better than trying to pronounce it), but that was before he realized Floyd's range. "He probably didn't know the extent of my capabilities," says Sleepy. "I'm not into personal accomplishments, but I really think there's going to be a game where I don't miss a shot." Floyd also led the Hoyas last year in steals (73) and—here's an eye-opener—blocked shots (14).
Getting the ball into Sleepy's hands will be the responsibility of 6'5" freshman Point Guard "Georgetown" Freddie Brown, late of the Bronx, who won't shoot much but can deliver the ball through a crowd. "He's a tremendous passer," says Thompson, "a dream for anybody who moves without the ball."
Thompson hopes to do away with the three-headed center system he employed last season, rotating 7-footer Mike Frazier with 6'7" Mike Hancock and 6'9" Ed Spriggs in the pivot. Spriggs, the former mailman who shot 66.0% in '79-80, will start, with Frazier (67.1%) backing him up. Hancock will move to forward, where he will share time with juniors Jeff Bullis and defensive stalwart Eric Smith. Those three averaged only 14.1 points among them last season, and if the Hoyas expect to provide Floyd with adequate operating room, one of the forwards will have to share some of the offensive load. If that happens, watch Georgetown go boom!
Though the two men are far removed from one another in age and profession, the similarities between them have gone unnoticed long enough. It's not just that they look so much alike, it's their immensely energetic personalities that make Dale Brown and Gene Kelly dead ringers.
The Gene Kelly who was in An American in Paris? What's he got to do with the LSU basketball coach? Well, there are several parallels. Brown has been an American in Paris, too. Besides coaching the Tigers, he spends almost every summer in Europe working with some of the 40-odd international teams who seek his expertise. Kelly is a fitness nut who did most of his own movie stunts. Brown runs nearly every day and says he feels best after his periodic Thursday-to-Sunday fasts. Kelly is a creative genius who could dance a smash number with an umbrella or with Jerry, the cartoon-character mouse. Brown has improved his players' free-throw percentages by asking them to lie down in a darkened room and imagine their shots swishing through the net 200 times in a row. And like Kelly, Brown has a winning way about him. Two seasons ago LSU won the SEC title and last spring it upset Kentucky in the championship game of the league tournament. LSU's record has improved every season for the past five.
Even with the 26-6 mark of 1979-80 staring him in the face, Brown has the players to take another step up. DeWayne Scales won't be among them, having turned pro a year early. But Scales was a disruptive influence, and to a man the Tigers were glad to see him sign with the Knicks.
Rudy Macklin, a former high school drum major, is Brown's spiritual leader on the floor. A lefthanded forward who scored 17.6 points a game last season, he's as quick as they come. Guard Ethan Martin lulls opponents to sleep with his lifeless facial expression but keeps a lot of SEC coaches awake at night with his play: 25 points, nine assists and seven steals against Tennessee; 29, eight and four, respectively, against Kentucky. Martin's running mate, 6'3" Willie Sims, poured in 30 in the Tigers' 98-88 first-round NCAA win over Alcorn State and has finally gained much-needed consistency. The center will be 6'7" freshman Leonard Mitchell, unless Greg Cook is allowed back from his indefinite suspension. Forward Howard Carter, a 6'5", 235-pound enforcer, completes the lineup. Backcourt depth comes from Johnny Jones, a freshman with blazing speed.
Brown, meanwhile, continues his all-out, round-the-clock assault against failure and mediocrity. Some nights he works in his office until 4 a.m., "goes home to lie down" and is back at his desk by 8 o'clock. Last season that kind of dedication helped LSU defeat each of the traditional SEC powers—Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee—twice and in the process the Tigers broke every school attendance record.
Now that's entertainment.
15 Texas A&M
During the next few months the most harassed man in the U.S. west of the Oval Office will be Tyrone Ladson, who plays point guard for Texas A&M. Opposing defenses will surround Ladson when his alarm goes off in the morning, hound him on his way to breakfast and pressure him all over campus in hopes of tiring him out before game time.
Ladson is a marked man because he brings the ball up the floor for A&M. Ordinarily this would be a routine responsibility. But the Aggies are no orthodox team, and the consequences of letting Ladson get the ball over the mid-court line to set up the Aggie offense are dire indeed. Once he makes it safely across, Ladson will pass the ball in to The Wall, and from there, as every Southwest Conference coach knows by now, it usually goes right in the hole.
The Wall consists of 6'11" Rudy Woods, 6'8" Vernon Smith and 6'6" Rynn Wright, who combined for 40 points and 22 rebounds a game last season. Those numbers wouldn't raise an eyebrow in most parts of the country. But things are a little different in the Southwest Conference, where, as Texas Coach Abe Lemons says, "They spend so much time walking up and down the floor, you have to take a No-Doz to stay awake." A few key rebounds and a dunk or two can make a big difference in, say, a 59-54 game.
This explains why The Wall was such an important force in the Aggies' march to the conference championship last season. Woods shot 65.0% to win his second consecutive league field-goal percentage title. Smith was the team's leading scorer (14.8 points per game) and second-leading rebounder behind Woods. Wright had four 20-point games while being named the conference's Defensive Player of the Year.
Coach Shelby Metcalf has two other bruisers to lock arms with Woods, who, most observers feel, hasn't come close to tapping his enormous potential. One is 6'9" Claude Riley, who last season shot 53.6% in conference play as a part-timer and who'll probably start this year in the Aggies' unconventional 1-4 offensive configuration. The other is 6'8", 230-pound Maurice McDaniel, a transfer from Florida who was SEC Freshman of the Year in 1979. If his grades are good enough, McDaniel will have his eligibility restored by the fourth game of league play.
If Ladson can't handle both the ball and the pressure, Metcalf will switch to freshman Reggie Roberts, a real greyhound who does 360-degree dunks in practice. Whoever runs the team will have to keep his—and everyone else's—cool during a strange early-season scheduling period in which A&M plays nine consecutive games away from its notorious G. Rollie White Coliseum. Three of those games are in the league. Nevertheless, the Aggies are prohibitive favorites to repeat as conference champions. Which is to say that, once again, the rest of the league will be up against The Wall.
16 Nevada-Las Vegas
As his city's only recognizable sporting celebrity, Nevada-Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian has an obligation to his fans. So at the Las Vegas-Paradise Rotary Club luncheon the other day Tark took the dais after the residue of the breaded seafood had been cleared away to fill the old boys in on the progress of their Runnin' Rebels. "I like our team this year," he said. "We got a lot of skinny guys, but I don't mind, because I like quickness."
Five of those players—forwards Sidney Green and Richard Box, guards Larry Anderson and Michael Burns and a not-so-skinny (6'8", 245 pounds) center, Michael Johnson—were the nucleus of the UNLV team that went 23-9 in 1979-80, extended the Rebels' string of consecutive 20-victory seasons under Tarkanian to seven, finished fourth in its first-ever appearance in the NIT and led the nation in cardiac arrests. Playing with a top eight that included two freshmen, Green and Anderson, and four sophomores, Burns, Box, Johnson and Michael Loyd, UNLV won eight games by a mere 19 points and lost seven games by a total of 21. Four of the losses came at the buzzer. The problem last season was that the young Rebels hadn't mastered Tarkanian's full-court pressure defense, the key to Vegas' withering fast break. "We were so young we could rarely sustain the defensive pressure the way we wanted to," says Tarkanian.
Consequently, UNLV did very little running last season, but now the running game is working just fine. "We have only one senior on our club, but I think we can be as good as anybody in the country," says Tarkanian.
The same could also be said for the redoubtable Green, the 6'9" marvel who was second in the nation among freshmen in both scoring (15.6) and rebounding (11.1). "He's a great rebounder, shot blocker and outlet passer," says Burns. "He can get the rock to you." Joining El Cid, as Green is known in Las Vegas, to form a versatile, aggressive front line are Box, probably the team's most consistent performer, and Johnson, a part-time starter last year whose flashes of brilliance were balanced out by alarming periods of inattention on the court. If Johnson is listening, he should know that 6'8" junior Eddie Roberson, who twice led California's junior colleges in rebounding while averaging an uncanny seven assists per game as a center at Riverside City College, is ready to step in.
The best shooters are in the backcourt, where the 6'7" operatives are Burns, a marvelous penetrator, and Anderson, a good defensive player. "Anderson is the best outside shooter I've ever had," says Tarkanian, who has coached a number of outstanding gunners in his long career. The guards will be backed up by Greg Goorjian, a transfer from Arizona State who scored 43.4 points a game as a high school senior. "We're not real deep," says Tarkanian, "but I think we have some real quality here." Enough, for sure, to send the Rebels off and runnin' toward another NCAA berth.
Before the start of last season, the unassuming and presumably non-contending Bradley Braves got all decked out in tuxedos and other finery for the cover photo of their media guide. Then the Braves went out and looked even better in their red-and-white uniforms, going 23-10 while climbing from last place in the Missouri Valley Conference to the regular and postseason championships.
For this season's brochure most of those same young men donned Army green and posed with bazookas, rocket launchers and a World War II tank in a scene aptly entitled Defending the Title. Which they should do.
If ever a team was a reflection of its coach, it's Bradley. The very assuming and immodest Dick Versace says this Bradley team was built "from the three C's—conflict, controversy and competition." This is also a pretty good description of how Versace got where he is. "I say what I think and then you can sit back and watch me succeed or fall on my butt," he says.
Versace, who made his name coaching in Chicago high schools, plays a city-style game, with an almost nonstop free-lance attack. The style works at Bradley because of talented city-bred players like guards David Thirdkill (St. Louis) and Hasan Houston (born in New York) and junior Forward Mitchell Anderson (Chicago), anderson scored 20.6 points per game last season and became the first Bradley sophomore to score 1,000 career points.
Slightly built at 6'8" and about 195 pounds, Anderson was also the Braves' leading rebounder. Donald Reese is a quite capable center at 6'9", but there's no adequate backup. In case of foul trouble, look for Versace to move the 6'7" Third-kill, an excellent defensive player, or Anderson into the post and insert explosive sixth man Houston into the lineup. In a 55-53 NCAA tournament loss to Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M, Houston scored 17 points in 28 minutes.
The Braves began to move last season after Houston was shifted from the starting lineup to the super-sub role, going 18-5 after the switch was made and completing a 16-game sweep at home. Bradley's home—Robertson Memorial Field House—deserves special mention because it was fashioned 31 years ago from two gigantic airplane hangars. But the Braves can be tough on the road, too. The high point of their season came at Wichita State when Bradley shocked the Shockers by holding them to 11 second-half points en route to a 57-51 win. That performance prompted one Bradley player to remark, "I don't care how much talent any team has, they'll never beat us."
To compensate for its lack of size and bulk, Bradley relies on quickness and jumping ability and plays a very physical, pressing game. However there's a difference between physical and Kamikaze, and offensive motion and helter-skelter action. If the Braves can handle that difference, who knows what next year's cover photo might depict?
18 St. John's
For a detailed analysis of why St. John's won't go down the tube this season despite the loss of three-year starting guards Reggie Carter and Bernard Rencher, we take you to the Redmen locker room and Curtis Redding: "They're writing off St. John's because we lost Reggie and Bernard. But don't nobody want to finish last around here. As far as I can see all the baaad guys have left college basketball. We got all the king-dong-bing-bongs right here."
Actually, Redding, the Redmen's 6'4" senior swingman and resident frankfurter, is mistaken in his assessment of the state of college basketball. Most, if not all, of the baddies are still skulking around out there. But assuming king-dong-bing-bong is Reddingism for a talented player, then at least his assessment of his teammates is correct.
Another thing in St. John's favor is Coach Lou Carnesecca, who, like every good New Yorker, is a survivor. Last season the Redmen were 24-5, their best showing since 1952, and tied Syracuse and Georgetown for the regular-season championship of the Big East Conference.
The Redmen's front line, which is composed of seniors Wayne McKoy, Frank Gilroy and Ron Plair and sophomore David Russell in varying combinations, is all too familiar to their opponents. The 6'8" McKoy, St. John's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder last season, will again be a power forward playing out of position at center. His mobility and outside shooting touch are ideal when the Redmen go to the high post offense or run their transition game. But in his three seasons of tangling with the aircraft carriers of the college game, foul trouble has been his constant companion. "Wayne has got to battle all the heavyweights," Carnesecca says. "I've learned to live with it like people learn to live with arthritis." McKoy is getting special instruction from former New York Knick Willis Reed, who signed on this year as a volunteer assistant. "I can bring a guy only so far," Carnesecca says. "I'm like the general practitioner. Now I bring in the specialist."
There will be more time on the floor this season for Russell, who had a sensational freshmen campaign in which he averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game and was named MVP of the ECAC Holiday Festival tournament, the first freshman to be so honored.
The ebullient Redding, who scored 8.9 points a game in a part-time role last season, will start at one guard. He may be quick with a quip, but his opponents will find his roughhouse defense and outside shooting touch no laughing matter. He'll be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Billy Goodwin, a junior-college All-America in his only season at San Jacinto (Texas) J.C. Before going to the Southwest, Goodwin was a high school star in the Bronx. "We're going to be a better team at the end of the season," says Carnesecca, who obviously knows good king-dong-bing-bongs when he sees them.
19 South Alabama
Here they come, bursting onto the floor of Mobile's Municipal Auditorium in their red-white-and-blue warmups with the letters USA emblazoned across the front, their entrance heralded by the best of the Louis Brothers Odyssey LTD Band. Let's hear it for the University of South Alabama Jaguars!
Seldom able to recruit top-quality Alabama high school players because of the preeminence of the Crimson Tide and Auburn, South Alabama has pulled in talented kids from nearby states and gone to work on its image problem. That's why Coach Cliff Ellis hired the LTD Band; he didn't think the USA school band had enough firepower to psych up the fans. For lack of a better campaign slogan, he has dubbed South Alabama "the Iona of the South." But Ellis' most important accomplishments have come in the all-important W column.
The Jags finished 23-6 last season, won the Sun Belt regular season title and had enough clout to lose the conference tournament and still qualify for the NCAAs. South Alabama had played a two-point game against eventual champion Louisville in its season opener—at Louisville. And the Jags went on to win those 23 games without former Sunbelt Player of the Year, 6'8" Rory White, who went down with a knee injury in the first half of the 75-73 loss to the Cardinals.
Everybody who counts is back, including White, whose knee and keen outside shooting touch appear to be intact. Last season's leading scorer was Ed Rains, who plays one of the wings in South Alabama's 1-4 offense. Rains not only had 18.8 points a game himself, but he also consistently put the clamps on the man he guarded. He outscored Darrell Griffith 26 to 15 and held Jacksonville's all-league center, James Ray, without a basket for an entire half. As good as Rains was, his flair for the dramatic didn't approach Point Guard Herb Andrew's. Herb's last-second baskets saved three games—against Jacksonville, UNC Charlotte and Alabama-Birmingham.
South Alabama didn't score a great many points—76.4 per game—but the Jags finished third nationally in scoring margin because of their defense (64.5). At the low post, 6'9" John May is a fierce intimidator, and Scott Williams, a wing man and third-year starter, is another gutsy defensive specialist.
Because South Alabama hasn't lost a conference road game in two years, it isn't the most popular team in the Sun Belt. Nor is Ellis, a brilliant 35-year-old tactician, the most beloved coach. He feels it's O.K. "to verbally and mentally harass your opponents. I'm not that kind of guy away from the court, but I do play to win," he says. "When I came here the administration was talking about dropping down to Division II. Now we're consistently drawing 7,000 fans a night, and the press is beginning to annoy Alabama and Auburn with questions about why they won't schedule us. That's what I call progress." That's what USA's opponents call "trouble."
Everywhere you go in Clemson, S.C. you see tiger paws. There are tiger paws painted on the road that leads into town, tiger paws painted on the sides of liquor stores, tiger paws painted on people's faces. Clemson loves its Tigers, and there's nothing the school's ardent fans wouldn't cover with cat tracks to prove it. This season the Tigers may also leave some indelible impressions on the ACC; if they can win a road game or two, they might just turn out to be the paws that refreshes for the citizenry of Clemson.
The Tigers were 23-9 last season and made it all the way to the finals of the NCAA West Regional, but leading-scorer Billy Williams and point Guard Bobby Conrad are gone from that team. Lack of experience may be Clemson's only glaring weakness: of its top nine players, eight are underclassmen and freshmen Clarke Bynum and Raymond Jones are expected to help. "I think this is as talented a team as I've had at Clemson," says Coach Bill Foster, "but I don't know what to expect."
What the Tigers lack in brawn they should be able to compensate for with quickness and cunning. A good example is 6'10" Center Larry Nance, who spent most of last season at forward. Nance was the top rebounding forward in the ACC (8.1 a game), and in a four-game stretch during which he did play center, he scored 23.8 points a game and shot a hot 68.9%. But Nance weighs only 200 pounds, and he can be moved around by bigger pivotmen. "Usually I'm kind of quicker than all the other centers," Nance says. "I don't really have the strength to be pushy with those big guys."
Another bean pole is junior Forward Horace Wyatt, who is 6'10" and weighs only 190 pounds, a lot of it wagging tongue. Wyatt is big enough to guard centers and quick enough to take on guards, but he isn't above yakking an opponent into submission. "I like to talk a lot," Wyatt says. "I like to express myself. I don't know why most guys don't like to talk. I do. You hold it back, you might hurt yourself."
Chris Dodds will direct the Clemson offense from the point, but he must learn to control his penchant for running at all times. The 6'7" Bynum—the most highly recruited player ever to attend Clemson—will be the starting wing guard, a position that has produced the Tigers' leading scorer the past four years. Bynum underwent surgery on his left knee last spring, but he seems to be sufficiently recovered now. Foster hopes to exploit Bynum's height by posting him against smaller defenders.
Jones and Fred Gilliam will play a lot at small forward, with Gilliam having the special advantage of being Clemson's best shooter.
Clemson was 15-0 at home in 1979-80, including 7-0 against ACC competition, but the Tigers were 1-6 on the road in league play. If they can make tracks better, those paws will be known for their claws.