What's so hot about the Top 20 anyway, Coach? You don't have to live anywhere near that neighborhood to get invited to the party of the year. Give your point guard time to complete that quantum mechanics project he's so hot on. Send your big hosses to Grenada for the winter. Get yourself on the guest list for the Bing-Bob-Glen-Andy-Crosby-Hope-Campbell-Williams pro-am. Just be back here with your kids in March. There'll be room for almost everybody now that the NCAA has increased its field by 11 teams to 64.
Meanwhile, you might keep one eye on (east to west):
VILLANOVA. With his Wildcats languishing at 3-7 last January, coach Rollie Massimino implored willowy forward Eddie (E-Z Ed) Pinckney to become more of a bruiser underneath. Pinckney responded, and Villanova won 16 of its last 21 games. Four starters are back, so Pinckney will be able to take it E-Zer, especially if mammoth centers Chuck Everson (7 feet, 245 pounds) and Wyatt Maker (6'11", 240 pounds) can give the Cats adequate inside play. LA SALLE is the overwhelming favorite to win the Metro Atlantic title. Five starters are still around from last season's 20-11 NIT team, including 6'6" senior forward Ralph Lewis, the Explorers' leading scorer (20.6 points per game) and rebounder (9.1). Lewis, who came to La Salle without a scholarship, has been called "the greatest walk-on since Neil Armstrong."
At MARYLAND, coach Lefty Driesell has four key players—forward Len Bias, swingman Adrian Branch and guards Jeff Adkins and Keith Gatlin—from a 24-8 team that won Driesell's first ACC tournament championship in his 15 years at College Park. But Driesell must replace his two top rebounders, center Ben Coleman and forward Herman Veal, if the Terps are to challenge this time. VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH and OLD DOMINION, each with five starters back, will do serious battle in the Sun Belt. VCU went 23-7 and finished first last season despite a woeful year from all-conference guard Calvin Duncan, whose scoring average fell from 17.4 points a game to 13.6. Old Dominion's schedule—Virginia Tech, DePaul and Maryland on the road—is a killer, but the Monarchs' five regulars are battle-tested. Center Clarence Hanley, forwards Mark Davis and Kenny Gattison and guards Charlie Smith and Keith Thomas combined for 60.1 of ODU's 70.8 points per game in 1983-84.
KENTUCKY in the second 20? Coach Joe B. Hall doesn't like it, to be sure. But four starters from last year's 29-5 Final Four team are gone. Holdovers Winston Bennett and James Blackmon are out for a while with knee injuries, so it will be 6'8" forward Kenny (Sky) Walker plus several promising freshmen, including 6'7" Richard (Master Blaster) Madison. AUBURN lost SEC Player of the Year Charles Barkley, who left early for the NBA 76ers. Without him, the Tigers should pull in second or third in the SEC, largely because 6'8" Chuck Person, who led last season's team in scoring (19.1) and was second in rebounding (8.0), is still around.
Who will be this season's Dayton, the underdog that surprisingly advances to a regional final? Not Dayton. It could be FLORIDA STATE, whose slogan is "Get the ball to Al." The 6'10" Alton Lee Gipson, the 1984 Metro Conference Newcomer of the Year, led the league in scoring (20.2) and blocked 55 shots.
MICHIGAN was excluded from the NCAAs and went to the NIT, where it won its first national basketball championship of any kind. Even though center Tim McCormick and speedball guard Eric Turner took early leave from Ann Arbor for the NBA, the Wolverines still have some size and speed to spare. Roy Tarpley, the NIT MVP, moves his 6'11" frame into McCormick's center spot, while freshman sensation Gary Grant joins Antoine (The Judge) Joubert in the backcourt. OHIO STATE lost just one player from its 15-14 NIT team, All-Big Ten forward Tony Campbell. But the Buckeyes expect big things from 7-foot transfer Brad Sellers, who averaged 16.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for Wisconsin two years ago. If IOWA coach George Raveling can find a point guard to get the ball to a front line that includes 6'11" Michael Payne, 6'10" Greg Stokes and 7-foot Brad Lohaus, the Hawkeyes, perhaps the nation's biggest flop in 1983-84, could be one of the big surprises in '84-85.
Although IOWA STATE doesn't have a true center, coach Johnny Orr thinks he finally has enough quick, strong guys to stir things up in the Big Eight. Three starters are back from last season's 16-13 NIT team, including the eye of the Cyclones, 6'5" forward Barry Stevens, whose 22.2 average was second in the conference to Wayman Tisdale's 27.0. ORAL ROBERTS coach Dick Acres says, "The chemistry on this team is good." He should like it, since he's responsible for a considerable amount of it. Six-eleven center Mark Acres and 6'9" forward Jeff Acres are the coach's sons. God's Little Acres lead an attack that was fifth in the nation last season with 82.9 points per game. TULSA's on-again, off-again center Bruce Vanley has departed, but the Golden Hurricane's toughest task will be replacing point guard Ricky Ross, who took the pressure off senior Steve Harris, the best shooter in the Missouri Valley. Harris averaged 21.1 points a game on 57.9% shooting, for the highest-scoring team (90.8 points a game) in Division I.
"The thing I want to establish from Day One," says NOTRE DAME coach Digger Phelps, "is getting the team used to playing with Dave Rivers." Rivers, a whippet freshman point guard, will be responsible for getting the ball inside to the Fighting Irish's beefy trio of juniors—center Tim Kempton (6'9", 237) and forwards Kenny Barlow (6'10", 220) and Jim Dolan (6'8", 235). At HOUSTON, Phi Slamma Jamma won't be the same without Akeem Olajuwon and Michael Young. Alvin Franklin and Reid Gettys stabilize the backcourt, but Rickie Winslow is the lone returning starter up front. Greg (Cadillac) Anderson (6'9") takes over Olajuwon's spot, while Braxton Clark, who along with teammate Benny Anders quit the Coogs last Christmas only to be reinstated a month later, will probably start at power forward. Anders seems content—for the moment—with his role as a reserve.
LOUISIANA TECH went 26-7 last season, and should do better with four returning starters. Chief among them is 6'9", 250-pound Karl (Mailman) Malone. TEXAS-EL PASO, 27-4 last season, has five regulars back and should win its second straight outright WAC title. New UCLA coach Walt Hazzard named his starting lineup on Oct. 12, three days before the first practice. Gary Maloncon and Reggie Miller are the forwards, 6'11" Brad Wright is the center and Nigel Miguel and Dave Immel are the guards. Who're they? "People say the talent isn't here," says Hazzard. "I say to them, leave your judgments open." You'd better believe the Westwood jury is ready. At OREGON STATE, 65-year-old coach Ralph Miller has 6'9" Pac-10 Player of the Year A.C. Green and 6'9" center Steve Woodside, OSU's assist leader, in his lineup. He also has a new three-year contract.
We could go on and on. The NCAA certainly will when it fills in all those blanks on the tournament draw sheet on March 10. It would be stretching things to say that the 64th team chosen has as good a chance to win it all as the first, but what the heck. Howl, MARIST Red Foxes! Breathe fire, DREXEL Dragons! Charge, you CAMPBELL Fighting Camels!
It will take a master blast from Madison and his fellow freshmen to get Kentucky into the Final Four on its home court in Lexington next March 30.
Dick (left) and "little Acres" Jeff and Mark.