Uppermost in the minds of great thinkers these days is not only the question of how to stem the glut of shoe imports from Taiwan or which Coca-Cola to drink, but also the matter of which is the best college basketball conference in the land. This burning issue is hereby addressed with clarity, foresight and an occasional tongue in cheek by our three resident experts. Curry Kirkpatrick is a graduate of North Carolina, Alexander Wolff is an alumnus of Princeton, and Greg Kelly is a graduate of Georgetown. Kirkpatrick says the Big East is tops. Wolff says it's the ACC. Kelly says the Big Ten.
KIRKPATRICK: First of all, let's blow off all the other leagues to legitimize this discussion. The Pac-10 is—or rather was—UCLA. Period. The Big Eight is Kansas and Danny Manning. But everywhere else is Palookaville. Except....
WOLFF: The Southeastern Conference.
KIRKPATRICK: Last season—a down year in the SEC, a no-seniors year—the league still had three teams in the NCAA final 16, and this season it might have the two best players in the country in Kenny Walker at Kentucky and Chuck Person at Auburn.
KELLY: Who cares? It's still a football league.
KIRKPATRICK: Right. Blow off. Next? WOLFF: Then there's Dale Brown. LSU always has the most talent and goes nowhere. What's Dale's recent postseason record?
KIRKPATRICK: Oh and eight. I think LSU got eliminated last year by Coast Guard.
WOLFF: It was Navy.
KELLY: By 23 points.
KIRKPATRICK: Anyway, two of those other SEC titans were basically on a pity roll for their coaches. Everyone figured both Sonny Smith at Auburn and Joe Hall at Kentucky were quitting.
WOLFF: And the only reason Alabama advanced in the NCAAs was that they drew VCU.
KIRKPATRICK: Who? VCR?
KELLY: Virginia Commonwealth. Let's get serious. Only three conferences count and I'm sick of two. The ACC is wimps and the Big East is thugs. The only classic basketball is played in the Big Ten.
WOLFF: You're talking about the style of play?
KELLY: Yes. Big Ten style is hard-nosed aggression. Power ball. The league makes tougher players. The ACC is a league of small forwards. Worthy, Jordan. But it's wimp basketball. The ACC makes small forwards out of giants. Tom McMillen, Larry Nance, Ralph Sampson.
KIRKPATRICK: Don't be calling James Worthy a wimp in his presence.
KELLY: HOW can they make wimpy, non-contact players out of such highly rated high school stars? The ACC plays such a genteel, preppy game. By the time he left Virginia, Sampson wouldn't go near the basket. The league's won only four NCAA championships, and one of North Carolina's was handed to it by Georgetown's Fred Brown.
KIRKPATRICK: Wait a minute!
KELLY: N.C. State cheated to get another one, the way it recruited David Thompson. That's on the record. A third was the luckiest of all time—North Carolina over Wilt and Kansas in '57. And N.C. State's championship in '83 wasn't exactly unlucky. It beat Houston—the stupidest team in creation.
KIRKPATRICK: Are you calling Michael Jordan a wimp?
WOLFF: Kelly, your reasoning is specious, if not spacey. Worthy dominated the '82 championship game. N.C. State in '83 maybe didn't have brawn, but it had the bench savvy to control each game in the tournament.
KIRKPATRICK: Bench savvy?
WOLFF: SO I like the weasel. But about this "wimp basketball." There was a time when the ACC had the reputation of being a touch-foul league, but steps have been taken to remedy that. In the span of four years Fred Barakat, the new supervisor of officials, has completely reeducated the ACC whistle tweeters.
KIRKPATRICK: Barakat's the former coach who built the extremely rough and tough Fairfield program.
WOLFF: The ACC has reached a bump-and-grind point now where several coaches say it's gone too far. Last year's ACC tournament in Atlanta looked like William Tecumseh Sherman plowing through town.
KIRKPATRICK: How many rebounds did he get?
KELLY: The reason is the ACC is finally getting rid of the genteel guys and bringing in New York coaches.
KIRKPATRICK: But it's only Georgia Tech that set the standard for physical play. Now that you mention New York, I think we must all agree that the Big East bows to no one in muscle activity.
WOLFF: Extracurricular, maybe.
KIRKPATRICK: Need I say more than Patrick Ewing? Actually, I think the Big East combines both power and finesse. A team like Syracuse has been able to win without brute strength.
KELLY: Sure, with the typical Big East stylist—6'8", 300-pound Andre Hawkins.
KIRKPATRICK: You mean The Claw?
KELLY: YOU talk Big East, you're talking Thug Ball. It's the greatest collection of hoods since West Side Story.
KIRKPATRICK: YOU calling Georgetown thugs'! Ewing? Michael Graham? (May he R.I.P. at UDC.) Poor Patrick was constantly harassed, beat upon, abused.
KELLY: The prototype Big East player was Marvin Barnes. Look at the league. One fight after another.
KIRKPATRICK: That's what makes for excitement, intensity, action. Fights!
KELLY: HOW about Georgetown's Reggie Williams popping that Villanova guy in Lexington?
KIRKPATRICK: A mere bagatelle, especially when you're going for the national championship. Anyway, that appeals to the big-city crowd. That's the atmosphere. Street-fightin' men.
KELLY: There's a rumor Don King will be the next commissioner of the Big East.
KIRKPATRICK: The Big East has simply taken Big Ten style to the nth degree.
KELLY: But see, the Big Ten plays physical and fair, and turns out solid pros and good citizens. The Big East has gone way overboard. This leads to other things. Like the Boston College player who stayed eligible by going to night school a few years ago.
WOLFF: Good citizens? Ask Luke Witte about the good citizens in the Big Ten.
KIRKPATRICK: Yes, the basketball brawl of all time, right there in the corn-fed, heartland, good-citizen Big Ten. Ohio State at Minnesota, 1972.
KELLY: At least the league policed that stuff. Not like the Big East.
KIRKPATRICK: Oh. And Robert Knight? He's a terrific citizen. A world international good citizen. Just don't get in the way of the flying chairs.
WOLFF: There is a middle ground. When the ACC realized its success only lasted until NCAA tournament time...that's when it revised its finesse approach. It was very Big Ten conscious. But this premise that the Big Ten style is the way to go is silly. The league seems mostly to be the NBA, undergraduate division. College ball should have its own identity. Watching the Big Ten is like listening to Dick Vitale read Shakespearean sonnets. Painful.
KELLY: It's Middle America—strong, solid, conservative, blue-collar. Look at the Illinois team two years ago. Possessed of hard work, initiative, inner drive.
KIRKPATRICK: What is this, Farm Aid? You've got to put the ball in the basket. Last year the Illini couldn't hit the broadsides of those barns around Champaign.
WOLFF: What is the singular of Illini?
KELLY: What is this, Peanuts?
KIRKPATRICK: The ACC might have been Big Ten conscious several years ago. But now everyone has to be Big East conscious, especially the ACC. Now the Big East is keeping most of the good Eastern players home. And as for the Big Ten: Besides everything else, it's boring. Even the Indiana teams of '74-76—everybody talks about how great they were. Sure. I love screens and holding and moving picks, too. Kent Benson? Are you kidding me? Boring. The Big Ten is uninterrupted tedium except for Antoine Joubert's haircut.
KELLY: Break down the guard play. What happened to all the great guards in the ACC who didn't develop as great pros? Phil Ford. Jim Spanarkel. Jeff Lamp. Their specialized passing game may look pretty but it doesn't wash in the real world. Meanwhile, the Big Ten turns out guys like Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, who only revolutionized basketball.
WOLFF: Dean Smith found a way to beat both of them.
KELLY: Not when it counted. What's more boring than Mr. Smith's ACC stall ball? That got so boring it was legislated out of the game.
WOLFF: Look at the totality of ACC basketball. From the crowds and the arenas to the media coverage, the electricity flowing between College Park, Md. and Atlanta is what makes it so special. Who's to say the "gentility" aspects of the game—ball handling, floor play, the outside shot—aren't more exciting than the rough stuff?
KIRKPATRICK: Speaking of arenas, I was a Big East doubter until I saw a few Syracuse games in the Carrier Dome. The Big East has been able to pack up the atmosphere and intensity of a campus pit and sustain it in huge buildings. Madison Square Garden. Capital Centre. A 32,000-strong Big East crowd at the Carrier Dome is a great spectacle.
KELLY: If you like cockfights.
WOLFF: Pretty soon they're going to have to go to closed circuit in the Big East. You think that's intimate?
KELLY: Back to basics. The Big East is still a child. The Big Ten has won seven NCAA championships to the ACC's four. The Big Ten has 27 Final Four appearances to the ACC's 19. Case closed.
KIRKPATRICK: The Big East has two NCAAs in six years of existence. What are the Big Ten's and ACC's percentages? Let's face it—you two are debating for second place, as we discovered last March when three Big East teams made the Final Four. Never done before. You can look this up, too: In three of the last four years the Big East had three teams in the NCAA final 16. Over the same period, the league received 19 NCAA bids, had a tournament winning percentage of .702 and, of course, back-to-back belly-to-belly champeens. Last season NBC and CBS televised a total of 29 games involving Big East teams, easily a record.
WOLFF: The ACC can just about match that.
KELLY: Now that Ewing's gone, it's over for the Big East.
KIRKPATRICK: AU contraire, Mr. Good Citizen. Sure, 1985 was the windup of the era of Ewing, Mullin, Pinckney, Adams and the everlasting Sonny Spera, but rather than the product falling off, the Big East will build on this success.
WOLFF: My problem with the Big East is it seems like some guy with a marketing degree sat down and invented it. I take this market, you take that one.' I mean, Providence? Seton Hall?
KIRKPATRICK: Sshhh. You don't mention Seton Hall, and I won't mention Wake Forest. Or Northwestern. Sure, it's marketing. But the Big East took its lead from the kings of hype marketing, the ACC, and did it better.
KELLY: Aw, come on. The Big East just lucked into an incredible growth period. It's been attractive so far, but there's no solid foundation. The teams don't have their own arenas. They don't have an awful lot of good coaches.
KIRKPATRICK: But they have a lot of Italian ones.
KELLY: Look, if Lefty Driesell left Maryland or Knight left Indiana, either school would go out and get a coach to sustain the program. If John Thompson left Georgetown, there's no guarantee the team would be good anymore. If Rollie Massimino left Villanova, it might turn into another Providence.
KIRKPATRICK: Well, what happens if Bobby Cremins leaves Georgia Tech? It's the same thing. If they don't get a guy with equal charisma and abilities, they're back playing overtimes against Carson-Newman. And not in the holy ACC.
KELLY: I still say the Big East lacks stability in the sense that good coaches have not prepared for an orderly transition. And what happens in those big buildings when the home team doesn't win? Who comes to the games? Georgetown couldn't fill the Cap Centre with Ewing. What will they do without him?
KIRKPATRICK: YOU think if Purdue changes coaches to a guy who can't win, the team will draw? We assume the traditional powers will always hire good coaches. Boston College had big problems and it still makes the NCAA final 16 practically every year. A major factor is the coach, and that's another plus for the Big East. I submit the league has terrific coaches.
KELLY: Get down to the bottom of the league. Seton Hall: pitiful. Connecticut: a disaster. Pittsburgh, with eight high school All-Americas, can't beat anybody. Every league has doormats; the Big East has Oriental rugs.
KIRKPATRICK: I warned you. N-O-R-T-H-W-E-S-T-E-R-N. A month before Villanova won it all, Pittsburgh beat the future champs by 23 points. I'll take any Big East team and play against Northwestern. Or against Wake Forest.
WOLFF: You won't play any of the other teams in the ACC, though. This year the conference should have seven representatives in the NCAA tournament, an all-time record.
WOLFF: Top-to-bottom balance, that's the important thing. The Big Ten's got Wisconsin and Northwestern. The Big East has Seton Hall and Providence. We're talking dogs here. In the ACC there are no dogs. And despite all the prominence given basketball, Clemson has even given the league a national football champion.
KIRKPATRICK: Football? Great. Why don't we bring up something important. Like hockey.
KELLY: The Big Ten sustains football excellence down the line as well as basketball excellence.
KIRKPATRICK: Check out your recent Rose Bowl scores.
WOLFF: Check out Big Ten basketball excellence. Six teams in NCAA play won a total of four games in the '85 tournament. No Final Four teams since '81. Pathetic.
KELLY: So the Big Ten had a down year.
KIRKPATRICK: Down year? Michigan, the undisputed league champion, enters the NCAAs and barely gets by Fairleigh Dickinson. Fairleigh Dickinson couldn't make the Big East suburban division. 'Nova, tied for third in the Big East, with a 9-7 record, whips Michigan and everybody else.
WOLFF: Bottom-line time. I say that in any three-year period every ACC team—Clemson and Wake Forest included—will have two or three major nonconference victories. Each and every ACC team. No other league can say that.
KIRKPATRICK: Can Wake Forest really beat anybody good anymore?
WOLFF: Knocked DePaul out of the NCAAs two years ago.
KIRKPATRICK: An awesome feat indeed. Put NCAA TOURNAMENT on your wall, and you can beat DePaul in the privacy of your own home. Isn't Wake Forest the team with a 4'2" midget? Give me a break.
WOLFF: Why should I even have to defend a team that can win with a 4'2" midget?
KIRKPATRICK: Oh, really? Now how many games is Wake Forest going to win with Buggsy Moles or whoever he is? Go right out on that short limb.
WOLFF: Muggsy Bogues. Just remember the three-year test.
KIRKPATRICK: Right. Seems to me I remember Virginia of the ACC having the greatest player of all time and going out to Hawaii to give Chaminade a real battle.
WOLFF: Chaminade might play Michigan this year. Easy pickings for Chaminade.
KELLY: Well, Chaminade has that world-class timekeeper.
KIRKPATRICK: The Big East has never been embarrassed by Chaminade.
KELLY: NO wonder. Big East teams would beat up the timekeeper.
KIRKPATRICK: Enough of this. Put your cards on the table. My Final Four this season are Georgetown, Georgia Tech, LSU—if it can get by Coast Guard—and a dark horse, Kansas, to win the national championship.
WOLFF: I like Georgetown and Georgia Tech as well. But North Carolina and Louisville will be there, too.
KELLY: Naw, it's Georgia Tech and two Big Ten teams, Michigan and Illinois. And the dark horse is UAB.
KIRKPATRICK: Who's your NCAA champion?
WOLFF: Georgia Tech.
KELLY: Georgia Tech.
KIRKPATRICK: Just as I suspected. House guys.
Projected orders of finish, with last season's records. An asterisk denotes a team that did not compete in '84-85.
ACC: "There's a block of three teams, a block of four teams and then us," says new Wake Forest coach Bob Staak. "We've got a lot of work to do." With three senior starters gone from last season's 15-14 NIT club, 5'3" junior Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues puts the Deacons' dilemma in perspective. "The players look up to me a lot," he says.
EAST COAST: The only certainty here is that defending champ Lehigh and its star Daren Queenan won't again be Little Engineers Who Could. Lehigh, which went 12-19 last season, copped the ECC tourney title, then lost 68-43 in the NCAAs to Georgetown, is without point guard Mike Polaha, who's redshirting because of a knee injury. Watch out instead for Drexel and its sophomore star Michael Anderson; Hofstra, which welcomes Gerald (brother of Bernard and Albert) King; and Rider, whose coaching staff rates its new forward, Penn State transfer Marshall Grier, a better player than Lehigh's Queenan.
SOUTHWESTERN ATHLETIC: Very little added up for Southern until the end of the '84-85 SWAC regular season. A statistician bungled the midseason field goal percentages of three Jaguars, making them so high as to be unbelievable. With the figures corrected, the Jags figured out a way to beat regular-season champion Alcorn State in the SWAC tournament final. Three starters return—including John Staves, whose notarized 63.8% shooting mark was fifth best in the nation—as Southern tries again to make the grade. Former Tulane starter Whitney Dabney plays forward; 6'9" forward Bobby Hendrix, cousin of Jimi, plays the trombone.
PCAA: Utah State has the Pacific Coast's best player, 6'7" Greg Grant, but plays the worst defense. Fresno State usually displays that league's best D, but the Bulldogs will be hard-pressed to press hard, given a green backcourt. Up front, however, three seniors return. San Jose State has 6'8" Ricky Berry, who bolted from Oregon State because he wasn't playing enough. That isn't likely to be a problem with the Spartans; his dad, Bill, is the coach.
WAC: Utah and New Mexico return four starters each in their bids to knock UTEP from its roost. The Utes' returnees are small, but they include guards Kelvin Upshaw and Manny Hendrix (no relation to Jimi), who combined for more, than 30 points a game last season. New Mexico retains high-scoring 6'5" Johnny Brown from its NIT team. A stiff early schedule—Georgetown, Oregon State and Arizona—should leave the Lobos ready for league play.
BIG TEN: In a move that says a lot about this bruising conference, Ohio State may turn 7-foot Brad Sellers, a center last season, into a small forward. That would clear the middle for 6'11" freshman Dave Pletke. When Buckeye foes play zone against all this height, 6-foot frosh Jay Burson, Ohio's alltime schoolboy scorer, will be sent in to launch a few. Minnesota has five bodies of 6'9" or more, but the only one of consequence is 7-foot John Shasky, who improved by leaps but not enough 'bounds (only 6.2 a game) last season. As usual, Purdue is expected to be an also-ran. So, as usual, the Boilermakers will wind up in the Big Ten's top five. Sophs Troy Lewis and Todd Mitchell will make us regret leaving them out of the Top 40. Michigan State unveils Vernon Carr, whose near triple-double averages (19.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9.3 assists per game) earned him national juco player of the year honors at Highland Park (Mich.) Community College—and comparisons to a certain Magical Spartan of yore.
MISSOURI VALLEY: A decade ago Jim Les cleaned the floor for Bradley as a ball boy. Now Les, No. 2 in the nation in assists last season, owns that floor for the MVC-favorite Braves, who lose only one player. Meanwhile, the rosters of the Valley's traditional powers have been gutted. Wichita State coach Gene Smithson and Illinois State coach Bob Donewald, neither of whom has ever had a losing season, face rebuilding years, as does new Tulsa coach J.D. Barnett. Indiana State forward John Sherman (Paint) Williams will be the conference's most accomplished artist, though with a new patron, deliberate coach Ron Greene, his 22.8-a-game pointillism may not be quite so gaudy.
ECAC NORTH ATLANTIC: If you had to go up against the Big East and Northeastern you would scour foreign lands for players, too. Thus the forays made by coaches in the ECAC-NA, where you'll find 7-foot Michele Pontalti of Italy at Niagara; France's Eric Fleury, another 7-footer, at Siena; 6'5" Virgin Islander Paul Hendricks at Boston University; and Amadou (Coco) Barry, a 6'8" Senegalese forward, at Maine.
ECAC METRO: Recruiters here are doing much the same as their neighbors to the north. Marist has five foreigners and could start a frontcourt of 7'3" Rik Smits (Holland), 7-foot Rudy Bourgarel (Guadeloupe) and 6'11" Miroslav Pecarski (Yugoslavia). One challenge will come from Loyola (Md.), where the players are all homegrown and short. The Greyhounds take their nickname literally, and press all game long. Fairleigh Dickinson, near conqueror of Michigan in the NCAAs last spring, has a foreigner in the middle—7'1" Torsten Stein, aus Berlin—and speed everywhere else. Wagner returns the conference's two leading scorers from last season, guard Terrance Bailey and forward Art Redmond.
COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION: The rebellious South has seceded from the ECAC to form this new multisport confab. While seceding, it has succeeded—in retaining its automatic NCAA bid—as well it should, considering the wins and near wins that James Madison, Richmond and Navy have scored over heavily favored tourney foes in the past five seasons. The Colonial already leads all leagues in John Newmans—Richmond's (21.3 points per game) is a shade better than James Madison's (12.6). George Mason has a new 10,000-seat arena and a knack for beating Navy that right away singles out the Patriots as a conference dark horse.
MID-AMERICAN: The MAC is the only league that can boast two of the top three returning scorers in Division I and two of the top three returning re-bounders. All right—so the two scorers are the two re-bounders, Ball State's Dan Palombizio (26.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game) and Miami's Ron Harper (24.9 and 10.7). Harper's Redskins have everyone back from a 20-11 season. Northern Illinois feels Kenny Battle, last season's frosh scoring champ (20.1 points a game), is Harper's and Palombizio's equal.
BIG EAST: Among the Least of the Big East, Connecticut is the Beast. The Huskies return 6'1" pointman Earl (The Guess What) Kelley, who twice last season outplayed the more renowned Pearl from Syracuse. Thanks to some fine recruiting, Seton Hall figures to rise enough to be the Yeast of the East; the Pirates' star is high-flying Andre McCloud (20.8 points a game), who spent the summer interning for a congressional subcommittee on—of all things—surface transportation. Alas, Providence promises to be the Feast of the East, even if new Friars coach Rick Pitino has given over an office to recruiting operations and dubbed it The War Room.
BIG EIGHT: Which conference has led the nation in scoring for two seasons running? Surprise—it's the Big Eight. Missouri, behind sophomore swingman Derrick Chievous, will do its bit to help the league keep that honor, assuming no more than half of coach Norm Stewart's frosh quit school, which seems to be Norm's norm. Iowa State, with everyone back except all-conference forward Barry Stevens, will win 21 games once more, if you can believe coach Johnny Orr, who insists, "This is the best team I've had since I've been here." Nebraska, tired of NIT appearances (three straight), now has the supporting players to complement center Dave Hoppen's accurate (64.6%) poppin'. At Oklahoma State, names can fool you: Muhammad Akbar is homegrown; the import is 7'4" Alan Bannister, from England. Colorado, as always, will have great skiing.
PAC-10: When all four Pac-It-In representatives lost their first-round NCAA games last spring, many wondered how this once proud conference could attract good coaches but no players. "We're not playing with Lon Chaneys and cigar store Indians," protests Lou Campanelli, who takes over at Cal. In lieu of wooden chiefs, new Arizona State coach and former UCLA center Steve Patterson will install the Wooden system and vows, "If I can look a recruit in the eye, I want him." Oregon State coach Ralph Miller has added 6'10" Jose Ortiz of the Puerto Rican national team to a front line led by 6'9" Steve Woodside. And Arizona's Lute Olson and Stanford's Tom Davis each plucked at least one West Coast blue-chipper for the class of '89. The league must haul in more homeboys this recruiting season: According to one scouting service, six of the nation's top 25 high school seniors are Californians.
SOUTHWEST: Houston to the conspicuous contrary, SWC teams generally adhere to the 60-points-and-a-flurry-of-elbows style. Coach Dave Bliss will rein in his wild Ponies at SMU, which returns stud hoss Terry Williams and floor leader Butch Moore, and adds wingman Randy Jones, brother of the famous Grace. At Baylor, new coach Gene Iba inherits eight of the top nine scorers from last season. They're among the 10 returning Bears who petitioned the university to send his predecessor, Jim Haller, into hibernation. Texas Tech boosters rewarded coach Gerald Myers with a silver Eldorado for taking the Red Raiders to the '85 SWC title, but with all five of last season's starters gone, Myers will have to make do with spare parts.
TRANS AMERICA: The accent here is on Trans, as in transition. The league has had 13 different members in its seven seasons. There is little change, however, at Arkansas-Little Rock, which sabotaged regular-season champion Georgia Southern in the semis of the TAAC tourney before losing to Mercer in the finals. The Trojans, behind junior forward Michael Clark, should again best Georgia Southern, which loses all five starters. Similarly, Mercer lost TAAC scoring champ Sam Mitchell and two other starters, so the Bears' outlook is pretty grisly.
SOUTHEASTERN: Every year, some unlikely SEC team up and beats everyone else in the conference tourney. Beware the Vols of March. Tennessee bagged 6'11" freshman Doug Roth from Knoxville, and gets defense and excitement from 6'7" Rob Jones and 6'2" Tony White, respectively. Alabama's Buck Johnson can play with any forward in the league—and this is a league of very good forwards.
METRO ATLANTIC and ATLANTIC 10: Sick of slinking in the shadows of the Big East, these two conferences will stage their postseason tourney finals together, under the bright lights of New Jersey's Brendan Byrne Arena. Last season in the MAAC, a revolt of black players rocked Holy Cross; Fairfield sacked coach Terry O'Connor after students wore BAG O'CONNOR bags over their heads; and Fordham and Iona players engaged in so many rancorous extracurriculars that increased crowd interest has forced their regular-season games into larger, off-campus buildings. All of the above helped to overshadow the Cross's Jim McCaffrey, a 6'3" Division II transfer from Rutland, Vt., who is the best player in the conference. Iona, however, is the early favorite, with 6'9", 240-pound Bob Coleman holding down (and taking up) the middle. Much is expected from Fairfield if new coach Mitch Buonaguro can teach five returning Stag starters how to play defense.
In the Atlantic 10, Temple coach John Chaney did a certain Big East coach one better by attracting two big men from the Caribbean: 7'2" Robert Liburd (Trinidad via the Bronx) and 6'10" Ramon Rivas (a University of Puerto Rico transfer). But a rare heart condition disabled Liburd, and Rivas remains raw. The Owls' wisdom, as ever, is in their backcourt, led by Nate Blackwell. At West Virginia the news is subtraction, not addition, as a result of school rules violations that will sideline three Mountaineers until Dec. 21 and two others for the season. And George Washington lost more than just an all-international Semitic front line—Israeli national team members Moti Daniel and Menachem Atlas could start—when 6'9" Soviet émigré forward Max Blank suffered a knee injury.
SUN BELT: Several notches behind UAB and ODU in the Sun Belt you'll find Virginia Commonwealth, which lost almost everybody, including its coach (Mike Pollio replaces J.D. Barnett), and Jacksonville, which has everyone back, including its coach, Bob Wenzel, who has fully recovered from surgery for a brain aneurysm that he claims was really a "John Wooden brain implant." Western Kentucky coach Clem Haskins has four new guards he'll try to meld with a splendid frontcourt that includes junior forward Kan-nard Johnson. Jeff Mullins, a 12-year NBA veteran, stopped selling cars to become UNC Charlotte's new coach. He'll try to erase memories of last season's 1-13 league mark with a stable of fine frosh. At South Alabama, 6'10", 240-pound transfer Alan Kortokrax is the center of attention; at South Florida, where Sun Belt career scoring leader Charlie Bradley is gone, Curtis Kitchen has all the utensils but may not be able to stand the heat.
INDEPENDENTS: Dayton welcomes back forward Ed Young, out all last season with a knee injury, to a frontcourt already anchored by 6'8" team MVP Dave Colbert. How effectively Marquette soph Michael (Pops) Sims can get the ball to three frontcourt returnees will determine the Warriors' success. Southwestern Louisiana opens its new 12,000-seat Cajundome without leading scorer and rebounder George Almones, but with everyone else. The waters may not be terribly inviting at Miami, where the Hurricanes renew basketball with a schedule including Duke, Notre Dame, Marquette, UCLA and maybe North Carolina. New Orleans has a roster that looks like a bowl of gumbo (including four Tulane refugees); unfortunately, no one's a jumbo.
SOUTHERN: With two out-sized inside types in Tom Curry and Jeff Guthrie, both 6'9", Marshall should take its third straight conference crown. Tennessee-Chattanooga will challenge, even with the two men most responsible for the Mocs' recent success—coach Murray Arnold and guard Gerald Wilkins—having choo-chooed off to the NBA.
WEST COAST ATHLETIC: "Things are mighty fine at the 'Dine," allows coach Jim Harrick, meaning that his Pepper-dine squad is loaded. The Waves have five double-figure scorers back from a 23-9 team that won 17 of their last 20 games. Conference MVP Dwayne Polee is the best of five fifth-year seniors. Loyola Marymount could challenge if new coach Paul Westhead can get 6'3" guard Keith Smith and 6'7" forward Forrest McKenzie, who, unlike their twice-fired mentor, are both pro prospects, to play together. San Francisco has been out of basketball since '82, but coach Jim Brovelli should keep the Dons out of the cellar.
SOUTHLAND: "We might go into the conference season looking bad," says Lamar coach Pat Foster, referring to an early-season schedule that includes heavyweights Villa-nova, Washington, LSU and Duke. "But we'll come out looking good." That's because the Cards have their own bruiser, 6'8", 278-pound sophomore James Gulley, who loves to eat, hates to fly and averaged 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in 1984-85. Five returning starters, notably center Michael Saulsberry (13.9 points per game), will boost Northeast Louisiana, while new Louisiana Tech coach Tommy Joe Eagles tries to figure out how to deliver the mail sans Karl Malone.
MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC: "There isn't a whole lot of size in this conference," says Howard coach A.B. Williamson. "Guards are its strength." Thus North Carolina A & T coach Don Corbett, after witnessing the effectiveness of his third guard, 5'8" walk-on Thomas Griffis, benched his center and went with a three-guard offense. Unfortunately, Griffis lost his two running mates, and this may be the season in which Howard, led by guard Fred Hill and 6'8", 25-year-old erstwhile soccer player Derek Caracciolo, finally knocks off A & T in the conference tourney. Or perhaps Delaware State, which has four starters back, will take out both of them.
IVY: The league of name schools finally features some name players. John Thompson III, the Georgetown coach's son, will start at Princeton, and Walt Frazier Jr. is at Penn. Even without Li'l Clyde's help, the Quakers should successfully defend their conference crown. New coach Tom Schneider has a team that is out of its league, especially with 23-year-old junior Perry Bromwell, the redoubtable Manhattan (College) Transfer, in the backcourt.
METRO: At Cincinnati, coach Tony Yates, a former Illinois assistant, has gotten lots of mileage from following his dog-eared road maps of the Land of Lincoln. Champaign's Roger McClendon helped the Bearcats claw from a 3-25 record in '83-84 to last season's 17-14 (with two defeats of conference rival Louisville). Four other top players are from Illinois. Virginia Tech is young, having lost its two Youngs, Perry and Al. Star swing guard Dell Curry hopes to find a decent back-court mate in Johnny Fort, a transfer from Iowa. At South Carolina, fraternal freshman twins Terry (6'9") and Perry (6'10") Dozier rejoin Keith James, their teammate at Dunbar High in Baltimore.
MIDWESTERN COLLEGIATE: It used to be the Midwestern City, but after last season, the league deserves a new image. Loyola did the conference proud by going all the way to the NCAA final 16, and on one startling day Detroit and Butler knocked off Memphis State and Notre Dame, respectively. Xavier, under new coach Pete Gillen, is favored to win the league, though the Musketeers went a disappointing 7-7 last season after similar high hopes. Loyola, without top scorers Alfredrick Hughes and Andre Battle, will rely on fearless 5'9" point guard Carl (Go-Go) Golston and rebounder-scorer Andre Moore.
AMCU-8: In its fourth season, the Association of Mid-Continent Universities gets no automatic NCAA bid, which is unfortunate for Cleveland State, likely to repeat as champ with its twin Clintons (Ransey and Smith) in the frontcourt. Eastern Illinois has the league's best (player of the year Jon Collins) and biggest (7-foot, 300-pound Kevin Duckworth), while Illinois-Chicago has the first woman college coach, assistant Patricia Denning.
OHIO VALLEY: Every spring some OVC power bags its NCAA bid, gives a heavily favored tourney opponent a game for a half and then takes the last train to Clarksville—or Cookeville, or Murfrees-boro. Look for Middle Tennessee, the last OVC team to do NCAA damage (R.I.P., Kentucky '82), to get this season's 20 minutes in the sun. The Blue Raiders should edge defending champ Tennessee Tech, thanks to the return of Kim Cooksey and James Johnson, who led the league in points and steals, respectively. Eastern Kentucky regains point-o-matic guard Antonio Parris after a season plagued with injuries, and Austin Peay welcomes back Lake Kelly, who coached Fly Williams and the Govs to two NCAA tourney appearances in the early '70s.
BIG SKY: A passel of redshirts and transfers should give Nevada-Reno its third straight title, though Montana star Larry Krystkowiak, who led the league in scoring and rebounding (21.1 points and 10.3-rebounds), may take issue with that. Former UCLA coach Larry Farmer takes over at Weber State, which lost its top six players. But Farmer cultivated a fine recruiting crop, bringing in five players, including 6'8" juco transfer Harry (Gramps) Willis, a 26-year-old father of four. Farmer is accustomed to sweet-talking prospects' parents, but Willis presented him with a twist. "I had to recruit his kids," says Farmer.
Three of our hoop heads debated the merits of big bruisers, scrappers and finesse guys, and found that there's a league for every taste.
'The ACC plays such a preppy game.... How can they make wimpy, non-contact players out of such highly rated high school stars?'
'The Big Ten is nothing but uninterrupted tedium.... Watching it is like listening to Dick Vitale read Shakespearean sonnets. Painful.'
'When you talk Big East, you're talking Thug Ball.... Fight after fight.... The greatest collection of hoods since West Side Story.'
SUSAN AIMEE WEINIK
The 5'3" Bogues has taken the measure of many of his ACC opponents. "The players look up to me a lot," he says.
JOHN MADDOCK ROBERTS
Williams of Indiana State covers the court like no other.
JOHN MADDOCK ROBERTS
Miami O.'s Harper, giving as well as gifted, helps Kevin Reeves with speech therapy.
Basketball is one of many games that keep hoppen hoppin.
Dayton's Colbert, pretty much a solo Flyer in '84-85, will get some help in the cockpit.
Caracciolo, a soccer sophisticate, will be a Howard headliner.
Defenders guarding Loyola off Chicago's speedy Golston can be excused if they think that their vision is blurring.