The two giants among the Independents, Notre Dame and DePaul, made the Sweet 16 last spring, and each has a gem of a point guard returning. David Rivers of the Irish is back up to 180 pounds, having fully recovered from his harrowing car accident in August 1986. "Rocket" Rod Strickland has promised Blue Demons coach Joey Meyer to be a more vocal team leader.
Among the secular independents, the king is Miami; a deeper backcourt should please 7'1" Tito Horford almost as much as his young son: An Alfredo Horford Growth Chart (starting point: 17 months old, 34½") has been posted in the 'Canes sports information office.
One reason why Alabama-Birmingham has qualified for seven straight NCAA tournaments is that in four of those years the Sun Belt has held its conference tournament in Birmingham. The 1988 venue will be Richmond, but the Blazers should repeat as champions on the strength of 7'1" Alan Ogg, who blossomed late last season, and 6'8" Eddie Collins. Keep an eye on North Carolina Charlotte, where fans are prepping for the arrival of the NBA Hornets by flocking to see the rejuvenated 49ers. In his first coaching job at any level, Jeff Mullins, who is beginning his third year in Charlotte, has done for the 49ers' program what he did for an ailing Chevrolet dealership in Cary, N.C.—turned it around. Mullins has gotten a lot of help from 6'2" Byron Dinkins and 6'7" Ronnie Bellamy, Walt's half-brother.
Nevada-Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian has instituted 6:30 a.m. practices to whip what he says "could be the worst I've had at UNLV" into shape. But don't be fooled. All it means is that Vegas, which won the PCAA by eight games en route to the Final Four, may prevail by only a game or two. Stacey Augmon and the James gang (brothers Keith and Karl) join Jarvis Basnight and Gerald Paddio in helping the Rebels fight off San Jose State, which is rich with transfers. Four could start for the Spartans, including 6'8" Ricky Berry, the son of coach Bill Berry. Ricky, who has played every position, brings to mind another Spartan of the same size, whose magic Ricky studied when he was a Michigan State ball boy in the late '70s.
With the San Jacinto College men's (page 18) and the Texas women's programs being the most successful in the Lone Star state these days, the Southwest can only be grateful for Arkansas. The Hogs went 19-14 in 1986-87 despite the drug problems of swingman William Mills, a hellacious schedule and the death from leukemia of coach Nolan Richardson's daughter Yvonne. The current Hogs include the versatile Ron Huery and 6'11" Andrew Lang, whose rebounds and blocks should trigger Arkansas' break. Baylor coach Gene Iba has the SWC's two top returning scorers, 6'9" Darryl Middleton (18.3 ppg) and 6'2" Michael Williams (17.2). He hopes to have the spirit—it was known as Ibalieve around campus last season—that helped the Bears pull out five of their 10 league wins by three points or fewer. Houston picks up juco stud Richard Hollis, but three-point ace Tim Hobby left to play golf for Baylor. Can you imagine a Phi Slamma Jamma pledge preferring golf to basketball? Times change.
Over the summer the Midwestern Collegiate saw its congregation reduced by one when, lo and behold. Oral Roberts University decided to leave the league. No, the school president wasn't told he would be called home if the Titans didn't go independent. More likely, the Reverend Roberts wants to land a tournament bid, which would be a tall order if Oral Roberts remained in the MCC. Xavier and Evansville keep all their starters from last season; St. Louis has its nucleus; and no at-large bids figure to be offered MCC schools until at least next season, when a conference rule banning members from playing non-Division I opponents goes into effect. Along with Xavier's Byron Larkin (brother of Reds shortstop Barry), Evansville's Marty Simmons (whose numbers improved after he broke his wrist) and St. Louis's Roland Gray are the best players on the three best teams in the conference.
When three solid independents (New Orleans, Southwestern Louisiana and Pan American) and three Southland schools with high hoop profiles (Lamar, Arkansas State and Louisiana Tech) succumbed to an urge to merge, the American South was born. Its winner won't get an automatic NCAA bid for three seasons, but that won't keep New Orleans out of the tournament. The Privateers' new coach, Art Tolis, once drove a car down the steps of the Superdome, and Ledell Eackles, star of the team's gutbucket backward low-five pregame intro routine, will drive up, around or through anything between him and the basket. Says Louisiana Tech guard Kelvin Lewis, "The CIA can't cover him."
At the dawn of what North Carolina Wilmington coach Robert McPherson calls "the day after" in the Colonial, the Richmond Spiders look ready to spin their web over what David Robinson has left behind. The undersized Spiders have ten players off last season's squad, including 6'5", 230-pound forward Peter Woolfolk, center Steve Kratzer and guard Rodney Rice. If Richmond doesn't find its free throw form (last season it shot 57.2% from the line), one of two schools named for Founding Fathers could win the Colonial. James Madison features Thorn Brand, a 6'11" center from the Netherlands who writes poetry. George Mason is starting fresh under new coach Rick Barnes.
The Herd is the word in the Southern. Two of Marshall's four returning starters were the best underclassmen in the league at what they do—6'2" Skip Henderson scores (21.0 points per game last season) and 6'7" Rodney Holden rebounds (8.8 a game). Coach Rick Huckabay's brash statements and green-and-white tuxedos help fill 10,250-seat Henderson Center, which isn't named after Skip, though perhaps it should be. "I'd like to coach Marshall just once," says Furman coach Butch Estes. "I'd just like to know what it feels like." Tennessee-Chattanooga, which is flush with transfers, juco and otherwise, and is coming off coach Mack McCarthy's best recruiting year, should finish second.
The Ohio Valley will spend about $75,000 of its own money to produce five league games that ESPN will broadcast live on Fridays at midnight and on Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. (EST). The top attraction will undoubtedly be Austin Peay, whose upset of Illinois in the NCAAs forced a certain shiny-domed TV commentator to make good on a promise. As he said he would, Dick Vitale stood on his head on camera. How do the Governors, with just one returning first-stringer, figure to be better? Because of a group of transfers who are ready to play. Last-season transfers 6'11" Barry Sumpter (late of Louisville), 6'7" Andre Harris (Indiana) and 6'8" Javin Johnson (Oklahoma) were not eligible for games, but they did work out with the squad. Coach Lake Kelly had to stop using them in scrimmages because the trio, which will make up the biggest front line in Ohio Valley history, was so demoralizingly good. Now he can use them against the Govs' chief nemeses: Middle Tennessee, which still has 6'7", 260-pound Dwayne (Bam Bam) Rainey but needs smaller fry to replace guards Duane (no, not Pearl) Washington and Andrew Tunstill; and Murray State's 5'9" Don Mann, who twice beat Peay with last-second shots.
"It was good therapy for me." That's how Central Michigan's Charlie Coles describes his return to coaching in January 1986 after having undergone triple-bypass surgery the previous November. Last season the Chippewas bypassed the rest of the Mid-American to complete a two-year last-to-first odyssey. For its clawing man-to-man defense Central Michigan has back seven of its first nine players, including 6'6" Dan Majerle. Challenges should come from erstwhile Mid-American powers Miami of Ohio and Ohio U., who slipped into a tie for fifth last season. This season, reinforcements should make both teams contenders. Lamont Hanna and Eric Newsome, who were redshirted in 1986-87 because of injuries, give the Redskins seven returning starters. The Bobcats' Dave Jamerson has a rebuilt knee, and Paul (Snoopy) Graham is back after being benched at the end of last season for cutting class.
SC is certain to have an impact on the West Coast. The question is whether it's Santa Clara, the defending champ and host of the conference tournament, or Southern Cal, the Pac-10 school from which three promising players left in a huff two years ago to end up in the WCAC, where they are now eligible. Pepperdine has Tom Lewis, who was Southern Cal's leading scorer two seasons ago before transferring after his freshman year. At Loyola Marymount, coach (and Shakespearean scholar) Paul Westhead has former Trojans Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers, who were Philadelphia high school teammates. Their play's the thing.
La Salle coach Speedy Morris never made it to college. But Morris, who reached the NIT finals last spring in his rookie season as a Division I men's coach, is glad that 6'6" sophomore forward Lionel Simmons did. He was the best player in the Metro Atlantic as a freshman and will likely be a star for the next three years. The Explorers are demons recruiting on their home turf: 6'3" freshman Doug Overton is the second straight Philly schoolboy Player of the Year to matriculate at La Salle.
Montana State, which did not lose a game in its Brick Breeden Fieldhouse last season, figures to win the Big Sky tournament for several big reasons, not the least of which is that the Bobcats will host it. The biggest, however, is 6'9" center-forward-guard Tom Domako, a deft three-point shooter.
Penn and Princeton, Princeton and Penn. They long kept the Ivy race as predictable as it was alliterative. But since 1985 each of the Ancient Eight has had at least one chance to win the title on a final weekend. Here we go again. Cornell has size and experience up front. Penn has a great crop of freshmen, including 6'7" Hassan Duncombe. But watch Dartmouth, which has a new gym and its best championship shot since the days of Rudy LaRusso. Green the Big Green aren't: 7-foot sophomore Walter Palmer, who missed most of last season because of a broken leg, joins four returning starters.
In the past two seasons, first Cleveland State and then Southwest Missouri State received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This season the three-year-old AMCU-8 (the Association of Mid-Continent Universities) will receive an automatic berth. Who will get it? Both the Vikings and the Bears lost stars, but Cleveland State still has junior guard Ken (Mouse) McFadden, who bulked up over the summer. Vikings coach Kevin Mackey had his best recruiting year ever, which means he's likely to win the league, whose acronym, he says, sounds like a motor oil.
In the ECAC Metro, the Red Foxes of Marist got tangled in red tape over the summer. First the Hungarian bureaucracy recalled 6'8" Peter Krasovec to serve a military stint. Then the Yugoslav bureaucracy summoned 6'11" Miroslav Pecarski to Olympic training camp. Finally, the NCAA bureaucracy socked the Red Foxes with a two-year ban on postseason play primarily for violations relating to their stable of exotic big men. Still, as long as 7'4" Dutch treat Rik Smits is around, Marist should outfox Fairleigh Dickinson and its stars, Damari Riddick and Jaime Latney, and successfully defend its conference crown.
The ECAC North Atlantic race will again be dog-eat-dog. The Northeastern Huskies, who finished on top last season, will miss star forward Reggie Lewis, while the Terriers of Boston University still have Drederick Irving, a 6'4" senior who scored 18.8 points a game in 1986-87. Look for the championship trophy to take a short ride on the MBTA Green Line.
With an NCAA tournament upset of Notre Dame in '86 and an NIT Final Four appearance last season, Arkansas-Little Rock has done a great deal of late to put the Trans America on the map. Problem is, in 1987 the Trojans had several players questioned about cheating on a biology exam, two who pleaded guilty to credit-card fraud and another charged with public intoxication. Nonetheless, says coach Mike Newell, "I don't think the league is big time. I don't think the goals of the other teams are the same as ours." Thank goodness. The Trojans will be strong again, even though they must make do without stars Paris McCurdy and Curtis Kidd, who were kicked off the team and then left school after having charged clothing on a credit card that didn't belong to them. Stetson, which has 6'6" Randy Anderson, and Georgia Southern, which has Jeff Sanders, a 6'8" forward-center who helped the Eagles give Syracuse a fright in the NCAAs, will be Arkansas-Little Rock's main challengers.
If the East Coast truly is the nation's most balanced league, as some allege, it's safest to bet on the two teams whose leaders are likely to be early-round NBA picks. Expect Lehigh, led by 6'5" Daren Queenan, and Drexel, whose slippery 5'11" Michael Anderson has become a better shooter since donning contact lenses, to be on top of the standings the whole season. The Engineers, who also have guard Mike Polaha, should prevail.
The SWAC is home to two defending national champs: Prairie View's Reginald Jones, last season's top three-point shooter (57.1%), and Southern's Avery Johnson, who led the land with 10.7 assists per game and will take the Jaguars to the NCAAs once again.
The Southland regroups after three of its best teams bolted for the American South. Stephen F. Austin, one of four schools joining the Southland from the now-defunct Gulf Star, made as much hay out of the trey last season as any Division I team, draining nearly half its three-point attempts. Eric Rhodes (54.7%) and Scott Dimak (53.5%) return to eye it and fly it. But the Lumberjacks are ineligible for the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid, because this is only their second year in Division I. That leaves an opening for Northeast Louisiana, provided Michael (Steak) Saulsberry's Achilles tendon is sound.
The three-year-old Big South still doesn't receive an automatic NCAA bid, but Radford should become known for something other than starting Ralph Sampson's sister Joyce on its women's team.
MEAC doesn't stand for Monotonous Ending Athletic Conference, but try telling that to Howard coach A.B. Williamson, who has been beaten out for the Mid-Eastern title by North Carolina A & T the last six seasons. "Every dog has its day," says Williamson. "I'm not saying they're dogs. I just hope it's our day." It's not. The Aggies will make it seven in a row.
Horford and a better backcourt make Miami the best nonsectarian independent.
Strickland has vowed to give the Blue Demons a lift by becoming a better leader.
Paddio will help the Runnin' Rebels grab their sixth straight PCAA championship.
JOHN W. McDONOUGH
Marist lost two Europeans but kept the most important one, 7'4" Smits.
In last season's NCAAs, TCU found out how good Holden is under the boards.