Syracuse, SI's and a lot of other people's preseason No. 1 pick, may be suffering from the pressures of proving its worthiness. Tenseness among the Orangemen, more than anything Cornell's players had done, seemed to have been at work on Dec. 7 when Syracuse's Derrick Coleman, followed by a bunch of his teammates, leaped off the bench to mix it up with the Big Red's Greg Gilda during a 95-59 rout by the Orange. And nine days earlier there had been a heated exchange between center Rony Seikaly and coach Jim Boeheim after Syracuse's 79-63 win over Alabama-Birmingham. Seikaly was irritated because the Orange guards weren't getting him the ball frequently enough. Seikaly reminded Boeheim of the fact that he had forgone the pros to play another season at Syracuse and demanded that Boeheim return the favor by ordering the backcourtmen to pass him the ball. "A typical European response," said Boeheim xenophobically of his center from Greece. "He hasn't changed since he's been here." Boeheim's real trouble, though, is that the 6-2 Orangemen have yet to solve the shooting woes that cost them dearly in losses to North Carolina and Arizona: They're 24 for 65 from three-point range and 141 for 234 from the free throw line.
A brouhaha is brewing down in Louisiana over the Northwestern State women's team media guide. The cover photo, dreamed up by sports information director Tom Wancho, shows players clad in bunny ears and cottontails, THESE GIRLS CAN PLAY, BOY is the billing. Wancho says he has been shocked by the reaction, which has included at least one call for his firing, from Donna Lopiano, women's athletic director at the University of Texas. Says Wancho in his own defense, "The girls are happy with the publicity. They didn't mind. If it had offended the girls, I never would have done it." Wancho probably didn't help his case by pointing out that the players rejected his earlier idea: to pose the team seductively behind a bed sheet. The proposed billing: THE GIRLS OF NORTHWESTERN.
These are hard times for college hoops in Los Angeles. UCLA lost four of its first five games, including a 72-64 beating by St. John's last Saturday that gave UCLA three straight defeats at home. As a result, the Bruins are off to their worst start since the 1945-46 season. And across town at USC, things have been even worse. The Trojans' 74-61 loss to Tennessee dropped their record to 1-6. That's their worst start since 1931-32. Southern Cal has looked even worse in light of coach George Raveling's optimistic preseason predictions. "In my enthusiasm, I may have gone overboard on the assessment of our talent," said Raveling in the understatement of the week.
The women's teams at the two schools are also mired in mediocrity, both having started out 2-3. After the Women of Troy's 85-57 loss to Auburn, angry shouting could be heard from the locker room, most notably from assistant coach and former USC standout Cheryl Miller.
John Wooden, meanwhile, doesn't seem to be too sympathetic about the plight of the L.A. coaches. On a recent national TV broadcast, the Wizard compared today's coaching challenges with those of his era: "It's easier now [to build a winning program] because there are more good players and there's freshman eligibility."
Grayson Marshall, Clemson's fine point guard, is on target to break the ACC's alltime career assist record of 781 set last season by Wake Forest's Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues; in the process he will surpass the totals of such North Carolina notables as Kenny Smith (768) and Phil Ford (753). As impressive as Marshall's accomplishment may be, it might not provide a full measure of his achievement.
Barry Jacobs, the author of the Fan's Guide to ACC Basketball, has calculated the number of assists per home field goal for each of the ACC teams over the past season. Jacobs's figures show that, on one end of the spectrum, Virginia credits its players with assists on only 45.8% of the field goals made on its home court; at the other extreme, North Carolina players are credited with assists on a whopping 72.2% of their field goals at home. (On the road, both teams are credited with assists at a nearly identical rate: 57.8% for the Tar Heels and 57.5% for the Cavaliers.)
The conclusion? When it comes to meting out assists, official statisticians in the ACC exercise a discretion verging on the arbitrary. Clemson stat people, it turns out, are only slightly less stingy with assists for the home team than those at Virginia; Clemson ranks seventh in the ACC. Marshall can only dream about what his record might have been if he had played for the Tar Heels.
MAKING THE GRADE
Three exiles to the land of academic ineligibility were welcomed back with open arms by their teammates last week. Rod Strickland, the talented point guard for DePaul who had to sit out the first three games, made his presence felt immediately; he entered a game against Western Michigan on Dec. 9 with the Blue Demons ahead only 11-7, engineered a 12-0 run and finished the game with 21 points, seven assists and four steals. Strickland was even more impressive in DePaul's 73-69 upset of Notre Dame; he had 22 points, nine assists and two critical steals against the Irish's ace guard, David Rivers. "It felt good to be back," said Strickland, who blamed his academic failings in part on watching too much TV.
Georgia's Patrick Hamilton, who many experts think is the best defensive guard in the SEC, also made a splashy return after being ineligible for the team's last 22 games, getting a school-record seven steals and drawing four charging fouls against North Carolina Asheville. Now the watch is on for the LSU debut of Hernan Montenegro, coach Dale Brown's 6'11" recruit from the Argentine national team, who did satisfactorily on the English language exam he was required to pass before he could play for the Tigers. The rest of the SEC is certainly forewarned: Brown has pronounced Montenegro "our secret weapon."
Georgia's 5'8" guard Milt Blakley knows the meaning of frustration. Last season he twice buried game-tying three-pointers at the buzzer—against Auburn and LSU—only to see the Bulldogs lose on each occasion in overtime. This season, against Georgia Tech, he scored on another heroic shot, this one a 10-footer with seven seconds left to put the Bulldogs ahead. Naturally, Tech scored at the buzzer to win 78-77....
The message inscribed on the floor in Oral Roberts's Mabee Center is suitably evangelical: "Expect a miracle." It finally happened. The new student sports information director is Byron Miracle....
Saturday's game between breadbasket rivals Purdue and Ball State was televised, appropriately enough, by the Farm Bureau Network....
Is it time to call the WAC the best conference in the West? Brigham Young coach Ladell Andersen certainly thinks so. He points out that with Wyoming ranked in the Top 10 and with both BYU and New Mexico having beaten UCLA, "the WAC is as good as it has been in a long time. We tend to give leagues credit based on reputation."
...Look for Michigan State to return to prominence over the next couple of seasons. The Spartans have signed four of Michigan's top five high school players....
Memphis State may have been a victim of the power of suggestion in its 55-50 upset by St. Louis. The Billikens' Ramon Trice and Anthony Bonner enhanced their summertime playground fun by calling out the name of a Memphis State player and then imagining that they were scoring in his face....
How's this for hero worship? Georgia Tech freshman Dennis Scott, an 18.2-points-a-game scorer, talking about his idol, Magic Johnson, said, "If he had a jump shot like mine, he'd be unbelievable."
A difficult start has proved to Coleman and Seikaly that it's not necessarily fun to be picked No. 1.
Strickland hit the books. Now he's hitting shots.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
The 6'3" senior guard from Bradley was averaging 41.7 points a game after a torrid week that included 44 points against Colorado and another 39 against Northern Illinois—both arena records.