Before the season began, many prognosticators insisted parity was so widespread in college basketball that any of, say, 40 teams could win the national championship. While that may have seemed an exaggeration at the time, it now looks as if it might have been an understatement. Last week was the wildest yet in a season in which upsets have become as common as coaches' temper tantrums. The teams in the SI Top 20 last week played 39 games; 10 of those teams lost—and had a total of 15 defeats among them. A few of the toppled 10 were more upset than others:
•Indiana fell 66-64 on the road to an injury-riddled Northwestern squad that had a 5-6 record going into the game. Five days later the Hoosiers succumbed 75-74 in overtime at Michigan State, which had been 5-8. In that loss, Indiana watched the Spartans' 6'6" senior guard Ed Wright can a three-pointer from the corner to force the game into OT and their 7-foot center George Papadakos win it with a sweeping hook with 13 seconds left. "I don't know what happened," said Hoosier guard Keith Smart, putting the entire week in perspective.
•Georgetown lost twice in the Big East, 78-74 to Providence and 68-66 to Boston College, both of which are considered to be among the conference's weaker sisters. At BC, the Hoyas were done in by a stunning 30-point performance by Eagle junior guard Dana Barros, but the loss at Providence was even more startling. Just hours before the game, popular sophomore forward Marty Conlon, the Friars' second-leading scorer, with a 13.2-points-a-game average, had left the team for unspecified reasons, a turn of events that only added volume to the now-familiar booing by the Providence fans of first-year coach Gordon Chiesa—during the pregame introductions, no less. And high-scoring senior guard Delray Brooks was coming off an 0-for-7 performance from three-point range in the Friars' previous game, a loss to Connecticut. But against Georgetown, Brooks converted seven of 11 three-point tries, and the fans' jeers turned to cheers.
•Syracuse also lost two Big East games, to Villanova and Connecticut. "We're not a dominating Top 20 team, we're just working hard," said Wildcat forward Mark Plansky, the only remaining member of Villanova's NCAA championship team of 1984-85. Plansky led the surprising Wildcats (12-4 at week's end) with 21 points in the 80-78 win in Philadelphia. Connecticut's hero was forward Cliff Robinson, who calmly sank a free throw with two seconds remaining to win it for the Huskies 51-50, the only time they were ahead of the Orangemen the entire game. The victory was Connecticut's third in front of the tough crowd in Syracuse's Carrier Dome—a shocker in its own right.
•High-flying Oklahoma began the week averaging 115.5 points per game. But the Sooners scored only 139 points in two games, losing on the road to LSU, 84-77, and Kansas State, 69-62. Senior swingman Mitch Richmond led K-State with 33 points and nine rebounds and the Wildcats made their last 12 free throws to finish off the Sooners.
•Duke's Blue Devils had a hellish time with Maryland, losing 72-69 to the visiting Terps as Maryland forward Derrick Lewis's slam dunk with 24 seconds left put his team in front for good. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski blamed the loss on "some tired passes" in the last five minutes of play. Blue Devil forward Danny Ferry had gone sleepless the night before with an upset stomach, which may have accounted for his 8-for-25 shooting. But the rest of the Duke players looked just as sick; they hit only 25 of 65 shots and lost the rebounding battle 38-27.
Why the rash of upsets? Most coaches agree it's simply a matter of abundant talent being spread so widely. "There are just more and more good players out there every year," says Iowa State coach Johnny Orr, whose Cyclones have beaten Iowa and Kansas in what seemed like upsets when they occurred—and have lost to unheralded Butler. "I'd say 75 percent of the teams in the country can beat anyone on any given night." Lute Olson, coach of No. 1 Arizona, cites another factor—increasingly vociferous home rooters: "These crowds are getting more and more knowledgeable, and a big, vocal crowd points out a lot of things to officials that might not otherwise be noticed. And I think it just raises the level of the home team's play."
MASTERS OF SURPRISE
All in all, it was the kind of week to warm the heart of the most "upsetting" coach in recent seasons, LSU's Dale Brown. According to the Gold Sheet, a newsletter for bettors, Brown is 12-6 as an underdog in games played at home or on a neutral court since the beginning of the 1985-86 season. Among these triumphs have been NCAA tournament upsets of Kentucky and Temple. His Tigers did it again last week, against previously undefeated Oklahoma, and Sooner coach Billy Tubbs thinks he knows Brown's secret: intimidating the referees. "You can tell Dale he doesn't have to gripe about Bobby Knight anymore," said Tubbs. Responded Brown, "If I did [intimidate the refs], it would be the first time in 31 years I've had any impact."
The real impact came from LSU's consistently inconsistent center, Jose Vargas, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds against Oklahoma and followed that performance with 20 points and 10 rebounds in a 52-51 win at Tennessee. Lest anyone start thinking of Vargas as a changed man, he slumped to 12 points and three rebounds in a 59-50 loss at Georgia.
The annual scramble for high school talent is largely over, and according to schoolboy superscout Bob Gibbons, the winner is Syracuse. Coach Jim Boeheim and his recruiters, disappointed with last year's yield, went after this season's high school seniors with a passion, securing commitments from five of the nation's top 100. Chief among them is 6'8" swingman Billy Owens from Carlisle, Pa., described by Gibbons as "probably the most talented player in the whole class."
Following close behind the Orangemen, according to Gibbons, are Kentucky, with two of the top six players in the country (6'7" forward Chris Mills of Los Angeles and 6'10" forward Shawn Kemp from Elkhart, Ind.), Michigan State, with five notable in-state recruits, and St. John's, with three top-50 players.
But the team that may be bringing in the biggest haul next season is UNLV. The Runnin' Rebels lost out to Kentucky in the battle for Mills but still landed two of Gibbons's top 100 (the one to watch: 6'7" forward Evric Gray from Bloomington, Calif.). Moreover, Jerry Tarkanian & Co. have signed three potential junior college All-Americas: 6'10" David Butler and 6'7" Moses Scurry, both forwards from perennial juco power San Jacinto (Texas) College, and 6'10" center George Ackles from Garden City (Kans.) Community College.
While the recruiting victors celebrate, Gibbons worries about the effects of the six-year-old early-signing period, which allows a senior to commit himself to a college in November. "Eighty-nine of the top 100 prospects signed in November this year," he says. "That's unprecedented. The colleges are pressuring the kids to the extent of telling them, 'Sign here now or we'll get someone else.' There's a frenzy to get it over with. The logic behind the early period was to take the pressure off the senior year. All it did was put it on the high school junior, who's even less equipped to deal with it."
Gibbons also objects to the irrevocability of an early commitment: In effect, a player can't change his mind even if the coach who recruited him resigns or his family moves to another part of the country. "Right now the kid is bound under a unilateral contract," says Gibbons. "Once he signs that letter, barring unusual circumstances—an act of God or the NCAA—he loses a season of eligibility if he doesn't honor the commitment. I see no real advantage to the young man to sign early. It's only an advantage to the school."
ICH BIN EIN STUDENT?
Marc Suhr is a 7-foot freshman center who had a 3.75 grade point average as an international business major at Connecticut last semester. Is he being considered for academic All-America honors? Is the University of Connecticut sports information department trotting him out to prove that athletes aren't allergic to academics? Alas, no. Suhr failed to fulfill the requirements of Bylaw 5-1-(j) and isn't academically eligible to play basketball this season.
How could such an obviously capable student fail to qualify? The reason is simple: Suhr is from West Germany and although he speaks English—in addition to French and German—proficiently, it takes him a bit longer than his American-born fellows to translate and respond to tests in English. Hence he was not able to answer enough questions on the standardized ACT test to achieve the NCAA's required score of 15.
"His is the classic case of a kid caught in the bind of a rule that shouldn't apply to him," says Connecticut athletic director Todd Turner. The school hopes to take advantage of a new NCAA rule that allows cases like Suhr's to be appealed to the NCAA Council. "He's proved himself to be a capable student. The intent of Bylaw 5-1-(j) is not to penalize those who are capable of doing college work. The problem is one of a language barrier."
Says Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, "I must have contacted the NCAA a hundred times on this. It just doesn't make any sense. He's just such an unusual kid. When I was recruiting him, he found out I was Catholic. He started talking about Martin Luther, indulgences and the history of Catholicism. I don't have many kids do that."
VIVA LONG BEACH
When 6'6" swingman John Hoffman, an Elvis Presley aficionado, sees action for Long Beach State, the Forty-Niners are frequently in a desperate situation—in other words (the King's), it's now or never. Not known for his stuck-on-you defense, the little-used Hoffman's mandate is simple: Get points and get them in a hurry. That usually means launching one from long range, where there is less likelihood of the ball getting the return-to-sender treatment.
Hoffman, who sports an Elvis-style pompadour, first became a fan of the King's around the time of Presley's death in 1977, when Hoffman was 11. "I started collecting articles and books on him," says Hoffman. "I'd say I have about 500 recordings of his songs."
Hoffman's room at home in Inglewood, Calif., is covered with posters and framed photos of Presley. Hoffman has developed an act in which he lip-synchs Elvis's songs at a local club and also for his teammates. "I'm a little hyper," he concedes. Such activities have brought him a measure of celebrity. During a recent game against Pacific in which Hoffman scored 10 points, including two three-pointers, the crowd at Long Beach's University Gym began chanting, "EL-vis, EL-vis." Now if they would only let him wear blue suede shoes, the Forty-Niners' opponents would surely get all shook up.
Pull out your stat sheets and delete the name of UNLV's Mark Wade from the top of the NCAA's career-assists list. It seems that Wade's listed total of 930 assists, accumulated from 1983 through 1987, mistakenly included at least 232 that he made at El Camino, a junior college. Whoops. Wade's demotion leaves Northeastern's Andre Lafleur (1983-84 through '86-87) as the alltime leader with 894 and gives seniors Grayson Marshall of Clemson (with 774 at week's end) and Taurence Chisholm of Delaware (772) an outside chance at reaching the record....
Dan Kitchens, a Georgia journalism professor who keeps the official play-by-play at Bulldog home games, christened a new shot during last week's 87-68 Georgia victory over Auburn. He described Bulldog guard Patrick Hamilton's 60-foot shot at the end of the first half as an "overhand slingeroo." ...
When the Lady Longhorns of Texas beat Texas Tech 89-56 on Saturday, it was their 137th consecutive win against Southwest Conference opponents, a mind-boggling streak that covers 10 years....
Disgusted with Kentucky's loss to Auburn on Jan. 9, coach Eddie Sutton decided to give his Wildcats a pop quiz. The results were not encouraging: Fewer than half the Cats could name the player who made the winning basket for Auburn (forward John Caylor), the final score (53-52) or Kentucky's next three opponents....
When Purdue's 6'10" center Jeff Arnold returned to the team after first-semester academic problems, coach Gene Keady said, "Jeff is good enough to be our starting center." Three hours later Arnold was gone again—"for personal reasons," said Keady....
In California, an irresistible force met an immovable object when Loyola Marymount, the nation's No. 2 offensive team, which had been scoring 106.5 points a game, met St. Mary's, No. 2 in defense, allowing just 54.6 points per game. The force beat the object 98-81....
The best three-point shooter in the nation is Sacramento State's Alex Williams, a 6-foot senior guard. He's averaging 5.8 a game for the Division II Hornets, who also lead the land with 10.2 treys a game....
For Michigan coach Bill Frieder, crude language can be costly. His eight-year-old daughter Laura gets a dollar every time she catches him saying a nasty word. "One time we were coming back from a Red Wings hockey game, and Laura was sleeping," says Frieder. "I was swearing up a storm. Suddenly she sat up and said, 'You owe me $22.' "
Boston College, led by Barros (3), joined the ranks of the giant-killers by cutting down Georgetown.
K-State's Richmond surprised the sluggish Sooners.
PETER READ MILLER
Though he's just a sub, Hoffman is the King of the court.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Boston College's 5'11" junior guard scored 57 points in two victories, 68-66 over Georgetown and 85-70 over Seton Hall. Barros played all but five seconds and committed only two turnovers.