Say you're the coach of Kansas or Las Vegas or of another team about to land a lofty seeding in the NCAA tournament. Even as you go through your conference tournament, you're already thinking in the back of your mind about whom you might play in the first round of the NCAAs. You want an easy W, but there are only so many Coppin States and Robert Morrises to go around. What you don't want is to face an unranked team with the ability to do to you what Princeton almost did to Georgetown in last year's first round. Here, then, are four teams you don't want to be bracketed with when the NCAA tournament selection committee announces the pairings on Sunday night:
•Princeton may be just as dangerous as it was last March, when it played the Nikes off Georgetown before finally losing 50-49. The Tigers are still coached by Pete Carril, who always makes you wonder what he would do if he had the tools available to a big-time program, and they have a smart center in 6'7" junior Kit Mueller, who leads the team in scoring, rebounds and assists. Princeton also leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing foes only 51 points per game.
•Murray State comes from the much underrated Ohio Valley Conference, whose teams have eliminated Illinois, N.C. State and Florida State, respectively, from the last three tournaments. The Racers won 15 of their last 17 regular-season games and may be better than they were in 1987-88, when they came within three points of upsetting Kansas, the eventual national champion, in the NCAAs. Murray State's best player is sophomore center Ronald (Popeye) Jones, who became a force in the middle—he averaged 18.5 points and 11.1 rebounds in the regular season—after shedding 51 of the 309 pounds he was carrying on his 6'7" frame last June. According to Racer coach Steve Newton, Popeye-the-tailored-man is now so active that "we're thinking of playing him at guard some."
•East Tennessee State, which ran its record to 27-6 by winning last week's Southern Conference tournament, has pretty much the same team that shook up Oklahoma in last year's first round before falling 72-71. The man who makes the Buccaneers go is 5'7" point guard Keith Jennings, known to friends and foes alike as Mister, which is what his father called him during a childhood lecture. He's No. 3 in assists nationally and a perfect complement to one of the country's best three-point shooters, Major Geer, who converts 50% of his treys.
•New Mexico State may be the most overlooked 25-3 team in the country, which is too bad considering all the fun the Aggies have brought to Las Cruces. The students are so bonkers over their team that they have created Effigy Heaven up near the ceiling of the arena, hanging stuffed animals there in memory of various victims. In addition, last week the student government voted to allot $5,000 toward the $17,000 it took to have New Mexico State's final regular-season road game, an 82-68 win over Fresno State, televised back home. Considering that the Aggies have four starters from the Chicago area, their ideal first-round opponent would be DePaul, but the Blue Demons need a strong finish to qualify for the NCAAs.
PEAKING ON TIME?
By the time some of you read this, Oklahoma may be out of the Big Eight tournament, having exhausted its emotional resources in a historic week in which it defeated two No. 1-ranked teams. First came a 107-90 win on Feb. 25 that knocked Missouri out of the top spot. That was followed two days later by a 100-78 thrashing of the new No. 1, Kansas. The Sooners then went to Stillwater last Saturday and beat archrival Oklahoma State 107-94.
Of course, it could be that Oklahoma is beginning a roll that could carry it to its first national championship in basketball. Cowboy coach Leonard Hamilton leans to the latter theory. "We got beat by a team that I think is the Number One team in the country," said Hamilton, and Sooner coach Billy Tubbs immodestly agreed.
Just when it looked as if his up-and-down Louisville team might finally be getting its act together, coach Denny Crum got rocked by a couple of blows. First, sixth man Jerome Harmon, the Cardinals' second-leading scorer, was back in academic trouble. On Feb. 22, Crum suspended the 6'4" Harmon, a third-year sophomore who was a Prop 48 case as a freshman, for two games for missing class. He returned for the Cincinnati game on March 1 and scored 14 points in an 86-71 victory, but he cut another class and was suspended again. Harmon sat out last Saturday's game against Southern Mississippi, which Louisville won 73-71. (Teammate Cornelius Holden picked up the slack against the Golden Eagles, connecting on a Division I record 14 of 14 shots from the field on the way to a 32-point effort.) Harmon faces suspension from the postseason if he misses even one more class.
Then came bad news from the NCAA, which ruled that Dwayne Morton of Louisville Central High, a 6'7" forward regarded as perhaps the best prospect in Kentucky, could not enroll at Louisville. Crum had met with Morton's mother, Charlotte, last Nov. 6, which is a time of the year when the NCAA forbids any contact between a school and a recruit or his family. The meeting took place in Crum's office after Charlotte had viewed a film on campus about drug abuse. Also at the meeting were Central coach Ralph Johnson and former Cardinals player Robbie Valentine. Afterward Johnson took Crum, Valentine and Charlotte to dinner at a local restaurant.
Crum, who has never been in trouble with the NCAA, pleaded that he was unaware of the rule and that he reported the violation as soon as he became aware of it. However, the NCAA decided that the meeting gave Louisville an unfair recruiting advantage over Kentucky, the other school Morton had said he was considering. The NCAA also pointed out that during a radio interview on Nov. 7, Crum denied having a meeting with Charlotte. Two days later he admitted that it had occurred.
Louisville has until March 17 to appeal, but no matter what happens, the $1 million bonus that Crum is to receive after the 1992-93 season won't be affected. The university promised Crum the bonus when he signed a 10-year contract in 1983, but one of the stipulations is that his program stay out of trouble with the NCAA. "That's not an issue," says school spokesman Ray Nystrand, explaining that the Morton matter was not a major violation and would not put the Cardinals on NCAA probation.
Charlotte reacted angrily, saying the NCAA "doesn't care about the kids or the parents. The coach makes a mistake, and my son pays the price." Morton can play anywhere next season except Louisville, but Kentucky, which grew tired of waiting for his decision, already has doled out the three scholarships it's allowed under its NCAA probation. Thus playing for the Wildcats isn't an option unless he decides to walk on.
Just when a lot of folks, the editors of this magazine included, were beginning to tout Oregon State's Gary Payton for Player of the Year, doggone if he didn't go and hurt his chances for the award in a big way. Last Saturday the Beavers lost 87-60 to Arizona, enabling the Wildcats to tie them for the Pac-10's regular-season title. Afterward Payton, who failed to score in double figures for the first time in 51 games and was benched with 6:33 to play, shrugged off the defeat by telling the Los Angeles Times, "It wasn't like I was trying my hardest....
There just wasn't any motivation." Payton took only eight shots in the game but said the next day that it was because of Arizona's defense. He also claimed to have been quoted out of context. "They were sending three and four guys on me," he said. "I decided I better stop shooting and start trying to do other things to help the team, like penetrate inside, pass off, play harder defense."
...Greg (Boo) Harvey of St. John's loves having the ball in his hands when the game is on the line. Of the five potential game-winning shots he has taken this season, four have gone in, the most recent a rainbow over 6'9" Bobby Martin of Pitt with three seconds remaining to give the Redmen a 76-75 victory on Feb. 26....
Stat of the week: Michigan State is 22-0 in games in which it has led at half-time....
After saying that he would leave Colorado if the university fired coach Tom Miller, junior center Shaun Vandiver apparently has changed his mind now that Miller has gotten the ax. Vandiver says he will "sit, wait, and see what happens and where the program goes." One reason for the change of heart is his mother. "She said she'd strangle me if I left," says Vandiver.
When Mueller sets the hook, Princeton's fishing is mighty fine.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
MEN: Dayton's Negele Knight, a 6'2" senior guard, averaged 29 points and 10.5 assists as the Flyers defeated Notre Dame 97-79 and No. 19 Xavier 111-108. Knight made 22 of 30 shots from the field, including six of seven three-pointers.
WOMEN: Alisa Robinson, a 5'11" senior center for Canisius and the sister of the Portland Trailblazers' rookie center. Cliff, converted 19 of 28 field goals and scored 44 points in a 75-55 win over La Salle. She had 28 in a 75-63 victory at Niagara.
SMALL COLLEGE: Miriam Samuels, a 5'6" junior guard at Claflin College, averaged 35.7 points in wins over Newberry (117-75), Francis Marion (93-55) and South Carolina-Aiken (79-56). At week's end she had an NAIA women's record 3,711 career points.