In this year of burgeoning big men, a list of the strengths at North Carolina begins with its (fiat-) top-of-the-line model center, 7-foot senior Eric Montross. The Tar Heels also have three other starters and two top reserves from the team that won the 1992-93 national championship. In a year when the rules no longer dictate that players must penetrate or pass off every five seconds, the Heels happen to have metronomic point guard Derrick Phelps, now freer than ever to govern the tempo. Moreover, from the recruiting class of '93, Carolina suits up three blue-chippers—6'10" center Rasheed Wallace, 6'6" forward Jerry Stackhouse and 6'3" guard Jeff McInnis—none of whom lost a game as a high school senior.
In short, the Heels are so loaded that their blue team could contend for the ACC crown. So loaded are they that they're "a bigger favorite than Vegas was three years ago" (Virginia Commonwealth coach Sonny Smith), "head and shoulders above the rest" (North Carolina State coach Les Robinson) or, in a word, "prohibitive" (Wake Forest coach Dave Odom). So loaded that Tar Heel coach Dean Smith, searching for dark clouds in the Carolina blue sky, thinks his team's biggest problem is being, well, so loaded. "We have too much," says Smith. "Our 12th man thinks he should play, and that's not the best way to have a team."
If the Tar Heels weren't already big enough favorites, consider that the Final Four will be held in Charlotte. So, how could North Carolina fail to cut twine before the home folk on April 4? Let us count the ways. Donald Williams, the Heels' deadeye shooting guard, could be sidelined by perpetual goose bumps, recalling the chants of "Jordan! Jordan!" he heard while winning the Most Outstanding Player award at the '93 Final Four. The 270-pound Montross, daydreaming during practice about some giraffe he photographed on a safari, might accidentally plow over 7-foot forward Kevin Salvadori and step on Phelps, forcing Smith to play Wallace and McInnis, who are, after all, only freshmen. The third powerhouse freshman, Stackhouse, might fail to average the 4.6 dunks he threw down at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy last season.
Or, maybe, just maybe, some team might outmatch or outluck the Tar Heels in the NCAA tournament. For the sake of sport, let's consider the contenders.
Heading the list is Arkansas. The ravenous Razorbacks whetted their appetite for Carolina in an 80-74 semifinal loss at the East Regional in March. Playing the Hogs is supposed to be "40 minutes of hell," but swingman Scotty Thurman, the team's leading scorer, and playmaker Corey Beck gave the Heels only 40 minutes of heck, contributing just 12 points and six assists between them. Both are back, however, and they are hungrier. So is 6'7", 245-pound forward Corliss Williamson, who dropped 15 pounds while touring South America with the national under-22 team over the summer. With 6'11" freshman Darnell (Tank) Robinson in Fayetteville, Williamson won't have to feast alone on the boards. "We're much more prepared to play a team with size, like Carolina, than we were a year ago when it was just Corliss out there battling those big old guys," says Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. Whether the now taller Hogs will play with the same frenzy as last season's team did is uncertain. So, too, is their home court advantage, now that they have moved from Barnhill Arena, a 9,000-seat torture pit, to Bud Walton Arena, which seats 18,600.
At Duke, the crucial question also hinges on heart and home: How much can the crazies at Cameron Indoor Stadium crank up the intensity of 6'8" senior Grant Hill? Hill might replace Bobby Hurley at the point, but he won't fill Hurley's shoes unless he becomes more fiery. "I have to tell Grant to be selfish," says Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski. "At the training table, take two rolls. Take two pieces of chicken. And don't let the freshmen have dessert." Coach K has some large mouths to feed too: He could well play a lineup that averages 6'9".
Like Arkansas and Duke, Kentucky has the size to bang with the Heels. The Wildcats also have a class of sophomores that might one day be the equal of Carolina's seniors. Second-year forwards Jared Prickett and Rodrick Rhodes can carry a team; 6'9" Walter McCarty can carry a tune. While at Harrison High in Evansville, Ind., McCarty sang the national anthem a cappella before a couple of games, but he wasn't allowed to play at Kentucky last season because of Prop 48. Now he must help replace go-to guy Jamal Mashburn on a team that came up just a little bit short each of the last two seasons.
At 6'11" and 250 pounds, center William Cunningham brings Temple eye to eye with the Tar Heels, though coach John Chaney is still waiting for "that light to go on in [Cunningham's] head where he understands what we're trying to do." Aaron McKie, who averaged 20.6 points and 5.9 rebounds last season, and explosive Eddie Jones (17.0 points and 7.0 boards), give the Owls a formidable front-court, and the new 35-second shot clock will make Chaney's inscrutable matchup zone even harder to crack.
With its 77-75 victory in the finals of the '93 ACC tournament, Georgia Tech was the last team to beat North Carolina. Delivering the haymaker was 6'8" forward James Forrest, who averaged 19.5 points and 7.5 boards last season and showed the ability to stick and move from inside and out. "If he could dedicate himself, James could be a Charles Barkley-Shawn Kemp type player," says coach Bobby Cremins. "He's cocky, but he's lazy."
Cremins is rededicating himself to Georgia Tech. After taking the South Carolina job last spring, he started thinking and rethinking and re-rethinking his decision, and he returned to the Yellow Jackets two days later. He will contemplate his career no more—or so he says: "I will never have another job interview. This is it. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."
Denny Crum has been coaching at Louisville since Henry Clay was on the stump, and he has enough talent to return to the Final Four for the first time since 1986. Clifford Rozier, a 6'9" transfer from North Carolina, would love to have a reunion with his old teammates in Charlotte. Last season Rozier became the first Cardinal in 21 years to average double digits (10.9) on the boards. Louisville's chances increased dramatically last week when forward Dwayne Morton, a 53.1% three-point shooter, got the green light to play after recovering from a broken right wrist suffered in the off-season.
Feelings are still a little raw in Michigan over the Wolverines' 77-71 loss to Carolina in the NCAA final. When a kid showed up at a Wolverine tryout this fall wearing a North Carolina T-shirt, guard Jimmy King screamed, "Get him out of here!" The walk-on walked off, but Michigan, down to a Fab Four after Chris Webber's early departure for the pros, will need bench help wherever it can get it. Webber's best friend, 6'8" Jalen Rose, will have to fill in the gaps. "Jalen might be the first guy to play all five positions in one game, let alone one season," says Michigan coach Steve Fisher.
The elimination of the five-second penetration rule should make sophomore floor maestro Jason Kidd even more valuable at California. Now that he doesn't have to pass off if he's guarded, says Southern Cal assistant coach Jack Fertig, "Kidd will dominate games." And whenever Kidd does choose to give, he has junior forward Lamond Murray (19.1 points a game last season) to receive.
With Brooks Thompson and Randy Rutherford, Oklahoma State has the Big Eight's best backcourt. The Cowboys also bring in freshman Chianti Roberts, a full-bodied swingman who should go nicely with the Cowboys' main dish, Bryant Reeves (page 44).
Junior Ed O'Bannon's task at UCLA is to turn his kid brother, 6'6" freshman Charles, into an equally assertive O'Bannon. "I'm a little more aggressive and physical right now," says Ed, a 6'9", 215-pound forward. "He shoots better than I do, he jumps higher, and he is more fluid."
At the end of last season Indiana coach Bob Knight called Minnesota the team to beat in the Big Ten in 1993-94 because the Gophers have the most talent in the conference. "That's not a compliment," grouses Gopher coach Clem Haskins. "All that is, is a setup. I don't need that." Haskins doth protest too much: He has depth, and he has a star in junior guard Voshon Lenard (17.1 points a game last season), the MVP of last spring's NIT.
Of all the teams in last season's Final Four, Kansas has the most to replace, with only forward Richard Scott returning from the starting lineup. But Jacque Vaughn, a 6'1" guard from Pasadena, will direct the Jayhawk attack and will be one of this season's most exciting freshmen.
Georgetown didn't make the NCAAs for the first time in 14 years, but coach John Thompson has all five starters back from the team that was runner-up to Minnesota in last season's NIT. The Hoyas hope to run more this season. To do that, though, center Othella Harrington will have to overcome his habit of picking up cheap fouls when he tires.
There was talk at Massachusetts this fall about dropping the school's nickname, the Minutemen, because some students consider it sexist. That irked conservative chatterbox Rush Limbaugh, who defended the moniker on his radio show. Coach John Calipari sidestepped the controversy—"I'm not starting a war with Limbaugh," he said—but with 6'7" senior strongman Lou Roe, 6'11" freshman Marcus Camby and 7'2" junior Jeff Meyer, he need back off from no one on the court.
While Camby may be the sleeper among this season's freshmen pivotmen, Cincinnati has a rookie class that has already made national headlines—not all of them good. In May the Bearcats lucked into local guard Damon Flint when his first choice, Ohio State, was cited for 17 NCAA violations during his recruitment. A few months later power forward Dontonio Wingfield was given a seven-day jail sentence for trashing his mother's house in Albany, Ga., because she had refused to let him use her car.
As a freshman last season 7'1", 265-pound center Yinka Dare, a native of Nigeria, helped take George Washington to the Sweet 16 by averaging 12.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks. As a player "he made the leap from being a D student to a B student," says Colonial coach Mike Jarvis. "It's much harder to go from being a B student to an A student."
Vanderbilt has the ultimate long-range threat in 6'4" senior Billy McCaffrey, and new coach Jan van Breda Kolff plans to deploy him to better advantage this season, meaning McCaffrey will get more playmaking opportunities and more shots. "I feel comfortable with that," McCaffrey says. "I like to have the ball."
Wisconsin junior forward Michael Finley has not received nearly the attention he deserves. He was the second-leading scorer in the Big Ten last season, behind only Purdue's Glenn Robinson. Point guard Tracy Webster, the Big Ten leader in assists and steals, directs an up-tempo, high-pressure, trey-chic attack that should put the Badgers in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1947.
Virginia believes it has the ACC's best floor leader in 6'1" junior Cory Alexander. However, Cavalier coach Jeff Jones doubts that his team has the size—or the toughness—to topple the Heels. "I've seen other talented North Carolina teams that don't have the hard edge this one has," says Jones. "Montross and Phelps set the tone. No one can accuse this group of being soft."
Nope. Just too loaded for the game's good.
DAVID E. KLUTHO
Once again, Montross should light up team after team on Carolina's schedule.
Hill must reach new heights if Duke is to beat Carolina, while Cal's consummate passer, Kidd (right), will hang on to the ball more.
[See caption above.]
Rhodes (12) is one of the super sophs who must come up big on the blocks for Kentucky.
At UCLA, Ed O'Bannon will take his younger brother Charles under his expansive wing.
1. NORTH CAROLINA
6. GEORGIA TECH
10. OKLAHOMA STATE
17. GEORGE WASHINGTON