Sizing up the unbeatens
Sports Illustrated senior writer Grant Wahl will answer your questions every Wednesday during the college basketball season. Click here to send him a question.
SEATTLE -- It hasn't happened since 1976 and it may never happen again, which is why undefeated college basketball teams hold such a mystique for me. See, I want another team run the table, to do something historic, if only because my generation, already exposed to the greatness of Jordan, McGwire and Gretzky, hasn't had the chance to witness anything similar in college hoops.
Since Indiana went 32-0 in 1975-76, only Indiana State (1978-79) and UNLV (1990-91) have taken undefeated records into the Final Four. I was too young to know what was going on when the first two happened, but I went into a funk when the Rebels went down in the 1991 national semis, just as I will when the last spotless team bites the dust this season.
Or will it? Of the 18 remaining undefeated teams, only three (Duke, Michigan State and Stanford) have the slightest chance of pulling off a perfect campaign, but all sorts of pitfalls stand in the way. Duke and Stanford meet each other next Thursday, the Spartans play at Seton Hall on Tuesday, and all three teams have brutal conference schedules, to say nothing of conference tournaments and the six-game NCAA tournament gauntlet.
In other words, I'm not holding my breath.
But we can dream, can't we? Herewith, a guide to Division I's remaining undefeated teams, warts and all.
Hope that answers the majority of questions I've been getting on the order of, "How 'bout them (fill in the blank)?"
'Bagward we go ...
What kind of effect will Bob Hill continue to have on Fordham? And what are our chances of beating Stanford?
Nice win over St. John's, Paul, but don't get too far ahead of yourself. The Rams are the surprise of the A-10 and the hottest team in the conference, and I could see them playing a role similar to the one St. Bonaventure had last year by making the NCAA tournament. Now that freshman forward Jeff McMillan is on board after serving his three-game suspension for accepting prep school aid, Fordham has a sweet inside-outside combo with McMillan and point guard Bevon Robin.
How far Fordham goes this year may depend on the dicey relationship between Hill and Robin, who was suspended on two separate occasions by the coach last season. Beating Stanford is another matter, though, and the Cardinal just has too many trees for the Rams to have a real chance.
MEANWHILE, BIG TEN followers are curious. Illinifan of Lexington, Ky., wants to know, "Where do you think Illinois will end up?" while Scott Wilson of St. Louis asks, "Do you think Michigan State looks like a Final Four team now?"
Well, at the start of the season I laid out my Final Four -- Arizona, Duke, Illinois and Stanford -- and gave the Illini the edge over Michigan State because I didn't think Zach Randolph and Marcus Taylor would be studs immediately. They are, of course, which is why the Big Ten race is going to be such fun to watch.
On the one hand, Tom Izzo has proven me wrong, putting together a team that might just be better than last year's national champs. (Let's wait and see how well the Spartans do on the road, though.) On the other hand, Illinois has the talent to win a national title, too, especially if the Illini can start giving a consistent effort at both ends every game. (Are you listening, Brian Cook? ) It's a pity we'll only get to see the two teams meet each other once in-season, in Champaign on Feb. 6.
Given that the Big Ten race rewards consistency and the NCAA tournament rewards teams that get hot, I'll say look for Michigan State to win the conference, but I'll give the Illini a tiny, tiny edge in getting to the Final Four. But who knows? The way they've been playing lately, both teams could make it to Minneapolis.
WAYWARD FACT DEPT.
Couple of things. First, Moses Scurry played on the 1989-90 UNLV team but not on the 1990-91 team (as Paul Gutierrez of Los Angeles points out, "Scurry's 'eligibility' had run out.") And Memphis State's "bank-shot wizard" was not Baskerville Holmes, but rather "Doom" Haynes, a mistake that any 1980s hoops aficionado should never make. Apologies all around.
DANA KIRK FOUND!
Finally, we received dozens of responses to our query regarding the whereabouts of Dana Kirk, the former Memphis State coach/federal penitentiary inmate who, it turns out, has hardly disappeared from the scene in Memphis at all.
In fact, as contest winner Brian Peterson of St. Paul, Minn., was the first to point out, Kirk is currently the co-host of a jock-talk radio show every morning on WHBQ in Memphis.
Moreover, Larry "Kegs" Kegley of M-town provided this report:
"For most of 2000, Dana Kirk has been seen in and around Memphis posing as a morning-radio talk-show host for "Coaches Corner" on Sports56 WHBQ. He regularly instructs listeners to work out while listening to the radio and do some 'chair dancing.' He violates noise ordinances with his crooning as the station comes back from break. Along with former Notre Dame quarterbacks coach Pete Cordelli, coach Kirk (who surprisingly still associates himself with a profession he disgraced) can even be seen in local car-dealership ads in Memphis."
Many thanks, Larry. Regrettably, coach Kirk did not return my messages to the radio station (thus refusing me the joy of asking him what he'd like engraved on his tombstone).
My favorite response had to have been the one from Chris Hand in Gainesville, Fla., who asked, "Did you ever notice how ill fortune tends to plague people named Dana?" There's more to it than just having an androgynous name, Chris argued, noting actors Dana Carvey ("the guy's career has sunk faster than the Lusitania"); Dana Delany, whose career track has gone from China Beach to oblivion; and, of course, Dana Plato, the former Diff'rent Strokes star who was arrested for armed robbery, starred in some softcore porn movies and then died of an apparent suicide last year.
Which brings us to this week's WATN:
Where in the world is Uwe Blab?
See you next week.
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