Big Splash for the Green Wave
William F. Reed reports on the basketball revival at Tulane.
Coach Perry Clark's extraordinary rebuilding program reached a pinnacle of sorts last Saturday when Tulane upset Louisville 87-83 in overtime on the Cardinals' home court. In 1985, when a point-shaving scandal and NCAA violations were uncovered in the program of then Green Wave coach Ned Fowler, Tulane president Eamon Kelly eliminated basketball as a varsity sport. The Green Wave didn't begin playing again until 1989, when Clark hastily assembled a team that struggled to a 4-24 record. Last season, Tulane improved to 15-13. Now the Green Wave appears ready for greater success after running its record to 9-0 with the win in Louisville. That victory was only Tulane's second against the Cardinals in 25 games and its first in 11 tries at Freedom Hall. "When we came up here last year," said Clark, "it seemed as if we were intimidated by everyone from the man who sells popcorn to the man who sweeps the floor. Today we fought hard, made the plays we had to and left our guts on the floor. The importance of this game to our program is tremendous."
Just as important was the message being sent to the rest of college basketball: The revamped Metro Conference may be a lot stronger than anybody dreamed going into the season. The league seemed to be coming unraveled after last season when four of its eight teams bolted for other leagues ( Florida State to the ACC, South Carolina to the SEC, and Memphis State and Cincinnati to the new Great Midwest). Indeed, the turnover in Metro membership cost the conference its automatic NCAA tournament berth for this season. However, by picking up UNC Charlotte, South Florida and Virginia Commonwealth from the Sun Belt Conference, the Metro seems to have saved its life.
After last weekend's games, five of the Metro's members had winning records, and three of them had scored major upsets against nonconference competition. While getting off to an 8-1 start, UNC Charlotte handed Alabama its only loss. South Florida (9-2) had a win over Iowa, and Louisville (7-2) upended Louisiana State in Baton Rouge.
If the conference games turn out to be as exciting as the Tulane- Louisville match, that'll be good news for the league's fans, because there were no dull moments in that game. The contest featured 18 ties and 26 lead changes. Tulane won because of the terrific play of its bench. One reserve, forward Matt Greene, led Tulane in scoring, with 21 points. Another, guard Kim Lewis, contributed 20 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Yet another, aptly named point guard Pointer Williams, chipped in with seven assists and four steals. "One through five, our players can't beat very many people," said Clark. "But one through 10, we're very difficult to beat."
Trouble in Texas
Unlike the Metro, the Southwest Conference continues to suffer on and off the court as it adjusts to life without Arkansas, which ditched the SWC after last season and made its Southeastern Conference debut last weekend (page 39). The quality of play in the conference is declining, fan interest is dwindling, and the area's best high school players are leaving.
Without the Razorbacks, winners of the last three conference titles, the Southwest isn't competitive with the nation's elite. Through Sunday, conference teams were 1-10 against Top 25 clubs.
That kind of performance won't hold fan interest in an area where football is already king. At Texas A&M, coach Tony Barone has taken to scheduling teams with good football programs, like Florida, Alabama and Auburn, to get the name recognition that might bring out more fans. Still, it's not unusual for the Aggies to draw fewer than 2,000 fans.