College basketball is a jazz thing, all about tempo, flow and improvisation, so it's only fitting that the 1993 Final Four will be held in New Orleans, where strains of Dixieland and bebop will waft in from the French Quarter when the lucky teams arrive in April. Like a good jazz piece, the season is sure to take some surprising dips and twists, but we're predicting that the final notes of the season will be a riff on My Old Kentucky Home.
Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, known for making a little go a long way, now has a lot going for him (preceding story). The Wildcats play pressure defense, and on offense they've never met a three-point shot they didn't like, but this year they have more than just a winning system. They also have the star (Jamal Mash-burn) and the supporting players (including hotshot freshman Rodrick Rhodes) to win it all. But they'll have to overcome a group of qualified challengers. Let us introduce you to the rest of the Top 20 band.
The Cool School
The beat goes on and on for these perennials, who, it seems, have been going to the NCAA tournament almost every year since its inception. The beat coming from Kansas is of Jayhawk hearts, which have been racing ever since the signing last November of 6'7" forward Darrin Hancock, the top junior college player of 1991-92. Even coach Roy Williams, usually a master of understatement, is hard-pressed to contain his excitement over Hancock, who he has said may be the best athlete in Kansas basketball history. Williams later amended that to "the best since I've been here. I don't want Wilt Chamberlain calling me."
Hancock is "a human highlight film, with Dominique Wilkins moves," according to junior college talent scout Rick Ball. "Carl Lewis in a basketball uniform" is the estimation of Jayhawk shooting guard Rex Walters. Adds Kansas point guard Adonis Jordan, "I'll throw a bad alley-oop, and Darrin will dunk it anyway. People will be saying, 'Great pass by Adonis.' and I'll be thinking, If they only knew."
Jordan and Walters make up what could be the nation's best backcourt, and if the Jayhawks get some help up front from sophomore forward Ben Davis, a blue-chip recruit from a year ago, they could be scary. Davis was disappointed in his performance last season and admits that he may not have been in the best of shape. "I got down on myself and made too many trips to Taco Bell," he says.
After six Final Four trips in seven years, something almost has to go wrong at Duke, doesn't it? Here's a scenario in which there would be a Final Four without the Blue Devils. First, center Cherokee Parks shows that he's no Christian Laettner, which is no disgrace; it would just mean that the Devils would not be able to stand up to really tough big men like Kentucky's Mash-burn and Michigan's Chris Webber as stoutly as they have in the past. Second, forward Grant Hill continues to be the game's most unassuming star. Even teammate Bobby Hurley says, "I think he could take over more. I think he needs to shoot his perimeter jumper more." That's a nice way to say that Hill needs to become a gimme-the-ball-and-get-outta-my-way-when-the-game's-on-the-line kind of player. If all that comes to pass, disaster would strike Duke, the wheels would fall off, and, horrors, the Blue Devils would only reach the tournament's final eight.
Indiana lost to Duke in last year's semifinals to end a turbulent tournament run (the highlight film could be titled Basketball. Bullwhips and No Banquet and include footage of the controversial photo op of coach Bobby Knight pretending to whip his star, Calbert Cheaney, and of Knight canceling the team's postseason dinner). Afterward Knight assembled his four seniors-to-be, Cheaney, Greg Graham, Chris Reynolds and Matt Nover, and told them, "This is your team. Take over." They did. The entire squad—except for Nover, who toured Europe with a Big Ten all-star team—stayed on campus this summer to play ball and pump iron. Several of the Hoosiers, especially forwards Cheaney and Alan Henderson, fill out their uniforms better these days, which could mean that Cheaney will improve on a slightly subpar year and that Henderson, a sophomore, could be even more of a force inside than he was a year ago.
Knight has at least five guards to work with but not a single complete one, and it's worth remembering that Indiana never seemed more stable last year than when now departed point guard Jamal Meeks was in the game. Junior Damon Bailey can change all that, of course, if he begins to live up to his high school hype instead of being just another player who specializes in intangible contributions.
So far the verdict on that supposed "best recruiting class ever" that North Carolina brought in two years ago is "Good, not great." That's in keeping with Tar Heel tradition of winning a lot of games but falling a bit short in March. Look for the Heels to stick to that script this year. Guard Hubert Davis has taken most of the Tar Heels' outside scoring with him to the pros. Some of his points will be picked up by 6'7" forward George Lynch, but North Carolina's hopes for anything more than a routinely successful season rest largely on the progress of the tallest member of that celebrated class, 7-foot center Eric Montross. The Tar Heels are hoping Montross can match his play in three NCAA tournament games last year, when he averaged 18.3 points and 10.3 rebounds, but this fall he didn't sound very hopeful that that would happen. "I may not start off at the point I left off in the NCAA tournament," he said. Coach Dean Smith thinks Montross may have had his confidence damaged a bit over the summer in pre-Olympic scrimmages against the Dream Team. "Your confidence would be hurt a little bit, too," says Smith, "if you had to go against [David] Robinson and [Patrick] Ewing."