The Top 20
4. Mississippi State
10. Wake Forest
13. Virginia Tech
16. Georgia Tech
Why will Jayhawk coach Roy Williams be spitting in the Hudson River in April?
Why not? Everybody else does. But any musings about Williams's expectorations are based on the high expectations his Jayhawks have this year. The ultrasuperstitious coach began a tradition in 1982 when, as a North Carolina assistant coach, he spit in the Mississippi River for good luck before the Tar Heels won the NCAA championship game in New Orleans. He repeated the tactic with his Kansas team during the '93 Midwest Regional in St. Louis and again when the Jayhawks reached the Final Four in New Orleans a week later. To help win a national title this season, Williams could make a similar pilgrimage to the Hudson River, only a few miles from the Meadowlands Arena, site of this year's Final Four.
Kansas has the talent to go all the way. The brainy backcourt of Jerod Haase and Jacque Vaughn (their GPAs are 3.60 and 3.68, respectively) will again set the tone for the team. Haase averaged 15.0 points per game last season, while Vaughn has a shot at breaking former Jayhawk Cedric Hunter's Big Eight career assist record in just his third season in Lawrence. The return of 5'7" backup point guard Calvin Rayford, who has recovered from knee surgery, should allow Vaughn to rest more than he did last season.
Down low the Jayhawks will start 6'11" Raef LaFrentz, the Big Eight Freshman of the Year in '95, and 6'10" junior Scot Pollard, both mobile big men who can move outside and shoot. They will speed up the Jayhawk attack. The key addition to watch is 6'6" forward Paul Pierce, whom Williams calls "the best freshman athlete I've ever recruited."
Kansas had a long summer to stew over its upset loss to Virginia in last season's Midwest Regional semifinals at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. It didn't speak well for the Big Eight that its marquee team was outmuscled and pushed around in its own backyard by an ACC team, and many of the Jayhawks lived in the weight room in the off-season and have bulked up considerably.
Williams's teams have won four of the last five conference championships, and now Kansas is salivating over the prospect of bringing home an NCAA crown. "We should be pretty doggone good," Williams says. "Hopefully, by the end of the season we'll look like a champion." The spitting image.