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College Basketball
B.J. Schecter
January 10, 2000
Bayou RevivalThough undermanned due to NCAA probation, LSU is growling again
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January 10, 2000

College Basketball

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School (record)

1999 Final RPI

Latest RPI

Change

BIGGEST RISES

Liberty (8-2)

310

59

+251

Wis.- Milwaukee (7-6)

260

92

+168

Howard (0-9)

307

160

+147

Hawaii (11-2)

215

70

+145

Eastern Kentucky (5-4)

303

166

+137

BIGGEST FALLS

Central Florida (2-10)

101

313

-212

Rice (4-6)

87

295

-208

Miami (8-6)

11

201

-190

Drexel (4-6)

97

276

-179

Southern (3-6)

149

315

-166

SOURCE: Collegiate Basketball News (games through last Friday)

Bayou Revival
Though undermanned due to NCAA probation, LSU is growling again

An hour after Louisiana State's 63-53 victory in the Sugar Bowl Classic over previously unbeaten Oklahoma State last Thursday, LSU coach John Brady stood in an empty New Orleans Arena and talked about the struggle to turn around a once-proud program that hasn't had a winning record since 1992-93. "Over the last two years no team in college basketball has been working under the conditions we've worked under," said Brady, whose Tigers improved to 12-0 with the victory over the Cowboys. "We've been harshly penalized for something that nobody currently in this program had anything to do with. We've had to work harder with fewer players, but we just beat the 11th-ranked team in the country. That says a great deal about how far we've come."

The penalties to which Brady referred were handed down by the NCAA in the summer of 1997 as a result of the investigation into LSU's recruitment of Lester Earl in 1996. (The NCAA found that Earl had taken money from a Tigers booster and that Louisiana State had given free medical care to Earl before he enrolled.) LSU had its annual allotment of scholarships reduced from 13 to 11 until 2001, and worse yet, the NCAA decreed that the Tigers could not give scholarships to more than four players over this season and next, even if players left school for any reason. "Last year we lost four players and replaced three," said Brady. "Now we can only give one more scholarship in the next year. We have to be careful with the people we recruit. We can't afford to make mistakes."

Despite having only nine players on scholarship, LSU, which went 12-15 last season and was picked to finish fifth in the SEC West this year in a preseason poll of conference media members, is off to its best start since 1985-86, the year the Tigers last went to the Final Four. This week LSU moved into the AP's Top 25—at No. 21—for the first time since '93. The Tigers were also one of only three teams that were still unbeaten through Sunday.

The key to the resurgence has been 6'9" sophomore forward Stromile Swift, who may be the most improved player in the nation after a disappointing freshman season. He arrived at LSU in the fall of 1998 but was ineligible to play because he didn't have the requisite standardized test score. He briefly thought about leaving for the NBA until he scored high enough on his last shot at the ACT test, in December '98, and was cleared to play last January.

After just two practices Swift played his first game. He struggled in that outing and for much of the rest of the season, averaging 7.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. "I was out of shape and never got into the flow of things," says Swift, who didn't start playing basketball until the eighth grade but was a consensus All-America at Shreveport's Fair Park High in his senior year. "The whole season was like a blur. When it was over, I dedicated myself to proving that I was a much better player than I'd showed."

He has done just that Through Sunday he was averaging 19.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while shooting an eye-popping 68.7% from the field. Having added 25 pounds to what was a woefully thin frame, the 225-pound Swift is a pogo stick of a small forward who creates matchup problems for most teams, which need two or three players to stop him. Against Oklahoma State his inside presence helped junior guard Lamont Roland—last year's junior college player of the year at Barton ( Kans.) Community College—score a game-high 22 points. Jabari Smith, LSU's 6'11" senior center, also chipped in with 11 rebounds as the bigger Tigers out-rebounded the Cowboys 45-29.

Even with this early success, Brady, who had been the coach at Samford for six seasons before replacing Dale Brown at LSU, isn't sure how good his Tigers are. Outside of the Oklahoma State game, LSU has played a soft schedule, but with games against Tennessee, Florida and Arizona in the next three weeks, Brady will soon find out what he has got. "This shows we're headed in the right direction and that we're ready to compete in the SEC," said Brady, "but we still have a lot ahead of us."

Trouble in the ACC
A Distress Conference Call

Until last season the ACC had never received fewer than four bids to the NCAA tournament since the field was expanded in 1980 (at that time to 48 teams). Last March, however, Duke, Maryland and North Carolina got the league's only invitations. Those three bids were four fewer than the Big Ten got and the same number awarded to the Missouri Valley Conference. The caterwauling of complaint that started on Selection Sunday was still going on at ACC media day in October when Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski said, "We should always have at least five teams because we're that good. Last year it was criminal that the ACC only had three teams. Ridiculous."

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