No one can battle Navy in the COLONIAL. Thanks to a great sophomore class, George Mason has a shot at an NIT bid, though the Patriots would probably like to suit up assistant Dereck Whittenburg, a member of the 1983 N.C. State NCAA championship team, who's now a George Mason assistant. North Carolina-Wilmington has 6'9" Brian Rowson, the second-best center in the circuit after David Robinson. Rowson had 24 points and 8 boards in a 2-point loss to Robinson's Middies in the conference tournament. American has a year to wait before it moves onto its new court in the $14 million Adnan Khashoggi Center, the future home floor for our all-name team.
The focus of attention in the SOUTHERN Conference should be Marshall, but not if Western Carolina point guard Vincent (Spotlight) Walker has anything to say about it. The
OHIO VALLEY race will be between Akron and Middle Tennessee State. Four Akron starters return, including player of the year Marcel Boyce, who led the Zips into the NCAAs last season. The MID-EASTERN ATHLETIC holds the distinction of being the worst conference to receive an automatic NCAA bid. North Carolina A&T and Howard, one or the other of which has won the last nine league titles, are a combined 0-6 in the NCAAs. A&T gets the nod and the automatic first-round NCAA loss this season.
There ought to be a law to keep the BIG SOUTH from using the word "Big," lest some casual fan confuse the new loop with the Big East, Big Ten or Big Eight. Hey, I don't know about you, but when the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers meet the Radford Highlanders, I just throw away the record books.
Back in the land of the real Bigs, the BIG TEN. Michigan State has enough talent to prove last season's run in the Midwest Regional wasn't all Scott Skiles. Darryl Johnson, the other guard, popped for 16.6 points per game on 58% shooting and will be happy to escape the departed Skiles's shadow. Ohio State won the NIT with lame-duck coach Eldon Miller, but successor Gary Williams, who left Boston College, will find the going tougher without 6'11" forward-center Brad Sellers. Swingman Dennis Hopson, a 20.9 ppg scorer, is back and ready to fire from three-point range. Clem Haskins will try to stabilize the program at Minnesota. Coach Jim Dutcher resigned after three Gophers were arrested (they were later cleared) on sexual assault charges last season, and recruiting has suffered mightily.
Bradley of the
MISSOURI VALLEY faced its own turmoil in the off-season. The Braves were slapped with a two-year probation by the NCAA for recruiting improprieties, and coach Dick Versace bolted. Then, guard Hersey Hawkins sued the NCAA on the grounds that the probation would hurt his chances for an NBA career. Stan Albeck, fired by the Chicago Bulls, takes over at Bradley, his alma mater, but he has no chance of repeating last season's storybook 32-3 record. Talk about a change of atmosphere: Check out Wichita State, where Eddie Fogler, longtime assistant to Dean Smith at North Carolina, takes over one of the most penalized programs in the land. The Shockers have talent, but team chemistry is one course the team failed last season.
The MID-AMERICAN Conference isn't likely to send two teams to the NCAAs as it did last season, now that Miami's Ron Harper and his archrival, Dan Palombizio of Ball State, are gone. But Miami has enough talent back to repeat as champs. In the MIDWESTERN COLLEGIATE. Oral Roberts looks like the team to beat, not because it has four returning starters but because coach Ted Owens welcomes four transfers who are probably better, including 6'7" Clinton Hinton, who was the Sun Belt's freshman of the year at UNC Charlotte in 1984-85. The strongest challenge should come from St. Louis, which won 9 of its last 11 with a freshman backcourt last season. Cleveland State put the MID-CONTINENT on the map, but the nest of the conference was pretty good, too. Southwest Missouri State beat Pittsburgh and Marquette in the NIT and should get another bid.
Midwestern teams will once again be the class of the INDEPENDENTS, a dying breed in college hoops. Notre Dame had a terrible scare last August when guard David Rivers sustained a severe abdominal laceration in an automobile accident. Rivers recovered nicely and began practice, albeit two weeks late, but the Irish will surely struggle if he is less than 100%. Marquette could slip past DePaul and claim an NCAA berth. New coach Bob Dukiet, who played the piano and sang the school song at the press conference announcing his appointment, makes sure his teams play hard; two of his squads at St. Peter's led the nation in defense. Forward David Boone returns, along with Kevin Johnson and Michael (Pops) Sims, the diminutive back-court that wreaked havoc on North Carolina last season.
Joey Meyer has two outstanding players at DePaul, center Dallas Comegys and point guard Rod Strickland, but that's it. The jury's been out on Meyer for two years now, and a verdict is expected soon. The Privateers of New Orleans could be one of those surprise NCAA teams this season. Damon Vance, a 6'10" transfer from LSU, and 6'5" Ledell Eackles, the '85-86 juco player of the year, come aboard to join four starters from a 16-12 team.
The SOUTHWEST Conference earned only one NCAA bid for the first time since 1977, and one was all it deserved. SWC teams went 1-19 against other NCAA qualifiers. Texas Christian, one of last season's tri-champs (with Texas A & M and Texas), has four starters and its sixth man returning, and should win it this season. The Horned Frogs are led by point guard Carl Lott, who went unrecruited out of high school because he was a 6'4" center. After joining TCU in '85-86 out of junior college, Lott averaged 15.8 points pet-game and made the SWC all-defensive team. Pat Foster, who had six successful years at Lamar, replaces the retired Guy V. Lewis at Houston. The Cougars have slipped the past two seasons. Forwards Greg (Cadillac) Anderson and Rickie Winslow, the only significant leftovers from the Phi Slamma Jamma era, were among the top 13 rebounders in the nation last season. Arkansas was a horrendous disappointment in '85-86, going 12-16 in Nolan Richardson's maiden Hog season. Richardson's newcomers: 6'10" Shawn Baker, an Oklahoma State transfer, plus an outstanding class of freshman shooters.
In the BIG EIGHT, Missouri's Derrick Chievous, a journalism major, will keep headline writers busy. The 6'7" forward can fill it from the perimeter and muscle his way inside. The big quest ion in the league is: When will Norris Coleman be eligible at Kansas State? The 25-year-old Army veteran was the top freshman scorer in the country last season, with 21.8 points per game, but the NCAA found that he lacked the requisite 2.0 GPA in high school and decreed that he not play until February. Coleman's attorney may seek an injunction that would let him play this month.