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It's March 8, 1987, and you're tuned into the NCAA tournament pairings show. There's Brent Musburger wielding his pointer at the big board, saying, "And, of course, in the Southeast it will be Louisville against Houston Baptist...." With 64 teams filling out the tournament draw, there are going to be some no-names. Who are these teams, anyway? you wonder. Well, some are contenders, and some are pretenders. Last season, for instance, Mississippi Valley State threw a scare at Duke, while North Carolina A & T slinked away barely noticed, a 25-point loser to Kansas. Others actually won a game—hurray for Arkansas-Little Rock (conqueror of Notre Dame). Or, whoa, two games—take a bow, Cleveland State ( Indiana and St. Joe's). Yes, there's life below the Top 40—teeming, vibrant life—and you don't have to be named Cousteau to explore it. Just read on.
Providence has risen from the depths of the BIG EAST. Before coach Rick Pitino arrived in 1985, the once-proud Friars seemed destined to hold a lifetime berth in the conference tourney's eighth-place versus ninth-place game. Pitino introduced such enjoyable exercises as his 6 a.m. "Dawn Patrol" practices and transformed a cast of nobodies from an 11-20 dog into a 17-14 NIT team. The prime beneficiary was 6'1" Bill Donovan, who dropped 20 pounds and upped his scoring average 12 points, to 15.1 per game—"The greatest transformation since Lazarus," says assistant Gordon Chiesa. More important, Providence gained enough credibility to attract Indiana exile Delray Brooks—a high school superstar guard who never got the hang of playing the Knight way.
Three ATLANTIC 10 teams earned NCAA bids last season and may do so again. With Temple will be St. Joseph's, if it can survive the loss of NBA first-rounder Mo Martin, and West Virginia, if it can find a backcourt. St. Joe's will count on 6'8" Rodney Blake, one of the better shot-blocking piano players in the nation, and 5'9" James (Bruiser) Flint. Blake averaged a blocked shot every 9.6 minutes last season. West Virginia has its guards down but its talent up front with forwards Darryl Prue and juco transfer Tyrone Shaw.
Marist of the ECAC METRO has the most eclectic roster in the nation, with players from the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Guadeloupe and the Bronx. But the Red Foxes, no mere walking world tour, should go places, thanks to 7'3" Dutchman Rik Smits, who burned Georgia Tech's John Salley for 22 points in 27 minutes in the NCAAs. Miroslav Pecarski, a 6'11" Yugoslav forward, joins Smits on the frontline with backup help from 6'7" Peter Krasovec of Hungary, and 7-foot Rudy Bourgarel, the Guadeloupan. Drafton Davis of the Bronx dealt 8 assists per game last season, but the Foxes must adjust to their third coach in four years and shake off a summer scandal caused by two subs who tried to outfox an assistant coach in a credit card-cam.
The METRO ATLANTIC is reeling from five coaching changes at its eight schools, including Manhattan (2-26), which called in Tom Sullivan on his weekend to fire him. La Salle is the favorite here, but the league's best player is Army guard Kevin Houston. The ECAC NORTH ATLANTIC could use a flashier name, but what can you call a league that covers geography from Buffalo to Maine—the Metro Snow Belt? Good luck recruiting with that one. Boston U coach Mike Jarvis, who had Patrick Ewing in high school, has four starters back from a 21-10 team, but Northeastern should run away with the championship.
Brown broke an 18-year Penn-Princeton stranglehold on the IVY LEAGUE title last season, but Penn was the strongest team at season's end and should win its 6th crown in 10 years in '86-87. Forward Arne Duncan returns to Harvard after taking a year off to research his sociology thesis in Chicago. Only in the Ivies. In the EAST COAST Conference, Drexel guard Michael Anderson had trouble seeing the basket early last season. Contact lenses got his scoring up to 18.8 points per game and his assists average to 7.3. Anderson broke his right leg in July, but it mended, he's back, and the Dragons should repeat.
With the notable exception of Louisville, the METRO will be down a bit. Memphis State lost its three best players and coach Dana Kirk, who was fired in September during grand jury investigations into Memphis area sports gambling. Longtime Tiger assistant Larry Finch will try to pick up the pieces and build a team around guard Vincent Askew, who for the second summer in a row made noise about bolting Memphis. Cincinnati lost six of seven high-powered recruits because of academic deficiencies, so guard Roger McClendon remains the Bearcats' only threat. The best bet for a second NCAA team out of the Metro is Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles have five starters back from a 17-12 team and such a breezy early schedule that they could easily be 11-0 when conference play begins.
The SUN BELT is also rebuilding. UAB said goodbye to three starters, but coach Gene Bartow came through with a blockbuster recruiting year, signing 6'5" Larry Rembert and 7'1" Alan Ogg, the best players in Alabama. Jacksonville's best from last season, Otis Smith, has departed, and the defending Sun Belt tournament champs will look to swingman Ronnie Murphy to take up the slack. South Alabama had promise until forward Ricky Brown took off to play in Greece after failing a nutrition class he needed to pass to remain eligible.
The SOUTHEASTERN Conference has the best upper division of any league in the nation, but the have-nots will struggle. Tennessee finished '85-86 with seven straight losses. If they continue that way, the Vols will never fill their new 25,000-seat arena, scheduled to open next season. Georgia still has not recovered from losing forward Cedric Henderson (now an Atlanta Hawk) before last season. A violation that occurred during Henderson's recruitment was one of nine that landed the Bulldogs on probation, which all but killed recruiting for this season. How bad is Mississippi? The team's summer prospectus read: " Ole Miss coach Lee Hunt may shed a few smiles as he thinks about the upcoming campaign." Very few. Hunt quit to become coach at Missouri- Kansas City, which isn't fielding a team this season, and Ed Murphy will now be the one shedding smiles at Ole Miss. Vanderbilt, figuring that bloodlines count for something, has a red-shirt freshman guard named Adolph Frederick Rupp III, grandson of you-know-who.
It will be a long time before the skies brighten over Maryland in the ATLANTIC COAST Conference. As a result of the controversy surrounding the team after the death of senior Len Bias last spring, Lefty Driesell resigned on Oct. 29 after 17 years as the Terrapins coach. He was replaced by Bob Wade, who comes to College Park after 12 seasons at Dunbar High in Baltimore, where his teams went 272-24. The Terps won't open their season until Dec. 27, after the end of the fall term. Even then, with four players suspended, Maryland will replace Wake Forest in the ACC cellar. Speaking of Wake, don't be surprised if it runs up a good nonconference record before it gets pushed around in league play—the Human Assist, 5'3" Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues, is back.