Confused over your W-4 from or finding the cheapest airfare to Disney World? Those are mere bagatelles compared with the challenge of keeping the Big Ten basketball race straight. While our favorite relatives, Uncle Mo and Auntie Mentum, shift sides every 17 seconds, a handful of star teams are pounding each other twice weekly along the snowy trail to what could be history's first one-conference Final Four.
Check out last week's chaos:
•On Wednesday the most familiar Indiana and Illinois players practically disappeared, only to be replaced by a thoroughly unfamiliar Hoosier juco transfer named Dean Garrett from, of all places, San Clemente, Calif.
•On Thursday an Ohio State player threw a last-minute pass into the delirious Buckeye cheering section rather than to the marvelous Dennis Hopson (see box, page 81), granting Purdue a reprieve and a treasured road victory.
•On Saturday a dangerous double G-force, Michigan's Gary Grant and Glen Rice, teamed up for an air strike into the heart of an Iowa team that a week earlier had been an undefeated wire-service No. 1 but now resembles just another Platoon trying to survive.
•And later that day, normally steady Purdue missed 12 of 30 free throws and surrendered in its bitter showdown at Indiana, where IU's prototype one-dimensional shooter, Steve Alford, reappeared to get five assists, six rebounds and a flock of loose ball recoveries as the Hoosiers emerged alone in first place.
Enough conference teams have been rattling around in the polls that the Big Ten might as well be the Top Ten. Moreover, with those teams overcoming huge leads and playing the undergarments off one another, it has become nearly impossible to tell them apart. Is it Purdue (16-3, 7-2 in the Big Ten) that has the T 'n' T boys, Troy Lewis and Todd Mitchell, and Iowa (19-2, 7-2) the M 'n' Mers, Roy Marble and Jeff Moe? And which of those teams came from 22 points behind to whip Illinois on the road? Does the latest, greatest, slow, white, can't-jump jump shooter Whazzisname Alfordberger, spray his picture-book rainbows for Indiana (17-2, 8-1) or the Illini (15-5, 5-3)? Is Iowa's Sir Jamalot a real knight? Or should Indiana's Knight, now that he is No. 1 on the bestseller list, be addressed as Sir? And now who's due, Purdue?
Measuring the strength of a conference is risky business, and the fact that North Carolina knocked off both Illinois and Purdue early on may mean something or it may not. But new Ohio State coach Gary Williams, who played at Maryland in the ACC and coached Boston College in the Big East, says, "This reminds me of three years ago in the Big East. Our league had three teams in the Final Four, and BC, which finished sixth in the conference, missed the final eight by a basket. At midseason we didn't really know how good our league was. At the end we knew."
With last Saturday off, Williams may have been pondering how good his one-man, one-Hop crew (13-7, 4-4) might be, now that it has upset Iowa on the road, nearly upset Purdue at home and defeated three teams that have occupied first place in other conferences—Kansas, Florida and Jacksonville.
"I don't know whether we're any better than Ohio State," says Illinois coach Lou Henson, who was to find out Monday night in Columbus.