"It was good therapy for me." That's how Central Michigan's Charlie Coles describes his return to coaching in January 1986 after having undergone triple-bypass surgery the previous November. Last season the Chippewas bypassed the rest of the Mid-American to complete a two-year last-to-first odyssey. For its clawing man-to-man defense Central Michigan has back seven of its first nine players, including 6'6" Dan Majerle. Challenges should come from erstwhile Mid-American powers Miami of Ohio and Ohio U., who slipped into a tie for fifth last season. This season, reinforcements should make both teams contenders. Lamont Hanna and Eric Newsome, who were redshirted in 1986-87 because of injuries, give the Redskins seven returning starters. The Bobcats' Dave Jamerson has a rebuilt knee, and Paul (Snoopy) Graham is back after being benched at the end of last season for cutting class.
SC is certain to have an impact on the West Coast. The question is whether it's Santa Clara, the defending champ and host of the conference tournament, or Southern Cal, the Pac-10 school from which three promising players left in a huff two years ago to end up in the WCAC, where they are now eligible. Pepperdine has Tom Lewis, who was Southern Cal's leading scorer two seasons ago before transferring after his freshman year. At Loyola Marymount, coach (and Shakespearean scholar) Paul Westhead has former Trojans Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers, who were Philadelphia high school teammates. Their play's the thing.
La Salle coach Speedy Morris never made it to college. But Morris, who reached the NIT finals last spring in his rookie season as a Division I men's coach, is glad that 6'6" sophomore forward Lionel Simmons did. He was the best player in the Metro Atlantic as a freshman and will likely be a star for the next three years. The Explorers are demons recruiting on their home turf: 6'3" freshman Doug Overton is the second straight Philly schoolboy Player of the Year to matriculate at La Salle.
Montana State, which did not lose a game in its Brick Breeden Fieldhouse last season, figures to win the Big Sky tournament for several big reasons, not the least of which is that the Bobcats will host it. The biggest, however, is 6'9" center-forward-guard Tom Domako, a deft three-point shooter.
Penn and Princeton, Princeton and Penn. They long kept the Ivy race as predictable as it was alliterative. But since 1985 each of the Ancient Eight has had at least one chance to win the title on a final weekend. Here we go again. Cornell has size and experience up front. Penn has a great crop of freshmen, including 6'7" Hassan Duncombe. But watch Dartmouth, which has a new gym and its best championship shot since the days of Rudy LaRusso. Green the Big Green aren't: 7-foot sophomore Walter Palmer, who missed most of last season because of a broken leg, joins four returning starters.
In the past two seasons, first Cleveland State and then Southwest Missouri State received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. This season the three-year-old AMCU-8 (the Association of Mid-Continent Universities) will receive an automatic berth. Who will get it? Both the Vikings and the Bears lost stars, but Cleveland State still has junior guard Ken (Mouse) McFadden, who bulked up over the summer. Vikings coach Kevin Mackey had his best recruiting year ever, which means he's likely to win the league, whose acronym, he says, sounds like a motor oil.
In the ECAC Metro, the Red Foxes of Marist got tangled in red tape over the summer. First the Hungarian bureaucracy recalled 6'8" Peter Krasovec to serve a military stint. Then the Yugoslav bureaucracy summoned 6'11" Miroslav Pecarski to Olympic training camp. Finally, the NCAA bureaucracy socked the Red Foxes with a two-year ban on postseason play primarily for violations relating to their stable of exotic big men. Still, as long as 7'4" Dutch treat Rik Smits is around, Marist should outfox Fairleigh Dickinson and its stars, Damari Riddick and Jaime Latney, and successfully defend its conference crown.
The ECAC North Atlantic race will again be dog-eat-dog. The Northeastern Huskies, who finished on top last season, will miss star forward Reggie Lewis, while the Terriers of Boston University still have Drederick Irving, a 6'4" senior who scored 18.8 points a game in 1986-87. Look for the championship trophy to take a short ride on the MBTA Green Line.
With an NCAA tournament upset of Notre Dame in '86 and an NIT Final Four appearance last season, Arkansas-Little Rock has done a great deal of late to put the Trans America on the map. Problem is, in 1987 the Trojans had several players questioned about cheating on a biology exam, two who pleaded guilty to credit-card fraud and another charged with public intoxication. Nonetheless, says coach Mike Newell, "I don't think the league is big time. I don't think the goals of the other teams are the same as ours." Thank goodness. The Trojans will be strong again, even though they must make do without stars Paris McCurdy and Curtis Kidd, who were kicked off the team and then left school after having charged clothing on a credit card that didn't belong to them. Stetson, which has 6'6" Randy Anderson, and Georgia Southern, which has Jeff Sanders, a 6'8" forward-center who helped the Eagles give Syracuse a fright in the NCAAs, will be Arkansas-Little Rock's main challengers.
If the East Coast truly is the nation's most balanced league, as some allege, it's safest to bet on the two teams whose leaders are likely to be early-round NBA picks. Expect Lehigh, led by 6'5" Daren Queenan, and Drexel, whose slippery 5'11" Michael Anderson has become a better shooter since donning contact lenses, to be on top of the standings the whole season. The Engineers, who also have guard Mike Polaha, should prevail.