" Nashville may be the best city around for small-college basketball," says Rick Byrd. He's coach of that city's BELMONT COLLEGE, one of the best NAIA teams in the country, and it's hard to disagree. Last season DAVID LIPSCOMB UNIVERSITY, which is just a mile from Belmont, was ranked No. 1 for the entire regular season while scoring 111.78 points per game. Then in the district playoffs, Belmont went into Lipscomb's raucous gym and beat the Bisons 105-98 behind center Joe Behling's 58 points. Belmont eventually lost to Hastings ( Neb.) College in the first round of the national tournament. Byrd calls the victory over the Bisons "probably the biggest win we could ever have in this program."
At least until this season. With four starters back, including Behling, who averaged 31.5 points a game in 1988-89, Belmont could be even better. Lipscomb has seven of its top eight players from last season, including senior center Philip Hutcheson, who scored 28 points a game. The Belmont-Lipscomb rivalry has become so intense that there have been discussions about moving the Feb. 17 game between the teams to Vanderbilt's 15,399-seat Memorial Gymnasium.
The two programs are an intriguing study in contrasts. Under coach Don Meyer, Lipscomb has long been an NAIA power, averaging 25 wins during Meyer's 14 seasons. He uses a well-defined system, which he has recorded on instructional videotapes; runs the largest basketball camp in the country (it had nearly 4,000 campers last summer); and takes the Bisons on a road trip to Hawaii every other year. Hutcheson began attending the camp when he was eight years old, and later graduated from David Lipscomb High, which is affiliated with the college.
Belmont has a less impressive basketball tradition. Behling, it seems, dropped into its lap. He played only one year of high school basketball, at Hillwood in Nashville, and was recruited by no one. He decided to attend Belmont because his mother worked in the school's development office, which meant he would receive a tuition waiver. Byrd says Behling, who's 6'7", "didn't have any idea how to play" when he came out for the team. After a redshirt year and a lackluster freshman season, during which he experienced academic troubles, Behling dedicated himself to his studies and basketball. He became a first-team All-America as a sophomore, and last season as a junior he was NAIA Player of the Year.
Over in Harrogate, Tenn., 60 miles north of Nashville, is LINCOLN MEMORIAL—and Nick Sanford, who poured in an NAIA-high 34.26 points per game in 1988-89 for the Railsplitters. "Nick has a shot to play pro, either in the NBA or overseas," says Phil Cox, his coach.
With all five starters back from a 25-6 team, MINNESOTA- DULUTH could contend for the national title, but nobody on campus seems to care. The basketball team must compete for attention with the hockey team, a perennial NCAA Division I power. Forward—hoops forward, that is—Dave Zollar is 6'8" but weighs only 185 pounds. He looks as if he can't lift a ball, but last year he converted 51.7% of his shots from three-point range.
St. Mary's of Texas won the national title last spring, but coach Buddy Meyer would rather brag about the Rattlers' graduation rate. "When a kid graduates, we paint his name on the wall in the locker room," says Meyer. "It gives the remaining guys something to look at every day."
Only two full-time starters return from the championship squad, but they will be joined in January by transfer Rudy Archer, a former starting guard at Maryland who has one semester of eligibility left.