This is a grudge battle for the Friars, who thought they could go far in the tournament last season before Penn took them apart. Now Providence has the bigger—and the littler—guns. Little is Ernie DiGregorio, who scored 31 against St. Joe in the first round and who, with 6'4" Kevin Stacom alongside, causes nightmares for any defense. Forward Fran Costello is a clutch shooter. And Marvin Barnes, though a mere 6'8", may be second only to Bill Walton among commanding pivotmen. The Friars had one shot at UCLA already and got rolled. But they proved they could score on the Bruins even on Stacom's worst night of the year, and the handsome transfer from Holy Cross, whom Coach Dave Gavitt calls "our icing on the cake," should not have another game as bad as that one.
" Barnes gets away with being a center in the East," a Maryland scout said the other day, "but in our league he wouldn't be that effective." O.K., stop Barnes. Now, stop Stacom. Now, stop Ernie D. It is doubtful that Penn or Maryland will be able to pull out that many stops.
Whatever team makes it through the East should bear in mind that it is there on a borrowed ticket, courtesy of the man in the red velvet suit, Coach Norman Sloan.
One last word must be said for Sloan's N.C. State crew, which unquestionably is at least the second-best in the land. It is difficult to live in purgatory, much less play there. Yet that is where the Wolfpack has been all season knowing it could not compete for the national championship. In such a situation it would have been very easy not to care, to ease up, to lie down, to cop out, to fold, or to finesse the year. But with the brilliant sophomore David Thompson, the tall center Tom Burleson and the mini-guard Monte Towe, N.C. State won 27 games and lost none.
The Wolfpack did it while playing in the most harshly competitive league in the country. They did it with everyone pointing for them. They defeated top 10 teams a total of six times and they won the hearts of all fantasists everywhere, if only by giving hope and stirring dreams. In the required mythical matchup between N.C. State and UCLA, State surely would be prepared to acquit itself admirably.
No doubt Towe could handle the champions' press; none of the middle-size Bruins could stop Thompson; and the other fine State shooters—of which there are a bunch—likely would be very effective also. But Burleson is not yet mature enough to contain Walton on defense or get anything done against him offensively either. Walton would run Burleson's legs off, get him in foul trouble and the contest would change right there. Probably, then, the Wolfpack would not win such a game. But it would have been great fun to watch them try. Now, there remains only the prospect of watching all the others. Against UCLA and Mystique. Try.