Vanderbilt is in to prove that just because its team looks exactly like the recent Kentucky fives does not mean it will collapse the way the Wildcats did. Marquette is in to prove it can find a more absurd way to collapse than the way it usually does. Notre Dame is in the curious position of possibly facing four teams it has already defeated ( Indiana, Marquette, Kansas, UCLA) in order to win the championship. And the Big Ten just barely struggled in after a playoff between Michigan and Indiana.
The Fighting Irish, whose inside-out-side Jersey punch of John Shumate and Gary Brokaw helped to destroy Austin Peay and Fly (Air Ball) Williams, would be the favorite over either Big Ten representative. But the problems they pose are not the same.
Indiana at heart is a disciplined unit of windup students who got in trouble late in the season when they began to scatter and run. Against Notre Dame, the Hoosiers would be better served by Quinn Buckner slowing the tempo, Kent Benson posting up and Bobby Knight barking cadence from the bench.
Michigan, on the other hand, cannot go slow. The Wolverines are the year's biggest surprise as Campy Russell blossomed into a leader and freshman Steve Grote brought stability. But Michigan cannot cope on the backboards, and they would meet the end of the road against the fearsome inside tandem of Shumate and Adrian Dantley.
Unpredictable Marquette which, Al McGuire says, has been "dynamite, then sandpaper," stands a better chance against Notre Dame. A tired Warrior team lost by six to the Irish at South Bend, but rejuvenated Maurice Lucas is working well now underneath with Bo Ellis while Earl (Gosling) Tatum swings everywhere else. And there is always the scratch-your-eyes-out defense.
It is no foregone conclusion that Marquette will advance past Vandy. The Commodores stumbled down the stretch, but they are a finesse aggregation that shoots well, does not foul much and at any time can turn Jan van Breda Kolff loose to shock the competition.
Nonetheless, Notre Dame is prepared for future shock. This is a team that has gone against the toughest schedule of all and won seven games by six points or less; it is blessed with ability at every position. After UCLA won 94-75, Digger Phelps vowed to the Irish, "Get me to Greensboro, and I'll find a way to beat UCLA. I promise you."
UCLA's Wooden is not unaware of the emotionalism inherent in a rubber match. "I really want Notre Dame," he said before USC. And he clenched his fist as he said it.
Both sides are neglecting one barrier to such a meeting. Since East meets West in the NCAA's restructured alignment, North Carolina State would get UCLA first. The Wolfpack would be on home soil playing before more than 15,000 screaming partisans for whom this sport is a gut-wrenching passion play. This time they would be ready.
"I was too high for the first one," David Thompson says of the meeting in which UCLA riddled State 84-66. "I started badly, then just shot to get my touch back." It never came. Hounded by Keith Wilkes, David missed 13 of 20 shots and, even though the UCLA players were astounded at his ability, he considered himself a washout.