That 24-point defeat at Bloomington was the game in which Knight rapped Kentucky Coach Joe Hall on the head and the Wildcats' freshman centers, Rick Robey and Mike Phillips, were intimidated by Benson. Afterward Kentucky Captain Jimmy Dan Conner said, " Indiana is great; too bad they have a damn kid for a coach."
Playing as if possessed and with a deep bench, Kentucky is the highest-scoring team in the tournament. When backed by their rabid fans, as the Wildcats will be in Dayton where many emigrants from Appalachia have settled, they perform recklessly. Surely blood will be spilled here. If 24-point scorer Kevin Grevey, Conner and the freshmen big men get going early, Kentucky also could spill the Hoosiers.
Kansas State, Boston College, Syracuse and North Carolina are a surprise package in the East. But is it really a surprise when any Dean Smith team appears here? No coach is held in such high esteem by his peers; fittingly, after his most resourceful season, Smith is on the verge of being named the U.S. Olympic coach for 1976.
The Tar Heels earned the trip to Providence with brains, luck and the famous Ford corners. "If we get ahead, the other team has to chase the pony," says Forward Tom LaGarde of 6'2" freshman Phil Ford, who masterfully works the middle of Smith's patient four-corners offense.
Syracuse has the estimable Rudy Hackett, a much-overlooked forward. Kansas State has a slick backcourt of Chuckie Williams and the masked man, Mike Evans, who wears a plastic cover over his broken nose. BC, featuring Bob Carrington and Wil Morrison, is peaking just right.
But Carolina's tall Mitch Kupchak, leaping Walter Davis and Ford should be too much for all of them. Smith is nine for nine in regional games, and his Tar Heels should ride their little pony all the way to San Diego.
Two rematches are scheduled among the cacti in Las Cruces: Cincinnati against Louisville and Notre Dame against Maryland. Both the freshman-dominated Bearcats and the Irish, starring Adrian Dantley at the foul line, had inspired seasons. But the talented Cardinals and Terps should repeat their earlier victories.
Louisville is the enigma, loafing here, bickering there. The joke is that the team cannot get up for the little ones, and indeed it suffers alarming lapses of concentration. "It's cookin' time now though," says Louisville's smooth Allen Murphy, who splits his time between forward and guard.
If Forward Wesley Cox can recover from a pulled hamstring and his sulking moods, and Junior Bridge-man, another two-position man and the world's most underrated player, can keep the Cards shuffling, their contest with Maryland should be a frenetic struggle.
Having staggered down the stretch, the Terps are defenseless and foul-prone. Lefty Driesell has only six men, but his three-pronged backcourt of John Lucas, Mo Howard and Brad Davis, the best freshman guard around, directs a transitional offense that is nearly impossible to stop. In the rush to lionize Indiana, it often has been forgotten that Maryland finished first in the country in shooting percentage, third in rebounding and seventh in scoring. "Will we win the NCAA?" says Lucas. "Does a bear hibernate?"