Somewhat like sex goddesses of Hollywood past, the Indiana Hoosiers' only lament as the NCAA tournament hove into view last week seemed to be that they are loved for their bodies, not their souls. So before they keel over from lack of appreciation, here they are, the good guys.
Center Kent Benson is president of the I.U. chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Forward Steve Green has been accepted to dental school. Guard Quinn Buckner visits the children's ward at the local hospital and gives speeches to PTA groups. Coach Bob Knight employs a down-on-his-luck former player as a statistician. Now, with that out of the way, let's get back to basketball.
While they have been so busy cornering the market on Samaritanism, child care, Christianity and clean teeth, these terrific humanitarians have found time to go unbeaten through 30 games, outscore the opposition by an average of 23 points and dominate the college game all winter. They are a marvelous blend of strength, speed, discipline, intelligence and a positively vicious defense that forces the opposition to begin its attack somewhere in the vicinity of the lobby. Not to diminish the power of Benson or the shooting of Green, John Laskowski and the injured Scott May, it is Buckner and his running mate in backcourt, Bob Wilkerson, who are responsible for this Indiana tyranny.
Both have mobility, flexibility and unusual size for guards. On defense they rarely let opponents pass without pressure, and on offense they are masters at developing a game rhythm that enables the Hoosiers to flaunt their versatility. Simply put, the backcourt will not allow Indiana to play a bad game. "When they're in trouble," says one coach, " Indiana doesn't come to Buckner. He goes to them."
After the Hoosiers' 78-53 dismantling of UTEP last week in the first round of the NCAA playoffs, Buckner and his buddies looked ready to keep on rolling. During recent weeks, doubts had popped up about the Indiana defense without May. In 25 games with him, the Hoosiers had given up an average of only 63 points, but after May broke his left forearm against Purdue, they allowed 82, 89, 78 and 79 in the last four regular-season contests. Then, against UTEP's rawhide outfit, the Hoosiers out-defensed the national defense leaders and wore them down. May showed up with a "soft cast," a pin in his arm and played—for about a minute. Everybody else went back to the drawing board.
Before anyone signs a concession treaty, it should be added that Indiana remains only a slight favorite over the rest of the NCAA field. Except for UCLA (which did it four times) only two teams, San Francisco (1956) and North Carolina (1957), have entered the tournament unbeaten and exited as the national champion. And even if the Hoosiers end up winning, the tournament will be worth watching. By expanding its format to 32 teams, the NCAA guaranteed that this would be Trivia's tournament, chock-full of memories we'll want to treasure for years to come.
For starters, what team does Jud Heathcote coach? Who are The Hoyas? What school might play three opponents to which it has already lost? What team dropped back-to-back contests to Harvard and Navy? Which had a technical foul called against its athletic director? If you answered Montana, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Cincinnati and, surprise, UCLA, you win two all-beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun.
This week in Providence, R.I., Dayton, Ohio, Las Cruces, N. Mex. and Portland, Ore., the 16 survivors of first-round play will battle for the opportunity to qualify for the finals at San Diego on Easter weekend. Unless somebody sets fire to the Easter bunny, all the eggs are going to be colored red and blue: red for Indiana and Maryland, blue for North Carolina and UCLA.
At Dayton, Oregon State has the next chance to stop Indiana. Like their namesakes, the Beavers are industrious and resourceful, but they depend too much on huge Lonnie Shelton, who gets in foul trouble. Also, steady guards are needed against the Hoosiers, and OSU has only George (Ice T) Tucker. Against backcourt pressure, Ice T sometimes becomes Tea Bag.
The Hoosiers may face their stiffest test in the Mideast finals. Their opponent should be Kentucky, and after being embarrassed by Indiana in December, the Wildcats have made the biggest comeback since Neil Sedaka.