The final margin was convincing, considering how well Florida State had played. Yet it pointed out the fact that Kentucky can be had if the tempo is fast enough and demonstrated that the Wildcats haven't developed into the overpowering team everyone expected them to be this year. "I just wasn't getting the effort I wanted out of our starters," said Hall. "I decided if we were going to get beat, I'd rather it would be with guys who can burn rubber."
Kentucky should be tested by Michigan State in the finals of the Mideast Regional in Dayton. The Spartans, 10-17 a year ago, ran their record to 24-4 with a 77-63 win over Providence, as Forward Greg Kelser scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Michigan State should get by Western Kentucky, which upset Syracuse 87-86 in overtime when Forward Marty Byrnes missed a one-and-one free throw with three seconds left. Earvin Johnson, Michigan State's spectacular 6'8" point guard, played on a sore ankle against Providence but scored 14 points and looked more like a Harlem Globetrotter than a college freshman while handing out seven assists.
The West Regional is wide open. Cal State-Fullerton, the third-place finisher in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association during the regular season, saw to that by beating New Mexico. The Titans held the Lobos' red-hot Marvin Johnson to 15 points while getting a total of 82 from Forwards Kevin Heenan (22) and Greg Bunch (18), Guard Keith Anderson (23) and Reserve Mike Niles (19). Without New Mexico waiting at the Pit, UCLA should prevail. To get to the final four the Bruins must find a way to handle Arkansas' three 6'4" leapers—Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph—who had a field day in the Razorbacks' 73-52 win over Weber State in Eugene. Of course, Arkansas will have a problem of its own trying to match up against the taller Bruins of Coach Gary Cunningham. "It's pretty hard to tell Gary's team from mine," John Wooden said recently of his former assistant. And while this is no Bill Walton-type juggernaut, the kind that swept through the NCAA tournament when the finals were held in St. Louis five years ago, Cunningham, like Wooden, has his team playing fundamentals just the way Wooden's did.
For Notre Dame's Digger Phelps this is a unique opportunity to prove that he can do more than beat UCLA on national TV. Despite having superb players during his six-year career in South Bend—some of whom turned pro just when he needed them most—Phelps has never taken a team to the final four. Now the Irish have their best draw.
Duke, favored in that forgotten regional, the East, could surprise Notre Dame, but first will have to contend with Penn and a streaking Bobby Knight team from Indiana. Duke barely got by Rhode Island 63-62, depriving the Rams of a home-court advantage this week in Providence.
Indiana survived another stormy season under Bobby T, bouncing back from a 2-5 conference record to tie Minnesota for second place in the Big Ten. Along the way Knight stopped giving postgame interviews to the press, preferring instead to send publicist Kit Klingelhoffer around with a mimeographed sheet of the coach's thoughts.
Whether or not Knight's team makes it to St. Louis, his influence will be felt there because the games will be played on Indiana's home floor. It seems that the NCAA made a special request for Knight to inspect the playing floor at the Checkerdome, which is primarily used for hockey. Knight found the existing basketball surface unsuitable. So next Monday the Assembly Hall floor in Bloomington will be dismantled and shipped to St. Louis on two 40-foot semi-trailer trucks.
Obviously, this is an unusual tournament. For the second straight year, following a succession of UCLAs, NC States and Indianas, there is no truly dominant team in the field, or in the country, for that matter. Likewise, there is not a single player remaining in the tournament listed among the top 30 scorers in the nation. College basketball at the top has become almost exclusively a team game these days, and no one man figures to get his team out of trouble in St. Louis the way a Walton or David Thompson might have in the past. In a sense, everybody in the tournament is a dark horse at this point. Even Kentucky.