Virginia Union presented Mount St. Mary's its free trip to Springfield, Mass. by making just one of eight possible free-throw attempts in the final two minutes of its 44-42 loss to CIAA rival Winston-Salem State, and this in Richmond Arena, the Panthers' home court. Union's awful performance from the line so upset coach Dave Robbins that he spent most of the summer inventing a contraption he calls the Robbins Retriever. The Retriever catches free throws, both made and missed, and returns them to the shooter, eliminating the need for a human retriever. What better lab rats to test the device than the Panthers, who shot a collective 60% from the line last year.
Union is again the team to beat for the Division II title, and this season no one should expect any favors. Three starters return, most notably junior forward Jamie Waller, a 20.8 points-per-game scorer last season. Robbins has also found a replacement for All-America center Charles Oakley in 6'9" Terry Davis. Says Georgia coach Hugh Durham, who wanted Davis badly, "Terry is already a very good player who's going to be outstanding."
The most entertaining hoop in Norfolk, Va. isn't at Old Dominion but across town at NORFOLK STATE. The main attraction is 6'1" junior guard Ralph (Mr. T) Tally. Tally averaged 21.0 points per game last season and dished out his 114 assists with more panache than a blackjack dealer at Atlantic City's Golden Nugget, where he has worked for the past three summers as a delicatessen counterman. The Spartans, 24-7 and losers to Cal State-Hayward in the first round of the NCAA West Regional, hope that Mr. T deals them a little better hand this season.
Wright State of Dayton will not only play its defense close to the vest—"We'll press coming off the team bus," says coach Ralph Underhill—but also its offense. That's forward Mark Vest, the Raiders' leading scorer with 18.4 points a game last season. Underhill, who guided Wright to the Division II championship in 1983, would like to nail down one more before the Raiders jump to the big time for 1987-88. With all five starters returning, this is probably his last chance.
At Pennsylvania's MILLERSVILLE, 6'9" junior center John Fox and senior forward Rob Lawton hope to deliver to their coach, former Maryland assistant John Kochan, something his old boss, Lefty Driesell, has never gotten—a trip to a Final Four. The Marauders might have made it last season had Lawton not suffered a stress fracture in his right foot in mid-February. With him in the lineup, Millersville was 22-1.
It looks as if Michael Graham, who fled Georgetown last fall after failing to cut John Thompson's academic mustard, will not be eligible to play this season; otherwise the UNIVERSITY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA would have been a potential No. 1 team. As it is, the Firebirds will be red hot, with superb junior guard Lyndon DeBellotte plus outstanding recruits, such as 6'10" Brian Tucker and 6'6" John Jones. Tucker had intended to go to Villanova but his grades didn't pan out. The Wildcats' loss is UDC's gain.
Coach Dave Vander Meulen has an embarrassment of riches at WISCONSIN-WHITEWATER. Four starters are back from a team that lost the Great Lakes Regional final to eventual Division III champion North Park by two points in overtime. And, six games into the season, transfers Dwayne Johnson, Marquette's top scorer and rebounder in '83-84, and former Wisconsin forward Robert Barnes, the state's top high school player two years ago, will become eligible. As Vander Meulen says, "I'd rather have too many pins to juggle than none at all."
North Central of Naperville, Ill. is a heavy favorite to win the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, so pardon Cardinals' coach Bill Warden if he sometimes casts a wary eye ahead to March and the Great Lakes Regional tournament, where Wisconsin-Whitewater would be the probable opponent. North Central has four starters back, three of them seniors, from a team that went 20-7 and was the winningest in school history. Warden, who coached basketball at Morgan Park High on Chicago's South Side for 20 years and still teaches physical education there, says, "There are a lot of teams capable of getting to the tournament. But if we play up to our potential we will be difficult to beat."
North Central's top returning player is 6'1" forward—yes, forward—Tony Jordan, an all-league selection who led the Cards in scoring (15.4 points per game) and even played guard in emergencies. The frontcourt was strengthened when Warden brought in 6'8" banger Mike Bohannon, a transfer from Lakeland J.C. in Mattoon, Ill.
The NEBRASKA WESLEYAN Plainsmen rolled to the Final Four last season because 6'9" senior Dana Janssen kept putting his best foot forward. Janssen, who averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds per game, is called Skis by his teammates because he wears size 16 sneakers. His feet are so big, jokes coach Jerry Schmutte, that "he doesn't need all that equipment when he goes water skiing." With Janssen anchoring the middle, Wesleyan should stay one giant step ahead of the opposition again this season.