The more the merrier seems to be the feeling of the NCAA Division I basketball committee. The postseason tournament field continues to grow like the national debt, from 48 teams in 1982, to 52 in '83, to 53 next March. And there's considerable talk of a 64-team field in 1985. This season the NCAA will hold an elimination round for the champions of 10 less prestigious conferences, with the five winners advancing to the round of 48. Four of them will be seeded 12th in the four regions, and the other will be seeded 11th in one of the regions.
"If I were making 60 grand a year as a coach at a big-time school, having to play in this early round would probably be an insult to my ego," says Robert Morris Coach Matt Furjanic. "But it's better than nothing." The Colonials are expected to make the eliminations by winning their third straight ECAC Metro championship. The nine other teams entering through the side door should be Boston University (ECAC North Atlantic), William & Mary (ECAC South), Iona (Metro Atlantic), Hofstra (East Coast), Yale (Ivy), North Carolina A&T (Mid-Eastern), Alcorn State (Southwestern Athletic), Houston Baptist (Trans America) and Loyola of Chicago (Midwestern City).
Kansas should be one of the 43 teams bypassing the elimination round. First-year Kansas Coach Larry Brown was taken aback when a preseason poll of Big Eight coaches and media chose the Jayhawks to win the title. "We go four and 10 in the conference two years in a row, and now we're picked to win it. That's hard to believe," says Brown. Not so hard when you consider the talent. Greg Dreiling (below), a 7'1" Wichita State transfer, joins workhorses Kelly Knight and Kerry Boagni on the front line. Brown hopes to compensate for the lack of a point guard by creating mismatches inside for swingmen Carl Henry and Calvin Thompson.
Syracuse and Villanova of the Big East should make the tournament despite heavy graduation losses. Orange freshman Dwayne (Pearl) Washington is such a talented play-maker and penetrator that senior Gene Waldron, a two-year starter at the point, has moved to shooting guard. Villanova Forward E-Z Ed Pinckney realizes that replacing John Pinone, Stewart Granger and Mike Mulquin won't be E-Z, of course. "I'll have to score more and rebound more this year," says Pinckney, who was third in points last season (12.5 per game) and tops in rebounding (9.7).
The Pack isn't back, the Pack never left. North Carolina State proved its win over Houston in the NCAA finals last April was no fluke by beating the Cougars again, 76-64 last week in Saturday's Tip-Off Classic. The Wolfpack may not miss its three NBA draft choices after all. Anthony (Spud) Webb, the 5'7"—they say—junior college transfer, is the important addition. Center Cozell McQueen is more physical than he was last season, and Forward Lorenzo Charles, who beat Houston in April with a dunk, now has an outside shot.
University of Alabama, Birmingham Coach Gene Bartow is all fired up about his Blazers, who were 19-14 and won their second straight Sun Belt tournament title last season. "We may go over 100 points a few times," he predicts. Bartow has several reasons to be excited: Three starters return and UAB hosts the conference tournament for the third straight year, as well as first-and second-round games of the NCAA Mideast Regional.
South Florida, also of the Sun Belt, surprised everyone last season by going 22-10 in what was to have been a rebuilding year. The 1983-84 Bulls should earn a bid to the NCAA tournament thanks mainly to the redoubtable Charlie Bradley, who was the nation's fourth-leading scorer with 26.7 points per game.
Question: Is it possible for a team to finish as high as third in the SEC with just three proven veterans and a passel of talented but unproven newcomers? Answer: Yes, if the team is Auburn. The Tigers' Charles Barkley, all 6'6", 272 pounds of him, became the first player since Bernard King in 1977 to lead the league in rebounding two years in a row. He averaged 9.5 rebounds per game, along with a team-high 14.4 points. Forward Chuck Person was a consensus choice for the All-SEC freshman team, and Frank Ford, Florida's Mr. Basketball, heads a Cadillac-quality freshman class.
"So much of what we did last year was based on chemistry," says Georgia Coach Hugh Durham, who hasn't had a losing record in his five seasons in Athens. To re-start that chemical reaction, Durham drilled the Dawgs twice a day, at 6:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., during the preseason. Look for the same sort of scratching, active bunch that last March stormed through the SEC and East Regional tournaments and into the Final Four. Though the lone holdover up front is Forward James Banks, the MVP of the East Regional, the backcourt, featuring 6'5" Vern Fleming, who went for 16.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season, is loaded.
Indiana's Four Freshmen are not a musical aggregation. Two of them—Guard Steve Alford and Forward Marty Simmons—won Mr. Basketball honors in Indiana and Illinois, respectively; the other two are Daryl Thomas from Illinois and Todd Meier from Wisconsin. The Hoosiers need all the help they can get because they have only one starter back from the 1982-83 team that went 24-6 and won its seventh Big Ten title in 12 years. Coach Bobby Knight hopes 7'2" Uwe Blab and the Four Freshmen will be in harmony come March.