For all those college basketball teams that will be left uninvited to this year's NCAA playoffs, the number to call is 966-3377. In East Lansing, Mich. and Terre Haute, Ind., call collect. That's 966-3377 or, on your telephone dial, W-O-O-F-E-R-S. Because considering the new and ridiculously overexpanded tournament field, real hounds are obviously what these pariahs will be.
By expanding from a 40- to a 48-team field, the NCAA appears to have cheapened the regular season, rendered meaningless all those conference postseason playoffs and made its spectacular March-long carnival as easy to qualify for as, well, the NBA playoffs.
Among the teams that will probably receive invitations next week are Furman, which at one time this season lost three straight games by a total of 48 points and then had a fourth canceled; UCLA, now known as Kiki and the Kollapsible Kids; and Duke, the Mike Gminski-led Gflop of the Gcentury.
Whether these semiachievers deserve the bids is another question. The Palladins of Furman—remember TV's Have Gun, Will Travel?—did dominate the Southern Conference and salted the league championship away along about Ground Hog Day. Have fun, won't travel. But the callow Bruins, despite a nice rally last month, during which Coach Larry Brown went back to basics and slept in the ticket lines, will probably finish fourth in the Pac-10. And the Blue Devils, whose coach, Bill Foster, can't seem to evacuate the scene quickly enough, may wind up sixth-best in the ACC following that league's annual postseason shenanigans.
In another sense, however, the NCAA may have been more prescient than its reputation would lead anybody to believe it could be. Given this winter's multitude of upsets, injuries, star newcomers, home-and-road reverse margins, topsy-turvyness and sheer, unadulterated balance, who's to say we don't need a year-end tournament of such enormous numbers to separate the wheat from the chaff?
In this up-and-down, surprises-all-around season, statisticians should try some of these beauties on for size:
•In one week in January, nine of the Top 20 teams in the wire-service polls were defeated.
•Two teams that at different early dates held the No. 1 ranking—Indiana and Duke—dropped all the way out of the Top 20.
•At the end of last week the brutal Big Ten had had 11 overtime games and a total of 36 games decided by five points or fewer. Indiana, back from a slump during which Coach Bobby Knight was reprimanding his home crowd and the Hoosier fans were booing him back, leads the league in average scoring margin (for conference games) with a whopping 3.5-point differential. High and mighty Ohio State has battered Big Ten opponents by an average of 2.6 points a game.
•The elite of the East—Syracuse, St. John's and Georgetown—staged a marvelous round robin, each bouncing one of the others off the loser's home court in the final seconds. Combined margin of victory: five points. The Redmen nailed the Hoyas at Washington in overtime, 71-69. Following that, Georgetown beat Syracuse to end the Orangemen's 57-game home winning streak, 52-50. And following that, the boys from Syracuse went to the Big Apple and defeated St. John's 72-71. Paper covers rock, rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper.