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If Ladson can't handle both the ball and the pressure, Metcalf will switch to freshman Reggie Roberts, a real greyhound who does 360-degree dunks in practice. Whoever runs the team will have to keep his—and everyone else's—cool during a strange early-season scheduling period in which A&M plays nine consecutive games away from its notorious G. Rollie White Coliseum. Three of those games are in the league. Nevertheless, the Aggies are prohibitive favorites to repeat as conference champions. Which is to say that, once again, the rest of the league will be up against The Wall.
16 Nevada-Las Vegas
As his city's only recognizable sporting celebrity, Nevada-Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian has an obligation to his fans. So at the Las Vegas-Paradise Rotary Club luncheon the other day Tark took the dais after the residue of the breaded seafood had been cleared away to fill the old boys in on the progress of their Runnin' Rebels. "I like our team this year," he said. "We got a lot of skinny guys, but I don't mind, because I like quickness."
Five of those players—forwards Sidney Green and Richard Box, guards Larry Anderson and Michael Burns and a not-so-skinny (6'8", 245 pounds) center, Michael Johnson—were the nucleus of the UNLV team that went 23-9 in 1979-80, extended the Rebels' string of consecutive 20-victory seasons under Tarkanian to seven, finished fourth in its first-ever appearance in the NIT and led the nation in cardiac arrests. Playing with a top eight that included two freshmen, Green and Anderson, and four sophomores, Burns, Box, Johnson and Michael Loyd, UNLV won eight games by a mere 19 points and lost seven games by a total of 21. Four of the losses came at the buzzer. The problem last season was that the young Rebels hadn't mastered Tarkanian's full-court pressure defense, the key to Vegas' withering fast break. "We were so young we could rarely sustain the defensive pressure the way we wanted to," says Tarkanian.
Consequently, UNLV did very little running last season, but now the running game is working just fine. "We have only one senior on our club, but I think we can be as good as anybody in the country," says Tarkanian.
The same could also be said for the redoubtable Green, the 6'9" marvel who was second in the nation among freshmen in both scoring (15.6) and rebounding (11.1). "He's a great rebounder, shot blocker and outlet passer," says Burns. "He can get the rock to you." Joining El Cid, as Green is known in Las Vegas, to form a versatile, aggressive front line are Box, probably the team's most consistent performer, and Johnson, a part-time starter last year whose flashes of brilliance were balanced out by alarming periods of inattention on the court. If Johnson is listening, he should know that 6'8" junior Eddie Roberson, who twice led California's junior colleges in rebounding while averaging an uncanny seven assists per game as a center at Riverside City College, is ready to step in.
The best shooters are in the backcourt, where the 6'7" operatives are Burns, a marvelous penetrator, and Anderson, a good defensive player. "Anderson is the best outside shooter I've ever had," says Tarkanian, who has coached a number of outstanding gunners in his long career. The guards will be backed up by Greg Goorjian, a transfer from Arizona State who scored 43.4 points a game as a high school senior. "We're not real deep," says Tarkanian, "but I think we have some real quality here." Enough, for sure, to send the Rebels off and runnin' toward another NCAA berth.
Before the start of last season, the unassuming and presumably non-contending Bradley Braves got all decked out in tuxedos and other finery for the cover photo of their media guide. Then the Braves went out and looked even better in their red-and-white uniforms, going 23-10 while climbing from last place in the Missouri Valley Conference to the regular and postseason championships.
For this season's brochure most of those same young men donned Army green and posed with bazookas, rocket launchers and a World War II tank in a scene aptly entitled Defending the Title. Which they should do.