"Isiah is our most obvious asset," says Knight. "But to capitalize fully on his skills, we have to use him in a different way than we did last season. When we were recruiting Isiah, we told him he wouldn't have the freedom here that he'd have somewhere else. Now that's not true. Within our framework, he'll have more freedom than he would elsewhere. But it's not a freedom to throw the ball away or take bad shots."
With Mike Woodson gone to the NBA, Thomas will be asked to do more shooting and scoring this season. To help him get more shots and points and take greater advantage of his quickness, ball handling and passing, Indiana will try to fast-break more often. And to ensure a maximum number of fast-break opportunities, Knight wants the Hoosiers to trap on defense in an attempt to create turnovers.
He also would like to use Tolbert more at forward, leaving Landon Turner to play center. Although Tolbert has mostly played in the pivot during his three previous seasons at IU, he is better suited to forward. He goes to the hoop better than any of the Hoosier big men, he can put the ball on the floor and he can work the baseline. However, Knight will have to use Tolbert at center again if he can't find a way to hide Turner in Indiana's offense. Turner can be a scoring machine if he gets the ball in certain spots near the basket, but he doesn't have the basketball instinct necessary to handle all the difficult picks and cuts in IU's attack.
Knight considers Wittman, a sophomore who was redshirted in 1979-80 after an early ankle injury, to be his most intelligent player. This season Wittman will swing between big guard and small forward. If Turner doesn't play as well as Knight hopes, Indiana can either keep Wittman at guard and use Glen Grunwald and Ted Kitchel at forwards, or move Wittman to forward and play either Jim Thomas or Tony Brown at guard with Thomas.
With that kind of versatility Knight should have a more successful campaign than his friend Bayh did.
6 Oregon State
Ralph Miller, the chain-smoking patriarch of basketball at Oregon State, isn't the kind of guy who goes around beating the drum for himself. But even Miller says his Beavers are loaded. "I have to admit certain facts," the 61-year-old coach says. "I've got more talent at all positions than I've ever had. We'll be a better passing team. We'll have more firepower." Indeed, Oregon State has four starters back from a 26-4 team that broke UCLA's 13-year grip on the Pac-10 title, has landed two of the country's most coveted recruits and will have Center Steve Johnson starting a season completely healthy for the first time in his college career.
"There's no way anybody could pick a team other than the Beavers to win the Pac-10. They're just like the old UCLA powerhouses," says Washington State Coach George Raveling.
Forward Dwayne Allen and backup Center Tony Martin are the only significant losses from the club that was upset by Lamar in the second round of the NCAA West Regional. Their absence costs the Beavers two valuable defensive players, but their replacements, Swingman Les Conner and freshman Forward Charlie Sitton, are so good that Allen and Martin will hardly be missed. Conner, the California junior-college co-Player of the Year last season, is a marvelous passer and ball handler. He'll nominally be listed as a forward but, in effect, will team with returning seniors Ray Blume and Mark Radford to form the three-guard attack Miller prefers. "Conner has no offensive weaknesses," says Miller.
The lanky Sitton, potentially the best player the state of Oregon has produced, appears frail at 190 pounds, but a lifetime of working on his family's 1,500-acre farm outside of McMinnville has made him deceptively strong. Although he was a center throughout high school, Sitton's outside shooting and passing ability make him the perfect high-post complement for Johnson in Miller's high-post, low-post offense. In junior Rob Holbrook, a starter last season, senior Jeff Stoutt, a streak shooter who is the Pac-10's premier sixth man, and senior Billy McShane, who started at center in place of the injured Johnson three years ago, the Beavers possess unusual talent and depth in the frontcourt.