A good-shooting (51.4% last season) team, Notre Dame will be gunning for its sixth straight 20-win season and eighth straight NCAA bid. Could the Irish fall short? As Phelps says, "Are you kidding?"
Last season fans in Columbia, Mo. dubbed their Tigers "The Silent Nine" after a string of injuries and ineligibilities cut the squad down to a precious few. After Mizzou beat Notre Dame 87-84 in an overtime thriller in the NCAA Midwest Regional it didn't even have enough players to suit up two practice teams.
Even after Missouri's bubble burst in a 68-63 loss to LSU in the next round, Tiger hearts were aflutter in anticipation of 1980-81, when All-Big Eight Forward Curtis Berry would return to action following knee surgery, freshman sensation Steve Stipanovich would be a year stronger, flashy Forward Ricky Frazier would shake and bake, and Mark Dressier would again come off the bench to score 32 the way he did against the Fighting Irish.
Unfortunately, things haven't worked out exactly that way. Dressier tore up a knee in a pickup game the day before school began, and freshman Richie Johnson dropped out of school and returned home to New Albany, Ind. the day before practice began. But, indeed, Stipanovich is stronger, Frazier is shakin' and bakin', and best of all. Berry's rehabilitated left knee is stronger than his uninjured right one. Add in steady guards Jon Sundvold and Mark Foster and junior college transfer Marvin (Moon—as in jump as high as the) McCrary, and it's little wonder that Berry's assessment of the Tigers' chances for success in the Big Eight and NCAA championship races is so positive and direct: "I'd bet on us."
Not a bad idea. Perhaps, as Coach Norm Stewart says, "It's better to lose someone early, so you don't know what you would have missed." Stewart explains that the Missouri program has been built around "self-motivated, driven people, because if a player won't do it for himself, I can't do it for him." In keeping with that attitude, Mizzou runs a rather laissez-faire offense, preferring to take advantage of favorable situations as they develop instead of running set plays. "People watch us and don't think we have an offense, and I'm not sure they're too far off," Stewart says. "We just throw the ball around and get a shot when we can." Last season the Tigers could—and did—making an NCAA record 58% from the field.
Of course, it helps to have personnel like the 6'11", 250-pound Stipo, who made NBC's All-Freshman Team in 1979-80, averaging 14.4 points a game. All he wants to do this season, he says, is "dominate the game at both ends of the floor." Stipanovich may do just that, provided he keeps above water, so to speak. A heavy perspirer, he loses as many as 15 pounds in a single practice, often finds it necessary to change his uniform and sneakers during games and has become dehydrated on occasion. By bringing Stipanovich into camp overweight, the Tigers hope to prevent the dehydration from occurring again, which means the people doing the most sweating will be Missouri opponents.
It's minutes before practice and Hawkeye fans are starting to roll into Iowa Field House. Look, fellows, there's Kevin Boyle jumping rope. Check out the muscles on Vince Brookins when he stretches out. And there's silver-haired Lute Olson, last season's Coach of the Year.
People come from all over the state to watch the Hawks practice because Iowans know a good thing when they see one. The Hawkeyes may not be as flashy or as talented as some other teams, but they've done well, having earned a share of the Big Ten title two years ago and a trip to the Final Four last season. Their two-year record is 43-18.