The latest news out of Bloomington, Ind. is that there is only good news in Bloomington, Ind. No Indiana player has been kicked off the team for smoking marijuana, and none has asked to transfer. And Coach Bobby Knight is still miles away from the long arm of Puerto Rican justice. So for now, at least, the Hoosiers are all present and accounted for, and assuming they remain that way, they should win the NCAA championship in March.
This is not an overpowering Indiana team like the one that blitzed through an unbeaten season to the national title in 1976. But it is considerably better than the one that won the NIT last March. Forward Mike Woodson is the best of five returning starters, and Guard Isiah Thomas leads a corps of five outstanding freshmen. Knight's pronouncements on the two players bear repeating. Woodson, he has said, is "the best player in the history of college basketball not to make even honorable mention All-America"; and Thomas, he has declared, is "the best player I've ever recruited."
Indiana has the ideal complement for these quick, active scorers in sturdy Center Ray Tolbert. Last year Tolbert was second to Woodson in scoring and the first among the Hoosiers in rebounding and he shared MVP honors in the NIT with teammate Butch Carter. Then in July Tolbert joined Woodson and Thomas on the U.S. team that Knight coached to the Pan American Games gold medal in Puerto Rico.
Knight did one of his finest coaching jobs last season, despite a roster depleted by the transfer of numerous players in recent years and his decision in December to kick out three Hoosiers, including a starter, for allegedly smoking marijuana. After 17 games Indiana had a four-game losing streak, a 9-8 record and dismal prospects. But it rallied dramatically, earning an NIT bid and winning the tournament championship with victories over conference rivals Ohio State and Purdue in the final two games. "I've never been happier for a group of kids," Knight said afterward.
Now he's happy that they are all back. The leading scorer will again be Woodson, who has never missed a game and has a 19.9-point career average. Tolbert and Landon Turner are the other frontcourt starters, and there is excellent depth in junior Steve Risley, freshman Steve Bouchie and two players coming off injuries, Ted Kitchel and Glen Grunwald.
Thomas is trying to crack a backcourt that already features Carter and Randy Wittman. Thomas should eventually replace Wittman, although Knight has cautioned, "Isiah's got a certain degree of carelessness that I don't like." As everyone knows, Knight detests carelessness almost as much as he does Puerto Rican policemen and American sportswriters.
Last year's experience will no doubt help the Hoosiers as they fight their way through a tough non-conference schedule that includes Kentucky, Toledo and North Carolina and then the treacherous Big Ten round robin. But after the finals are played in nearby Indianapolis, this team, like the 1976 Indiana squad, probably will have proved that being the best team in the Big Ten will also mean you are the best in the country. And in Bloomington, Ind. that is always the most welcome news of all.
2 OHIO STATE
Despite all the preseason talk in Columbus of a national championship, Buckeye Guard Kelvin Ransey insists that the present excitement pales compared to that of the moment two years ago when 6'10" Herb Williams decided to go to Ohio State. "Right then and there I knew the losing would stop and the winning would start," Ransey says.