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After Texas surprised Georgia Tech in the first round, Longhorn guard Lance Blanks said, "We're the Rodney Dangerfields of the tournament." A 19-point loss to Missouri proved that Texas needed a few Rodney Monroes. On Sunday, Monroe, North Carolina State's 6'3" guard, scored 40 points against Iowa and forced two overtimes with spectacular jumpers. The Wolfpack pulled away in the second OT to win 102-96 and set up an Eastern Regional meeting with Georgetown. After three listless tournament halves, the Hoyas' Charles Smith awoke to score 28 second-half points in an 81-74 defeat of Notre Dame.
A Gopher has an overbite unbecoming a Cinderella, but don't try telling that to Minnesota coach Clem Haskins. "I believe in putting five guys on the basketball court and playing hard," says Haskins. "I don't believe in fairy tales." That's too bad for the Gophers, who defeated Kansas State and the newly christened Siena Saints to stay alive in the East. Next tip is Duke. Fantasy will cease in the regionals.
If there's one theme common to recent success in the NCAAs, it's outstanding guard play. Nearly all the national champions going back to Magic Johnson's Michigan State team of 1978-79 have had it. Apply this theory and most of the tournament's mysteries clear up. Take Virginia. "You need two quality guards, preferably three," says Cavalier coach Terry Holland, whose troika of John Crotty, Richard Morgan and Bryant Stith scored 160 points in Virginia's two victories. "You win with your guards in the first two rounds. After that you need a good big man." Alas, Oklahoma, Virginia's next opponent, has 6'10" Stacey King, and the Cavaliers have no one his equal.
Virginia is also the type of team that points out the wrongheadedness of the NCAA committee's decision to freeze the number of automatic bids at 30. Though a middling ACC team (the Cavaliers were 18-9 overall and 9-5 in the conference), Virginia received one of 34 at-large invitations and a fifth seed in the Southeast. "A crock," is how Siena coach Mike Deane describes that decision. When North Carolina's Smith suggested last week that basketball undergo a Division I-A and I-AA mitosis, as football has, Deane added, "That's another effort by the elitists to claim everything for themselves. Those schools play their own schedules with their own referees and build up their records and get good seeds. I'll play anybody in the country home-and-home, but I bet I won't have many takers."
Indeed, how does a Deane lure a Deano and his team to Loudonville? With nonconference matchups beholden to TV's obsession with the cult of the coach, he doesn't, and that's why a wide-open tournament is so essential. Without one, Alabama never would have played South Alabama and Georgetown never would have played Princeton.
Even as it lords over the polluted landscape of collegiate sports, the NCAA clings to its bromides about student-athletes. Yet in 1991, when there will likely be more conferences (32) seeking automatic bids than there will be bids to go around (30), the committee will pass them out according to "basketball criteria" only. The SWC, say, could have its strongest members on probation, yet retain automatic bids. Meanwhile, the Ivy League, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, the Southern Conference, the American South Conference and the Southwestern Athletic Conference—leagues that provide the tournament with its motley essence while hewing more closely to their educational missions than do most major conferences—will have no guarantees.
"The way it has been is good for basketball," says Princeton coach Pete Carril. "It's good for the NCAA, and in a way it's good for the country. When you start closing down the family grocery store, what have you got?"
What you've got is more or less the current sweet 16, including Smith, Holland, Oklahoma's Billy Tubbs, Louisville's Denny Crum, Georgetown's John Thompson, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Illinois' Lou Henson, N.C. State's Jim Valvano, Arizona's Lute Olson, UNLV's Jerry Tarkanian and Indiana's Bob Knight. Almost every name coach from every name program remains. Factor in the records of two absentees—Frieder and Missouri's ailing Norm Stewart—as well as the records of two arrivistes, P.J. Carlesimo of Seton Hall and Haskins of Minnesota, and you have more than 6,000 victories among the 16.
One wonders how Tubbs would do with Robinson's East Tennessee players, or Robinson with Tubbs's. How Thompson would do with Carril's players, or Carril with Thompson's. The only hint we ever get comes once a year, over a couple of days in March.
This wonderful event isn't measured by its Final Four, its Great Eight, its Sweet 16 or even its Better Half. The NCAA tournament is only as broad and deep and righteous as its 64th team. So in the spirit of Tommy Joe Eagles's wisdom—"Hard by the yard; a cinch by the inch"—let's not forget those inch-high schools. The Lilliputians, after all, make this classic what it is.