Bill Frieder may not care about it. J.R. Reid may be content to straggle in late for it. And the blazer-clad Scrooges of the NCAA Tournament Committee, who have ordered a freeze on the number of automatic bids they will award college basketball's mom-and-pop conferences, evidently don't understand why it seizes the nation's imagination each March.
But you know who will happily take the NCAA tournament just the way it is? Little Siena (1,300 men), of Loudonville in eastern New York State, will. Siena, the school that spent much of the season in search of both a nickname and a measles vaccine, knocked off Stanford 80-78. South Alabama will take these NCAAs, too. At halftime of the Jaguars' first-round, 86-84 upset of Alabama, coach Ronnie Arrow punctuated a profane locker-room peroration by punching a hole in a blackboard. "Can you believe." he would say jokingly later, "they'd give us a faulty blackboard?"
Louisiana Tech has no complaints, either. The Bulldogs won one and lost one, and heard their coach, Tommy Joe Eagles, tell them, "Men, life is hard by the yard, but a cinch by the inch."
Where else but in the first round of the NCAAs could you take all this in? And where else could you see a Middle Tennessee State freshman, Mike Buck, sink seven straight shots in a 97-83 defeat of Top 20 Florida State, and in one stretch outscore the entire Seminole team 13-0 all by his scrawny self? Buck is from Clarkrange, Tenn. (pop. 250), which is about 15 miles from Crossville, which is a light-year from the SEC, which, by the way, went 0-5 last week.
Never mind that Siena, Louisiana Tech, South Alabama and Middle Tennessee State all lost in the second round. Last week reminded us why the NCAA subregionals beguile so. Even the losers made the week special: Princeton (page 24) fell just short against Georgetown; East Tennessee State nearly eliminated Oklahoma; George Mason was so swept away by Indiana that the Patriots' mascot showed up for the second half toting a life raft; and Southern sank nine of its first 13 shots against North Carolina, only to miss 20 of 23 later.
By Sunday night the teasing had ceased, and the draw had reverted to chalk: 13 of the top 16 seeds had advanced, including the first two seeds in each of the four regions, and the No. 3 seed in three of them. Sixteenth seeds simply do not beat No. 1's; it has never happened since the NCAA went to the 64-team format in '85. Nor has a No. 15 ever beaten a No. 2. Siena's defeat of Stanford marked only the fifth time that a No. 14 has eliminated a No. 3. But this tournament's first round will be remembered for East Tennessee and Princeton each coming within a buzzer shot of interring a top seed. "I'd like the opportunity to play Oklahoma again," said East Tennessee coach Les Robinson, exhibiting a fair amount of gumption.
On the opposite side of the Southeast bracket from the Sooners, coaching gumption had reached a new low. On March 15, Frieder, the coach of third-seeded Michigan, announced that he would be relocating to Arizona State. That struck Wolverine football coach and athletic director Bo Schembechler as reflecting poorly on Frieder's loyalty, not to mention his timing, so Bo decreed that Michigan would have to get along without him in the tournament. But the Wolverines rallied around de facto coaches Rumeal Robinson and Glen Rice, who combined for 94 points in victories over Xavier and Arrow's Jaguars.
For the second year in a row Michigan will have a regional semifinal date with North Carolina, which beat UCLA without Reid, who was suspended for barely missing a 1 a.m. curfew two nights before the game. Don't look at me, said Tar Heels coach Dean Smith; the players make the rules, I only enforce them. The incident breathed new life into rumors that Reid's teammates dislike him and that Smith doesn't much blame them. The whispers also said that the 58-year-old Smith may retire at the end of the Carolina season. That should come in the regional final, through which Oklahoma ought to waltz.
Arizona should emerge from the West thanks to Sean Elliott, who is accounting, via assist or bucket, for nearly 40% of the Wildcats' points. Were it not for the survival of the other top seeds in the region, Nevada—Las Vegas, Indiana and Seton Hall, Arizona would be a cinch to return to the Final Four.
The top four seeds are also alive in the Midwest, where Louisville's Pervis Ellison exploded for 21 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and three Unseldian outlet passes for second-half breakaway baskets in a second-round win over Arkansas. Syracuse and Missouri joined the Cardinals in the semis and will meet on Friday night. But Illinois, with guard Kendall Gill hale again, had the bracket buzzing. "It's hard to imagine that kind of athleticism until you face it," said Ball State coach Rick Majerus, after Gill & Co. rolled over his team. "I was awestruck."