Hi, folks, this is Don Pardo. Get a pencil and paper ready, because I'm about to tell you how you, too, can be a contestant on that fabulous new game show that, along with J.R. Reid, is sweeping college basketball: Saturday (and) Night Parity] All you need are the following:
•A three-piece suit (or a red V-neck sweater), a towel to chew on, a lucrative summer camp and a portable VCR with a few thousand scouting tapes.
•A couple of freshmen—one who can spell the word p-r-o-p-o-s-i-t-i-o-n, another who can count to at least 48.
•Some transfers from San Jalapeño Junior College who might go by the nicknames of Silk, Main Man and Sweet Vonette, the Dunkin' Cassette.
•A paintbrush to keep that three-point line bright, and a slow, smart, suburban-tough graduate of Our Lady of Perpetual Release and Swish to shoot a whole lot of treys. (He's far more important than your All-Hemisphere slammer-jammer who chose to leave school early anyway, flunked L.A. Clipper rookie camp and is now riding the pine for Asti Spumoni in the Italian league.)
•And finally, a schedule seasoned with refugees from a local kennel so you get your easy 25 wins. Or, alternatively, a dozen "intersectional TV clashes" against "perennial powers" so Dick Vitale can scream, "Awwwwgh, I'm tellin' ya, this team is a Rip Van WINKLE!!!" as you finish with a misleading 16-13 record and draw attention from...the Boys from Mission, Kans., who will invite you to March Madness, The Big Dance, The Party on Bourbon Street, Hoop Heaven. In other words, include you among the 64—or is it 640?—teams lucky enough to travel The Road to New Orleans and play for The Huge Enchilada, The Whole Ball of Wax, and maybe even the national championship.
Something is happening here—and actually has been for the past several seasons—to effect an equality among college basketball teams not seen since before John Wooden invented UCLA. The reasons are logical enough: freshman eligibility, the proliferation of TV games, Proposition 48—otherwise known as NCAA Bylaw 5-1-(j)—which has caused an increased reliance on juco transfers, TV, key players skipping out early for the pros, TV, the three-point basket, TV, the 64-team NCAA tournament and TV. Was anybody stunned because Drexel beat Navy and San Jose State followed up a 17-point win over New Mexico State with a 29-point loss to the same team?
Parity is the reason that best explains why last year's national champion, Louisville, has had to struggle to avoid a sub-.500 record and Kentucky is an also-ran in the SEC (see story, page 44); why the fifth-place team in the supposedly weak Metro Conference, Florida State, beat two of Kentucky's betters, Alabama and Florida; why a mediocre team in one of the worst leagues (Arkansas of the SWC) beat two of the better teams from two of the best leagues (Ohio State of the Big Ten and Kansas of the Big Eight); why Western Kentucky lost by a point in double overtime to Nevada-Las Vegas and then defeated Chaminade (Alo-HA!) by the same margin; why Michigan State went from being a dark-horse pick for the Final Four last season to being a dead nag—seventh in the Big Ten—this season; why UCLA beat North Carolina and then lost twice to Washington, which had lost to Alaska-Anchorage; why Centre College of Danville, Ky. beat Austin Peay State, Austin Peay almost beat Kentucky and Kentucky almost got chased out of Lexington after that humiliating 35-point loss to LSU; why schools like New Orleans and Southwest Missouri State have become latter-day Houstons and Marquettes; why Army and Navy have turned into scoring-machine foundries; and why a guy named Perdue did something a team like Purdue couldn't do—upset Indiana and Notre Dame. (Isn't it a shame that Vanderbilt, with star center Wil Perdue amassing 28 points and 17 rebounds in those games, doesn't play Purdue so that, as Commodore coach CM. Newton says, "We could be Indiana state champions"?)
Have you checked the computer rankings that Jeff Sagarin, the numbers whiz, divines for USA Today? See where he has Pittsburgh rated 11th and Brigham Young 52nd? BYU beat Pitt 93-73. When North Carolina played Notre Dame, Sagarin had the Tar Heels No. 1 and the Irish No. 51. Think the Heels' Kenny Smith, who sat out his team's 60-58 loss with a knee injury, is worth a full 50 spots on the hit parade?
"There's no Top 20 anymore, only a Top 100," says North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano. "I scheduled a road game at Tampa, a Division II school. You think I'm dumb? I stayed home with the flu." Tampa won 67-62. "That wasn't an upset. I got a few games left I may stay home from, too," says V, whose team at one point in the season led Iowa by 14 points (before losing 90-89) and at another dropped six games in a row.