Most of those we polled agree that the U.S. might not need NBA players to win the gold in 1992, partly because of the breakup of the Soviet Union's team and the almost certain weakening of the Yugoslav squad. Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs says the team he picked could "win hands down." Adds Kentucky's Rick Pitino, "We'd be prohibitive favorites."
The NBA team will be even more prohibitive favorites. The hope here is that they will win so handily the U.S. will restore the collegians, and competition, to the Olympics.
A Grinch in Defeat
There's just no figuring out Michigan State. Two years ago the Spartans surprised everyone by winning the Big Ten title, then finished a disappointing third last season when they were expected to repeat. After losing star guard Steve Smith to the NBA, expectations in East Lansing were lowered again for 1991-92. So naturally Michigan State is on a roll this year.
There are indications that the fates may be smiling on the 12th-ranked Spartans, who improved to 8-0 by wiping out an 18-point second-half deficit to beat Cincinnati 90-89 last Saturday. It was the second straight year that the Bearcats blew an 18-point lead against Michigan State, which scored the winning points with six seconds remaining on a three-point shot by guard Kris Weshinskey, who had missed the Spartans' previous two games with a mild case of mononucleosis.
Although Weshinskey was Saturday's hero, 6'10", 270-pound center Mike Peplowski and 6'3" guard Shawn Respert, Michigan State's leading scorer, have been more responsible for the Spartans' last start. Peplowski, a junior, had 20 points and 12 rebounds against Cincinnati and is having his finest season so far now that he has discarded his bulky knee brace against doctors' orders. Count Peplowski among those who aren't surprised by the Spartans' fast adjustment to the absence of Smith. "We're a better team this year," he says. "Emphasis on team."
Purdue coach Gene Keady put it more bluntly. "I predicted Michigan State would be a better team without Steve Smith," Keady told The Indianapolis Star recently. "He was biding his time [last season]. He was thinking about the millions he could make. He was thinking about driving a Rolls—and I don't blame him—instead of winning for Michigan State. They're more focused on team play this year."
The game against the Spartans was a major test for Cincinnati as well. The Bearcats lost three key starters from last season's team, and none of the current starters began his college career at Cincinnati. But after winning their first seven games for their fastest start since 1976-77, they could have made a major statement with a win over Michigan State.
That they blew a golden opportunity to do so made the loss all the more galling for coach Bob Huggins. "You couldn't print what I said after the game," said Huggins, who added that he hoped his players "have a miserable Christmas. I hope this bothers them half as much as it does me. We have to learn to play for a full 40 minutes, not just 35."
The Bulls' Run