Here We Go Again
The unexpected has come to be expected in college basketball, but if some of the games already played are any indication, this season may be more unpredictable than most. Two teams in the preseason Top 10 have already lost, and another found out it was far from invincible.
Indiana, which was ranked No. 2 by the Associated Press, has the least to be embarrassed about, because the Hoosiers fell to another ranked team, No. 11 UCLA—albeit by a convincing 89-72 score—in the Hall of Fame Classic on Nov. 15. But last Friday fourth-ranked Kentucky was blown out on its home court by unranked Pittsburgh 85-67 in the second round of the preseason NIT, and No. 6 LSU needed a desperate comeback to squeeze by Northeast Louisiana 77-76.
Kentucky's loss denied coach Rick Pitino the chance to make a triumphant return to Madison Square Garden, where he had coached the New York Knicks for two years before taking over in Lexington and where the semis and finals of the NIT will be played this week. The Wildcats, as well as their fans, may have been caught taking that trip for granted. When Pitino spoke to a chapter of the Kentucky alumni association in September, the door prize was a trip to New York to watch the Wildcats in the NIT.
Pitino had looked forward to introducing some of his players with small-town backgrounds to the big city. "I'm telling the bus driver to drive right to Times Square," he said during the preseason. "I can't wait to see their eyes when they get out and walk around and meet some of the people there."
Rubbing elbows with New Yorkers was the last thing on the Wildcats' minds after the Panthers shocked them. Kentucky died by the three-pointer, making only seven of 36, and shot 27% overall. Afterward, a chagrined Pitino said, "We can stop talking about the Final Four, and we can stop talking about being in the top five in the country, because we're not."
LSU didn't look much better in Baton Rouge for most of its game against Northeast Louisiana, which had lost four starters from last season's NCAA tournament team. The Indians proved to be more than just a " Shaq snack" (SI, Nov. 25), holding Shaquille O'Neal, the Tigers' dominant center, to 15 points. Some LSU fans were headed toward the exits in disgust before the Tigers scored the last nine points of the game to pull out the victory. Tiger freshmen Clarence Ceasar and Paul Marshall each converted a three-pointer in the final two minutes, and Ceasar secured the win by sinking a free throw with five seconds left.
"Shaquille can't be expected to carry this team on his back," said LSU coach Dale Brown. A good gauge of the Tigers' season will be how many times Brown has to remind his team of that fact.
Women's teams looking for an easy exhibition win shouldn't schedule the New Jersey Alliance, a barnstorming collection of former college players who travel through the Northeast administering friendly whippings to just about every team they play. At week's end the Alliance was 10-2 and had beaten Providence, St. Joseph's and Boston College. Several of the victories have been blowouts, thanks largely to forward Carol (Blaze) Blazejowski, the former Montclair State star (1975-78) who still holds the women's collegiate career scoring-average record (31.7 points).