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THE RICH GET RICHER
Nobody has actually ever seen the 10 wise men of the NCAA tournament selection committee at work, so we have to take it on faith that they actually spend hours poring over computer printouts—polls, power rankings, statistics, etc.—instead of just drawing names from a hat or, when all else fails, arm wrestling to decide the last four or five teams that make the field. But last weekend there must have been a gremlin (or a leprechaun) in their computers. What other explanation is there for why Notre Dame is in the tournament—as a 10th seed, no less—and DePaul isn't?
This was easily the committee's most puzzling decision. It wasn't really surprising that it would bypass low-profile teams with good records—Southern Illinois, Centenary, Penn State and Hawaii, for example—in favor of traditional powers with so-so records. After all, teams like Indiana and North Carolina are good box office, even in down years, and the committee surely isn't above thinking about revenue and TV ratings. However, the Notre Dame-DePaul situation had everybody stumped. You figure it out. The Blue Demons had an 18-14 record to the Irish's 16-12. The teams played twice, and DePaul won both times, the most recent being a 64-59 victory last Saturday. The Blue Demons beat tournament-bound Louisville and Ohio State, and also defeated ineligible N.C. State, while Notre Dame's only claims to fame were a last-second win at Syracuse and a romp over a Missouri team that just lay down and quit.
Even Irish coach Digger Phelps, silver-tongued devil that he is, would have a difficult time explaining to De-Paul coach Joey Meyer why his team is in and Meyer's isn't. It would have made more sense to take neither of the independents or, if you had to pick one, take the Blue Demons. The selection committee's chairman is Jim Delany, the commissioner of the Big Ten, and his only explanation was that the committee just felt that Notre Dame was more deserving. We're sticking with the leprechaun-in-the-computers theory until somebody comes up with something that makes more sense.
THE MUSH GOES ON
When Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim greeted Connecticut's Jim Calhoun before the championship game of the Big East tournament, he said, "Gee, I didn't realize how smart you got over the summer." That was Boeheim's way of complimenting Calhoun, who took a team that finished seventh in the league last season and turned it into one good enough to win the tournament by beating Georgetown 65-60 in the semifinals last Saturday and Syracuse 78-75 in Sunday's title game.
Calhoun explains the Huskies' success by saying, "Our talent blends well together—that's the key to any good basketball team." Last season the blend wasn't there, mostly because Calhoun built Connecticut's offense around one player, 6'10" Cliff Robinson. The Huskies had to settle for an NIT bid. Robinson's departure coincided happily with the arrival of Nadav Henefeld, a 21-year-old former Israeli soldier and member of that country's national team, and Calhoun decided to use a more team-oriented concept that emphasizes constant pressure on defense. The 6'7" Henefeld thrived in the system, setting an NCAA record for freshmen, with 130 steals, and Connecticut became a national championship contender. "Henefeld's the key," Boeheim says, "even if he doesn't score. He creates turnovers and matchup problems."
Some observers of the Big East feel that Henefeld, and not Syracuse senior Derrick Coleman, deserved to be the conference's Player of the Year. Of course, other observers feel just as strongly that Henefeld shouldn't have been eligible for the Newcomer of the Year award he won, given his age and experience. Henefeld and his teammates couldn't care less, because awards are not as important as winning. When sophomore guard Chris Smith was given the tournament MVP award, he looked as if he didn't know what to do with it, although he did finally allow that "I could get used to this."
After dropping behind Syracuse 10-0 in the final, the Huskies clawed their way back into the game with their defense. "When you first get the ball against them, you see so many openings on the court that you get excited," said Syracuse guard Stevie Thompson after the Orange's loss. "They force you into making passes that you really don't want to make." That explains why Syracuse had 20 turnovers.
Guard Tate George led UConn with 22 points, while Smith added 20 and reserve John Gwynn 16 in only 12 minutes. "They're a team that can go far in the NCAA tournament," said Georgetown coach John Thompson, and he's right. As top seed in the East, the Huskies play first in Hartford, where they played eight home games this season. If UConn wins twice there, it will move on to another friendly Big East court, the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J.