The class of '92 may or may not be the greatest crop of freshmen ever (page 6), but it certainly has yielded the best haul yet for the BIG EAST, which shapes up as this season's strongest conference. Freshman talents like Alonzo Mourning, Billy Owens and Malik Sealy are tenderfoots next to Seton Hall's best newcomer, 23-year-old Andrew Gaze, a 6'6" three-point shooter from Australia who outscored everyone in the Olympics except Brazil's Oscar Schmidt. Gaze will make the Pirates' loss of three starters easier to take. Boston College, which specializes in vest-pocket-sized lead guards, has another one to team with senior shooting guard Dana Barros. He's freshman Bryan Edwards, a 6'1", 35-points-per-game scorer from the Hub.
Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote whupped BIG TEN and cross-state rival Bill Frieder of Michigan on the recruiting trail, signing six in-state freshmen. "They got two that we really wanted," says Frieder, who can't promise recruits a chance to start the way Heathcote can. Center Mike Peplowski, who has been hampered by a knee injury, and forward Matt Steigenga will anchor the Spartans' front line of the future. Steigenga, an honor student from South Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Mich., will play right away. Purdue, says Ohio State coach Gary Williams, has "exactly the kind of team that surprises people," though Boilermaker coach Gene Keady doesn't see how he's going to do it without last season's mainstays, Troy Lewis, Todd Mitchell and Everette Stephens.
In the ATLANTIC COAST, Clemson has put together a fine front line in Dale Davis, Jerry Pryor and center Elden Campbell. The performance of three junior college transfers, notably guard Marion Cash, will determine the fate of the Tigers' backcourt. Until now, three were as many juco imports as the entire ACC brought in for a season, but this once supercilious conference has loosened up. Wake Forest, which has only one senior, guard Cal Boyd, and a junior star in forward Sam Ivy, is a year away. Maryland seemed to have turned things around in the wake of the Len Bias tragedy, but the Terps have pulled yet another 180, with six players lost through transfers, academic problems and a variety of personal circumstances.
Five of the METRO'S seven members have taken roost in the Top 40, and the conference has acknowledged the parity in its ranks by deciding to rotate its postseason tournament among sites other than Louisville and Memphis. As for the bottom two, Southern Mississippi loses four seniors from its swarming teams of recent seasons, and at Cincinnati, the word is out: If coach Tony Yates doesn't win 18, he's history.
The SOUTHEASTERN, which has seemed impossible to overrate during much of this decade, is suddenly down. Just don't tell Georgia coach Hugh Durham. "Some days Linda Evans looks better than others, but she always looks good," he says. "That's kind of like our conference." Nonetheless, the decline has generated hope in the Southeastern's more downtrodden precincts. Vanderbilt's 7-foot Will Perdue scored 26% of the Commodores' two-point baskets in 1987-88 and his presence inside made their three-point-oriented offense effective. His departure to the Chicago Bulls will hurt. Auburn faces a mediocre season, which prompts a question: Is the departure in 1986 to Georgia of assistant coach and super-recruiter Tevester Anderson beginning to catch up with Sonny Smith's team? With no more Yugoslavs, Dominicans or Argentines on his roster and with Stanley Roberts a Bylaw 5-1-(j) casualty, LSU coach Dale Brown treated himself to a Dutchman, 6'11" Geert Hammink. The Tigers' hopes, however, will rest with senior forward Ricky Blanton and freshman point guard Chris Jackson.
Iowa State coach Johnny Orr doesn't need a calculator. "The only difference between the BIG EIGHT and the Big Ten is two teams," says Orr, who used to coach Michigan. "And, boy, do I miss Northwestern and Wisconsin." The chesty Big Eight turned last spring's NCAA tournament into an intraconference scrimmage by landing five bids, placing three teams in the NCAA's final eight and two in the championship game, all of which produced a tidy $3.6 million for the conference. Defending national champion Kansas will fall a few notches, with Danny Manning drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers and Larry Brown signed as coach of the San Antonio Spurs. Brown's replacement, Roy Williams, formerly an assistant at North Carolina, is a coat-and-tie man who unbuttoned his collar enough to let his team sing Don't Worry, Be Happy at its opening practice. Call it wishful singing: Since Brown's departure in June, three players have transferred, two more have been lost to grades, and allegations of NCAA rules violations have become rife. Two Bylaw 5-1-(j) sophomores—6'10" Thomas Jordan and 7-foot, 265-pound Johnny Pittman—give Oklahoma State a beefy front line. They join Richard Dumas, whose 17.4 points per game last season led all freshmen save Temple's Mark Macon.
If it weren't for Final Four participant Arizona, a 1987-88 PAC-10 highlight film might be called To Die and Die in L.A. After running preseason ads that hyped "Excitement Guaranteed," Southern Cal suffered through a dissension-riddled 7-21 season. No sooner had UCLA concluded a seemingly endless search for a coach last spring by hiring Jim Harrick from Pepperdine than sophomore guard Gerald Madkins was sidelined for this coming season by a pelvic fracture suffered in a traffic accident. Harrick needs help from freshmen Darrick Martin and Don MacLean. Pushing Arizona and Stanford for the Pac-10 title will be Oregon State, whose guard, Gary Payton, is a defensive demon; Washington, which has four starters back; and California, where redshirt forward Leonard Taylor, the key to the Bears' offense three years ago, is healthy again after a season and a half on the sidelines with various injuries.
The WAC suddenly has a Romper Room look, with an unusually large number of newcomers replacing a load of departed seniors. Wyoming, UTEP, Colorado State and Hawaii all have more new faces than returnees. The result of the shakeout is that the gap between the conference's haves and have-nots has narrowed. Wyoming and Texas-El Paso will change their playing styles—the Cowboys from a plodding half-court team to a pressure bunch and the Miners from a coast-to-coast crew to a club mindful of the bulk of center-forward Antonio Davis and 7-foot, 230-pound UCLA transfer Greg Foster, who will be eligible for the second semester. The best team in Utah won't be BYU, where apart from Michael Smith the cupboard is so bare that coach Ladell Andersen is soliciting walk-ons. Utah seniors Boo Singletary and Mitch Smith are two key reasons Wyoming coach Benny Dees calls the Utes "loaded."
In the MISSOURI VALLEY, everyone but Bradley is celebrating the departure of national scoring leader Hersey Hawkins. Braves coach Stan Albeck must do substantial retooling around point guard Anthony Manuel, who had more assists (373) than any other junior in NCAA history last season, and center Luke Jackson. Illinois State was one of only three MVC schools to finish with a winning record last season. The Red birds should be winners again.
The ATLANTIC 10 is still giddy about getting two teams in last spring's Sweet 16. Now there is even talk of success at some of the conference's perennially weak schools, including Penn State, which keeps 10 letter men from last season's 13-14 team and has signed a raft of fine freshmen. Rhode Island has three returning first-stringers but doesn't have the three people it could least afford to lose: guards Carlton (Silk) Owens and Tom Garrick and coach Tom Penders, who's now at Texas.