A killing field for Big 5

(Published in Daily News, March 11, 1985)

On the day they decided which 64 college basketball teams would play in the NCAA tournament, joy and sadness and pride and passion and prejudice and power - especially power - were on display for all to see.

That last one disgusted Temple coach John Chaney.

"I'm ashamed of the NCAA. What they've done is a disgrace," Chaney said. The way he was talking, a person would have figured the Owls weren't invited to the expanded tournament. But they got in, along with fellow Big 5 members Villanova and Penn.

What the NCAA did was invite six teams each from the Big East and the Big 10, five teams each from the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences, and four teams from the Pac-10. What the NCAA also did was keep out 16 teams with 20 or more wins, including a 20-8 team from West Virginia that beat out Temple for the Atlantic 10's regular season title.

"Disgraceful," Chaney said, over and over. "If you don't have a television contract and you don't get the media and you don't get the exposure, they say you don't have a good conference. And that's just wrong."

The NCAA, incidentally, also gave the local contingent about as tough a road as possible:

Temple, the Atlantic 10 tournament champion, stayed in the East Regional. The Owls (24-5) have a first-round game Thursday at Hartford, Conn., against Virginia Tech (20-8), the second-place finisher in the Metro Conference. And if they win that one, the Owls almost definitely will get No. 1 Georgetown.

"I'm not even thinking about Georgetown," Chaney said. "The biggest hurdle is winning the first ballgame. We know how good Virginia Tech is. We won't look past them."

Villanova, the fourth-place finisher in the Big East, was moved to the Southeast Regional. The Wildcats (19-10) play a first-round game Friday against Dayton (19-9). The game will be played at Dayton, Ohio. And, if that isn't bad enough, the Wildcats probably would get Michigan (only the nation's No. 3 team) next.

"That's just one of those things," said Rollie Massimino, the Villanova coach. "At this stage of the game, you've just got to be happy to be in it. This is always the best day of the year for us."

Penn, the Ivy League champ, got shipped to the Midwest Regional. The Quakers (13-13) drew another easy assignment in the first round Friday night at Houston - Memphis State (27-3), the Metro Conference champ and the No. 5 team in the country.

"One thing that's a little surprising is that we weren't the 16th seed," said Craig Littlepage, the coach of the 15th-seeded Quakers who is making his first NCAA trip with Penn but who has been to the tournament as the Virginia assistant coach who recruited Ralph Sampson.

"Seeing as how our game is in Houston (where Sampson plays for the NBA Rockets), maybe I can convince Ralph to play with us for a couple of games."

St. Joseph's doesn't have an easy NCAA road, either. In fact, it doesn't have any NCAA road. When the Hawks lost to Temple in the Atlantic 10 semifinals Friday night, their NCAA hopes went down with them. Instead, the Hawks (18-11) will try to win a few games bouncing the red, white and blue balls in the National Invitation Tournament. Their first-round opponent will be Missouri (18-13) in a game to be played Thursday night at Columbia, Mo.

"I don't know anything about them, except that they're good," said Jim Boyle, the St. Joseph's coach.

It was a comment repeated from press conference to press conference, from border to border. For the lucky 64 coaches - 96, if you include the NIT - this was a night for public hemming and hawing, and private telephone calls to friends around the country who might have just a few feet of film on Backwater U.

"I'll bet you we have tapes of 95 percent of the college teams, but I don't know if we have Northeastern," said Illinois coach Lou Henson. "I just see their scores and see what they've done. I know they're good."

Know nothing. Know they're good. Remember that.

Other than those old standards, though, there was that myriad of emotions.

Joy: Pittsburgh athletic director Ed Bozik, telling coach Roy Chipman the news that the Panthers were one of six Big East teams to make the show: "Don't worry. We're not going to be playing with the red, white and blue balls."

Sadness: They had to be feeling it in a lot of places, a lot of places that suddenly will have to get used to those red, white and blue balls. Perennial powers UCLA, Houston, Indiana, Virginia and Louisville all will be gracing what could be a very popular NIT - especially for nostalgia buffs. But they all had to be sad at their current state of basketball affairs. "Face it," said Denny Crum, Louisville's 16-16 coach, "when you win 16 games the NCAA does not take too much interest in you." (Not unless you're from another part of Kentucky. See Power.)

Pride: Massimino doing a little bit of research and coming up with the fact that only five teams have made consecutive NCAA appearances in the last six years. They are North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgetown, Kentucky and . . . Villanova.

Prejudice: Two highly ranked teams - Michigan and North Carolina - were given an unnecessary headache by allowing Notre Dame and Dayton to play games on their home courts. Two other highly ranked teams - Georgia Tech and Oklahoma - are receiving unnecessary boosts for the same reason.

Passion: Gale Catlett, the aggrieved West Virginia coach, went on this little tirade (presumably without taking a breath):

"When you win the regular season championship with a 16-2 record in a conference ranked as the eighth-toughest in the country by Basketball Weekly, you win eight of your last nine games, 16 of your last 19 and play the 11th-toughest non-conference schedule in the country, ranked by NCAA News last week, you're ranked fifth in the French's Eastern Cup Poll, you win 20 games and participate in the last three NCAA tournaments and not get an NCAA bid, then the NCAA's selection committee has made a tremendous error. I am shocked and extremely hurt for our players and our conference."

Power: On the day they left 16 teams with 20 or more wins out of the money, they allowed in a 16-12 Kentucky team that just happens to be steeped in about as much tradition as there is. Kentucky also happens to be hosting the Final Four this year.

However the 64 teams got in, though, there are some regular tournament features to watch for.

It tends to make very temporary stars out of the guys from the little schools - especially if they have a tad of personality. With that in mind, enter Bob Hopkins, the coach at Southern. The Black Knights have the dubious honor of facing St. John's in the first round of the West Regional on Thursday in Salt Lake City. He was asked about the lucky sweater worn by Lou Carnesecca, the St. John's coach. He was asked if he had any lucky clothes.

"I have only three neckties I wear and I'll wear any one of those three," Hopkins said.

Remember - the phrase was tad of personality.

Anyway, on the other end of things are the people who coach the favored teams. When you talk to them before these early round games, they never smile. They are as serious as a heart attack, because that's what these early round games almost give them.

"Any time you underestimate an opponent, you have problems and you'll fail on the court," said Dale Brown, the LSU coach. And, incidentally, people never stop reminding you (until the next tournament) that you lost to Polecat State.

Finally, there are the mountain climbers. These are the guys like Lehigh's Tom Schneider.

Only one year after leaving his job as a Penn assistant, Schneider has the 12-18 Engineers in the tourney. That's the good news. The bad news is that they play Georgetown in the first round.

Now, Schneider is a realist. He knows that his chances Thursday night are slightly less than nil. But he is determined to make the experience a positive one.

"Any game you go into, any coach will tell you that what he wants if for his team to play up to its capabilities," Tom Schneider said. "That's what we want to do. And hopefully, we'll have some fun."

On the day they picked the 64 college basketball teams that would play in the NCAA tournament, it was the beginning of three weeks of just that - some fun.