North Carolina is favored by 4 points over Nevada Las Vegas and Marquette rules 2 1/2 points over North Caroline Charlotte for Saturday's NCAA semi-finals in Atlanta.
The pricemaker obviously prefers fundamentalist coaching over free-wheeling individualism.
What a contrast these four teams provide. Dean Smith and Al McGuire are very much in charge of everything that goes on when Carolina and Marquette play. The squads from Charlotte and Las Vegas often given the impression they don't have a coach.
That does not mean Saturday's favorites are a cinch to meet Monday in the championship contest. Good coaches such as Smith and McGuire are most effective when they are reasonably certain as to what they can expect from the opposition. Their semifinal rivals thus pose a special problem because unpredictability is what Charlotte and Las Vegas are all about. They are free spirits going up against disciplined, well-structured troops.
Just how UCLA managed to lose to Idaho state is something I'll never quite understand. This Bruin team was not comparable to those of John Wooden's glory years, but it would have been favored to win in Atlanta.
There were more good college basketball teams than ever before in 1976-77. None, however, was exceptional.
For four years Bo Ellis has threatened to be an outstanding player at expectations, but he could emerge as Superman this weekend. Marquette has the size and the headiness needed to hold off Cornbread Maxwell and Lew Massey under the broads. If they do, they're in the final. Charlotte merely exposed Michigan's soft inner pinning in taking the Mideast final.
North Carolina could beat Las Vegas by 10. The Tar Heels also could lose by that many points. Las Vegas coach Jerry Tarkanian may not be embarrassed by Smith, as Digger Phelps and Joe Hall were in the Eastern regional. For all their run-and-gun reputation, the Rebels can play a little defense if they choose to.
The outcome of this matchup hinges on the availability of Phil Ford, the best guard in the nation. Ford has the potential to blow apart Las Vegas and to make Marquette's talented Butch Lee took second rate in the title game.
Ford, however, has not played consistently up to his superior ability since the end of the regular Atlantic Coast Conference season. He had an excellent first half against Virginia and a solid game against Notre Dame. What he now must do in Atlanta is to put two brilliant performances back to back despite his injuries.
Much of Ford's personal foul troubles in recent outings have arisen endlessly. They have not been intelligent fouls. Yet Ford is an intelligent player. If he will only get his act completely together. Carolina can go all the way.
What this tournament could come down to, in the final five minites, is Ford's four-corner offense against McGuire's superb defensing of that alignment. McGuire teams go after the four-corners better than any other in the country. Should such a situation occur, the season will end with a memorable countdown, one way or the other.
I'll string along with Carolina over Las Vegas, giving the 4, and I'll take Marquette, giving the 2 1/2, against Charlotte. Neither selection is made with conviction. Nor is picking Carolina over Marquette in the final done with much enthusiasm, what with the Tar Heels probably a 2 point favorite.
Instead, Im going to take most of the profit from this 10-2 season and wait till next year when players, hopefully, will be more important to a team's success than coaches. This season, no matter what happens in Atlanta, Smith and McGuire were the big winners.