Men's college basketball practice officially opens today and, except for George Washington and Virginia, the area's Division I teams will spend the time trying to overcome major deficiencies.
Nevertheless, at least four of the area's nine Division I teams have legitimate shots at the NCAA tournament. The tournament will be expanded to 40 teams this year. Here is a capsule outlook, in alphabetical order, as practice begins:
AMERICAN UNIVERSITY - New Coach Gary Williams inherits a 16-12 team that lost only two seniors, including one starter, through graduation. But that starter was center Howie Lassoff, the team's top rebounder. Jim Lyman, the previous coach, took 6-foot-10 transfer Steve Kearney to St. Joseph's with him and 6-8 Joe Mitchell flunked out.
Thus, the Eagles have only two players taller than 6-5: 6-3 transfer Bob Harvey, who played little in two years at La Salle, and 6-10 junior Tom Pfotzer, No. 3 center last year. So rebounding is a precarious commodity this season. Boo Bowers, 6-5 freshman standout a year ago, leads the returnees, who can expect to play much pressure defense and run a controlled fast break under Williams.
CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY - The Cardinals finally have some players who can get points and rebounds consistently, as well as floor burns. But, except for forward Steve Dade, they are either freshmen or inexperienced. The most pressing problem going into camp is finding a replacement for graduated point guard Mike McNally.
Coach Jack Kvancz will start two-year backup Donnie Farrell at that spot and take a long look at junior-college transfer Tommy Green. Bill Dankos, former Good Counsel All-Met who transferred from Penn State, is eligible now and almost a sure starter at forward. Freshman Bill Dooley (6-6) and Mike Neville (6-8) are the team's biggest players, with Dooley possibly a starting center. Sophomore Joe Colletta finished strongly last season and is counted on as the top scoring guard.
HOWARD - The Bison lost two standout forwards off a 15-9 team, so Coach A.B. Williamson went out and recruited size and bulk; the shortest recruit is 6-foot-5. The best two additions, former All-Met forward James Rateff and guard Rodney Wright, will sit out the season as transfer students.
With 6-10 center Dorian Dent healthy and all four top guards returning. Williamson will try to find the right combination at forward. Larry Spriggs, 6-7, 215-pounder out of Northwestern High via San Jacinto JC, is expected to provide inside help. His 21 points and 14 rebounds per game earned him third-team AP Junior College All-America honors last year. Returnee Carlton Richardson and freshman Ken Holmes will get the best shots as small forward.
GEORGE MASON - Forward Riley Clarida, top Patriot scorer a year ago as a freshman, transferred to Long Island U. and last year's 9-17 team produced turnovers as frequently as baskets. So, going into the school's first year of Division I play, Coach John Linn recruited heavily at guard.
Guards Greg Deegan from O'Connell and Steve Pearson from Philadelphia will get long looks as starters. Linn is counting on 6-9 1/2 sophomore Andre Gaddy to be more dominating as a rebounder after being hindered by a back injury last season. Forward Keith Lewis, the Patriots' most consistent player, and his 12.7 scoring and 8.3 rebounding average are back for a senior year.
GEORGE WASHINGTON - The Colonials have at least 10 players capable of starting, including four returning starters and transfer guard Brian Magid from Maryland. Says Coach Bob Tallent: "That won't put any pressure on me. The first day of practice we'll put five guys on the floor who were there last year or who I think are the best players. If they stay there after six weeks of practice, then they'll start."
The Colonials will be strong offensively and should rebound better than last season. With Magid on board, guard Bob Lindsay likely will play a lot of small forward, too. Freshman forward-center Dave Thornton is a big addition inside, to help center Mike Zagardo and forward Tom Glenn. Mike Samson, the best defensive forward, returns and, when Tallent needs to press to catch up, will be the tallest GW player on the floor. The Colonials were 15-12 a year ago.
GEORGETOWN - Coming off last season's 23-8 record, best in the school's history, Coach John Thompson figures his biggest problem will be keeping his patience with a group of talented recruits and some inexperienced returnees. They will augment a solid four-man core of center Tom Scates, forwards Craig Shelton and Steve Martin and guard John Duren.
No one else has much experience. Freshman Eric (Sleepy) Byrd probably has the best chance and credentials to replace departed guard Derrick Jackson, the school's all-time leading scorer. Martin may play at that position early. Thompson wants to continue using a multitude of players so he is eager to see how transfer Terry Fenlon, junior Lonnie Duren and freshman Ron Blaylock perform at guard and how freshmen Jeff Bullis, Eric Smith and Ed Spriggs do up front.
MARYLAND - Last Year's team was billed as a "puzzle." But it was so mystery why the Terrapins were only 14-12: little defense and no teamwork. Coach Lefty Driesell recruited well and many of his players can handle two or three positions.
Three players are almost sure to start the season: sophomore forward Albert King, senior center Larry Gibson and sophomore guard Greg Manning. However, where King and Manning start may well depend on the progress of freshmen guards Reggis Jackson and Dutch Morley and freshman forward Buck Williams. Regardless, Driesell says he plans to adjust his offense to take advantage of King's ability to score inside. Billy Bryant, the guard-forward who fell into disfavor with Driesell last season, is recovering from broken feet suffered this summer.
NAVY - Kevin Sinnett and Hank Kuzma provided much of the Mids scoring and rebounding the last three years. Now Kuzma is gone, and Coach Bob Hamilton hopes two or three players can pick up that slack, instead of putting the burden on one. There also is a question at point guard.
Three plebes will get hard looks as possible starters, including 6-5 Jan Myers and 6-5 Myron Simons as Kuzma's replacement. Experienced Bruce Grooms and Vic Smith return at point guard but freshman James Ferrell is a strong candidate there. Depth figures to be as good as it has been in recent years.
VIRGINIA - Coach Terry Holland says the Cavaliers have the most talent in the school's history, and that includes 6-10 Otis Fulton, center on the 1976 ACC championship team who sat out last year of his own volition.
The biggest question facing Holland is whether to emphasize a big starting lineup, with both Fulton and Steve Castellan playing or a starting five that includes forwards Mike Owens and Lee Raker. Guards Jeff Lamp and Tom Hicks, both first-year Cavs last season, are back and 6-3 1/2 freshman Jeff Jones will challenge Hicks at point guard.