Less than 12 hours before Louisville won the NCAA basketball championship Monday night, starting sophomore forward Wiley Brown left his artificial right thumb on a hotel dining-room table, A team manager had to go back and retrieve it from the trash.

It was an oddball beginning to the end of what has been perhaps the wackiest season in the history of college basketball. Louisville won the championship game over UCLA, 59-54, behind Darrell Griffith, who may just be the most dominating guard the game has seen since Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.

But Griffith is not typical of what the college game has become. He is a senior who passed up pro basketball's big money to first get a degree. Of 10 starters in the championship game, three were freshmen and four sophomores. College basketball is becoming a game dominated by younger players.


Indiana was voted No. 1 in the preseason polls with a starting lineup that included two freshmen.

Russell Cross, a 6-foot-10 high school star from Chicago, is putting off making his choice of colleges for two months. He will attend DePaul if sophomore star Mark Aguirre leaves for the pros. He wants to be the top attraction his first year, not a supporting act to college basketball's player of the year.

The top high school players, such as Ralph Sampson a year ago and Earl Jones this season, announce beforehand they have no intentions of staying in college four years, that a team that takes them will be fortunate to have their services for a year or two.

This onslaught of bigger, better and younger talent, coupled with the expanded 48-team field, has led to a situation in which there are no really dominant teams in college basketball, at least not in its championship tournament.

The champion also has to have some luck because a team that does not receive a first-round bye -- and three of them made the final four this year -- must win six games in a single-elimination tournament. If the NCAA tournament were played NBA style -- best-of-three, firve or seven-game series, at least two of the teams here this year probably would have been different.

So it goes. Three teams were ranked No. 1 in the wire-service polls during the course of this season and all three lost in the tournament. DePaul was defeated in the round of 32, Indiana in the round of 16 and Duke in thr round of eight. Two of the final four teams (UCLA and Iowa) here were unranked in the final poll, and Purdue was No. 20.

The craziness is sure to continue. The coaches want a 64-team tournament next year -- under their plan the NIT could take all the first-round losers -- but a survey of the NCAA Basketball Committee indicates the format will remain the same: 48 teams, with 16 first-round byes.

And who will be the final four in Philadelphia's Spectrum next year? Who can possibly say? In the past five tournaments, 19 different schools have made the final four, Only UCLA has done it twice.

Louisville will return four starters but will lose Griffith, so the Cardinals have as decent a chance as anyone to return to the final four.

UCLA is indeed, back under Larry Brown, the third UCLA coach since John Wooden retired after the 1975 season with 10 nation championships.

And these Bruins are typical of the young players who make the game so unpredictable. Brown turned the season around when he inserted a sophomore center and two freshment guards in his starting lineup.

But Brown cannot stand pat, and there was talk after Monday's game that one of the Bruin freshmen may transfer because he is worried about Brown's new recruits.

It's crazy. It's also college basketball.