The Maryland Invitational Tournament has a chance to go out in style.
If the three teams playing in the tournament with the Terps today and Tuesday at Cole Field House are as good as their 18-4 combined record indicates, this 10th and final MIT should be a doozy.
Nobody will mistake this quartet for the NCAA's final tour, but the field should be more entertaining than the patsies that for years played in College Park in front of crowds too small to make any money and keep the tournament going.
Chances are, ninth-ranked Maryland will win its ninth MIT. Chances also are that Marshall (7-1), Maryland's opponent tonight at 7 p.m., and Bowling Green (5-2) aren't quite in the Terrapins' class.
But St. Joseph's (Pa.), which lost its first game Saturday night by four points at Michigan State, could prove to be more than a practice game for Maryland if the two advance to the final Tuesday at 9 p.m.
St. Joe's, under former American University Coach Jim Lynam, won its first six games by holding opponents to 50 points per contest. "We've been playing decent defense," Lynam said yesterday. "Last year, we allowed an average of only about 60 points and this year all our games have been rather low scoring."
The Hawks traditionally have been solid defensively; scrapping and pressing, hoping to create turnovers and easy baskets to cover up for inside deficiencies.
This year, a change in position has been St. Joe's biggest improvement. Boo Williams, a 6-foot-8 senior, played center for three years. But the addition of 6-10 freshman Tony Costner has allowed Williams to move to forward, where he is averaging nearly 13 points and seven rebounds per game.
Costner, from Overbrook, the same Philadelphia High School that produced Wilt Chamberlain, was heavily recruited by Georgetown. He is scoring 11.5 points per game and pulling down 9.3 rebounds.
The other players that round out the starting lineup are 6-5 senior forward John Smith, averaging 11 points and six rebounds a game, and low-scoring, defense-minded guards Brian Warrick and Jeffery Clark, both juniors. Clark, with 22 assists in his first six games, has played more minutes than anyone on the team but has taken only 17 shots all season.
Most of Clark's passes are squeezed inside to Williams and Costner in Lynam's double low post offense. Sixth-man Lonnie McFarlan is a 6-5 freshman who played 41 minutes in the two games St. Joe's played before meeting the Spartans.
"He's going to be a very good scorer before it's all over," Lynam said of McFarlan.
Lynam, who has used the slowdown to his advantage in three years at St. Joe's, has found himself on the other end of the disruptive tactic through the early part of this season. "Cornell felt the only way they could beat us was to slow it down," Lynam said. "They held the ball about 60 seconds on every possession.
Princeton tried the same thing a game earlier and took the Hawks into overtime before St. Joe's won, 51-50.
Bowling Green, St. Joe's opponent tonight, lost its last two games, both on the road, to Morehead State and Division 2 power Wright State. "I think the last time St. Joe's played Bowling Green," said Lynum, "was when I was a player and we had to face a team that had Nate Thurmond."