Today we will pick a winner in the Maryland-Indiana game and reveal to a waiting world the identity of the next NCAA basketball champion.
First, this: It is always pleasant to bump up against a dreamer, because they are in short supply these days.
It's nice, then, to hear Jimmy Lynam saying the NCAA tournament needs a St. Joseph's University, whose basketball team he coaches, as well as the Marylands and Indianas of The Big Time. Some newspaper reporter with a sad case of hardening of the heart framed a question today in a way that suggested the NCAA tournament was too big a deal to be cluttered up with, forgive the expression, St. Joseph's.
"Does it bother you," the cynic asked the dreamer, "to hear the talk that the NCAA tournement ought to invite the 48 'best' teams and not the 48 who now get in?"
"It is a grave concern," said Lynam, "because it is teams such as ourselves that have added glamor to this tournament for years. My sophomore year at St. Joseph's, we went to the final four. We're a small, Jesuit school with 2,200 students, and certainly nobody expected us to do that. It would be a big mistake for college basketball to ever think that only 'big' schools should be in the NCAA tournament.
"Just saying 'big' implies big arenas, it implies big guarantees, it implies lots oif home games. At St. Joseph's, if we invite a 'big' team to play us in the Palestra, we begin first with a letter proposing home-and-home games. Then we have to give 2-for-1, until we get to 7-1 or 8-1 -- with the first seven games on the road.
"Lamar beat Missouri, didn't it?"
It was 71-67. "And James Madison beat Georgetown," Lynam said.
That one was 61-55. "That's James Madison. And they beat Georgetown. And that's not Georgetown of Kentucky, that's Georgetown of Washington, D.C."
Jimmy Lynam delivered his little speech pugnaciously. Romantics applauded. Here was Don Quixote drawing Xs and Os for his attack on the castle/windmill. Come 1:30 Saturday afternoon, St. Joseph's will play De Paul, the nation's No. 1-ranked team that has lost once in 28 games. By 3:15, the windmill of De Paul will have turned St. Joseph's on its dreamy noggin.
No matter. The important thing is, St. Joseph's had its shot. If the NCAA cuts out the little guys of the world, it has sold its soul. For every Maryland and Indiana with big arenas, big guarantees and home games galore, there needs be, to remind the hard-hearts that college sports are fun, a St. Joseph's.
The hard-hearts have it right, though, if they say dreamers have no shot at the NCAA championship. To win it, a team must make it through at least five games, three or four of them against teams with equal or superior talent. Cinderella needed just one dance to land her prince; Maryland, after a waltz with Chattanooga, needs five more dances for a crown. m
The first comes Saturday afternoon when Maryland meets Indiana. "In my (12) years at Maryland, we have had six or seven chances to win the national championship," said Lefty Driesell. "Now, with this team, we've got another."
It is a small chance. Look at some telling numbers. Teams use the first 10 games of a season as a break-in period. Performance in the last 10 games of a season is indicative of a team's quality. Numbers on those 10-game periods over the last four years show a large difference between Bobby Knight's teams at Indiana and Driesell's at Maryland.
In the four years with Albert King as the team's best player, Maryland has a 35-5 won-lost record in the season's first 10 games. That is a winning percentage of .875. But in the last 10 games of those four seasons, Maryland (counting back 10 games from right now) is 22-18. That is .550.
Indiana, meanwhile, is 30-10 at the start of seasons for .750. More important, at the end when it means the most, Knight's teams are 33-7 for .825.
Come Saturday, when the tough dances start for Maryland, Indiana will be too good. Only when running is Maryland a very good team. And Indiana will not allow Maryland to run. Indiana is too big and strong for Maryland underneath, with a 675-pound front line of guys 6-foot-7, 6-9 and 6-10. So Maryland, with only one strong rebounder in 6-8 Buck Williams, will not get the necessary rebounds to work the break that left Virginia for dead a week ago.
So if Maryland cannot run and it cannot work a half-court set defense, and if it cannot count on King for a superlative performance in the clutch (he had two points the last 28 minutes of the ACC tournament championship game against North Carolina), that leaves only one way for Driesell's team to win.
Its defense must shut down Indiana.
No way, because Maryland's defense is neither aggressive enough nor quick enough to handle Indiana's passing-game offense. Indiana will control the pace of the game, slowing down Maryland's runners. As North Carolina did three times this season with its pressure defense and passing-game offense, Indiana will beat Maryland.
Make it 69-61.
As for w ich of the dancers will survive this marathon best, the same guy so confidently picking Indiana over Maryland must confess right away that he is barly over .500 picking games so far. I was five of eight the first night, and anyone with half a brain would quit picking right now.
More picks: Lsu, Louisville, Iowa and Arizona State will make it to the Midwest Regional next week. De Paul, Wake Forest, Indiana and Kentucky will be in the Mideast.Oregon State, Illinois, Utah and North Carolina will be in the West. In the East, it will be Virginia, Tennessee, UCLA and Notre Dame.
The final four will be Arizona State, De Paul, Oregon State and Tennessee.
The winner will be De Paul.