Dale Brown took his team to the Philadelphia Art Museum to run the steps, a la Rocky. Bob Knight was funny, profane and annoyed, all within five minutes. Dean Smith rolled his eyes in disgust when he learned who the officials were. And Terry Holland said it best when he said, "None of this pregame stuff means anything."
The meaningful stuff of final four week will begin Saturday at 12:45 p.m. (WRC-TV-4) when Indiana and Louisiana State play the first NCAA tournament semifinal game. Thirty minutes after the first game ends Virginia and North Carolina play for the real 1981 Atlantic Coast Conference championship. The winners play Monday night.
Today, the four teams went through their final drills in the Spectrum, each and every move watched by about 1,500 spectators and almost an many media members. North Carolina (28-7) worked the hardest and LSU (31-3) worked the least hard. Indiana (24-9) worked for the shortest period and Virginia (28-3) the longest.
Today the players familiarized themselves with the building, the floor and the claustrophobic surroundings they will inhabit the next three days, their every move monitored and questioned by more than 600 accredited members of the nation's media.
"This has gotten to be like the Super Bowl," Smith said. "Everyone's looking for something to write."
On a calm day, there were these developments:
LSU forward Durand Macklin said the cut finger on his nonshooting right hand that took some stitches earlier this week has made dribbling difficult but that he anticipates no problems once the game starts.
North Carolina's two backup big men, Pete Budko and Chris Brust, were both bothered in practice by ankle injuries. Brust is much closer to 100 percent and is likely to spell Sam Perkins Saturday, but not for more than a couple of minutes.
Indiana guard Isiah Thomas said his ankle, sprained slightly a week ago in practice during the Mideast regional, is fine. He also thanked the reporter who asked the question for his concern.
Virginia's Lee Raker practiced for the first time this week, his injured thigh still wrapped. Holland said he was hoping for 17-20 minutes from Raker, who has played extremely well coming off the bench in Virginia's three victories in this tournament.
Basically, the four teams are healthy. Their injuries are either minor or to unimportant personnel.
This had been called the best balanced final four ever. The four combined for 111 victories, tying the record set in 1976 by Indiana, Michigan, UCLA and Rutgers.
The first game Saturday is expected to be physical and fast-paced. The key matchup may be between point guards Thomas and Ethan Martin.
Knight snapped briefly when someone asked Thomas why he had been thrown out of practice early in the season. "I'll answer that for him," Knight said. "None of your business."
Mostly, though, the day was relaxed. No one seemed tense, yet.
"How can a 50-year-old coach who's spent the week playing with his 2-year-old daughter be tense?" Smith asked rhetorically.
The non-tense coach also continued his nonstop psychological war, calling Virginia the favorite because of Sampson. "No one else has a guy 7-3 or 7-4 who is quick and can jump and get up and down the floor."
Smith does have Perkins, Al Wood and James Worthy, a front line considered by many the best in the country. Holland said all were guaranteed first-round draft picks. "You can't say that about any other team in the country."
Carolina will probably try to play a fast game against Virginia, pressuring its guards while trying to get the ball up the floor before Sampson can set up defensively. In their two regular-season losses to the Cavaliers, the Tar Heels used that strategy successfully for more than 30 minutes, then collapsed down the stretch when their delay offense failed them.
Smith has since gone to a different kind of delay offense, with all five players handling the ball. That offense has also featured 6-7 freshman guard Matt Doherty going back door.
Whiled Carolina has steadily improved since the shock of the 80-79 overtime loss to Virginia on Feb. 3, the Cavaliers, after a 23-0 start, lost three of five, including a 23-point loss to Maryland in the ACC tournament.
When Villanova took a seven-point lead in the second half of their second-round tournament game (Virginia's opening game), the Cavaliers appeared finished. But they came back to survive that game, and looked excellent in beating Tennessee and Brigham Young to advance here.
The major difference in the two matchups is emotion. LSU and Indiana know each other by reputation only. Virginia and North Carolina's seniors will be playing for the ninth time in their careers. And the two coaches, Smith and Holland have had a running feud for years.
"None of that matters now, though," Wood said. "This is the final four. The past is over, finished. Anyway, none of us are going to say anything now and then have to live with it if we lose.
"When we win, then we can say something. Not until then."