As far as it is possible to learn anything by watching a team practice, let's say this about Fresno State: Coach Boyd Grant leads the NCAA in comedy, and his team is out of its depth against Georgetown in Thursday night's tournament game.
Now, the chance for error in this game prediction is large, coming as it does from a fellow who still thinks De Paul is pretty good. But look here.
Fresno's second-leading scorer, guard Donald Mason, clutched at a sore knee three or four times in a 90-minute workout today. A little thing? Not when you need wizard guards against Georgetown's press. Everyone also saw that Fresno's star big man, Rod Higgins, is a liability with the ball anywhere except at the hoop.
These fragments of leaves at the bottom of the tea cup indicate that Georgetown's full-court presses will be too much for Fresno. This is on top of the Hoyas' simple athletic superiority. Georgetown has eight real players from 6-feet-3 to 7-feet; Fresno has four from 5-9 to 6-7.
We haven't come to the best part. Sure, Fresno State has a 27-2 record that includes a 50-46 NCAA victory over West Virginia in this West Regional. The coach, Boyd Grant, has created a fine defensive team that wins with 60 points while giving up 46.7 on 43.8 percent shooting.
But when did any team practice 90 minutes without taking a shot?
Fresno did today.
Even accepting the premise that everybody knows how to shoot by now, it is bizarre in the extreme to not even cast a loving glance at the rim. The only offensive work Fresno did was bringing the ball up against the press. Once upcourt, they backed it out to pass against zones Georgetown will use.
All this seems an admission through tactics that Fresno State knows its best hope for victory is to keep the leadoff man off base, don't walk anybody and make a couple double plays.
If it's a 1-0 shutout, Fresno will win.
The key element of any Fresno upset will be surviving the Hoya press, which has ruined very good teams. Grant will send five men after rebounds, risking injury by fast break because he figures every possession is vital. Defensively, he wants to stop Eric Floyd, Georgetown's only outside shooter, and keep the ball away from Pat Ewing inside.
Fresno will take its time on offense. "Georgetown has struggled against teams that tempoed," Grant said, meaning teams that go very slow. "Shot selection is the biggest thing for us."
Failing to get good shots, Fresno's only smiles will come listening to Grant, who confessed today that he wants help from everybody west of the Potomac.
No sooner did he sit down in Brigham Young University's arena than he said, "It isn't Sunday, is it? We aren't practicing on a Sunday, I hope."
Mormons frown on such decadence, as Grant knows, because in the next breath he said, "I want to say I went to Snow Junior College here (in Utah), and I have been on campus before . . . .I have been known to use whatever psychological edge I can get, and I'm hopeful all BYU will be on our side because we are representing the West . . . We want to send Georgetown back to Washington, D.C., to help President Reagan with all the things he needs."
As much as the Gipper needs a full-court press on Congress in the budget scrimmage, he'll have to wait, because Georgetown's 1-2-1-1 is busy this week and next. Grant knows he's up against it Thursday night. He knows Georgetown can win by any score, 41-35 or 72-54, and so he spent most of a press conference today saying things designed to soften up the Hoyas when they read the morning paper.
Grant is 48 with a whimpering hangdog countenance and eyeglasses Eleanor Roosevelt would have killed for. He looks like an Ag Department bureaucrat lost on his way to lunch. Wrong. This is his fifth season at Fresno State, with three 20-victory seasons coming after a 94-6 record in three years at the College of Southern Idaho, where he won the '76 national junior college championship averaging 88 points a game.
In the Fresno arena nicknamed Grant's Tomb, the coach's team is 61-6. This is no whimpering lackey. This is a sly bureaucrat sneaking up on his boss.
So when someone asked whether Fresno were intimidated by "the Georgetown mystique," Grant said, "We're not afraid at all today. (Pause) We don't play today, do we?"
Tell us, coach, how good is Georgetown?
"They have maybe as good a talent as anybody in the country. Most coaches think Georgetown has the same kind of talent North Carolina does, and I agree with them."
As if out of the blue, Grant interrupted himself to say, "I have to bring this up. My son, who is 9 years old, said the No. 1 thing I should do here is get Pat Ewing's autograph for him. I told him, 'He plays for the other team,' and my boy said, 'I don't care, I've seen him so often on TV.' "
Then Grant, who has said he would hold the ball 40 minutes if it meant he'd win, went out to watch a practice in which his guys held the ball 90 minutes.