Forget all this experimental pizzazz, the three-point line and the shot clock, college basketball's device to prevent tedious slowdowns and potential decline in revenues. The National Collegiate Basketball Championship Tournament will be played under traditional rules: no shot clock, each basket counts two points, whether a layup or a 50-footer.
So remember the teams that have the dominant centers and remember that big is beautiful in the NCAA tournament. North Carolina, the defending champion, had James Worthy, who subsequently was the No. 1 selection in the NBA draft. Remember that runner-up Georgetown got the right chemistry in its lineup only when Ed Spriggs played power forward next to Patrick Ewing, the best player in last year's dynamic freshman class.
With that in mind, here are some reasons why the following nine teams start this season with excellent chances of ending it in the final four at Albuquerque, N.M., April 2, 4:
* Virginia -- Ralph Sampson, two-time consensus national player of the year, not only is 7-foot-4, but plays with the best supporting cast since Murder on the Orient Express. Some insist Virginia would have won it all last season if point guard Othell Wilson had not hurt his leg in the ACC tournament. And the Cavaliers won't win it if he gets hurt again.
* Georgetown -- Out of deepest respect for Ewing's ability to dominate and raise the level of his teammates' play. This team likely won't finish atop the Big East Conference (it didn't last season, either), but should be experienced enough by the tournament. Consider: the four players who started the NCAA final with Ewing had nine years starting experience; the four who started last week's exhibition game had one game worth.
* North Carolina -- The Tar Heels may be only second-best in the ACC, but they may also be second-best in the nation. With Worthy and point guard Jimmy Black gone, Coach Dean Smith will simply bring in someone else from the system. He has done it before: Remember Walter Davis, who was said to be irreplaceable until Al Wood emerged; now Michael Jordan has replaced the irreplaceable Wood. The name at power forward is Brad Daugherty, but Jordan and Sam Perkins have to overcome early injuries.
* Indiana -- It was fashionable last winter to get on the defending champion Hoosiers' bandwagon just before the NCAA tournament. But Indiana was a second-round loser to Alabama-Birmingham. Get on the bandwagon early this season, because all the starters return, including 7-2 Uwe Blab. Proven reserves are back, and Bob Knight, one of the nation's best coaches, recruited well, especially in the case of guard Stew Robinson.
* Memphis State -- Those who feel Ewing wasn't best in his class think 6-10 Keith Lee was. Three other starters are back, and the Tigers are a consensus pick in the Metro Conference and a strong final four candidate. The minority report says Louisville, with no dominant big man but athletes who jump well and play hard, will surpass the Tigers if it can develop its reserves.
* UCLA -- Last season the Bruins missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years, because of recruiting violations. Now the Bruins are again eligible, and second-year Coach Larry Farmer returns six of his top seven scorers from a team that won 15 of its last 16. UCLA is two-deep in high school all-Americas at every position. But neither sophomore center, 7-0 Stuart Gray or 6-10 Brad Wright, has proven he belongs with Ewing, Sampson or Lee.
* Kentucky -- A serious championship contender with 7-foot Sam Bowie healthy, which he isn't following leg surgery. But until center Mel Turpin becomes consistent, eliminating such nadirs as the eight-point, five-rebound game he had in a 50-44 NCAA loss to Middle Tennessee State last season, such talented players as Derrick Hord, Dirk Minniefield, Jim Master and Charles Hurt will be frustrated.
* Villanova -- Four starters return from the team that lost to North Carolina in the East Regional final, including center John Pinone and power forward Ed Pinckney, now a sophomore. Recruits should help, too.
* Alabama -- Standout teams are strong in the middle, at center and point guard. The Tide is strongest in the SEC at these positions, with center Bobby Lee Hurt and point guard Ennis Whatley, both sophomores, leading three starters back from a 24-7 team.
Other teams to watch include Iowa, Oregon State, Tulane, Houston, Tennessee, Purdue, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Missouri.
One man's pick for the final two: Indiana versus Georgetown.
A capsule look at conference races:
EAST -- Last season the Big East was a stronger conference top to bottom than the Atlantic Coast. This year, each conference has two potentially dominant teams: Georgetown and Villanova in the Big East, Virginia and North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast.
In the Big East, St. John's should be back in the NCAA tournament, but the Redmen still lack a proven ball handler. Boston College has a new coach, Gary Williams, but will it have another John Bagley, who passed up his senior year for the NBA? The sleeper: Syracuse. Newcomer Pitt went to the NCAA tournament as Eastern Eight champion a year ago.
For any of the ACC's other six teams, finishing third can be considered successful. There is no clear favorite to do so. Maryland has a chance, but is questionable at center and point guard; North Carolina State and Wake Forest both have veteran teams, and Duke is improving and may emerge as the best of the four.
The most improved league in this region is the Atlantic 10 (formerly the Eastern Eight), merely by the addition of St. Joseph's, Temple and Penn State (59-25 combined record last season). They should all be first division. West Virginia has four starters back from a 27-4 team, but needs a strong center. Rutgers and George Washington bear watching.
In the realigned East Coast, it's a race between American and La Salle. In the Ivy, Penn is again the team to catch. Princeton and Columbia have the best chances to do so.
Elsewhere in the East, North Carolina A&T is expected to defend successfully the Mid-Eastern Athletic championship. Northeastern, the surprise team in the NCAA tournament a year ago, probably lost too much to graduation and is likely to finish behind Canisius and Holy Cross in the ECAC North. Robert Morris and Long Island are slight favorites in a well-balanced ECAC Metro, and Madison is a heavy favorite in the ECAC South. The Southern should again belong to Tennessee-Chattanooga, but Davidson may surprise. The Metro Atlantic does not qualify for an automatic bid this year, but Iona, with every starter back, should be good.
MIDEAST -- The Southeastern appears to be a race among Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. Of those, Kentucky has the best talent, Alabama the best players at center and point guard and Tennessee the SEC's most valuable player, Dale Ellis. In the Metro, Memphis State is almost everybody's pick because of Keith Lee, but Louisville may be better. The Sun Belt should be down this year. Alabama-Birmingham lost four starters from a 25-6 team. The Blazers have four other experienced players and Coach Gene Bartow has two transfers eligible, Cliff Pruitt from UCLA and Eugene Jones from Alabama. First-year member Old Dominion and Jacksonville should also contend.
Teams from the Big Ten (Indiana in '76 and '81 and Michigan State in '79) won three of previous six NCAA championships before the caliber of play fell last season. It hasn't recovered totally, but Indiana is among the favorites for the national championship; Minnesota, Iowa and perhaps Purdue also should be strong. Toledo is usually among the Mid-American's best teams. The Rockets finished eighth last season, but all starters return, and so should an NCAA bid. In the Ohio Valley, Murray State has won 60 games in three seasons and is talented enough to beat some name teams in the NCAA tournament.
MIDWEST -- Center Steve Stipanovich and guard Jon Sunvold make Missouri the favorite in the Big Eight, but Oklahoma is becoming a power under Billy Tubbs; Kansas State has only one starter back but one of the game's best coaches, Jack Hartman. Houston reached the final four last season, but must contend with Arkansas and possibly Texas in the Southwest.
Elsewhere, Wichita State, Tulsa and Bradley all have less talent in the Missouri Valley, but they may be strong enough to hold off Illinois State, the best of the league's lesser-known teams. Lamar has won the Southland four of the last five years and should do so again. Alcorn State, the class of the Southwestern Athletic, should have little trouble making a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Evansville, Loyola (Ill.) and Oral Roberts will contend for the Midwestern City championship. The Trans America will have a new champion this year since NCAA representative NE Louisiana switched to the Southland.
WEST -- UCLA has changed its offense in its second year under Larry Farmer, enabling the Bruins to use center Stuart Gray in a low post. The Bruins are picked over Oregon State, even though the Beavers have won the Pacific-10 the past three seasons and return four starters from a 25-5 team. Washington State, with eight lettermen back, including 6-9 Guy Williams, a likely first-round draft choice, may beat out USC for third. The year's surprise, however, may be Arizona State, with three starters, three veteran reserves and three JUCO tranfers under new Coach Bobby Weinhauer, who took Penn to the final four in '79.
San Diego State and Texas-El Paso appear to have the best material in the Western Athletic. Cal State-Fullerton might beat out Fresno State in the Pacific Coast Athletic. With San Francisco not playing, Pepperdine is the best in the West Coast Athletic, and there are five good teams in the Big Sky, led by Montana and Nevada-Reno.