It won't be the most glamorous final four of recent years. One of the teams shoots 47 percent from the field, another makes only 62 percent of its foul shots. One team has no starter taller than 6 feet 7, another routinely doesn't feel like playing for the first 20 minutes or so of its games.
Even so, rarely are there four NCAA tournament semifinalists of such distinctive style and robust personality.
Two teams were expected all along to be in Albuquerque: Houston, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, and No. 2 Louisville, which has been to the final four three of the last four years.
"Frankly, I'm surprised Georgia and North Carolina State are in there," said Houston's Clyde Drexler. "But we were a surprise team last year, so we know how dangerous they can be."
Drexler, like many of the players on these four teams, has pretty much adopted his coach's character.
Denny Crum, of Louisville, is made of such California cool that his players find it difficult to get excited even when they're trailing by 13 points in a regional final. "We just don't like a lot of emotion," said senior Scooter McCray. "Keeps us from having too many ups and downs."
Houston Coach Guy Lewis, 61 years unfazed, has an unbreakable confidence that his way is the right way. Said reserve forward Bryan Williams, "Basically, the attitude here is we can beat anybody."
If N.C. State wins two more games, Jimmy Valvano may take his one-liners to guest-host the "Tonight Show." After an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament game, a reporter asked Sidney Lowe to elaborate on the defensive alignment Valvano had started to describe in a press conference. "Coach said that?" Lowe said. "We weren't even in a zone trap. We were in man to man. What's he talking about?"
And then there's Georgia Coach Hugh Durham, who until this month was still fighting to establish his program as one of the best four or five in the Southeastern Conference. "Maybe now," said James Banks, "people might stop asking us about Herschel Walker."
Their styles are as different as their personalities. And here is a look at each of the teams. Georgia plays N.C. State Saturday at 3:30 in Albuquerque's University Arena, followed by Houston against Louisville.
Louisville (32-3) is as close as college basketball gets these days to the UCLA glory teams. The Cardinals emerged from "The Thrilla in Knoxvilla" to reach the final four for the third time in four years. Without a doubt, they are the most flexible team of the four semifinalists.
The starting five is so interchangeable, Crum can invert the offense and send guards Milt Wagner and Lancaster Gordon to the base lines, with Scooter McCray, Rod McCray and Charles Jones on the top. Scooter, 6-9, or Rod, 6-7, becomes point guard.
Forwards loop sky passes to guards, guards loop them to forwards. And only the stout of heart go to the basket on the Cardinals. Style: slammin' and swattin'. "It's a fun way to play," said Crum.
Besides having trouble with any good center, Louisville's other big problem is that the Cardinals haven't played a decent first half in the tournament. They trailed Arkansas by 16 points in the first half of the regional semifinal and Kentucky by 13 points early in the final.
"I don't know what it is," said Scooter McCray. "Mr. Hyde never comes out until the second half."
"I don't know what it is, either," said 6-8 center Jones. "But I know we need to establish tempo and intensity much earlier, instead of waiting until we get down by 10 points before we start playing."
Should Louisville wait that long against Houston (30-2) there might not be any coming back. Houston is one of the few teams in the country--maybe the only one--which has as much physical talent as Louisville.
And, as Georgia's Durham points out, "Houston's advantage is that big man in the middle." Durham, of course, is speaking of Akeem (The Dream) Olajuwon, a 7-foot sophomore who dunks with Dawkinesque power and starts fast breaks by spike-blocking shots into the middle of the court.
Drexler, the 6-7 all-America forward, is in the McCray mold. He often plays four positions in a game. Also, there is 6-6 guard Michael Young, the leading scorer, and 6-9 Larry Micheaux, the only senior starter, who is the power forward that keeps Olajuwon from being double-teamed. This is not the same team that often ran out of control last year with guards Rob Williams and Linden Rose.
Still, Houston's problem, other than its 62 percent free-throw shooting, is at guard--point guard to be specific. Alvin Franklin, a freshman, fills the role. But perhaps the Louisville press may force Lewis to go with sophomore Reid Gettys.
There may be a record number of dunks and blocked shots. But Houston, with Olajuwon in the middle, has to rate an edge over Louisville in a game some think really should be called the national championship.
North Carolina State (24-10) has the edge over Georgia in the first semifinal. The Wolfpack has the best back court in the final four. Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg, the 6-foot wonders from De Matha, dictate the pace. Lowe is averaging 7.4 assists per game. Whittenburg, who missed six weeks with a broken foot, is averaging 21 points over the four games State has won in the tournament.
Rarely does a team get to the final four on jump shooting, but that's what the Wolfpack relies on, which is reflected in its 47 percent shooting. And as well as Georgia plays as a team, N.C. State can't afford to go four against five, which it does in effect with the minimal-at-times contributions of starting center Cozell McQueen.
Georgia (24-9), even after beating North Carolina and St. John's, still is the unknown quantity. How can a team whose tallest starter is 6-7 (Terry Fair), make it to the semifinals?
Quickness. Fair, 6-6 Banks, 6-5 Lamar Herd, 6-5 guard Vern Fleming and 6-1 guard Gerald Crosby hit the backboards like guys 6-8 and 6-9.
"Their speed and quickness really concern us," Valvano said of the Bulldogs. "But I guess we're kinda similar. We're both on minirolls."