Anyone planning to upset the Naval Academy in the ECAC South tournament at Williamsburg had better conjure up a 7-footer.
The Midshipmen will start you off with Vernon Butler and Doug Wojcik, then finish you off with Kylor Whitaker or Cliff Rees. If that doesn't do it, they'll simply bring the hammer down with 6-foot-11 sophomore center David Robinson, who yesterday was named the ECAC South player of the year.
Robinson probably will prove the difference in the tournament, which starts today at William and Mary Hall. It begins with Navy's 1 p.m. game against East Carolina and ends with Saturday's 4 p.m. final, where the Midshipmen, winners of the regular season, fully intend to be.
Robinson averaged 23.8 points a game to finish second in league scoring behind George Mason's Carlos Yates and led the conference in rebounding (11.6). Forward Butler, the school's all-time leading rebounder, finished second in the league with 9.4 a game and averaged 17.9 points. Two efficient guards in Wocjik and Rees, and a fine outside shooter in forward Whitaker, make Navy perhaps the most well-rounded team in the tournament.
"The tournament won't determine the best team in the conference," American Coach Ed Tapscott said, "but the regular season does, and Navy has already proven it, whether they win or not. Realistically, they are the ones with the best chance."
The Midshipmen also have the conference's coach of the year in Paul Evans, who orchestrated their 22-5 record, including 11-3 in the league. They are heavy favorites over last-place East Carolina (7-21, 1-13).
But there are some dark horses who could conceivably upset the Midshipmen's plans for the NCAA tournament berth they didn't get last year, when they were beaten by Richmond in the final. Richmond went on to beat Auburn in the opening round of the NCAA, while Navy stayed home with a 24-8 record.
"We're looking at it like a new season," Evans said. "We know we better play well so the same thing doesn't happen to us again . . . Any one of five teams could do it."
Richmond (18-9, 11-3) again leads the rest of the pack chasing Navy, with 6-7 junior forward John Newman, averaging 20.7 points a game, and senior guard Kelvin Johnson, a DeMatha High product averaging 15.2. The Spiders, who won both regular-season meetings with Navy, have the ECAC South rookie of the year in center Peter Woolfolk.
American figures to make a quick exit. Not even Tapscott gives the Eagles (9-18, 3-11) much of a chance against Richmond in their 3 p.m. meeting today. AU starts three freshmen from the Washington area -- Mike Sampson, Eric White and Chuck West. AU was beaten twice by Richmond this season.
"There are two ways to look at it," Tapscott said. "You can say the freshmen will be awfully tense, or you can say they might be too young to care and will just go out and play. It's a double-edged sword."
George Mason (17-10, 10-4) was the only team to beat Navy twice this season, making the Patriots prime candidates for an upset. Yates scores 24.2 points a game. Mason plays North Carolina-Wilmington (12-15, 4-10) today at 9.
Fourth-place William and Mary (15-11, 9-5) has to be considered a contender if only because of "The Hall," the Indians' home court. The Indians are led by shooting guard Keith Cieplicki (20 points a game). James Madison, the Indians' opponent at 7, is an enigma. The Dukes handed Navy its only other league loss and beat 17th-ranked Virginia Commonwealth in the same week, but wound up at 14-13, 7-7.