My buddy Al McGuire always has liked lists, so he has challenged me to name five important keys in reaching the NCAA Final Four. Well, here goes:
(1) A team must have the ability to neutralize its opponents on the boards, by raw talent, size, quickness, or a nose for the ball. If you at least stay even on the boards, you have a chance to govern tempo, get a few cheap offensive baskets, and protect against rebound hoops.
(2) I know this sounds obvious, but the most basic element of sound basketball is taking better shots than your opponent -- getting the right man to take his shot at the right time.
(3) No matter whether your basic defense is a zone or man-to-man, you must be able to shut down your opponent for two or three minutes at some point during a game.
(4) The head coach has to call the right timeouts, have the proper game concept, substitute intelligently and make the right strategic moves.
(5) Finally, each team member must have his role defined and accept that responsibility, whether it's as a star or a bench-sitter. The chemistry of a champion has yet to be defined, but, believe me, it's there.
So having said all that, who's going to win the 1985 championship? Well, first, let me tell you the four teams that I think are going to win this week's regionals and go to the Final Four in Lexington's Rupp Arena.
The East is the toughest regional, with all four teams capable of going to the Final Four. I still think Georgetown will prevail because of experience and Patrick Ewing. That should be the difference at Providence, although I think Illinois might have the best shot of anybody in the country to knock off the Hoyas.
In the West, despite Kentucky's great run after the furor over its inclusion in the 64-team tournament field, I like St. John's. The Redmen are regaining their confidence and I think Mullin, Berry, and Wennington will be too strong for the weakest region.
Michigan's upset creates a dogfight in the Southeast. I look for a North Carolina-Villanova final with the edge to North Carolina because size could be a problem for Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino. The zone will cause trouble for the Tar Heels, but what does Massimino do if Ed Pinckney gets into foul trouble or is worn down by that massive North Carolina front line?
As for the Midwest, my choice will be the winner of the Oklahoma-Louisiana Tech game. Tech was my No. 1 surprise team last week. Andy Russo's club came into the tournament ranked No. 5 in the region, which I thought was too low. Tech destroyed a hot Pitt team and handled Ohio State convincingly. Still, I'll go with Oklahoma because of Wayman Tisdale's experience in big games. The problem with Memphis State is that it has been getting erratic performances from its twin towers, Keith Lee and William Bedford.
So, Al, there's another list for you: Georgetown, St. John's, North Carolina and Oklahoma.