Let's get one thing straight right from the jump: If Michigan is really as good as it looked against Indiana, you can stop the tournament right now. Just phone in the scores and hand Michigan the trophy. Did you see that game? How'd you like to be the coach of Akron and be looking at that baby on film? Sure is a wonderful reward for winning the Ohio Valley Conference, drawing Michigan in the first round. You realize that Akron's nickname is the "Zips." Is that for: a) how many points they'll score; b) their chance of winning; c) how fast they depart the tournament; d) all of the above?
Speaking of teams with a limited shelf life, let me acquaint you with some of the NCAA's more perishable selections: We have the Xavier Musketeers (And if there's any justice out there they'll introduce their players: Annette, Lonny, Darlene, Karen, Cubby . . . ). We also have the Cleveland State Vikings (Vikings?), the Brown Bruins (The teams could merge, producing the Cleveland State Browns), the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans, the Northeast Louisiana Indians, the Montana State Bobcats, the Ball State Cardinals (Any school named Ball State has to be good. Who signs the checks, Voit?), the North Carolina A&T Aggies, the Drexel Dragons (Here's a dream Dragon backcourt: Puff Nettles and Magic Johnson), the Davidson Wildcats, the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, and, my personal favorite, the Marist Red Foxes (If only they had a player named Fred Sanford). Say goodnight, Gracie, to all of them.
Poor Mississippi Valley State draws Duke. "I guess we're considered No. 64 in the field," said Lafayette Stribing, the coach. "That's okay. At least we're not 65th -- then we'd be staying home." Home is the tiny town of Itta Bena in the northwest part of the state. Mississippi Valley State made a name for itself in football with Willie (Satellite) Totten passing hundreds of touchdowns to Jerry Rice, but has been "a so-so school in basketball" according to Charles Prophet, sports information director. "We're small," Prophet said, talking about a front line that goes 6-3, 6-5, 6-7. "And the 6-7 kid only weighs 170." Initially, the team was upset at drawing Duke. "Putting us in that tough a game is like saying you don't want us to come," Prophet explained. "But now the feeling is at least we won't get beat by a rinky-dink." Given the choice of every team in the field to open against Prophet had no hesitation: "Marist -- nobody knows either of us."
Marist, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., had nine straight losing seasons before Matt Furjanic, who had coached Robert Morris (George Mason's cousin on his mother's side?) to two NCAAs, arrived. Multi-talented, perhaps, but certainly multi-lingual, Marist is distinguished by the highest concentration of foreign players outside the NASL; it ought to play home games at the U.N. Two imports start: Rik Smits, a 7-3 center from Holland, and Miro Pecarski, a 6-10 forward from Yugoslavia. Three are subs: Rudy Bourgarel, 7 feet, from Guadeloupe, Alain Forestier, 6-6, from France, and Peter Krasovec, 6-7, from Hungary. Marist may be the only team in the NCAAs with an assistant coach in charge of green cards.
What do you make of the seeds? Two weeks ago -- even after Maryland beat North Carolina the first time -- people still were wondering whether the Terrapins would make the NCAA field. From the seedings (Maryland is a No. 5) it's obvious that the selection committee considers all six ACC entries among the top 24 teams in the country. Then there's Navy, winner of 13 straight now, ranked in the top 20 and a first-round winner (over LSU) last year, given a No. 7 seed. If Navy can beat Tulsa, it draws Syracuse at Syracuse. Anywhere else Navy might win in an upset, but not there. And how about Bradley finishing 31-2, second best in the nation, and getting a No. 7 seed? If Bradley were 30-3, where would it go, the NIT?
I thought Brown got a bad deal. Not who it plays -- where. Brown's a realistic 15th seed, drawing Syracuse is fair. Just last week a man who'd known the Brown coach, Mike Cingiser, for 20 years asked him, "Honestly, what kind of chance do you have of winning your first-round game?" And Cingiser replied, "What chance do you have of getting pregnant?" But Cingiser was hopeful that his team might be sent somewhere exotic for its short stay; he smiled at the prospect of Long Beach. To send a school from Providence to Syracuse is a busman's holiday. This is how we reward real student athletes?
Okay, you want picks, I'll give you picks. Here are two sure upsets for the first round: Northeastern over Oklahoma, and Villanova over Virginia Tech. Am I obligated to pick a Final Four, too? I like Duke to come out of the East, and I see St. Joe's as a sleeper there. I don't believe Michigan can be that good forever; Kansas will come out of the Midwest. It's hard to go against Georgia Tech in the Southeast since the regional is in Atlanta, but my heart tells me that this regional is where a long shot, like Purdue or Illinois, wins. Out West, my heart says St. John's, but my head says Louisville. Hopeless romantic, here I go again.