Last Saturday was a happy one in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Sure the hometown Tar Heels lost their football game to Clemson. But more important things were afoot. After the football game, those lucky enough to have tickets headed over to Carmichael Auditorium for the biggest game in town, the annual Blue-White contest that marks the beginning of basketball season.
As all of the major teams suit up for their intra-squad games, it's about time for all of us armchair coaches to come out with our previews and prognostications. So, here goes.
1--Kentucky. The Wildcats didn't have a great recruiting year for a change, but they return enough talent so that it doesn't matter. Kentucky lives and dies with Dirk Manniefield and Sam Bowie, and right now there isn't a better guard-center combination around.
2--North Carolipa. Oh, how I would love to rank UNC number one. I adore the Tar Heels. I worship Dean Smith. Sam Perkins is great. James Worthy is better. And Michael Jordan is going to be the best freshman in the nation. But, like the bumper stickers should say. IF GOD IS A TAR HEEL, WHY HAS DEAN SMITH NEVER WON A NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP?
3--UCLA. Remember the NCAA championship game in 1980 when UCLA almost won with a crew of freshmen and sopbomores Well those freshmen and sophomores are now inniors and seniors. Add to that freshmen center Stuart Gray--National High School Athletic Coaches Association Player of the Year--and it looks like the Bruins will be back in the final four. Based on talent alone, they should win the national title. But the game of musical coaches that has been going on at Pauley Pavillion ever since John Wooden retired is not the kind of thing that can bring home top honors.
4--Iowa. Not content with returning seven of the ten players from last year's 21-7 squad. Iowa coach Lute Olson came away from the recruiting wars with the high school players of the year from Illinois. Ohio and Iowa, and the junior college player of the year for the whole country. The Hawkeyes don't have the big names that Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA do, but look for them to be in the finals at the Superdome just the same.
5--DePaul. So what if Mark Aguirre jumped to the pros after his junior season. That may actuaily be a plus for Ray Meyer's Blue Demons. Aguirre was an amazing talent, but there were always questions as to whether or not that talent was best stuited to team play. This year we find out. Improving on last year's 27-2 record will be tough, but DePaul has the quickness and the coaching to be in the thick of things.
6--Virginia. U.Va's great advantage is Ralph Sampson. Its great disadvantage is his supporting cast. Sampson, you will remeber, is the 7-ft. 4-in center that NBC commentator Al McGuire will tell you 10 or 20 times a game is the "Player of the Century." Unfortunately for Cavalier Coach Terry Holland, the loss of Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker ro graduation means that opposing teams will be able to put a lot more pressure on Sampson. No matter haw good he really is, the big guy won't be able to do wonders when he is triple-teamed around the basket.
7--Louisville. The Cardinals won 15 straight games last year before losing to Arkansas in the NCAA tournament on a 50-footer at the buzzer by U.S. Reed. Louisville coach Denny Crum has all five of his straters from that team returning along with a tumper crop of freshmen that
8--Wichita State. The Shockers have two great forwards returning in Cliff Levingston and Antoine Carr. They have added two of last year's most highly recruited schoolboy prospects in 7-ft. 1-in, center Greg Dreiling and 6-ft. 4-in. back-court man Aubrey Sherrod. But none of this will matter because coach Gene Smithson and his team will be on probation and ineligible for post-season play by the time the NCAA tournament rolls around anyway.
9--Georgetown. Of all the talent coming out of high school last year, the most was signed by Georgetown Coach John Thompson. This includes local favorite Pat Ewing from Cambridge Rindge and Latin and two other high school All-Americans. And, like Louisville, the Hoyas return all of last year's starters.
10--Indiana. You have to put the Hoosiers in the top ten for two reasons. One, they are the defending national champs. Two, Bobby Knight is the best basketball coach around, 'Nuff said.