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Pac-10: No Big Men and Very Little Tournament Success : THE DEMISE OF WEST COAST BASKETBALL

February 16, 1986|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

All right, class, cool the slammin' and jammin', dishin' and dunkin'. It's time for today's lesson in Hooponomics: What's Wrong with the Pac-10, or, Do They Still Play Basketball on the West Coast?

Put your hand down, Mr. Vitale, you'll get your turn. This will be a group discussion. Otherwise, Mr. Hazzard says, he'll pick up his ball and go home.

Jerry Tarkanian, you're excused. In case you hadn't noticed, class, Mr. Tarkanian's team, Nevada Las Vegas, is the only one in the neighborhood that's in the top 10. The rest of you, with the exception of Mr. Harrick of Pepperdine, aren't even in the top 40.

That, of course, is just one reason for the pertinence of our topic. For those of you needing more incentive to pay attention, just remember:

--UCLA's 37-point flameout to North Carolina in its season opener, not to mention the Bruins' one-sided losses to Louisville and Notre Dame in other intersectional games.

--A look at the Pac-10 standings, which show no team with fewer than seven losses overall.

--A conference record of 11-17 in NCAA tournament play during the 1980s, including last year's one-game-and-out performances by four Pac-10 teams--USC, Washington, Oregon State and Arizona.

--An unofficial winning percentage of 58% in nonconference games against Division I schools this season, compared to the 85% turned in by the ACC, according to Mike Douchant of The Sporting News.

Convinced there is a problem? So is our panel, which includes Pete Newell, West Coast basketball guru, long-time Cal coach and scout for the Golden State Warriors; Marty Blake, director of his own National Basketball Assn. scouting combine; Don Mead, director of an Irvine-based high school and junior college talent rating service; NCAA statistician Jim Van Valkenburg, and Pac-10 coaches Dr. Tom Davis of Stanford, Stan Morrison of USC and Ralph Miller of Oregon State.

And yes, Mr. Dick Vitale, one-time X-and-O artist for the University of Detroit, now indefatigable cable TV commentator and an irritant to UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard, who at one time said his goal this season was to silence Vitale, a frequent critic of the Pac-10.

"I have no animosity toward the guy (Hazzard) at all," Vitale said. "But one thing I pride myself on is honesty. I can't run, jump or shoot. I'm not the problem.

"Just look at the top 20. That's not Dick Vitale's top 20. And I think it's obvious right now that West Coast basketball can't compare to Eastern basketball."

Why not? A poll of this group pinpoints the following as causes for the Pac-10's current embattled state:


We're not talking about Twisted Sister on MTV here--we're talking about the beast of the east on ESPN. Every major conference in the country can be seen here on prime time, thanks to cable TV, but do you think anybody's staying up after midnight on the East Coast to watch Oregon battle Arizona?

Chris DePlaca, publicist for ESPN, says the cable network scheduled 25 Big East telecasts this season and 28 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

That's not even counting the games shown on the USA network.

The Pac-10? It had 10 games scheduled on ESPN, the same as the Sun Belt and Metro conferences.

DePlaca said that ESPN received a 1.8 rating for the USC-UCLA game a couple of weeks ago. A 2 rating, he said, is considered good on cable. But last week's St. John's-Georgetown game copped a 3.8 rating, the highest of the regular season. And most Pac-10 games don't even start until 11 on the East Coast.

For a 17-year-old high school kid seeking exposure, the numbers don't lie.

"Syracuse just signed two of the best guards in California," Blake said, referring to Earl Duncan from St. Monica in Santa Monica and Stephen Thompson from Crenshaw. "Now why do the two best guards in California end up at Syracuse? The proliferation of television, and the guy (Coach Jim Boeheim) is a good recruiter."

Miller said that most kids figure that the more they're on TV, the better chance they have of cashing in with the NBA. "I don't buy that," he said. "The NBA will find you anywhere."

On the other hand, he conceded that lack of exposure might have cost Oregon State's A.C. Green some money in last year's NBA draft. "He was probably the best bargain around in the first round," Miller said of Green, who signed with the Lakers.


It's not true the entire population of Pullman, Wash., can fit inside Syracuse's Carrier Dome--it just seems that way. St. John's plays some home games at Madison Square Garden, Georgetown in the Capital Centre. North Carolina gave Dean Smith a gym that makes some Pac-10 arenas look like study halls by comparison.

"My view is that we're so lacking in big-time facilities in the West, we don't encourage a lot of television," Newell said.

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