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READY, SET . . . : 64 Teams, Some of Them Good, Seek NCAA Title : Everyone Seems to Agree That Anyone Can Win the 1986 Basketball Carnival

March 13, 1986|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

The NCAA tournament will open today with the Devils' Classic, Duke's Blue Devils against Mississippi Valley State's Delta Devils. This will be their first meeting, possibly because Duke may not have guessed at the existence of Mississippi Valley State until the selection committee introduced them.

They'll play this morning in Greensboro, 60 miles from the Duke campus and a lot farther than that from Itta Bena, Miss. If you want to see what a Delta Devil looks like, you're advised to look quickly.

It'll get better. In three weeks, we'll have the answers to all our questions:

--Who should have been the favorite all along?

--Who will don Villanova's mantle?

--Will the Pac-10 ever win another tournament game?

--Who was Villanova, anyway?

Villanova was Rollie Massimino's unranked, third-place finisher in the Big East last season. The Wildcats played what many consider to be the closest thing to a perfect basketball game and shocked Georgetown in the final, 66-64.

It was the upset of the century, or at least the biggest in two years, since Jim Valvano and North Carolina State shocked Houston in the 1983 final.

This year is not likely to produce the amusement of an overwhelming favorite toppling on its nose. There is no overwhelming favorite. The buzz words most likelY to drive you out of your mind this spring are not intensity or transition game or paint or aircraft carrier, but wide-open tournament.

The game has come back to earth. After a seven-year golden era that embraced the college careers of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Ralph Sampson, Michael Jordan, Akeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing, an entire nation is rebuilding. There are a lot of fine players out there, but no one who has yet proved himself great.

Hence, there are no great teams.

Duke is the No. 1-seeded team in the field of 64. Larry Brown's No. 2 Kansas is getting a lot of mention, as is No. 5 Michigan.

"I'm flattered," said Brown a couple of days ago from his Lawrence, Kan., office. "But a lot of people think we didn't play well in our conference tournament.

"I truly think there are 40 Villanovas out there. I like North Carolina, Duke, Michigan. If I'm right, that's not good. Michigan is in our regional."

Here's a look at the tournament, region by region, with comments by Brown and Tom Newell, personnel director of the Indiana Pacers. WEST

There's a diminished Pacific 10 presence after its 0-4 record last season and 13 losses in 18 tournament games, to foes like Kansas State and West Virginia (Oregon State), Utah and BYU (UCLA), Wyoming and Illinois State (USC) and Dayton (Washington).

This spring, the Pac-10 is down to two teams: Arizona, which will play Auburn Friday in Long Beach, and Washington, which was packed off to the Midwest to play Michigan State.

Brown: "Louie (Carnesecca of St. John's) has done as good a job as anyone in the country. I think Walter Berry is great. The things I look for are a point guard, a big man and seniors. They have them."

Newell: "If you'd told me at the beginning of the season that Louie would take the Big East and his team would be No. 1 in any region, I would have said you're nuts. And to do it with nine players? The point guard, Mark Jackson, has meant a lot to them.

"Walter Berry has had a great year. He's an outstanding college player. If he comes out this year--and there are rumors he might--I know the Indiana Pacers won't be interested. We have that in Wayman Tisdale. I'd like to see him matched up with players his size. I'm not sure he can play big forward in our league."

Louisville, coming on strong in the Denny Crum tradition, is highly regarded.

So is North Carolina, despite four losses in its last five games, and the injuries and the fact that its guards are refusing to shoot, or casting stones. The Tar Heels have two games to get well before meeting Louisville.

Brown: "You take Carolina. People are starting to say they're not playing well. That's when you better watch out. People forget, their first 15 games, they were just dominating people. I think that ability is still there."

Newell: "Louisville is the only team in the nation that can lose seven, eight, nine games early and it doesn't faze them. Pervis Ellison (6-9 freshman center) reminds me of a young Sam Perkins. He just completely outplayed (Memphis State's) William Bedford in the conference tournament."

Worth the price of admission is Maryland's Len Bias, No. 2 in the player-of-the-year balloting to Berry. Pepperdine gets him tomorrow.

Newell: "He has better hang time than one of Ray Guy's punts." SOUTHEAST

Kentucky is seeded No. 1, Georgia Tech No. 2.

Kentucky is fielding its smallest team since Rupp's Runts. Kenny Walker, a 6-8 small forward as a sophomore, is the center. The only other starter taller than 6-3 is 6-6 Winston Bennett. Joe B. Hall went 18-13 with these players a year ago, but Eddie Sutton has gone 29-3.

Brown, whose Jayhawks beat Kentucky handily in Lawrence, said:

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