College basketball's showcase event will be missing some of the country's top players.
When the NCAA Tournament opens Thursday players like Kevin Houston, Bob McCann, Eric Riggins and Darrin Fitzgerald will not be around--victims of playing the right way for the wrong team.
Army's Houston leads the nation in scoring with an average of 33 points a game. He also tops the country in free-throw shooting, hitting 91% of his foul shots.
"The progress of this young man is just fantastic," said Army Coach Les Wothke, whose team finished 14-15. "We never thought he'd be able to achieve the things he has achieved."
Houston received just one scholarship offer when he left high school--from Army. He has rewarded the academy by becoming the school's all-time scoring leader.
The 5-foot-11 senior guard scored almost half of Army's points this season despite facing double and triple coverage at times. He took more than four times as many shots as any of his teammates.
"This season has been a pleasant surprise," Houston said. "I never thought that I'd be leading the nation in scoring. It is not something I thought about before the season but now I want to be No. 1."
McCann, who plays for Morehead (Ky.) State in the Ohio Valley Conference, gets less exposure than players at bigger schools but he has caught the eyes of NBA scouts.
"The player in Kentucky this year is the kid at Morehead State, Bob McCann," said NBA chief scout Marty Blake. "He's a sleeper but he won't be for long. You don't find 6-9 guys who can run, jump and shoot like he can. I would not be surprised at all if that guy went high in the draft."
McCann's Morehead State team finished 14-14 and was eliminated in the first round of the OVC tournament. The senior center averaged 18.6 points and 11.3 rebounds a game.
"McCann is a very, very tough player," Indiana Coach Bob Knight said. "He has great hands and really works to get the basketball. I'm not sure I've seen a kid who did a better job getting things done with people around him."
Another who labored for a team that finished near the bottom of its league was Riggins of Rutgers. Riggins was the lone bright spot on a Scarlet Knights' team that finished 5-13 in the Atlantic 10 and 8-19 overall.
The 6-7 senior forward averaged 24.7 points a game. On Feb. 21, he scored 51 points against Penn State to tie a school record and followed that with a 37-point performance against St. Joseph's.
Fitzgerald finished his career as Butler's all-time leader in points and assists. This year the 5-9 senior averaged 26.2 points a game and led the nation in three-point shots made per game with an average of more than 5.
Despite Fitzgerald's play Butler finished 12-16 overall and lost in the first round of the Midwestern Collegeiate Conference tournament.