By all reckoning, this year's NCAA men's tournament, which opens tomorrow and Friday in eight spots, including the Baltimore Arena, should be one of the best ever, with as many as 15 teams that have a realistic chance to accept the championship trophy in Seattle three weeks from now.
But think for a moment about what could have been. For all the talk of the potency of defending champion Arkansas, or UCLA or Kansas or Wake Forest or a host of teams you could name, the overwhelming favorite in the draw should be Michigan.
That is, if Jalen Rose, Chris Webber and Juwan Howard hadn't taken off for the NBA before their eligibility expired. If the big three of the Fab Five hadn't left for the pros, they would be seniors now and the Wolverines would have drawn something a lot higher than a ninth seed in the Midwest Regional.
"They would be a dominant basketball team right now. You'd have Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray still at Cal, and they would be a bigger factor in the national scene than they are right now," said former Southern Cal coach George Raveling, who will call tournament games in Albany, N.Y., this weekend.
Said ESPN analyst Digger Phelps: "Money talks in a lot of these situations. The sophomores get nervous, especially when they see injuries like to [Virginia guard] Cory Alexander or [Phoenix Suns forward] Danny Manning. It's very difficult if you're a marquee player to see those things happen and not get worried. In that case, it's not just your career, but the kind of money you'd lose in a year."
Kind of makes you wonder what happens to next year's tournament if Maryland's Joe Smith and North Carolina's Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse go mining for NBA gold, doesn't it?
Clash of the tennis geezers
ABC yesterday announced that it will carry the semifinals and final of the inaugural "Challenge," matching four tennis greats from the 1970s and early 1980s on May 20-21.
This tennis seniors tour will match Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Guillermo Vilas in a single-elimination
tournament, played in a best-of-three set format, with the winner taking home a tank of oxygen and $150,000 in first-prize money.
Moon over the NBA
Turner Sports has hired Minnesota Vikings quarterback Warren Moon as a special reporter and interviewer for the rest of the NBA season and as a special correspondent for TNT's NFL coverage next season.
Moon, 38, has his own television show in Minneapolis, and has worked for TNT as a guest analyst. He reportedly attends up to 40 NBA games a year, though if he's watching the Minnesota Timberwolves, that number would have to be adjusted downward.
No accounting for taste
Say this for the Washington Redskins: At least their games will sound better next year on the high fidelity FM stereo sound of Infinity Broadcasting, which signed a three-year deal to carry the NFL team's games, even if it continues to stink and the carrier is, shall we say, less than the model of classy broadcasting.
Lest anyone forget, Infinity, through its production of Howard Stern's morning show, repeatedly has run afoul of Federal Communications Commission regulations, and its afternoon duo of "Don and Mike" settled one lawsuit last year for humiliating a woman, and faces another lawsuit for invading the privacy of another woman.
That hardly sounds like the kind of firm that a usually public relations-savvy team like the Redskins would want to keep company with, unless, of course, the scent of long green can actually cover a noxious smell.