What-if fun is over let the tournament games begin


More NCAA Tourney Tidbits:

OK, gang, the fun's over, back to work.

That's what it has been since the selections and pairings were announced by the NCAA three days ago, a time of joy, the optimism of youth, the glory of the chase and all that. Now it's a return to blown calls, switching zones, endless timeouts and self-imposed pressure. Players, try to have fun in spite of that sideline maniac screaming at you.

* Everyone deplores the "cupcake" scheduling teams do early prior to beginning conference play. Then along comes the NCAA with its cupcake opening round, these 1-16, 2-15, 3-14 waltz jobs.

Since the tournament went to a 64-team field in 1985, No. 16 seeds stand 0-40 against No. 1's, No. 15's are 2-38 against No. 2's. The closest a 16 came to beating a top gun occurred six years ago, Georgetown nipping Princeton, 50-49, when Alonzo Mourning might have fouled the Princeton marksman (Bob Scrabis) as he attempted a 15-footer for the win.

* Five-hour bursts, four of 'em, are what CBS has in store for the suspecting public beginning about 25 minutes after noon tomorrow with Wake Forest (1) taking on North Carolina A&T; (16). Randolph Childress and friends are 23-point favorites in the Baltimore Arena tussle. The schools are less than 30 miles apart in North Carolina, so maybe they're sharing a bus up here.

* The very first tournament game back in 1939 saw Villanova defeating Brown, 42-30, on St. Patrick's Day in Philadelphia. Villanova had several Irishmen in its lineup and one of the refs was named O'Sullivan, but absolutely nothing is being hinted at here.

* Don't be surprised, either in person or via television, if one of the teams playing in the four doubleheaders the next two afternoons gives the unmistakable impression that it wishes the season was over about a week ago. After all, they've been at it for five months and 70-degree and sunny days have a way of doing that.

* Paul Menton, sports editor of The Evening Sun for decades until 1967, was one of the referees in the 1944 championship game between Dartmouth and Utah. He had a goodie, the Utes winning in overtime, 42-40.

* This is the 12th time a Maryland site has been part of the hosting for the tournament. Beginning in 1962, Cole Field House got the call 10 times, including two Final Fours, and USAir Arena got its feet wet last year.

* The little guy who seems to be one of the officials in every ACC game played, Lenny Wirtz, was chosen to work his first Final Four in 1961 and was chosen for several others up through 1986. No doubt Lenny's psychological profile shows a definite tendency toward masochism.

* Jim Enright, a sportswriter from Chicago, worked the 1954 final, which was a very creative way to make sure he got a good view of La Salle's 92-76 win over Bradley. Incidentally, Tom Gola's team didn't get one of the eight first-round byes handed out despite a 21-4 record.

The very next year, the Bill Russell juggernaut at San Francisco didn't get a bye with a 23-1 record. But Princeton did with a 13-10 mark, which indicates the committee must have thrown darts at the draw sheet to ascertain which teams got byes.

* Flash! Mount St. Mary's faces the longest odds (8,000-1), but the Mounties aren't the only 29-point underdog in the first round. UCLA is favored by that much against Florida International, which doubles as an airport on weekends. Int'l finished ninth in the fabled Trans-America Conference.

No doubt this vote of confidence by the oddsmakers is the reason MSM's sophomore behemoth Randy Edney (6 feet 11, 310), when asked his reaction to taking on Kentucky on TV the other day, replied, "I think we can handle them." Ah, the naivete of youth.

* In 1957, North Carolina not only went three overtimes to beat Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in the final but required three OTs to get by Michigan State (Johnny Green) in the semis the night before. Coach Frank McGuire did not have to conduct a bedcheck.

* The highest TV rating for the tournament (24.1 or 18 million homes) was realized in the 1979 final between Michigan State and Indiana State, which featured such notables as Mike Longaker and Rich Nemcek, respectively. A Bird and a Johnson were on the all-tourney team.

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