Towson State, which meets Ohio State tomorrow night in the opening round of the NCAA basketball tournament, is reaping a benefit from two straight tourney appearances that few outsiders are aware of:
Towson has become a school basketball players want to attend. Mount St. Mary's coach Jim Phelan is finding that out.
"We're talking to a lot of kids," says Phelan, "who have Towson No. 2 on their list. They'll have Richmond No. 1 and Towson No. 2. Or Boston U. No. 1 and Towson 2. Or an ACC school with Towson No. 2. I think it's because Towson's been in the tournament two years now."
Phelan's 37th season at the Mount was a tough one (8-19), but it did not dim the enthusiasm of the 62-year-old coach.
"You never want to go out with a year like that," he says. "We had three players go down at the beginning of the year [point guard Kevin Booth, Doug John and 6-foot-9, 230-pound Matt Meakin from England]. We like to think if it hadn't been for the injuries our record could have been reversed. Last year we beat Robert Morris twice and Kevin Booth had 60 points in the two games. This year Kevin sat out and we lost both games to Robert Morris.
"We red-shirted all three players and they practiced with us from February on. They'll be back next season, a year older."
Phelan does not think defending champion and heavily favored UNLV is a lock in the NCAAs.
"Georgetown could beat them," Phelan says. "I talked to the Arizona coach [Lute Olson] last month and he thinks he can beat them. But if Vegas comes out of the West it'll be hard for anybody to beat them."
What about Towson State-Ohio State? Says Phelan: "That's a tough matchup for Towson. Big Ten teams are so big and physical. In the Big Ten and the Big East they wrestle you from halfcourt in. I think their theory is, put everybody on the floor. Then if you throw the ball in, there won't be anybody standing to catch it."
* Towson State coach Terry Truax was seated with Maryland coach Gary Williams at the Ed Block Courage Award banquet Tuesday night.
That's natural, since the two were teammates at Maryland in their student days. ("Gary wouldn't throw me the ball," Truax says.) It's also interesting because Williams, when he coached Ohio State, recruited most of the players who will face Towson. We can rest assured Truax got an earful about the Buckeyes.
Williams this week finished third in the voting for ACC Coach of the Year behind Wake Forest's Dave Odom and N.C. State's Les Robinson. Although Williams probably did the best job, his show finish is understandable.
"It's hard to win that the way the voting is stacked," Williams said.
Most of the writers who vote are in North Carolina. At that, Williams can take solace in having finished ahead of two Carolina coaching stars -- Dean Smith and Mike Krzyzewski.
Williams, who says "the worst is behind us" as far as Maryland's struggle goes in dealing with NCAA sanctions, talked -- as most others did that night -- about Jim Palmer's retirement. Looking at it with the perspective of a competitor, Williams said: "I like what Jim did. He had to find out if he could do it and he found out."
* Here are Inside Stuff's tips on what to expect in the East Regional at College Park:
Temple, Syracuse, North Carolina State and Oklahoma State to advance to Saturday's second round, with Syracuse then beating Temple and N.C. State winning over Oklahoma State.
* In college lacrosse, the highlight of the coming weekend will be the finals of the Loyola College/George Transfer Invitational Sunday at Evergreen at 3 p.m. On Saturday, Loyola should be an easy winner over Ohio Wesleyan and Princeton is favored to beat Penn State. A championship game matchup between high-flying (2-0) Princeton and (1-1) Loyola, trying to bounce back from an upset at Virginia, should be a dandy.