The top 10 stories of the season COLLEGES BASKETBALL PREVIEW

November 15, 1996|By Sun staff writer Don Markus

1. Dean Smith's record

Though El Deano says it might take him at least two more seasons at North Carolina to win the 26 games needed to chase down Adolph Rupp's record of 876, the Tar Heels could get it for their coach sometime in March. What might be more impressive than the number of victories is Smith's longevity - this is his 36th season in Chapel Hill - and that he shows no signs of slowing up.

2. The WAC Attack

A conference known for its high-scoring, late-night football games could become a haven for hoop insomniacs this winter. With the addition of Fresno State, otherwise known as UNLV Revisited under Jerry Tarkanian, and Tulsa, an NCAA Cinderella team the past few years with a shooter named Shea Seals as its main attraction, Utah will finally have some competition. The Utes, led by senior forward Keith Van Horn, are still the favorites.

3. Tim Duncan's dominance

In four years, he's gone from complete unknown to complete package: a 6-foot-10 center who can rebound, score, block shots and even pass. He has led Wake Forest to two straight Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championships and to a couple of NCAA tournament Elite Eight appearances. If Duncan is as good as most NBA general managers say - Jerry West of the Lakers called him the best player in the country two years ago - he must get the Demon Deacons to the Final Four this season.

4. The decline of the Big Ten

What was being written about the Big East a couple of years ago is now being said about the Big Ten. The coaches are getting too old. The talent levels of the marquee teams, in particular Indiana, have dropped. The games are as entertaining as C-Span. Heck, when was the last time Bob Knight threw anything but a cold, hard stare at anyone? Even Penn State can compete now, given the rapid decline of programs such as Ohio State and Michigan State.

5. Lefty's last stand

Lefty Driesell was one of college basketball's most colorful characters during his often-tumulutous tenure in College Park. He thought he could turn James Madison into a big-time program, as he did at Maryland once before, but it has proved a struggle just to win the Colonial Athletic Association. Now, after his worst season as a Division I coach - the Dukes didn't put up theirs last year, finishing a dismal 10-20 - Driesell silenced his critics with his best recruiting class in the eight years since he came to Harrisonburg. But will it be enough to keep them away?

6. Little Rickys

With the departure of John Calipari from Massachusetts - the question is whether his current team, the New Jersey Nets, will be as good as his team last season? - the competition for the Rick Pitino coach-a-like contest could be staged by two of Division I's youngest head coaches, Billy Donovan at Florida and Herb Sendek at North Carolina State. Donovan played for Pitino at Providence and with the New York Knicks and later worked for him and with Sendek at Kentucky. Both will have their hands full, in particular Donovan in the suddenly dominant Southeastern Conference.

7. Cincinnati's run to the title

Bob Huggins finally has a team to match his on-court persona. In other words, a team to take on all comers, a team that's going to get in your face. This is a team that has size, depth, strength and a nasty streak. Not to mention All-American Danny Fortson and a few All-American trash talkers.

8. Parker's second chance

Three years ago, Richie Parker was considered among the country's top high school players. But his conviction for sexual assault as a junior turned off the college recruiters and turned the 6-5 forward into damaged goods. A number of Division I schools offered, then pulled their scholarships because of public pressure, most notably Seton Hall, Utah and George Washington. After spending a year attending a junior college in Arizona and apologizing publicly to his victim, Parker is being given a new lease on his basketball life at Long Island University in Brooklyn.

9. See you later

That's what the UCLA administration said to longtime coach Jim Harrick, the most successful of any of the Bruins coaches in the past 20 years to follow in the large Wooden shoes. Now, it's up to former restricted earnings coach Steve Lavin to keep the tradition going, if only on an interim basis, in Westwood. The Bruins should have seen if they could get the Wizard himself to come out of his 21-year retirement.

10. Jerry's kids

What Lefty hasn't been able to do at James Madison, The Tark might just be able to pull off at Fresno State. That's if the program doesn't follow the same path that UNLV and Long Beach State took - the one that leads to NCAA probation and sanctions. Tarkanian had to put out a number of brush fires in his first season back from exile - or at least from San Antonio, or have you forgotten that disaster? - while the Bulldogs were finishing 22-11. The addition of four players - three redshirts and BC transfer Chris Herren - could make Fresno State the best team west of Tucson.

Five programs on the upswing

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