By AL FEATHERSTON
ST. LOUIS _ St. Louis is a baseball city. From George Sisler to Rogers Hornsby to Dizzy Dean to Stan Musial to Mark
"Andro" McGuire to Albert Pujols, the town's heroes have been baseball
players. You have to cross the state to Kansas City (which, despite the
name, is on the western edge of Missouri) to reach real basketball country.
Kansas City, Mo., has been a focal point of college basketball history --
not only was the city the home of the NCAA for more than 50 years, but more
national championships, more regional championships and more NCAA games have
been played in Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium than any other site.
On the other hand, three cities in North Carolina have seen more NCAA games
than the 32 played in St. Louis -- Raleigh (45), Greensboro (47) and
But what St. Louis has lacked in quantity, the city has made up in quality.
The two previous championship games played in the Gateway City have featured
two of the most memorable performances in the history of the tournament.
Both previous Final Fours were played in an old, ugly barn of a building
known as the St. Louis Arena in 1973 when UCLA beat Memphis State in the
finals and as the Checkerdome in 1978 when Kentucky defeated Duke in the
The 1973 title game was, of course, the showcase game for Bill Walton. The
Bruins junior center abused Memphis big men Larry Kenon and Ron Robinson for
44 points, hitting 21 of 22 field goals. Reportedly, during one timeout,
UCLA point guard Greg Lee asked coach John Wooden if maybe he shouldn't try
to get some of the other players involved in the offense.
"Why?" Wooden answered.
Lee finished with a championship game record of 14 assists. Walton later
complained that he should have had more points, since he had four field
goals disallowed as dunks (still illegal in that season) and he missed three
of five free throws, including the front end of two one-and-ones.
Older Blue Devil fans have vivid memories of the 1978 championship game
against the favored Wildcats. That brilliant young team, starting two
freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, had run through the ACC Tournament
and the NCAA with an incredible passion and joy. The contrast between the
happy-go-lucky young Duke players -- Caulton Tudor just recounted the great
old story about Kenny Dennard slipping out of the locker room to watch
Arkansas beat Notre Dame in the consolation game, returning wearing a
plastic Hog Hat -- and the dead-serious Kentucky players -- one of them
called 1978 "The season without joy" -- couldn't have been more pronounced.
Even a death threat against freshman Gene Banks, delivered just before the
title game, couldn't tarnish that team's joyous run. Banks went out and
scored 22 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Sophomore center Mike
Gminski (20 points, 12 rebounds) and junior forward Jim Spanarkel (21
points) also had wonderful games, but it just wasn't enough as Kentucky
forward Jack "Goose" Givens turned in one of the great performances in
history -- 41 points on 18 of 27 shooting. Time after time, he'd find the
seam in Duke's 2-3 zone and pull up for a 10-15 foot jumper.
Even with Givens' heroics (and 20 points, 11 rebounds from Rick Robey, Duke
hung in the game until an extremely questionable technical foul call by Jim
Bain gave the Wildcats enough to a boost to open up a slight lead. Kentucky
held on to its margin the rest of the way.
Duke did have one more shining moment left -- Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall (an
absolute dead ringer for Hank Hill of "King of the Hill") had pulled his
starters to give them a moment of applause, but Duke kept fighting and cut
the lead to four points with a few seconds left and Hall had to scramble to
get his starters back in.
The Checkerdome is long gone, but it will always be remembered for Walton's
44-point game and Givens' 41-point explosion. The only other 40-point
performance in a title game was in 1965, when UCLA's Gail Goodrich scored 42
points in a victory over Michigan. Coincidently, that performance came on
the same night that Princeton's Bill Bradley set the Final Four scoring
record with 58 points against Wichita State in the third-place game.
Most Duke fans know how close Bradley came to attending Duke in the same
recruiting class that produced Jeff Mullins, Jay Buckley and Buzzy Harrison.
But do you also know that Bucky Waters made a strong recruiting pitch for
Bill Walton (and his buddy Greg Lee) and thought that if Walton had not gone
to UCLA, he would have played for the Blue Devils?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch greeted Final Four visitors with an interesting
story in Friday's edition -- a list of the 50 most influential people in
Tom Jernstedt, the NCAA's executive vice president and the man who has
overseen the NCAA Tournament for 33 years, earned the top spot, just ahead
of Sean McManus, the president of CBS sports, with NCAA president Myles
Brand third and ESPN exec Burke Magnis fourth.
Probably the most debatable pick is No. 5 Bob Bowlsby, the current chairman
of the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee (better known as the Selection
Committee). The problem with that choice is that Bowlsby's power base is
temporary -- in fact, his term is over after this tournament and he'll be
replaced by Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage.
Would Littlepage, who is not on the list, be No. 5 if the same poll were
taken in six months?
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is No. 6, reflecting his position as the game's
most powerful coaching voice. The article includes a quote from Tom Izzo
that I haven't seen: "If the game lost him, it would have lost its soul."
It's fascinating to break up the rankings into categories and see how
coaches, administrators and the like are regarded. In terms of coaches, the
11. Jim Boeheim
18. Roy Williams
24. Bob Knight
25. Tubby Smith
33. Lute Olson
35. Jim Calhoun
39. Rick Pitino
43. Kelvin Sampson
That doesn't count two retired coaches who made the list:
28. John Wooden
31. Dean Smith
When you check administrators, you get:
7. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney (a former UNC basketball player)
10. ACC Commissioner John Swofford (a former UNC football player)
12. Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese
30. Dave Gavitt (the founder of the Big East and Tranghese's mentor)
32. SEC Commissioner Mike Slive
However, the most inflammatory comparisons may be between broadcasters:
9. Dick Vitale
26. Billy Packer (wow, I bet Billy liked that!)
47. Jim Nantz
48. Jay Bilas/Andy Katz/Digger Phelps (as a single three-headed entry).
Even more inflammatory might be the ranking of shoe agents:
20. Sonny Vacarro, Reebok
21. George Raveling, Nike
Personally, I was disappointed not to make the list (I think I have at least
as much clout as No. 46 Jack Powers, the NIT executive director). I like to
think I was in the category "Also receiving votes."
Only one member of the print media did make it -- No. 44 Dick "Hoops"
Weiss, the Philadelphia legend who now writes for the New York Daily News.
But, in all seriousness, I wish they could have found room for the best of
what they used to call "ink-stained scribes": men such as the AP's Jim
Malcolm Moran, Dan Wetzel, John Feinstein, Skip Mylinski and women such as
Robyn Norwood, the president of the USWBA.
And if retirees John Wooden, Dean Smith, Dave Gavitt and C.M. Newton make
the list, there's got to be room for our own Bill Brill.
But that's just my prejudice there.
There was another list released this week. Sports Illustrated revealed its
top 20 college basketball players of all time.
I was dreading the list, afraid that it would be another rehash of the kind
of myopic look at basketball history that characterized similar lists put
out recently by the Wooden Committee and Fox Sports.
Instead, I found this list intelligent, well-researched and most importantly
well thought out. That doesn't mean I won't quibble with some of the picks,
but, hey, any list that ranks David Thompson at No. 3 and doesn't include
Michael Jordan in the top 10 has to be treated with respect. For those who
missed it, this was the list:
1. Lew Alcindor, UCLA
2. Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati
3. David Thompson, N.C. State
4. Bill Walton, UCLA
5. Bill Russell, San Francisco
6. Jerry Lucas, Ohio State
7. Pete Maravich, LSU
8. [deleted -- see below]
9. Bill Bradley, Princeton
10. Patrick Ewing, Georgetown
11. Larry Bird, Indiana State
12. Tom Gola, LaSalle
13. Jerry West, West Virginia
14. Calvin Murphy, Niagara
15. Michael Jordan, UNC
16. Elvin Hayes, Houston
17. Bob Kurland, Oklahoma A&M
18. Magic Johnson, Michigan State
19. Christian Laettner, Duke
20. Danny Manning, Kansas
Okay, not a perfect list -- I'd like to see Laettner higher and Jordan lower
(I've argued this before: he had EXACTLY the same college career as Jason
Williams). I'd argue for Thompson ahead of Robertson (on the basis of the
fact that Cincinnati actually got better when Oscar left, winning
back-to-back titles with Bonham-Thacker-Yates-Hogue) and I'd move Russell
ahead of Walton (and wouldn't argue if you moved Russell up ahead of
I like the fact that they recognized Kurland and Gola, two incredibly
dominant players who have been largely forgotten today. I think they did a
good job of rating players based on their college careers, rather than their
success in the NBA.
I only have one major quibble with the list -- that eighth pick. The spot
went to Southern Cal women's star Cheryl Miller in a burst of political
correctness. Look, I have no problem if you want to rank the top 20 women's
players of all time, but including Miller on this list is like listing the
20 greatest baseball players of the 20th century and including Sadahara Oh.
I was trying to think of the worthy candidates that were left out. The
biggest omission is probably 7-4 Ralph Sampson. I don't like the guy, but he
did win three consensus national player of the year awards (twice beating out
Ewing and Jordan head-to-head). I know you can argue that he never won
anything (except the NIT, when the NIT didn't mean much), but neither did
Oscar, Maravich or Murphy.
I could see a spot for Bob Cousy, Hank Lusetti, Cazzie Russell or Ernie
I'd also like to replace Jordan with Phil Ford or Charlie Scott -- two
players who had far more significant college careers.
But it's still the best list of its type that I've seen. I've got to give
Sports Illustrated -- and writer Jack McCallum, who headed the selection
panel -- props for doing a good job.
It was amazing how hard I had to work to find out how Daniel Ewing did in
the NABC All-Star Game and 3-Point Shootout.
Neither the Associated Press or the St. Louis newspaper covered Friday
night's game and neither the NABC website or the Harlem Globetrotter website
listed the results. And when I visited the NABC Convention site Saturday
morning, it was already shut down and deserted.
Luckily, I found Ken Davis of the Hartford Courant, who covered the game at
the Savvis Arena. He had a box score.
The good news: The NABC All-Stars defeated the Trotters 73-68, breaking
their monumental 533 game winning streak. The bad news: Ewing didn't play
that well. He had four points on 2-of-11 shooting and three assists in 19
Kentucky's Chuck Hayes and Virginia Tech's Carlos Dixon each had 10 points
to lead the All-Stars balanced attack. UConn coach Jim Calhoun, who learned
Thursday that he'll be inducted into the Hall of Fame, coached the all-stars
to the victory.
I never did find the full results for the 3-point shootout, but I did find
that DePaul's Drake Diener defeated Vermont's T.J. Sorrentine in the finals.
I ran into Jerry Palm Friday during the open practices (which drew an
incredible 31,500 fans) and we were able to talk about the RPI.
The St. Louis Final Four included RPI No. 2 Illinois, No. 6 North Carolina,
No. 12 Louisville and No. 21 Michigan State. Missing are No. 1 Kansas, No. 3
Washington and No. 4 Duke.
But Palm's not surprised that the RPI failed to predict the Final Four.
"If you use the RPI to predict games, you get about two out of three,"
said. "This year, it's about 70 percent for the tournament, which is pretty
good. It's not designed to be a predictor and shouldn't be used that way"
Instead, the RPI is a tool designed and used by the NCAA Selection Committee
to help it pick and seed the teams in the NCAA Tournament. Few fans
understand the formula that has Gonzaga ranked ahead of Kentucky, Southern
Illinois ahead of Michigan State and Vermont ahead of West Virginia.
The basic formula is simple: One-fourth of the rating comes from a team's
winning percentage; one half comes from the winning percentage of its
opponents; the other fourth comes from the winning percentage of the team's
Of course, it's not quite that simple.
Palm has made it his business to understand the RPI since it was introduced
in its current form before the 1993-94 season. He runs a website --
collegerpi.com -- devoted to reporting and explaining the complex ratings
After 12 years of tracking the RPI, Palm is convinced that the Selection
Committee means what it says when spokesmen claim that the RPI is just a
tool and not the be-all and end-all in the selection process.
"If you did your brackets just based on the RPI, you'll be wrong every
time," Palm said. "You have to consider everything the committee considers.
This year, more than ever, they really considered who was hot at the end of
That's how Alabama-Birmingham (RPI No. 49) got a bid and Miami of Ohio (No.
This year marked a major revision in the RPI, one designed to give more
weight to road wins. But it didn't turn out to be quite so significant as
"Because they only applied that change to the first part of the formula --
your own record," Palm said. "Originally, the NCAA told me they were going
to apply that weighted record to all three parts of the formula. It turned
out that wasn't true. It seemed like the only guy who didn't know it was the
guy who does the RPI for the NCAA."
This year's Final Four includes teams that were ranked No. 2 (Illinois), No.
6 (North Carolina), No. 12 (Louisville) and No. 21 (Michigan State). That's
a fairly normal spread for a Final Four, which only once had included four
top 10 RPI teams: 2003 when No. 4 Texas, No. 6 Kansas, No. 9 Syracuse and
No. 10 Marquette all reached New Orleans.
The strongest field might have been 1999, when No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Michigan
State and No. 3 UConn all reached the Final Four in Tampa (although No. 20
Ohio State brought the average down). The weakest field was clearly 2000,
when not a single top 10 RPI team made it to Indianapolis. No. 13 Michigan
State won the title over No. 18 Florida, No. 32 Wisconsin and No. 41 North
The 2000 Tar Heels are -- by far -- the lowest ranked RPI team to reach the
Palm believes the RPI is a useful tool as long as it's used correctly by then
Selection Committee. So far, he hasn't found any reason to question them.
"I can explain how everybody gets in and how everybody gets left out,"
said. "Whoever got left out deserved it."