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January 08, 1981 - Image 9

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1981-01-08

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SPORTS

-Page 9

The Michigan Daily

Thursday, January 8, 1981

Top B
By SCOTT M. LEWIS
First in a three-part seriea
Two years ago at this time, Illinois
coach Lou Henson had his team riding a
12-game winning streak. The Illini
overwhelmed their non-conference op-
position that season and carried
iofnentum into Big Ten competition,
Here they won their first three games.
On January 15 the Champaign squad
was ranked seventh in the nation.
Thn the bottom dropped out. From
mid January until season's end, Illinois
lost' all but four of its conference games
to finish at 7-11. No NCAA Tournament,
no NIT. Just frustration and unfulfilled
promise for coach, player, and fan.
The sad saga of the 1978-79 Illini
illustrates a point which Michigan
coach Bill Frieder has been making
bince November: non-conference vic-,
ories are not necessarily precursors of
success in the Big Ten. Neither, for that
mattek, are national rankings released
at Christmastime or shortly thereafter.
Michigan was the only Big Ten team
to emerge undefeated in non-
conference action, but it took only one
conference game-a visit to Purdue
Ifonday night-for its nine-game streak
to be' snapped. Purdue, like nearly all of

ig Ten
the Wolverines' foes during the next
few months, also has racked up an im-
pressive victory total. In fact, every
team in the Big Ten finished its non-
conference schedule with records well
above .500, including perennial door-
mats Northwestern and Wisconsin and
talent-starved Michigan State.
Curiously, the worst records belong
to Indiana (7-5) and Ohio State (5-3),
two teams tabbed as the most likely to
win the conference title. The Buckeyes
are having trouble adjusting to the
departure of Kelvin Ransey, the stan-
dout point guard and offensive leader
who is now making his mark in the NBA
with the Portland Trailblazers.
One reason for Ohio State's disap-
pointing performance (it lost at home to
Southern Alabama, on the road to Ken-
tucky and Arizona State, and needed
two overtimes to defeat West Virginia)
has been the uninspired play of center
Herb Williams. The 6-10 senior has shot
a miserable .369 from the field through
eight games and is not even listed
among the conference's rebounding
leaders.I
Already, OSU head coach Eldon
Miller has had to fend off criticism
from Buckeye backers. According to

teams denied

0

them, Miller is mishandling the 1980-81
team; they argue that he has given
Williams too much of a free rein on of-
fense. Nothing, it seems, pleases the
Ohio State fan; last year Miller was too
,restrictive in his strategy, and this year
he's too lax.
"You can't get too concerned with
that (the criticism)," the beleagured
coach said. "I think our young people
are a lot more mature about things
which have been written and said about
us. You're gonna get a bad rap on oc-
casion. It's part of the game." -
In defense of Miller, it should be men-
tioned that all of his team's losses have
come at the hands of premier teams.
Arizona State and Southern Alabama
are ranked 14th and 15th, respectively,
and Kentucky is number four. That
OSU came within two points of defea-
ting the Wildcats in Lexington is a sign
that the Buckeyes will be heard from
often during the Big Ten season. -
Indiana, too, has faced a tough lineup
of opponents, even more grueling than
Ohio State's. The defending conference
champion has lost five games, a figure
large enough to displease many folks in
Bloomington. Included among the
defeats was a home decision to Ken-
tucky and road contests against Notre
Dame and North Carolina.
Coach Bobby Knight's team has also
lost to Pan American and Clemson, two
teams with a combined 1979-80 record
of 42-18. While the 7-5 record is distur-
bing to the Hoosier faithful, Knight's
teams will doubtlessly be well-prepared
for the rigors of the Big Ten. (Aren't

they always?)
Directing the Hoosier offense is
sophomore guard Isiah Thomas, the 6-2
sparkplug from Chicago who finished
second in assists last year with a 5.3
conference average. Thus far, Thomas
is scoring at a 15.7 clip and, of course,
leads the Hoosiers in assists.
Most observers felt that Indiana
would adjust nicely to the departure of
All-American Mike Woodson, now with
the New York Knicks. After all, Indiana
had played most of last season without
the top forward and still won the Big
Ten crown.
A fact often overlooked is that, of In-
diana's eight losses in '79-80, all but one
occurred while Woodson was sidelined
with a serious back injury. This season
Knight first turned to sophomore for-
ward Steve Bouchie and senior Randy
Wittman (who missed all of last year
with an ankle injury) to fill the scoring
void. So far, however, junior center
Landon Turner, a hulking 6-10, 245-
pounder has been more productive (13.6
ppg) than either Wittman or Bouchie.
Iowa, which along with Purdue
reached the Final Four in the NCAA
tournament last spring, saw its hopes
for a perfect non-conference season
shattered by Arizona State in the Fiesta
Classic last month. Coach Lute Olson's
group then went out and destroyed a
pair of fairly well-regarded intrastate
rivals, Johnny Orr's Iowa State
Cyclones and a Drake team led by last
year's national scoring king, Lewis
Lloyd.
Senior Vince Brookins, a 6-6 forward,

victor
has provided much of the offense for the
Hawkeyes. He averaged more than 17
points per contest during Iowa's 8-1
non-conference season. Brookins, who
sparkled against Michigan last year at
Crisler Arena (25 points) and again in
the NCAA's, has finally earned a star-
ting spot after spending most of three
seasons as a top reserve.
Olson, named college basketball's
Coach of the Year by his colleagues and
sportswriters last April, is employing a
bigger lineup than in past seasons. In-
stead of rotating 6-10 centers Steve
Krafcisin and Steve Waite, he is leaving
the two big men on the court together
and, so far, the strategy has worked
well.
"I'll continue to play both of them
together quite a bit," said the coach. "A
lot depends on the tempo of the game
and the size of our onnonent. Last year.

K feast
when we lost Mark Gannon (a 6-7, 225-
pound forward) to an injury, that hurt
almost as much as the loss of departed
guard Ronnie Lester. We had to con-
front our opponents with a couple of 6-6
forwards (Brookins and Kevin Boyle),
and we gave up a lot."
This season Boyle has moved to the
backcourt, where he is joined by pre-
season second team all-conference
selection Kenny Arnold. Olson says that
Arnold will remain at the point while'
Boyle and Brookins perform at the
wing, just as they did for-much of 1980.
"I think you'll see more big guards
with one primary ballhandler," said
Olson. "Our wing players are iden
tical-quick defensive players and good.
shooters-which allows us to use the
two centers together quite often."
TOMORROW: Purdue, Minnesota,
and Illinois.
a1R

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INDIANA'S LIGHTNING-QUICK Isiah Thomas (11) tries to drive past Minne-
sota's Trent Tucker (32) in a Big Ten game last year. The 6-2 Thomas is the spark-
plug for last year's conference champions, and he is currently averaging 15.7
points a game while leading the Hoosiers in assists.

M M

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