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Parity is upsetting the old balance of power

By BRIAN LANDMAN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2002

After more than half of the nation's Top 25 teams lost to unranked conference rivals last weekend, the most-used word has been "upset."

"Alan Greenspan couldn't predict the scores or make any sense of the college basketball scores," UCLA coach Steve Lavin said.

But he and his brethren insist "upset" is overused and over-the-top nowadays.

"There's such parity in the game and so much of it is there's a lot of good basketball players out there," said Florida State coach Steve Robinson, whose Seminoles pulled the biggest up-, er, stunner by beating then No. 1 Duke, the last undefeated team in Division I.

The reduction in scholarships from 15 to 13, the different rules from conference to conference on accepting partial or non-academic qualifiers, the exposure of more teams on television and the increasing number of early entries to the NBA draft have helped distribute the talent.

The best players aren't solely at Duke, Kentucky, Illinois and Michigan State. Some are at North Carolina State. They're at Minnesota. They're at Oregon. They're at Ball State. They're at Pittsburgh. They're at Rutgers.

They're even at FSU.

"There are far more kids playing today that are good basketball players than ever before," Texas Tech coach Bob Knight said. "There are no more Jerry Wests or John Havliceks or Willis Reeds ... but that next tier of very good players has increased enormously in the last 15 years. In any of the conferences that automatically go into the NCAA (Tournament), you'd have to hunt among the top three or four teams in each of those conferences, really hunt, to find somebody who can't play."

That's evident in the players' attitude.

"I don't think there's any fear out there anymore," Maryland coach Gary Williams said.

Another key this time of the season is familiarity within the conference ranks.

"You know your brothers, your neighbors, a heck of a lot better than anybody else," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, whose team supplanted Duke atop the AP poll. "Every game is going to be a big game. Those teams that are more successful are going to get the best shot from the other teams."

The Blue Devils are accustomed to that. But Sunday night in Tallahassee, it didn't help them.

"I thought they made huge plays and kept up an intensity that was tremendous," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I don't think we played at the level of intensity that they played."

MUST SEE TV: As most teams focus on conference opponents, No. 1 Kansas and No. 11 UCLA meet at 3 p.m. today. The Bruins lost to crosstown Pac-10 rival USC on Thursday.

"That 48 hours is the level of the play you're going to face if you want to make a run in the NCAA Tournament," Lavin said. "It gets you NCAA Tournament-ready."

WISE OLD OWL?: Temple coach John Chaney often overcomes sluggish starts, in part a byproduct of an ambitious nonconference schedule. Last season, the Owls lost seven straight to fall to 4-7, but got hot won the Atlantic 10 Tournament and reached the Elite Eight. But this season, the Owls (4-9) have struggled with injuries and uncharacteristic sloppiness. They had 21 turnovers in a win against Fordham on Sunday.

"I've never had a team with 21 turnovers in a game," Chaney said. "I just need better players. I'm not that good of a coach, so I need better players."

HE SAID IT: "That guy over there on the bench, he's coached a few games before and just because he sat out last year and went fishing didn't mean he forgot anything." Williams on Knight's quick, somewhat surprising success in Lubbock (Texas Tech is 13-1).

- Brian Landman covers men's college basketball. He can be reached at landman@sptimes.com or at (813) 226-3347.

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