The Holiday Festival in New York was once the premier holiday basketball tournament in the country. Top teams such as UCLA, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgetown and Louisville were among the champions of the annual tournament and star players such as Oscar Robertson, Bill Bradley, Lew Alcindor and Chris Mullin have been the MVPs.
But the annual tourney, played at Madison Square Garden since 1952, is apparently on shaky ground.The N.Y. Daily News reported last week that the 39-year-old tournament was in trouble due to declining attendance and lack of top draws. Last week's tourney, which BYU played in along with South Carolina, Maryland and Rutgers, had crowds of under 10,000 for both nights of the tournament. When BYU took the floor against Rutgers, the host team, in the consolation game, there were approximately 3,000 fans watching.
It would be a shame to lose such a tradition-filled tournament as the Holiday Festival. But nowadays most top teams would prefer to go to Hawaii for one of the several made-for-ideal-weather tournaments there and the New York fans apparently can't be satisfied with anything but the best. UTAHNS IN THE FESTIVAL: Utah schools have been a part of one-fourth of the Holiday Festivals, which started back in 1952 and was an eight-team affair until 1975.
BYU, which made its fifth appearance last week, also played in 1953, 1956, 1966 and 1982. The Cougars best finish was third in '56.
Utah played four times, 1958, 1960, 1963 and 1971, with thirds in '58 and '60.
Utah State only played once, back in the initial tournament in 1952. The Aggies won the Festival, beating NYU, Miami and Manhattan, but were never invited back. BUCKEYES BACK: Local fans may remember that young Ohio State basketball team that played in the Huntsman Center last March.
The Buckeyes came to the NCAA West subregional with one of the poorest records in the entire tournament (16-12). But they upset Providence and gave UNLV one of its toughest games of the tourney, playing the Rebels even before faltering in the final minutes, 76-65.
They're back this year as one of the country's best teams. Through Thursday night's game, the Buckeyes are ranked 6th in the country and at 11-0, are one of just three unbeaten teams in the country (UNLV and Syracuse are the others).
Second-year coach Randy Ayers has experience now in the form of Perry Carter at center, Treg Lee at power forward, Jimmy Jackson at swingman, Jamaal Brown at shooting guard and Mark Baker at point guard.
"I love our balance," Ayers said. "This is a very unselfish team and I think they get the ball to the guy who's open or to the guy who has the hot hand."
The Buckeyes may not beat UNLV again this year, but they may provide Buckeye fans with their best team since the Jerry Lucas-John Havlicek heyday of early 1960s.HOMECOMING ROAD GAME: You might have missed this score Thursday night - North Carolina 108, Cornell 64.
You're probably figuring its one of those mismatches made for an automatic win (North Carolina) and money (Cornell). But the game wasn't played in the heart of Tar Heel country, rather it was in Ithaca, N.Y. And it wasn't part of any home and home agreement. It was simply one of the Tar Heels' "homecoming games" that Coach Dean Smith plays every season.
You see, Smith has a custom to set up homecoming-type games for his seniors. In this case, the game was played for the benefit of senior point guard King Rice, who played high school basketball in Binghamton, 30 miles to the southeast.
The Tar Heels even traveled to Binghamton for their pre-game shootout, which was watched by about 400 people. Rice had an entire section of the Cornell gym filled with his fans for the game.
"I wasn't nervous, I just wanted to play my regular game," said Rice, who had six points and six assists in 22 minutes. "I didn't want to get caught up in the hype and try to do too much. We were taking this game serious."COMPUTER SAYS: Utah doesn't seem that much better than Utah State, despite beating the Aggies twice this year. But according to the Sagarin computer ratings in USA Today, the Utes are 148 places better than USU.
Sagarin has Utah rated 40th, which Ute Coach Rick Majerus would certainly say is too high, and USU 168th, which Aggie Coach Kohn Smith would likely say is too low.
Utah probably isn't 75 places better than BYU either, but the Cougars are ranked 115th. Of the other other local schools, Southern Utah is 150th and Weber State is 242nd.
This week's worst (or 296th best) team? Winthrop College, which is 0-6 against Division I competition. The best, of course, is UNLV.