Looking at the records, it's the best field ever for the Utah Classic basketball tournament. And it very well could be the best overall field in the ewvent's 21-year history.
The overall record of the four teams playing in this year's Utah Hilton-Seiko Classic is an impressive 33-9 (78.6 percent). But take away the mediocre 6-6 mark of the host University of Utah team and the three teams coming in have a sparkling 27-3 record - a cool 90 percent mark.The tournament begins Wednesday night in the Huntsman Center with Michigan meeting Alaska-Anchorage at 6 p.m. and Utah playing Holy Cross at 8 p.m.
Heading the list of teams is Michigan, which comes to Salt Lake with an 11-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. The Wolverines have been averaging over 100 points a game in cruising past opponents by an average of 33 points. But the Wolverines really haven't been tested much since winning the Maui Classic, where they defeated Oklahoma in the finals in late November.
Holy Cross, a small private school located in Worcester, Mass., is 6-1, having suffered its first defeat of the year to unbeaten Providence last week. Among the victims of the Crusaders was another Big East team - Boston College. Holy Cross, which plays in the Metro Atlantic Conference, is coached by George Blaney, who has been at the school for 16 years.
The third team is Alaska-Anchorage, which is 10-2. Granted, Alaska is a Division II school and most of its games have been against Division II competiton. But the Utes know that the Seawolves are much better than many Division I schools, having seen them play earlier this year in the Great Alaska shootout. Alaska played Kansas and Florida even until the final five minutes and defeated Iona for seventh place. The Seawolves, who are coached by former Snow College Coach Ron Abegglen, were the Division II national runnerup last year.
"There's no question that we teams with great credentials coming in," said Utah Coach Lynn Archibald. "Michigan might be the best team in the country right now."
Although it might be tempting to dream of meeting the No. 2 team in the country, Archibald and the Utes have plenty to worry about with Holy Cross.
"Our kids have a lot of respect for Holy Cross," said Archibald.
The Crusaders are a senior-dominated team with good shooters and rebounders. Dwight Pernell, a 6-1 off-guard, is the top scorer with a 23.4 average on 55 percent shooting. His guard-mate, Glenn Williams, averages just 6.5 points a game, but dishes out 10 assists per game.
Glenn Tropf, a 6-7 forward, averages 12.4 points a game and is the team's leading rebounder with 6.4 per game. A year ago he was the leading three-point shooter in the nation, making 63 percent, but this year he is hitting just 33 percent. Six-foot-9 Grant Evans holds down the post position with a 12.4 average, while Eldridge Carter is the other starter, although he usually plays less than half the game.
Holy Cross has a deep bench, going nine deep most games. Leon Dickerson and Joe Viviano are a couple of the top reserves.
"They run well and they're shooting over 50 percent for the season," noted Archibald. "They're more upbeat than I thought, so it should be a high-scoring game."
Although the Utes' season is nearly half over, Archibald is still toying with his lineup. Mitch Smith, Josh Grant and Mark Lenoir are all solid starters, but the off-guard and power forward spots are still question marks.
Van Gray hasn't shot the ball well since the Alaska tournament, but backups Bill Perkins and Jon Hansen haven't been consistent either. At forward, Jimmy Madison has been playing well in a reserve role, while Walter Watts has been starting. Madison could move back into the starting spot or Reid Monson could start.
"We've been trying to concentrate on defense and get it real solid," said Archibald. "We also need to shoot the ball well."
Michigan will bring a similar lineup that played here last March in the NCAAs with Glen Rice, Terry Mills, Loy Vaught, Rumeal Robinson and Mike Griffin. Missing will be sophomore Sean Higgins, who has been suspended by Coach Bill Frieder for three games.