The latest joke working its way through college gymnasiums might sting some big-name basketball coaches more than others:

``Did ya hear about the round of golf Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski played this summer? Yeah. He quit after 14 holes. Didn't want to play the final four.'Groan. Sorry, Mike. The Blue Devils have appeared in four of the past five Final Fours, but they have yet to walk away with a title. And how about Arizona? The Wildcats have had their share of problems in the NCAA tournament, including last season's disappointing loss to Alabama in the second round.

This could be the year for the teams that keep missing to hit the jackpot. That's assuming, of course, that someone can stop Nevada-Las Vegas.

The only certainty of the 1990-91 season is that most games will be worth the price of admission. There's some great talent out there. If the opportunity arises, go watch these players: Steve Smith, Michigan State; Kenny Anderson, Georgia Tech; Larry Johnson and Stacey Augmon, UNLV; Shaquille O'Neal, Louisiana State; and Todd Day and Lee Mayberry, Arkansas.

Last season made us feel a whirlwind of emotions, from Hank Gather's death to UNLV's domination in the NCAA championship game. This season will probably reveal another batch of surprises. The only safe guess is that these five teams will be among the best in the country:

UNLV: The only reason the Rebels won't win the national title is because they can't. The NCAA has banned them from postseason play.

This team has the potential to go undefeated. It has the best pair of forwards in the country - Johnson and Augmon - a duo some believe may be the best college basketball has ever seen.

Johnson could have turned pro after last season but he wanted to honor his commitments to his mother and coach Jerry Tarkanian. Very admirable. The Shark is happy. Johnson is physically overpowering and makes few mistakes. Augmon is a joy to watch on defense.

Point guard Greg Anthony will be that much better this year and Dennis Hunt, the MVP of the Final Four, will complement the rest of the team with his deadly perimeter game. The only question mark is at center, where George Ackles and transfer Elmore Spencer, a 7-footer, will battle for time.

``This team will be so good,' Tarkanian said. ``They're going to make a commitment that will shock a lot of people.'

Arkansas: UNLV may have the forwards, but who can match the Razorbacks' Day and Mayberry in the backcourt?

Point guard Mayberry led the nation in three-point shooting during the regular season (50.4 percent) before falling off in the tournament. The Razorbacks' inexperience showed in their semifinal matchup against Duke last year but that shouldn't be an issue this season.

``It's been the backcourt the last couple of years, I hope it will be the third year,' coach Nolan Richardson said. ``I look for an improvement each year of 20 percent. I think, knowing Todd and Lee, that they'll get after it and get better.'

Arkansas has added several big bodies to help an inside game that was hot and cold last year. Talented center Oliver Miller is back. Weight is always an issue with the 6-foot-9, 270-pounder but he's a lot quicker than he looks.

Watch for Southwest Conference foes to turn it up a notch against Arkansas. Bad feelings have brewed since the Razorbacks announced they would bolt for the Southeastern Conference in 1991-92.

Arizona: Wow. The Wildcats are stacked. They will be especially tough to beat against teams that don't have a dominating post player.

The heart of this team is a revolving trio of big men: 6-11 Brian Williams, 7-0 Ed Stokes and 6-11 Sean Rooks. Williams has the talent to single-handedly rescue this team from bad situations. He's also had moments of lackluster play. But there are no questions about his ability.

``All of the other things are there for the taking, in terms of the lifestyle he wants to live,' Arizona coach Lute Olson said. ``But first he's got to get to that point. I think the cards are on the table. I don't think there's anybody, including Brian himself, who doesn't recognize what his potential is. But talk is cheap.'

The Wildcats will miss multi-purpose forward Jud Buechler, but guard-forward Chris Mills will help fans forget. After sitting out a year, it might take Mills a while to warm up, but he is expected to be a presence in the Pacific-10 Conference.

Matt Othick and Matt Muehlebach aren't the quickest backcourt players around but they sure know how to sink the three-pointer in crucial moments.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels really scored in the recruiting department, landing 7-0 forward Eric Montross and power forward Clifford Rozier to join talented veterans Rick Fox, Pee Chilcutt and George Lynch.

It said a lot about Dean Smith and his program when fans whined last year about the Tar Heels' 21-13 finish. This school has produced 20-victory seasons for 20 straight years.

Montross' size and maturity should put him in the picture early. Lynch is versatile but is expected to see more play from the perimeter this year. Smith says he has high hopes for Fox.

The swingman averaged 16.2 points and led the Tar Heels in scoring. He enters this season 15 pounds lighter (231) than a year ago.

``He's going to be our go-to man,' Smith said. ``He better be ready.'

Michigan State: Not since Magic Johnson have the Spartans been so excited about a player. Smith is a big guard who can play anywhere on the court. And don't forget, he led Michigan State in scoring (20.2), assists (4.8) and rebounding (7.0) last year.

``We've had a lot of good guards,' Spartans coach Jud Heathcote said. ``Steve is a cut above any of them, with the possible exception of Magic.'

Note that he used the word ``possible.'

Smith is the main reason everyone is so high on the Spartans, but not the only one. Another is Matt Steigenga, a 6-7 junior whom Heathcote hopes will balance out the scoring on his team.

Many think freshman Andy Penick, who already is being compared to Scott Skiles, will make an immediate impact.

There are numerous good teams out there this year - Oklahoma, Duke and Alabama, for example - and a few surprises, certainly. Watching those emerge is half the fun of college basketball.

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