Life in college basketball's fun house; ever-ready Clipper; order on the field

By , Sports writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Remember the Hollywood movie ''It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World''? Well, college basketball appears to be filming the sequel during this crazy, unchartable season.

Look at what has happened. Virginia, the pre-season poll sitter, lost to tiny Chaminade of Hawaii in one of the greatest upsets ever. Since then, the No. l ranking has turned into a chain letter, to be examined and passed along quickly. Indiana's taken two separate turns at the top, North Carolina's been there, as have UCLA, Memphis State, Nevada-Las Vegas, and now Houston, the first Southwest Conference school so ranked.

Like those before it, though, Houston feels a bit uneasy. For just as the Cougars have slipped into the No. 1 spot, they have rolled into Fayetteville to play Arkansas in a game of rare national magnitude for that region. The fourth-ranked Razorbacks (24-1) actually have the better record, but their lone defeat was decisively administered by 23-2 Houston, which has won its last 18 games.

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Arkansas, however, seldom loses at 9,000-seat Barnhill Arena, where many reporters have been turned away for tonight's game due to a lack of space. Some attribute the Razorbacks' home record to the vocal crowds, but Houston Coach Guy Lewis prefers to credit Eddie Sutton's ability to intimidate the referees. Sutton is the Arkansas coach, and the remark, made earlier this week, is sure to add oil to the fire. Ironman of the NBA

When most National Basketball Association fans see San Diego's Randy Smith play, they probably don't realize he's the sport's Lou Gehrig. Unlike Gehrig, who played in 2,130 consecutive baseball games, Smith has not earned much attention for his endurance record. In terms of sheer numbers, his 899 straight NBA contests can't compare to Gehrig's achievement. But they make an incredible streak nonetheless, and in a more physically demanding sport than baseball.

Smith's string was very nearly snapped before the season began, only three games shy of Johnny Kerr's NBA consecutive-game record of 844. The New York Knicks didn't tender him a new contract, and the Clippers signed him as a free agent the day before the season opener. The team didn't have to pay any relocation expenses since Smith already lived in San Diego, having moved there after his original NBA employer, the Buffalo Braves, moved west several years ago.

Smith's streak, which began six games into his rookie year, has seen him log 10 straight 82-game seasons since then. Among current players, Chicago's Reggie Theus is a distant second in the ironman department, with 387 games.

Smith, a 6 ft. 3 in. guard, entered the league as a seventh-round draft choice from Buffalo State in 1971. A deadly jump shooter, he averaged 24.6 points a game in 1977-78, his most productive NBA season. He was also the MVP of that season's All-Star game, hitting 30- and 40-foot baskets to end the first two periods on the way to a 27-point performance. He usually scores in the single numbers now. Football with less mustard

Beefed-up college football rules will clamp down on hot-dogging and on-field celebrations next season. The intent is not to stifle enthusiasm, but to discourage those who would erode the game's order and decorum.

The last player in possession of the ball has historically been responsible for placing it on the ground or returning it to the nearest official. The rules once even required the ball to be touched down in the end zone, thus the word ''touchdown.'' In today's game, however, players have taken to spiking the ball or racing off the field with it.

And they're not the only ones getting in the act. Players on the sidelines have increasingly joined end zone celebrations. But now they are likely to stay put, along with cheerleaders, mascots, and band members, all of whom invite 15 -yard penalties for entering the field of play. Touching other bases

* Though often misused, the label ''student-athlete'' fits Jeff Bresovar perfectly. A 6 ft. 5 in. senior at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, he just completed his basketball career by leading the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) in scoring with a 35.8 average. At the same time he pulled a 4.0 grade average taking a full course load and working for a local engineering firm.

* Upset with the NBA's collective bargaining stalemate, the players have set an April 2 strike deadline. The specter of a strike, of course, is ludicrous. The average player salary is $246,000; fans could be totally alienated by yet another sports strike; and to disrupt the playoffs might be suicidal for the entire league.

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