By DARRELL FRY, BOB HARIG, ERNEST HOOPER and ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001
GAMES: No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 16 Alabama State; No. 8 Cal vs. No. 9 Fresno State; No. 5 Virginia vs. No. 12 Gonzaga; No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 13 Indiana State.
BEST PLAYER: Michigan State guard Jason Richardson is one of those players who doesn't score 25 a night, but everything he does is exciting. He is a high-flier who, at 6-foot-6, is bigger and more physical than most guards he faces. He's a crowd-pleaser with NBA potential.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: The Zags are no longer a Cinderella-type team because they have proven the past two seasons they can beat big-time programs -- such as Virginia, which is on a two-game skid. The Zags weren't expected to be as good this season, but proved folks wrong. They waxed Washington, which made the 65-team field, but were hammered in their two biggest games, a 101-87 blowout at Arizona and an 85-71 loss to Florida. Still, this team thrives in the one-and-done tournament format that paralyzes other squads. If they upset the Cavaliers, no NCAA heavyweight will be safe.
BEST STORY LINE: Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian is looking to revive the NCAA Tournament glory he became known for when he was at UNLV. The spotlight on him isn't as bright, but he's still one of the game's most interesting characters. And, apparently, he is still a pretty darn good coach, having guided his team past North Carolina State and Georgia. Fresno State is a bit flashy and solid defensively, both traits of Tarkanian teams. Is there any magic left in those white towels he chomps on during games?
WHAT TO EXPECT: The Spartans were bounced early from the Big Ten tournament, but don't be fooled. Even without Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson, the defending champions still have to be the class of this subregional. In the regional, however, the Sooners, who whipped Kansas on the road and nearly took down Maryland, have enough muscle to trip up the Spartans. Virginia had big wins over Duke, Maryland and Tennessee, but is terribly suspect away from home and has lost two straight.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "We're excited to say the least. I didn't know where we would end up. To have three straight NCAA No. 1 seeds is something our program can be proud of. Going to the South is fine with me." -- Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
ADVANCING: Michigan State, Oklahoma. -- DARRELL FRY
GAMES: No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 15 Princeton; No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 10 Providence; No. 3 Florida vs. No. 14 Western Kentucky; No. 6 Texas vs. No. 11 Temple.
BEST PLAYER: North Carolina guard Joseph Forte is in a class by himself compared with everyone in this subregional. He is not only one of the top players in the talent-rich ACC, but is a candidate for national player of the year. He is the total package, a 6-foot-4 sophomore who can create, finish with authority and shoot from outside. If UNC is to get deep into this tournament, Forte is going to have to light it up every night. Another poor shooting day like he had Sunday in the ACC tournament title game -- a 79-53 loss to Duke -- and the Tar Heels could be done early.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: Texas reached the Big 12 title game Sunday, but laid an egg against Oklahoma, mustering 45 points. If the Longhorns can't score more than that against Temple, they'll have a shockingly short stay in the Big Easy. After slumping early, the Owls are on a roll, so the Longhorns can be had.
BEST STORY LINE: Billy Donovan probably won't win coach of the year, but he might deserve it with the job he has done with these Gators. Think about it. What team in the field has endured more hardships, overcome more injuries and still achieved so much? UF nearly earned a No. 1 seed. If the Gators can continue to limp past their competition, they likely will become every fan's sentimental favorite and every team's worst nightmare.
WHAT TO EXPECT: With the exception of Temple-Texas, the higher seeds look to cruise through their opening games. Don't look for any major upsets. There won't be any titillating matchups until the Sweet 16, where UNC could clash with Florida, or the Elite Eight, where Florida could have a rematch of last year's title game with Michigan State. The upside is this bracket will be easy to predict in your office pool.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "These pairings give us the possibility of playing Michigan State (and) they give us the possibility of playing North Carolina. There's also the possibility of going home before any of that with a loss to Western Kentucky. Our full focus is on Western Kentucky." -- Florida coach Billy Donovan on trying not to look ahead.
ADVANCING: North Carolina, Florida. -- DARRELL FRY
GAMES: No. 1 Illinois vs. No. 16 (Northwestern State or Winthrop); No. 8 Tennessee vs. No. 9 Charlotte; No. 5 Syracuse vs. No. 12 Hawaii; No. 4 Kansas vs. No. 13 Cal State-Northridge.
BEST PLAYER: A big reason Illinois is a No. 1 seed is because of point guard Frank Williams. In fact, were it not for Williams, the Illini might not be near this position. The Big Ten player of the year seemingly always manages to get a shot. Sometimes the Illini rely on him too much, such as during their Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Indiana. Williams averages 14.9 points, 4.1 assists and often plays on cruise control early. He's known to take over when the pressure is on.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: Cal-State Northridge is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Matadors are no pushovers, having won 21 games, including once at UCLA. They also defeated NCAA Tournament team Kent State. They go up against NCAA regular Kansas, which is not the power we're accustomed to seeing.
BEST STORY LINE: It wasn't long ago that Hawaii, which lost eight of its first 14, was winless on the road this season. Then it went to Tulsa for the Western Athletic Conference tournament and defeated Texas Christian, top-seeded Fresno State and Tulsa to earn an automatic invitation. In the title game Saturday against Tulsa, the Rainbows won for the first time this season after trailing at halftime. It's just the second appearance for coach Riley Wallace and Hawaii in 14 years.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Illinois will have no trouble taking care of the Northwestern State-Winthrop winner and should be too strong for Tennessee or Charlotte. Kansas has won 17 straight first-round games, but then would be faced with a tough second-round matchup against Syracuse which, despite a lack of depth, had another 20-win season.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "I think we have a shot just like everybody else in the Top 15. When we are playing well, we can play with everyone. We are one of the teams that hasn't done it before, won a championship or been to a Final Four, and that may be why we are not looked at as equals to those other programs. But parity is at an all-time high and it will make for a wide-open tournament." -- Illinois coach Bill Self.
ADVANCING: Illinois, Kansas. -- BOB HARIG
GAMES: No. 2 Arizona vs. No. 15 Eastern Illinois; No. 7 Wake Forest vs. No. 10 Butler; No. 3 Mississippi vs. No. 14 Iona; No. 6 Notre Dame vs. No. 11 Xavier.
BEST PLAYER: Notre Dame's Troy Murphy helped the Irish make the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 seasons. Murphy scored in double figures in 78 career games and shared his second Big East player of the year award with Boston College's Troy Bell. A 6-feet-11, 245-pound junior, Murphy is difficult to defend for a team seeing him for the first time. A finalist for major national player of the year awards. He is averaging 22.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, while shooting 49.2 percent from the field.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: Beware Butler. The 10th-seeded Bulldogs don't appear to be much of a match for Wake Forest, but the Gators probably thought the same thing last year. On their way to the Final Four, the Gators nearly suffered a first-round upset to Butler, which finished 23-7 this season, won its second straight Midwestern Collegiate Conference title. All seven losses occurred in the final two minutes. Meanwhile, after winning its first 12 games, Wake finished 7-10, including an ACC tournament loss to Maryland.
BEST STORY LINE: At one point, Arizona was 8-5 and reeling. Bobbi Olson, wife of coach Lute Olson, died, and he took a leave of absence. After his return, Bobbi's name was added to her husband's on the McKale Center court, and her seat in Section 16 was memorialized. Now, the 'Cats have won six straight, including a thriller Thursday over No. 1 Stanford. The Wildcats are 23-7, finishing 15-2 to capture a No. 2 seed. An up-and-down season could have a storybook, and bittersweet, ending for Lute Olson.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Arizona should have no trouble reaching the Sweet 16, but the Wildcats' opponent in San Antonio is more difficult to predict. Mississippi had an impressive victory over Florida in the SEC tournament semifinals, then was hammered in the championship by Kentucky. Notre Dame, in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1990, won the Western Division of the Big East, but comes into the NCAA Tournament with its only three-game losing streak of the season.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "Let me put it this way, I wouldn't want to play us." -- Arizona assistant coach Jim Rosborough
ADVANCING: Arizona, Notre Dame. -- BOB HARIG
GAMES: No. 2 Kentucky vs. No. 15 Holy Cross; No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Creighton; No. 3 Boston College vs. No. 14 Southern Utah; No. 6 Southern Cal vs. No. 11 Oklahoma State.
BEST PLAYER: Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince should reign over this subregion. He averages 16.2 points, but the Wildcats are balanced and Prince's open-court skills give him the ability to take over any game at any time. He had 26 points and 12 rebounds in UK's SEC championship win over Mississippi.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: Although Iowa won the Big Ten tournament, Creighton never can be taken lightly. Blue Jays coach Dana Altman was the Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year, and with good reason. This is the Jays' third consecutive trip to the tourney. In 1999 they overcame a 13-point deficit to upset Louisville, and last year they lost by three to Auburn. If USC gets by Oklahoma State in the first round, the Trojans could upset Boston College in the second. Pundits believe the Big East was down this season and will be exposed in tourney play.
BEST STORY LINE: The heavy hearts Oklahoma State bring into the tournament will make it a fan favorite. The Cowboys lost eight members of their basketball family, including two players, in a plane crash Jan.27. Since the crash, OSU has gone 7-5 and won six of its past nine.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Boston College, behind the superb play of sophomore guard Troy Bell (20.1 ppg), and Kentucky should enjoy easy first-round matches. Kentucky has won 19 of its past 23 after starting 3-5, and sophomore guard Keith Bogans has played as well as Prince. USC and Iowa have much tougher battles, but the Hawkeyes may benefit from the return of standout shooting guard Luke Recker, who sustained a knee injury on Jan. 27. Iowa lost seven of nine without Recker before winning the Big Ten tournament. Recker, who dressed but didn't play during the Big Ten tournament, has a chance to extend his season. No one wants to play emotionally charged Oklahoma State.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "I was very confident in our players and in our staff that we could play up to our potential and that it was just a matter of time before we matured and became the type of team we knew we could be." -- Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. ADVANCING: Kentucky, Boston College. -- ERNEST HOOPER
GAMES: No. 1 Duke vs. No. 16 Monmouth; No. 8 Georgia vs. No. 9 Missouri; No. 5 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Utah State; No. 4 UCLA vs. No. 13 Hofstra.
BEST PLAYER: Duke's Shane Battier, a national player of the year of candidate, is equally adept on the offensive and defensive ends of the court. He entered the ACC tournament averaging 19.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.2 blocked shots.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: The possibilities are limited, but Hofstra has won 18 straight and is making its second tournament appearance in as many seasons. With UCLA having to travel east, it may be vulnerable, but the Bruins have the athletes to handle the Pride's pressure defense. Utah State also has a shot against Ohio State after returning four of five starters from a team that lost by eight to UConn in the tournament last year. The Aggies' problem against the Buckeyes will be a lack of depth.
BEST STORY LINE: If Missouri can upset Georgia, it likely will face Duke in the second round. That matchup would pit former Duke standout Quinn Snyder against his alma mater and mentor Mike Krzyzewski. If Georgia and UCLA escape this subregion, they would meet in the regional semifinal. That would pit former UCLA coach Jim Harrick against his old team and former assistant Steve Lavin.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Duke will be favored, but only if it can absorb injuries to center Carlos Boozer and guard Jason Williams. Boozer is likely out for at least the first week of the tourney; Williams sprained his ankle Sunday. Ohio State, the Big Ten's best three-point shooting team, could surprise after playing well down the stretch with wins over Michigan State and Illinois. Georgia will spend the week listening to critics who believe the Bulldogs' 16-14 record did not merit a tournament bid. But Harrick's team played the nation's toughest schedule and beat five Top 25 teams. Missouri stumbled without star Kareem Rush down the stretch. But Rush is back and tallied 47 points in two Big 12 tournament games.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "When the going gets tough, some teams, some players, they give up and they say, 'OK, it's OK for us to lose.' And we never feel like that. I think we're a team that showed we have tremendous heart." -- Duke senior Nate James.
ADVANCING: Duke, Ohio State. -- ERNEST HOOPER
GAMES: No. 1 Stanford vs. No. 16 UNC-Greensboro; No. 8 Georgia Tech vs. No. 9 St. Joseph's; No. 5 Cincinnati vs. No. 12 Brigham Young; No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 13 Kent State.
BEST PLAYER: Stanford guard Casey Jacobsen is in his second year but already has NBA general managers salivating. On a Stanford team stacked with stars, Jacobsen is clearly the best and his averages of 31.4 minutes and 17.9 points are testament. With range to consistently shoot the three-pointer, create his own shot and knock down free throws, Jacobsen is going to play a huge role in a guard-oriented tournament.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: The Bearcats have a tournament pedigree that was hurt last year by the injury to center Kenyon Martin. But they've been inconsistent all season and meet BYU in the first round. Guards Kenny Satterfield and Steve Logan are individually very dangerous but never seem to bring their A game on the same day.
BEST STORY LINE: Considering the unpleasantries surrounding the departure of coaching legend Bob Knight, an appearance in the tournament might have been considered enough for the Hoosiers at the start of the season. But under the direction of first-year coach Mike Davis, Indiana surged toward the end of the season, made it to the Big Ten tournament final and earned a No. 4 seed. That's momentum. The Hoosiers should have no problem with Kent State, but any hopes of a date in the Final Four means going through Stanford. Ouch!
WHAT TO EXPECT: With a starting five that closely resembles an All-American team, it's hard to believe the Cardinal will lose before getting to the Sweet 16, if at all. Memories of last season's second-round loss to North Carolina should still sting. Just who is going to handle the inside duo of twins Jason and Jarron Collins and the outside presence of Jacobsen? Georgia Tech has played some big games and has some size in the middle with Lakeland's Alvin Jones to create a problem, but it runs into the Cardinal in the second round.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "I kind of like Stanford's situation right now. Stanford looks like they're in pretty good shape out there in the West. ... Of the No. 1 seeds, Stanford has the best shot to go all the way through." -- CBS analyst Billy Packer.
ADVANCING: Stanford and Indiana. -- ROGER MILLS
GAMES: No. 6 Wisconsin vs. No. 11 Georgia State; No. 3 Maryland vs. No. 14 George Mason; No. 7 Arkansas vs. No. 10 Georgetown; No. 2 Iowa State vs. No. 15 Hampton.
BEST PLAYER: All you need to know about Maryland guard Juan Dixon is that he single-handedly led the Terrapins to a stunning 91-80 upset at Duke 12 days ago. In that game, he made 11 of 20 field goals in surging Maryland's biggest win of the season. He weighs only 152 pounds, but hasn't seen a shot he won't take and a ball he can't handle.
BEST UPSET POSSIBILITY: The Razorbacks routinely use 10 players and apply a stifling press that has caused problems for a number of teams. But the Hoyas, who played a cupcake oriented schedule, have tremendous ball-handling guards and fleet-footed big men who can help break the press. Georgetown also plays a deep rotation and with size inside has little fear of foul situations. That puts the Hoyas in a strong position to be the upset winner in Boise.
BEST STORY LINE: There's a reason why Lefty Driesell has taken four schools (Maryland, James Madison, Davidson and Georgia State) to the tournament and it's this -- he can coach. Once again Driesell has his team playing well in March and a possible second-round matchup against one of those teams (Maryland), might give the Panthers just the edge to pull off the first-round upset of Wisconsin.
WHAT TO EXPECT: It is a common belief that playing in the ACC gives the Terps an edge. After all, this team has played the likes of Duke, Virginia and North Carolina at least twice this season. Such experience should secure Maryland a spot in the Sweet 16. Iowa State is the No. 2 seed and, by all rights, should play into third round. But the Cyclones depend too much on point guard Jamaal Tinsley for energy and the Hoyas thrive on clamping down on that type of guard play.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING: "I really don't care who we play. I think we're better than an 11 seed. But it's all a lot of talk. You can't prove yourself by talking. I'm looking forward to proving it on the court. ... We're not a Mickey Mouse team. We have some players who played in the Big East and the ACC and the Southeastern Conference. These guys know how to play." -- Driesell on his team's chances of handling Wisconsin from the Big Ten.
ADVANCING: Maryland and Georgetown. -- ROGER MILLS