Pups to bark, but overdogs hold NCAA leash NCAA FINAL FOUR 1992 TWIN CITIES

March 19, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

If this is the season of parity in college basketball, will the Minutemen of Massachusetts make it to Minneapolis for their moment in the sun? Will the Princeton Tigers finally give Pete Carril his due by rewarding the little genius with a national championship? Will the Fighting Camels of Campbell pull off the greatest upset in NCAA tournament history? Will the Fighting Blue Hens of Delaware pull off the second-biggest?

Those questions begin getting answered today, when the NCAA tournament begins in four sub-regional sites, answering whether this year's tournament will be one of those truly Cinderella affairs, replete with glass sneakers.

Sure, it's possible for Princeton to beat Syracuse tomorrow in Worcester, Mass., that Tulane can beat St. John's tomorrow in Atlanta. But don't start getting any crazy ideas about 1,000-1 shots coming in next month when the Final Four reaches the Metrodome.

This year's tournament is strictly for the overdogs.

"It's Duke against the rest of the field," North Carolina coach Dean Smith said Sunday after his Tar Heels lost by 20 to the nation's No. 1 team in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final. "They're remarkable."

The Blue Devils, the top seed in the East, are clearly capable of becoming the first team to repeat as NCAA champion since UCLA in 1972-73, but they are not as prohibitive a favorite as Nevada-Las Vegas a year ago.

Duke won't have an easy road back to the Final Four, but it's not exactly fraught with dangerous matchups. Perhaps the most interesting would come in the East Regional semifinals at Philadelphia, if Seton Hall advances that far. Or in the final, if Kentucky keeps winning.

Who can beat the Blue Devils? Maybe a team such as Kansas, the top seed in the Midwest. That's if the Jayhawks suddenly can learn how to shoot free throws. Or Ohio State, the No. 1 seed in the Southeast. But UCLA, the top seed in the West, already has lost to Duke -- playing without Grant Hill and with a not-quite ready Bobby Hurley -- by 10 points less than three weeks ago.

"I think they're beatable," UCLA coach Jim Harrick said this week. "Unless they're playing as well as they did back in January."

Sure, there will upsets along the way to Minneapolis. The best shot for a No. 1 seed to lose? Perhaps the Bruins, who a year ago lost to Penn State in the opening round.

"We haven't talked about it, but I imagine it's there," said Harrick, whose team will open tomorrow in Tempe, Ariz., against Robert Morris. "You hope it doesn't happen to you again. If we lose, then people are going to say we had another bad year. Everyone is judged on the tournament. We've created a monster."

The pressure from now until April 6 is immense. The road to Minneapolis runs on as long as Dick Vitale's sentences. And with it, the expectations build. It's there for a lot of teams, but especially for the top seeds.

"For us, being the No. 1 seed is not a problem," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team will play Campbell today in Greensboro, N.C. "We've had that No. 1 stigma, or whatever you want to call it, on us all season. For other people to have that placed on them, they have to learn how to handle it. It can be a positive or a negative."

Kansas coach Roy Williams, whose Jayhawks lost to Duke in last year's championship game at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, said: "Being the No. 1 seed doesn't give you an advantage. Reaching the Final Four is certainly one of our goals, but some of the expectations of our fans for us are too great."

Perhaps it was summed up best by Harrick, whose Bruins have a treacherous path out of the West Regional. Three days before his team was to play its first tournament game, Harrick seemed jumpy.

"You ever had a bull's eye sitting on your forehead?" he said. "That's what it feels like."

And target practice begins today.

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