Nos. 15, 16 Loyola, Navy sitting pretty

March 14, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Get busy, Skip Prosser.

No excuses, Don DeVoe.

For Loyola and Navy, the heat is on.

If you're a No. 15 seed like Loyola, you want to play Arizona. And if you're a No. 16 seed like Navy, you want to play Missouri.

The Nike glass slipper awaits.

For our twin Cinderellas, it's the Dream Draw.

Obviously, Paul Tagliabue doesn't sit on the NCAA tournament committee -- the University of Maryland became the state's third entry with an at-large bid, drawing a reasonable seed (No. 10) and a beatable opponent (St. Louis).

Why, the NCAA was so thoughtful, it even provided NFL rejects Baltimore and St. Louis with a pair of consolation booby prizes -- Maryland-St. Louis and Navy-Missouri.

Of course, the fix is still in.

The road to the Final Four ends in Charlotte.

Anyway, let the fun begin. Maryland is making its first tournament appearance since 1988, when it defeated Cal-Santa Barbara in the last NCAA victory by a state team.

The Terps have waited a long time for this, but coming from an ACC basketball factory, they're not going to record the biggest upset of the tournament.

Loyola or Navy will.

Missouri, the top seed in the West, is a bozo from the Big Eight, a first-round pick even the Bullets would avoid.

No. 2 seed Arizona is a paper tiger from the Pac-10, the biggest fraud in college hoops, an inspiration to Santa Claras everywhere, an upset waiting to happen.

Think we're joking?

Turn to your tournament encyclopedia.

Loyola is such a lock, Prosser should start planning his second-round strategy against the winner of Virginia-New Mexico. Likewise, DeVoe can go ahead and order films of Navy's potential second-round foes, Cincinnati and Wisconsin.

The two locals are three victories away from meeting in the West Regional final in Los Angeles on March 26. They played once earlier this season, and Loyola beat Navy without Tracy Bergan at Reitz Arena, 78-68.

Seriously, Loyola wouldn't stand a chance against the other No. 2 seeds -- Duke, Massachusetts and Connecticut. But Arizona last year became only the second No. 2 in tournament history to lose to a No. 15, falling to Santa Clara. The year before, it lost as a No. 3 to East Tennessee State.

Lute Olson must be frantic.

Here come the Greyhounds.

This is a matter of fate, a date with destiny, instant-karma-gonna-get-you territory. Xavier qualified for the NCAAs seven times in eight seasons when Prosser was Pete Gillen's assistant. This year, Xavier didn't crack the 64-team field, but the 2-25 team Prosser inherited earned an automatic bid.

DeVoe is sitting just as pretty. Missouri coach Norm Stewart has won more than 500 games, but never reached the Final Four. And that's not the half of it -- in five of their past seven tournament appearances, the Tigers have failed to escape the first round.

Strike up the "Twilight Zone" theme: In 1986, Missouri fell to Alabama-Birmingham on the same court where it will play Navy in Ogden, Utah. The Tigers were underdogs in that game, and also last year against Temple.

Those first-round losses were excusable, but the other three were beauties -- to Xavier as a No. 4 seed in 1987, to Rhode Island as a No. 6 in 1988 and to Northern Iowa as a No. 3 in 1990. The Tigers avoided an upset in 1991, but only because they were on NCAA probation.

Here's the kicker: Missouri won two NCAA games in 1989, but Stewart was battling cancer, and could not coach. Thus, Stewart has only one first-round victory in his past seven tries.

That's some serious history, folks.

One oddsmaker has Navy 500-to-1 to win the tournament, and Loyola 3,000-to-1 (How does Navy stand that much better a chance against a team it couldn't beat? Must be the warships). But no doubt there'll be some action in Vegas on the two locals, especially Loyola.

Everyone knows the college basketball season has been downright wacky. Six of the nation's top eight teams lost on Saturday. Georgia Tech twice defeated preseason No. 1 North Carolina, yet couldn't qualify for this wide-open tournament.

DeVoe and Prosser should be slapping their hands, smacking their lips, practicing up for their first big interview with Pat O'Brien. They call it March Madness, but when Loyola and Navy strike first-round gold, it will all make sense.

Go west, young men.

First, Lewis and Clark.

Now, Loyola and Navy.

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