Surprise of ACC's showing is the Smith who's still in NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 21, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Too bad Duke won. It could have been Black Sunday II, as mind-boggling as when St. John's upset Duke and Penn shocked North Carolina in the second round of the 1979 NCAA tournament. Even better, it would have left Maryland as the only ACC team in the Sweet 16.

Think Gary Williams might have mentioned that to a recruit or two? No matter, Williams is loving life anyway, knowing his team of freshmen and sophomores performed better in this tournament than Dean Smith's figurine collection at North Carolina.

For his next trick, Smith will purchase the 12 most valuable paintings in the world, then watch helplessly as Jeff Gillooly, Shawn Eckardt and the rest of the Tonya Harding Gang break into his house and spray them with graffiti.

"I want to compliment Jeff and Shawn -- all of Team Tonya, really," Smith would tell police investigators at the scene. "They devised a perfect game plan and executed it flawlessly."

North Carolina, gone. Virginia, gone. Wake Forest, gone. The ACC went 5-0 in the first round of this tournament, then turned into the Pac-10. A fine showing by the conference that has won the past three national championships and five of the past 12.

The two ACC entries in the Sweet 16 match the conference's lowest total since 1979, when Black Sunday struck Raleigh, N.C. In four of the past five years, the ACC had supplied one-fourth of the Sweet 16. And the one year it sent fewer than four teams (1991), Duke won the national championship.

If not for Maryland's upset of Massachusetts, Duke would be the only ACC survivor in a Sweet 16 that includes three teams from the Big East and three from the Big Ten. Heck, the Big Eight has as many teams left as the ACC -- and Nebraska, the winner of its postseason tournament, lost to Ivy League champion Penn.

Wake Forest and Virginia can be excused -- they lost to higher-seeded Kansas and Arizona. But North Carolina was the only No. 1 seed to be eliminated -- a dubious achievement, considering that annual tournament flops Purdue and Missouri also are No. 1s.

Ronald Reagan was campaigning to unseat Jimmy Carter the last time Carolina failed to reach the Sweet 16. The year was 1980, and the Tar Heels lost to Texas A&M in double overtime. It was so long ago, Michael Jordan was a junior in high school, playing baseball.

Think it was inexcusable that Smith won only one national championship in three tries with Jordan? Yesterday, he lost to the third-place team in the Big East with six possible first-round picks -- Eric Montross, Kevin Salvadori, Derrick Phelps, Donald Williams, Rasheed Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse.

Actually, it's too bad El Deano blew it when he did. North Carolina's next opponent would have been Indiana. History could have repeated itself, on the 10-year anniversary of Smith's losing to a weak Indiana team in the Sweet 16 with Jordan, Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty.

With North Carolina out, Connecticut now has a clear path to the Final Four, provided it can beat Florida in Miami. The winner of that game faces the winner of Boston College-Indiana. Thus, the entire nation could wind up rooting for Bob Knight to prevent an all-Big East regional final.

Want to hear something even more hilarious? The only region with all top four seeds intact is the one with choke masters Jim Boeheim, Lute Olson and Norm Stewart. Yes, we're talking about the Mild, Mild West, where not even yesterday's Los Angeles earthquake could disrupt the natural order.

The rest of the field, well, it's in the usual state of disarray. Louisville is in, Kentucky is out. Boston College is in, Massachusetts is out. All those who had Maryland, Tulsa, Marquette and BC in their original Sweet 16s -- do not pass go, head directly to Las Vegas.

The Atlantic 10 is history, so now John Calipari and John Chaney are free to meet in a steel-cage match between games at the Final Four. Better yet, make it a tag-team bout after Indiana is eliminated -- the Slick Brothers (Calipari and Rick Pitino) against the Coaches From Hell (Knight and Chaney).

What a pity -- a Final Four in Charlotte, and no North Carolina. Clifford Rozier is another one having a good laugh on Smith. He transferred from North Carolina to Louisville in part because he couldn't get enough playing time behind Montross and Salvadori. Now he's in, and they're out.

The pride of the ACC rests with Duke and Maryland, and if both lose, the conference will be shut out of the Final Eight for the first time in 15 years. Duke faces Kentucky-killer Marquette, and Maryland meets back-to-back NCAA runner-up Michigan.

The Old Fabs vs. the New Fabs. Johnny Rhodes vs. Jalen Rose. Joe Smith vs. Juwan Howard. It looms as perhaps the most exciting game of the tournament, and Dean Smith will be out collecting more figurines. The Sweet 16 is sweeter than ever. Joe Smith is in, Dean Smith is out.

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