Dean of coaches is No. 1 story line of classy field If Smith's top-seed Heels don't win it all, one of his proteges probably will

March 10, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

A couple of proteges wouldn't mind seeing Dean Smith become college basketball's all-time winningest coach, but they would love to deny him another NCAA championship.

Most of the best 21-year-olds are in the NBA, and the 64-team field announced by the NCAA last night places even more emphasis on the coaches at the expense of the players. Looming over all the clipboard talk is Smith, the North Carolina boss who has a No. 1 seed two months after the Tar Heels' record postseason run appeared doomed.

In order, here are the El Deano story lines CBS-TV could milk through March Madness:

1. Smith can pass Adolph Rupp's all-time record of 876 wins in the second round. North Carolina's opponent in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Saturday could be Indiana and its legend, Bob Knight.

2. On paper, the East Regional final will pit the Tar Heels against second-seeded South Carolina, which emerged as a Southeastern Conference power under Eddie Fogler, one of the Smith's former assistants.

3. If the seeds continue to win out, North Carolina and Kansas would meet in one of the NCAA semifinals in Indianapolis. The top-ranked Jayhawks, of course, have had a great run in the 1990s under the direction of Roy Williams, another disciple of Smith's.

Kansas was moved to the Southeast Region and an opening weekend in Memphis, Tenn., while the other half of the draw has Minnesota atop the Midwest and defending champion Kentucky way out West.

While the other No. 1 seeds were clear heading into the final week of the season, North Carolina was a late addition to the top line. The Tar Heels were seeded third in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, but the NCAA men's basketball committee was easily swayed by their 12 straight wins.

North Carolina has lost two straight games on Wake Forest's home court, and point guard Ed Cota succinctly said, "I don't like Winston-Salem," but Smith has some good NCAA memories there. That's where North Carolina began its run to the title in 1993, which is also the last year an ACC team won the national championship.

Kentucky will try to make it three titles in four years for the SEC. Minnesota is clearly the class of the maligned Big Ten, which last produced a champion in 1989. Kansas dominated the expanded Big 12, and the Jayhawks were the last winner from the old Big Eight, in 1988.

The weakest of the four regions would appear to be the Midwest, where second seed UCLA will be atop as many office pools as the Golden Gophers.

One of the few controversies in the process occurred close to home, where the Big East looks down on the Atlantic 10, but the NCAA doesn't.

Terry Holland, the chairman of the committee that selects the at-large teams and seeds the field, had said for months that teams with ambitious nonconference schedules would be rewarded. He cited Texas, which got in with only 16 wins, and that's also how Massachusetts and Temple got in the field over the likes of Syracuse and West Virginia.

The Minutemen beat Maryland and lost early to Virginia, California, Georgetown, Wake Forest and North Carolina, tournament teams all. Temple lost to Wisconsin and Tulsa, and beat Cincinnati and Louisville. Syracuse played Kentucky and West Virginia faced Minnesota, but after that, the nonconference schedules of those Big East hopefuls weren't good enough.

"Syracuse did not have an extremely strong out-of-conference schedule," Holland said. "They did not have a winning record against the top 100 teams in the country."

Nine conferences monopolized the 34 at-large invitations, and the other 21 conferences got no more than their automatic bid. Southwest Missouri State had campaigned for an at-large berth, but Steve Alford's team finished behind Illinois State in the Missouri Valley Conference in both the regular season and tournament.

"The committee has focused very carefully on the leagues that usually have only one representative," Holland said. "This year was unusual, because if you look back, all of the regular-season champions [from the mid-major conferences] won their tournaments. That actually made our job easier, it gave us more room to play with the final selections."

Holland said he and the eight other members of the committee were finished with the process by 4 p.m. yesterday, several TTC hours before the results of their work were announced.

Michigan's comeback at Ohio State was irrelevant, too late to overcome a late-season slide. The Wolverines were among the hopefuls that lost out to 11th seeds Massachusetts, Southern California and Oklahoma, which may have sneaked in when Texas Tech fell out of consideration over an eligibility scandal.

The ACC and Big Ten got six teams each, and the A-10, Big 12, Pac-10 and SEC had five apiece. The Big East and Conference USA each had four teams, while the Western Athletic Conference settled for three.

"I look at some of the teams in the tournament and I'm amazed," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "I'm even more surprised that the Big East can't get five teams in."

The arguing is over. Let's play, and see if Smith can get his third NCAA title. Don't count on it. There's parity in the middle of the field, but not at the top, where Kansas, Smith's alma mater, has too many players and too much chemistry for North Carolina and everyone else.

Conference count

Conferences with the most teams receiving bids:

Conference No.

Atlantic Coast 6

Big Ten 6

Big 12 5

Atlantic 10 5

Pacific-10 5

Southeastern 5

Big East 4

Conference USA 4

Pub Date: 3/10/97

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