Is NCAA seeded to go distance? It's impressive array of No. 1s, but all getting to Final Four unlikely

Duke faces toughest road

Krzyzewski sees Terps, Clemson as spoilers

March 11, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

They have dominated the competition for most of the season, played a private game of four-way leapfrog at the top of the national rankings and were seemingly assured of No. 1 seeds in this year's NCAA tournament for at least the past month.

But will they become the first group of top seeds to make it to the Final Four?

North Carolina coach Bill Guthridge seems doubtful.

"Initially I thought there were 30 teams that could compete for the national championship, now I feel it's down to 10 or 12," Guthridge, sounding much like his legendary predecessor, said yesterday. "I do feel there are 30 teams that can beat a No. 1 seed."

The Tar Heels, who clinched the No. 1 seed in the East by beating Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship game Sunday at the Greensboro Coliseum, appear to have the easiest road to the Alamodome in San Antonio for the semifinals.

In contrast, Duke might have the toughest road among the top seeds since the South Regional is fraught with teams that could give the Blue Devils some problems. Included among Duke's potential opponents is Michigan, which beat the Blue Devils in Ann Arbor back in December.

"I definitely see the potential for upsets, but in some cases I don't think they would be amazing upsets," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "Kentucky and Michigan are two of the hottest teams right now. They just won their conference tournaments."

Said Michigan guard Louis Bullock: "In this tournament, anything's possible. Everybody is going to step up their games now. Obviously the No. 1 seeds are going to think they're going to have an easier draw, but I don't think there are any guarantees for the No. 1 seeds or anybody else. It's who plays best on that day."

Krzyzewski also sees two ACC teams -- Clemson and Maryland --playing the role of spoiler for those with all four No. 1 seeds advancing in their office pools. For the Tigers, it means avoiding the poor free-throw shooting that plagued them during the regular season. In the case of the Terrapins, it would mean getting to the Sweet 16 in the West and upsetting defending champion Arizona.

The Wildcats are certainly deserving of their status as the pre-tournament favorite, having won 20 of their past 21 games. And they seem just as relaxed a bunch as they were heading into last year's Final Four in Indianapolis, where they beat North Carolina in the semifinals and Kentucky for the championship.

"The pressure is not on us," said sophomore point guard Mike Bibby. "We're just going to go out and stay loose and have fun and get into our running game. The pressure is going to be on the other teams to try and beat us."

Unlike his Duke team that came into the 1992 NCAA tournament as both defending national champion and a consensus No. 1, Krzyzewski doesn't think Arizona has felt the kind of season-long scrutiny that can wear a team down.

But it could be different when the Wildcats open tomorrow against Nicholls State.

"People will start asking, 'Can you win two in a row?' " Krzyzewski said.

Said Arizona coach Lute Olson: "I don't think anyone goes into the tournament without thinking about going deep."

Winner of 13 straight games, Kansas is probably thinking about going back to the Final Four for the first time since 1993. But coach Roy Williams and the Jayhawks are still being reminded about getting beat by Arizona last year in the Sweet 16.

The closest the top seeds have come to getting through to the Final Four together was 1993, when North Carolina, Michigan and Kentucky all made it to New Orleans. Gary Williams, whose Terrapins have defeated both North Carolina and Kansas, believes it's possible this year.

Consider that the four teams have combined for only 13 defeats, with five of them coming in games between each other. Duke has lost to only North Carolina and Michigan. The Tar Heels avenged all three of their defeats in the ACC tournament. Kansas and Arizona have lost only one game each since the beginning of January.

"I think there will be upsets, but to upset one of these teams will be very difficult," said Williams. "There's no argument about any of the four teams being No. 1 seeds, and that's unusual. I think it shows how much respect there is for them nationally."

Here's a look at how the four regions shape up, and potential stumbling blocks for the top seeds.

EAST: North Carolina is the heavy favorite, but its lack of depth could become a factor if the Tar Heels get into foul trouble. The toughest game could be a rematch with Princeton. The Tar Heels won a tight regular-season game, 50-42, but needed the Tigers to miss 23 of 27 threes. Nevada-Las Vegas could do North Carolina a favor by upsetting Princeton in the first round.

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