Searching alpha and omega of NCAA If it's all Greek to you, then impress your friends with these talking points

March 12, 1998|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

You need a little help trying to figure out this year's NCAA tournament? Having trouble distinguishing Eastern Michigan from Western Michigan or South Alabama from Northern Arizona? Where's Dick Vitale when you need him? (Oh, you like him where he is, in the studio, next to Digger Phelps, keeping relatively quiet?)

In an attempt to educate our readers -- not to mention help them avoid early elimination from their office pools -- The Sun provides the NCAA A to Z Tournament Guide. And, unlike Mo Vaughn, we will get through the whole alphabet without any trouble.

A is for Arizona. The defending national champions are the team to beat going into the tournament. The Wildcats have the best starting lineup in the country -- yes, even better than North Carolina's -- and three guys on the bench who could start at most schools.

B is for Boise. This first- and second-round site in the West Regional is the perfect place for the easily distracted Bearcats of Cincinnati. Said point guard Michael Horton: "Not everyone wanted to go there, but it's not like we're going to meet anybody or party. This is a business trip."

C is for the College of Charleston. After being seeded 12th last year and beating Maryland, John Kresse's team was given a 14th seed this year. Though the Cougars don't have the kind of talent they had last season, just the name on the uniform scares big teams. And Stanford is a big team.

D is for Duke. Or for defense. Or Duke's defense, which completely took Arizona point guard Mike Bibby out of his game in Maui to start the season and took UCLA apart recently. The Blue Devils are looking to get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1994.

E is for Earl. Not Monroe, but Boykins. And just as fun to watch. He's listed at 5 feet 5 in the Eastern Michigan media guide, but the 145-pound senior is closer to 5-3. He already did a number on Michigan this season, and now has a chance to send Michigan State home to East Lansing.

F is for Fang. Mitchell's Coppin State team will be missed from this year's tournament. The Eagles followed every criterion the selection committee set for mid- and low-major schools. Maybe Coppin State would have lost in the opening round, but it deserved a chance.

G is for George Washington. The Colonials could be adopted as Baltimore's team, since Shawnta Rogers and Mike King played at Lake Clifton. They probably won't get any farther than a second-round matchup against Duke, but Mike Jarvis has put himself back in position to get some job offers.

H is for Harrick. Three seasons after taking UCLA to the national championship and 18 months after being fired, Jim Harrick is back with Rhode Island. Rams guard Tyson Wheeler might have his hands full in the first round with Murray State's Chad Townsend and De'Teri Mayes.

I is for Iona. The Gaels are making their first appearance in the tournament since 1985 and certainly have a decent draw, with Syracuse in the opening round. Tim Welsh, a former Jim Boeheim assistant, is one of the country's up-and-coming coaches.

J is for Jaguars. South Alabama nearly made Arizona a first-round footnote in last year's tournament before blowing a 10-point lead and letting Lute Olson off the hook. Now the Jags are back with a new coach, Bob Weltlich, who took over when Bill Musselman took off for the NBA.

K is for Knight. As in Bob, as in the guy who will be on the sideline at MCI Center after he paid the $10,000 fine rather than take the one-game suspension for his crass act a couple of weeks ago. The Hoosiers will be going for a fourth straight first-round loss when they play Oklahoma.

L is for Lithuanians. The country is well-represented in the tournament. Most dear to the hearts of Maryland fans is Sarunas Jasikevicius, whose three-point shooting and creativity could come in handy for the Terrapins today against Utah State.

M is for Michigan. Not the school, the state. It has more representatives in this year's tournament -- five -- than any other state in the country. All have pretty decent teams. That's one more than North Carolina, South Carolina and Indiana, two more than California, Indiana and New York.

N is for Ndiaye. Makhtar Ndiaye is much improved, but his inability to control his emotions could prove costly for a North Carolina team that has only a freshman, Brendan Haywood, playing behind him. Ndiaye -- pronounced Ji, as in hi -- could be a key in the Tar Heels' title run.

O is for office pools. This is one event in which the pools are as big as the event itself. But unlike other years, going with the favorites to make the Final Four will likely get you as far as the teams themselves. Hint: You can't go wrong betting for teams with blue uniforms.

P is for Princeton. The Tigers will have a chance to prove that their Top 10 ranking the past two months was deserved. Though they come into the tournament a bit banged up, it seems doubtful that anyone can beat them until they meet the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16.

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