Ellerbe can't shake Fisher comparisons Michigan interim coach says 1989 circumstances much different than '98


March 13, 1998|By Bill Free, Jerry Bembry and Christian Ewell | Bill Free, Jerry Bembry and Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Former Loyola College coach Brian Ellerbe can't seem to escape the interim coach talk no matter where he goes.

When he arrived in Atlanta yesterday with his third-seeded Michigan team, he was hit with questions about the comparisons to Steve Fisher's 1989 run to a national championship as interim coach when he took over for Bill Freider.

Fisher and Michigan played their first two NCAA tournament games in Atlanta that year and also were the third seed.

Ellerbe's Wolverines (24-8) open tournament play tonight at 7: 40 against 14th-seeded Davidson (20-9) in the South Regional.

"Our guys are aware of that [Fisher comparisons] already," Ellerbe said. "They know the history of Michigan. This is a totally different team and we've been together the entire season," unlike Fisher, who took over just before the NCAA tournament.

Ellerbe preferred to play up the fact that the Wolverines have to "represent the Big Ten in the best possible way since we're the league champs. All eyes are on us, so we need to stay focused in practice until we get to game time."

MEAC rerun?

South Carolina State's high-scoring point guard Roderick Blakney talked yesterday about how much Coppin State's NCAA upset of South Carolina last season is helping the 15th-seeded Bulldogs (22-7) in their preparation for second-seeded Kentucky today at noon in Atlanta.

"It helps us knowing what they did and that we could do the same thing," Blakney said of the Eagles, S.C. State's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rivals.

It took until this week, meanwhile, for S.C. State to take its first airplane trip of the season.

"We bus it everywhere," said Blakney, who leads the Bulldogs with 20.6 points per game. "It's kind of like a band on tour. But we finally got onto the plane this time. The NCAA picked up the tab.

"It's like a traveling road show," he added. "We came here with three guys who had never been on a plane before."

Tense moments

Western Michigan (20-7), the 11th seed in the Midwest that will face sixth-seeded Clemson today in Chicago, suffered through a tense evening on Selection Sunday, having lost its last two games of the season.

"We were about 50-60 percent sure we would make it, so we really didn't know," said guard Jason Kimbrough. "The thing that was bothering me was that we lost our last two games. We expected to be here at the beginning of the season. We are not intimidated by the atmosphere."

Western Michigan is making just the school's second NCAA appearance, but Kimbrough has played in the tournament before, with Iowa State in 1995.

"We've allowed him to talk about his experience in the NCAA tournament to some point," coach Bob Donewald said of Kimbrough. "However, I liken it to a woman trying to explain to a man what childbirth is. You don't know what it's like until you go through it."

Charleston challenge

The loss of Brevin Knight of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers seemed to have little effect on Stanford when the team was winning its first 18 games. The Cardinal finished with a 26-4 record and have the No. 3 seed in the Midwest, facing the College of Charleston today in Chicago.

Charleston (24-5) won the Trans America tournament championship. Upsets are nothing new with Charleston: Last season, as a No. 12 seed, it defeated Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament; in 1996, Charleston beat Stanford in the Great Alaska Shootout.

"When we lost to them in Alaska, it really hurt us," said Stanford forward Mark Madsen. "We know our hands are going to be full, but we are confident.

"Their tallest player is 6 feet 7 and we definitely want to exploit that. The Charleston post players may not be big, but they play big. We are looking at this as a huge challenge and we will be ready."


Despite being the highest seed in Chicago at No. 2, Purdue has had little recent NCAA tournament success. The Boilermakers, who face Delaware today, have been second-round victims the past three years.

"Every year we try to re-evaluate what had gone wrong and how we can correct it," said Purdue coach Gene Keady. "One reason why I voted for the Big Ten tournament was so we could be tournament-tested at this point."

The Boilermakers are not thinking about past history against Delaware (20-9), which got an automatic bid by winning the America East tournament.

"We've been beaten in the second round the past three years, but we aren't worried about that," said center Brad Miller. "We want to make our own history. I think we've got a pretty good team and we've playing pretty well. We just have to come out and be ready to play."


One camp critical of the tournament's selection committee says teams like Washington -- middle-of-the-road teams in major conferences -- have no business in the tournament.

The other camp says the same about that teams like Richmond -- from poorhouse conferences like the Colonial Athletic Association. Well, yesterday's afternoon session at the MCI Center in Washington provided a silencer for both.

"It says that it's a good process," said Virginia athletic director Terry Holland, one of the members of the selection committee, who was in attendance at yesterday's games, as well as committee chairman C. M. Newton. "The automatic qualifiers are a lot better than people think."

While Holland says that the top seed in each region is fairly secure in its first-round matchup, the rest of the teams should be on their toes.

"That middle part of the bracket is pretty equal. It used to be that the 8-9 game was a pretty good game," Holland said.

He also cited last year's 14th-seeded Tennessee-Chattanooga team -- which made it into Sweet 16 out of the Southern Conference -- as part of a new breed of team that does more than provide the occasional fluke victory.

"These teams don't just win one game these days, now it's more than that," Holland said.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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