Seeds wash up in pools

1-2 punch of upsets leaves Sweet 16 field full of lesser-knowns

Ncaa Tournament

March 20, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

The traditionalists will be rooting for North Carolina and UCLA, two of the most storied programs in college basketball history. The front-runners will be cheering for Duke and Michigan State, the only top seeds left in this year's NCAA tournament.

Here's something to ponder: What if Gonzaga, Iowa State, Tulsa and Seton Hall make it to next month's Final Four in Indianapolis?

There will be plenty of tickets available at the RCA Dome. There will be plenty of office pools without any teams left.

There will be plenty of interview requests for John Stockton.

All because of what happened over the past four days.

The wildest first week of the tournament in recent memory -- OK, ever -- ended last night with two top seeds, three No. 2 seeds and three No. 3 seeds (including Maryland) knocked out in stunning succession.

The field that remains for the Sweet 16 looks like the NIT in a good year.

Sure, there are some fairly dominant teams left, starting with the Blue Devils in the East and the Spartans in the Midwest. And there are some big-name coaches, with Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and the other Coach K, Purdue's Gene Keady, at the top of the list. And, of course, big-time players, led by Iowa State's Marcus Fizer.

But this tournament isn't so much about which teams are still alive, but which are not.

Start with Arizona and Stanford, the twin powers of the Pac-10 this season. Both came in on shaky ground as top seeds in the West and South, with the Wildcats missing center Loren Woods and the Cardinal just missing in its last four regular-season games.

Now, they are gone, leaving the suddenly hot Bruins carrying the league's hopes for a third national championship and their second since 1995. Those hopes don't seem as much a long shot after Saturday night's 35-point trouncing of the Terrapins.

How many office pools went down in flames yesterday, with Stanford's defeat by suddenly rejuvenated North Carolina and Temple's overtime loss to Seton Hall? How many Tar Heels fans stopped calling for Bill Guthridge's job?

Considering the number of rags-to-riches stories that remain, not to mention riches-to-rags stories that have gone belly-up, is it surprising that one regional will be played at The Palace and another at The Pit?

The West Regional, starting Thursday in Albuquerque, N.M., could have had St. John's and Arizona in Saturday's final. Instead it could get Wisconsin and Purdue. That's not even a marquee matchup during the Big Ten season.

But the West does have last year's Cinderella, which has become this year's Cinderella. Gonzaga, Stockton's alma mater, is looking to become the first double-digit seed (No. 10) to make the Final Four since No. 11 LSU in 1986.

The Midwest Regional, which is being played in Auburn Hills, Mich., will certainly give a home-court advantage to the Spartans. And, with second-seeded Iowa State still alive, it's also the only regional left with a possible 1-2 showdown.

Not that the Sweet 16 is without any intriguing matchups. Just give us a few days and we'll find one. The forced renewal of one historic rivalry -- Ohio State vs. Cincinnati at the South Regional in Austin, Texas -- was wiped out by Miami and Tulsa.

The Hurricanes against the Golden Hurricane might be a kick for meteorologists, but those into bracketology don't usually get too excited with a No. 6 seed and a No. 7 seed. (Speaking of natural disasters, there are also the Cyclones of Iowa State.)

Of course, there's always the potential for a coaching matchup at the Carrier Dome in the East between Krzyzewski and former assistant Tommy Amaker, who as a point guard helped the Blue Devils launch their dynasty at the Final Four back in 1986.

But Seton Hall, which has won its first two tournament games in overtime, will have to get past Oklahoma State. And the Blue Devils, who struggled to put away Kansas last night, won't have an easy time with Florida.

There are also, as in most years, those cursing their fate.

Cincinnati fans will be asking themselves all spring what might have happened if Kenyon Martin hadn't broken his leg in the Conference USA tournament. (Considering the Bearcats' recent NCAA history, they still would have lost to Tulsa in the second round.)

Kentucky fans will be asking themselves all spring what might have happened if Desmond Allison hadn't been arrested for DUI after the Wildcats returned to Lexington following the SEC tournament.

(Those fans also are asking whether Kentucky coach Tubby Smith's son, Saul, should be charged with impersonating a point guard.)

And fans everywhere might be asking this question come the Final Four: Do you have anybody left in your office pool?

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