Letter-perfect tournament? NCAA: March Madness, wide-open as usual, is off and running toward a Final Four in Minneapolis.

March 15, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

Are your brackets set? Have you told the boss that you've got, uh, the flu and are taking the next three weeks off? The NCAA tournament officially began Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, with that scintillating win by Northwestern State over Winthrop, but the real stuff - and stuffs - start today.

Before embarking on the road to Minneapolis for this year's Final Four, here's your annual A to Z guide. In other words, everything you wanted to know about the 2001 tournament (and some things you really don't).

A is for Alabama State, which hadn't had a winning record since 1994 and never had gone to the Big Dance until beating perennial SWAC power Alcorn State. It's not a long trip to Memphis, but the Hornets will likely have a very short stay with defending national champion Michigan State on tap tomorrow.

B is for Boise, host to the inaugural Washington Beltway Classic. Since Maryland and George Mason haven't played since last season, the folks on the selection committee decided it was about time they met again. For good measure, one could play Georgetown in a Sweet 16 game.

C is for California, as in Cal-State Northridge, the least known of the six schools selected from within the state for the field of 65. The Matadors are also playing in their first NCAA tournament and, having upset big sister UCLA earlier this season, shouldn't be intimidated by Kansas tomorrow in Dayton.

D is for domes. Only one will be used this week, which is good news. Basketball is a sport that's meant to be played in gyms and arenas and YMCAs, not 60,000-seat buildings cut down to 40,000, about half of which are any good to see what's going on.

E is for Eastern Illinois, another of those directional schools that some, especially those at Austin Peay, believe shouldn't be in the tournament. Up against second-seeded Arizona, don't expect the Panthers to get the same controversial call that they got to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.

F is for Final Four, the fantasy of many, a legitimate goal for about a dozen teams this year. This year's site: the Metrodome. The last time it was held there, in 1992, Duke won its second straight national championship.

G is for Georgia, the team Big East commissioner (and selection committee chairman) Mike Tranghese will be privately rooting for today against Missouri to justify picking a 16-14 team that lost seven of its last 10 games and went out in the first round of the SEC tournament.

H is for Hofstra, the Long Island school that was more famous for educating an Academy Award-winning producer (Francis Ford Coppola) and an undersized NFL receiver (Wayne Chrebet) than big-time hoop stars. Speedy Claxton changed that, and Norman Richardson is now carrying on the tradition.

I is for Indiana. Or Iowa. Or one of the schools where Steve Alford will coach next season. Iowa's victory over the Hoosiers in the Big Ten championship fueled speculation) - at least by CBS analyst Billy Packer - that Alford could be headed back to Bloomington next season. Stay tuned.

K is for Krzyzewski. What, you were expecting something original? Coach K has been to eight Final Fours, and this year's Duke team seems to be headed in that direction, beginning tonight in Greensboro against Monmouth. The Blue Devils should make it if they keep hitting their threes.

L is for Lefty. We can't get enough of the big fella with the bald head. If his Georgia State team beats Wisconsin today, Charles Grice Driesell would likely get the ultimate chance for revenge against Maryland. And to think, he was giving a pep talk to the Terrapins before they played Duke the other day.

M is for Michigan State. The defending national champions could make Tom Izzo the first coach to win successive titles since Krzyzewski, but the Spartans' loss to Penn State in the Big Ten quarterfinals might have been a red flag. The Spartans' two freshmen, Zach Randolph and Marcus Taylor, could make a difference.

N is for New Orleans, site of one of the South's sub-regionals and what many writers, fans and players (but not coaches, at least those still working) would like to see made a semi-permanent site for the Final Four. You can't drink Hurricanes and see the Preservation Hall Jazz band in Boise.

O is for office pool, the lifeblood of the NCAA tournament. If you are still looking for potential upsets before the tournament begins today, go for 14th-seeded Iona over third-seeded Mississippi in Kansas City, Mo., tomorrow or 13th-seeded Hofstra over fourth-seeded UCLA this afternoon in Greensboro.

P is for Princeton, which will be making its first appearance in the tournament since 1998 but still scares the you-know-what out of any coach who has to prepare his team for the oh-so-patient Tigers. North Carolina's Matt Doherty has had nightmares this week, and they all haven't been about Duke.

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