St. Louis

Regional Roundup

March 15, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg

GOING TO SAN ANTONIO

For the second straight year, Kentucky comes into the tournament with a gaudy record, a No. 1 seed and no go-to player during crunch time. Balance is a tremendous attribute during the regular season, but March Madness is about superstars and heroic performances, as Kentucky found out last year when Marquettes Dwyane Wade ran the Wildcats off the court. Look for Georgia Tech, with athletic sophomore guard Jarrett Jack, to be the surprise of the tournament like Marquette was last season.

TEAM ON THE RISE

Gonzaga doesnt play in a power conference, but you cant argue with the Bulldogs results. Mark Few and company have won 20 games in a row, the longest streak in the nation.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

Providence, once ranked No.M-q12 in the nation, has sunk like a stone in recent weeks, losing three straight games. The Friars most puzzling loss was a 69-66 defeat to Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament. Villanova went just 15-15 this season.

CINDERELLA STORY

Utahs venerable coach Rick Majerus retired earlier this season because of health problems, but the Utes marched on, winning the Mountain West tournament on a last-second three-pointer by Nick Jacobson. Utah is 9-3 since interim coach Kerry Rupp took over, and may give Boston College trouble in the first round.

PRIME-TIME PLAYERS

Despite Providences troubles, forward Ryan Gomes is still one of the elite players in the nation. Gomes, who wasnt heavily recruited in high school, averaged 18.6 points and 9.3 rebounds, and scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 66-56 win over Connecticut in January. Gonzagas Blake Stepp and Kansas Wayne Simien are also capable of carrying their teams.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER

Washingtons Nate Robinson is only 5 feet 9, but hes a big-time player in ever other sense. He scored 31 in a upset of Arizona earlier this season. The Huskies guard has a 40-inch vertical leap, and hes been known to name to his best throw-downs. Robinsons favorite? The Top 10, a two-handed slam off a lob pass against Arizona that was the lead highlight on SportsCenter. Our favorite? The Gary Coleman. After Oregon students taunted Robinson by referencing the diminutive actor from Diffrent Stokes, he responded with an emphatic two-hander in a victory over the Wildcats.

COACHING EDGE

The Big 10 was a paper tiger this season, and Michigan State was a big reason for the leagues lackluster showing. The Spartans were 0-8 against teams with a top-25 RPI ranking. Tom Izzo is a great coach, but the Spartans are still living off their reputation from 1999 and 2000, when they made it to back-to-back Final Fours. One coach that has to re-prove himself year after year is Gonzagas Mark Few, who has done everything but get his team to a Final Four. With a little luck, and a big tournament from Ronny Turiaf, this just might be the year Few, and the Bulldogs, put the Cinderella label to bed for good.

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