East Rutherford

Regional Roundup

March 15, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec

GOING TO SAN ANTONIO

This region may be one of the most difficult to call. A 20-point loss to Xavier could be a sign that top-seeded Saint Josephs is vulnerable. Fourth-seeded Wake Forest has struggled of late, as has fifth-seeded Florida. Pittsburgh will be tough to beat, but the pick here is Oklahoma State, which has won 18 of 19 games and boasts an all-important tempo-controlling guard in John Lucas, the son of the former Maryland standout.

TEAM ON THE RISE

Wisconsin lost to Illinois by eight points about a month ago, but after that and a loss to Michigan four days later the Badgers have won seven straight games, including a 70-53 victory over the Illini in yesterdays Big Ten tournament championship game. Wisconsin, a sixth seed, also has the luxury of opening up the tournament in Milwaukee, and that looms large with a matchup with Pittsburgh looming in the second round.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

Remember when Florida was the No. 1 team in the country? You should it was only three months ago. However, the Gators havent been the same since a home loss to Maryland in early December. They are unranked at 20-10 and have lost four of their past 10 games, including two lopsided defeats to Kentucky. Manhattan is a dangerous first-round opponent, too.

CINDERELLA STORY

The Manhattan Jaspers have worn the glass slipper before, upsetting fourth-seeded Oklahoma as a No. 13 seed in the first round of the 1995 tournament. They are the 12th seed this year and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champions bring multi-talented guard Luis Flores and Bobby Gonzalez, one of the countrys hottest young coaches, into a first-round matchup with struggling Florida.

PRIME-TIME PLAYER

Point guard Jameer Nelson nearly left Saint Josephs to go to the NBA last season, but he returned and is now a leading candidate for national Player of the Year honors. The fearless 6-foot senior, who is averaging 20.2 points, 5.4 assists, 4.8 rebounds and three steals, is the Hawks all-time leading scorer and assist man. Honorable mention goes to Texas Techs Andre Emmett, the Big 12s all-time leading scorer, and Wake Forests Chris Paul.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER

Its hard to label a player that wins the Big Ten Player of the Year Award underrated, but because of a down year in the conference, few people have spent much time talking about Wisconsins 6-3 junior guard, Devin Harris. And all he has done is become the first Badger to win the conference Player of the Year award since 1950, lead his team to the Big Ten tournament championship and average 19.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists.

COACHING EDGE

Eddie Sutton guided Arkansas to the Final Four in 1985 and his alma mater Oklahoma State there in 1995. The 14th-year coach of the Cowboys is in the NCAAs for the 24th time as a coach, but that is two appearances fewer than Bob Knight, whose Texas Tech team is the eighth seed in the region. Knight leads all active coaches with 26 tourney appearances.

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