Ncaa Regional

March 27, 2004|By Mike Huguenin | Mike Huguenin,Orlando Sentinel

PHOENIX REGIONAL

No. 2 Connecticut vs. No. 8 Alabama

When: Today, 4:40 p.m.

Records: UConn 30-6, Alabama 20-12.

How they got here: Connecticut defeated No. 15 Vermont, 70-53, No. 7 DePaul, 72-55, and No. 6 Vanderbilt, 73-53; Alabama defeated No. 9 Southern Illinois, 65-64; No. 1 Stanford, 70-67, and No. 5 Syracuse, 80-71.

What to watch for: For the first time this season, UConn will be playing against a team with better athletes. But that won't matter for Alabama unless it's hot from three-point range (the Tide has hit 38 percent of its threes this season), and that means guards Antoine Pettway and Earnest Shelton and forwards Kennedy Winston and Emmett Thomas must produce. Winston is the Tide's best player, and if he struggles to score, Alabama is in trouble. The only consistent low-post threat is Chuck Davis, and he is going to have all sorts of problems getting off his shot against UConn's big people. UConn has been mauling people in the NCAAs, and in guard Ben Gordon and center Emeka Okafor, the Huskies have a devastating inside-outside punch. But there also is some nice complementary talent, such as guard Rashad Anderson and forwards Denham Brown and Charlie Villanueva. UConn has owned the boards this season (plus-9.6 rebounding margin), and if the Huskies do that today, their transition game will hurt the Tide.

Key to the game: UConn's weak link is senior point guard Taliek Brown, so look for the Tide to apply a ton of defensive pressure in an attempt to create turnovers. Alabama doesn't score a lot in the low post anyway, and when you throw Okafor into the mix, that means Alabama needs as many easy baskets as it can get.

Projected winner: UConn.

The line: UConn by 8 1/2 .

EAST RUTHERFORD REGIONAL

No. 1 Saint Joseph's vs. No. 2 Oklahoma State

When: Today, 7:05 p.m.

Records: Saint Joseph's 30-1, Oklahoma State 30-3.

How they got here: Saint Joseph's defeated No. 16 Liberty, 82-63; No. 8 Texas Tech, 70-65, and No. 4 Wake Forest, 84-80; Oklahoma State defeated No. 15 Eastern Washington, 75-56, No. 7 Memphis, 70-53, and No. 3 Pittsburgh, 63-51.

What to watch for: St. Joe's offense gets a lot of ink, as does Oklahoma State's defense. But consider this: In the regular season, Oklahoma State had better offensive numbers than St. Joe's, and St. Joe's had better defensive numbers than Oklahoma State. Each team has a premier point guard (the Hawks' Jameer Nelson and the Cowboys' John Lucas) and an excellent shooting guard (the Hawks' Delonte West and the Cowboys' Tony Allen). Each has nice complementary talent on the wings and off the bench. Each has good quickness. Each can apply stifling defensive pressure. Each has big guys who can run. Each is proficient from three-point range. Each can be devastating in transition. But Oklahoma State is more physical and looks to have a bit more toughness. Can the Hawks stand up to the Cowboys' physical nature? West is a better shooter than Allen, but West may be thrown off by how the Cowboys will try to put him through a grinder.

Keys to the game: St. Joe's has had a storybook season, but the Hawks' detractors say the lack of frontcourt scoring and an overall lack of size eventually will catch up to them. Well, Oklahoma State is in much the same boat. The Cowboys don't rely on anybody bigger than 6 feet 8, and their power forward weighs 217 pounds. In short, this could be a masterpiece - as long as the Hawks can stand up to the Cowboys' physical nature.

Projected winner: St. Joe's.

The line: Oklahoma State by 2 1/2 .

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