Albuquerque Regional

March 14, 2005|By Paul McMullen


In December, they beat the regional's No. 1 seed, Washington, and its No. 5, Georgia Tech. In November, they gave Illinois a better game than did Wake Forest. They've got a 27-4 record and the reputation as the little program that comes close in March, but this is the year Gonzaga finally breaks through.


West Virginia started the season 10-0, but almost came apart in January, when it lost five straight and appeared to have blown its shot at an at-large berth. The Mountaineers are 9-3 in their past 12 and coming off a run to the Big East final.

FOR THE RECORD - In Monday's NCAA basketball preview section, it was incorrectly reported that Wake Forest had never reached the Final Four. Wake Forest played in the 1962 Final Four.


Pittsburgh began the New Year ranked No. 10 in the nation, then lost at home to Bucknell. In mid-February, a win at Syracuse improved the Panthers to 20-4. Since then, they've gone 2-4, losing at home to plodding West Virginia and in the Big East tournament to lightning-quick Villanova. These guys have been hard to gauge all season.


Pittsburgh opens against Pacific, the first at-large team from the Big West Conference since 1993. A few summers ago, Pacific coach Bob Thomason took his team on a summer tour to Sweden, where he found forwards Christian Maraker and Jasko Korajkic. His center, Guillaume Yango, is from France.


Chris Paul got justifiably slammed with a one-game suspension for the knock he gave Julius Hodge eight days ago, but that poor judgment doesn't diminish his ability to take over a game. There isn't a more highly regarded guard in the nation than the Wake Forest sophomore. Before he becomes one of the first picks in the 2005 draft, he longs to make a mark for a program that has never been to the Final Four.


Ronald Ross, a 6-2 senior, went to Texas Tech as a walk-on. Last season he averaged 10.1 points and led the Red Raiders in assists. This season, he has put up 16.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game and scored in double figures in all but two games.


Last year marked the first Sweet 16 for Wake Forest's Skip Prosser. Gonzaga's Mark Few has built a solid NCAA resume, but two men loom over this regional. Bob Knight is the first man after John Wooden to coach three national champions, and his teaching and discipline are apparent at Texas Tech. Louisville's Rick Pitino regrets that he left Kentucky, which he took to the 1996 title.

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