Breaking down Sweet 16 hardly a letter-perfect task

OTHER VOICES

March 23, 2006|By SKIP MYSLENSKI | SKIP MYSLENSKI,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

The Round of 16 from A to Z ...

A is for Aristotle, the ancient philosopher George Mason coach Jim Larranaga trotted out after his Patriots knocked off North Carolina. While talking of his upstart team, he reminded all that the old Greek once said, "Excellence is not an act, it's a habit."

B is for Big Baby, which is the nickname of 6-foot-9, 310-pound LSU forward Glen Davis.

C is for Jim Calhoun and Connecticut, who together are going after their third national title in eight years. The Huskies are on course to meet Duke in the championship game, which would be nothing new to them. When they won it in 2004, they defeated the Blue Devils in a national semifinal. When they won in 1999, they defeated them in the final.

D is for Jared Dudley, the 6-7 Boston College forward who teams with 6-7 Craig Smith to give the Eagles one of the most-powerful inside pairs still left in the tournament. They now represent the Atlantic Coast Conference, which prefers finesse to fists. But they grew up in the Big East, in which banging is a birthright.

E is for Enigma, which could well be the nickname of Connecticut sophomore forward Rudy Gay. He may be the best pure talent in college basketball and certainly a top NBA draft pick whenever he decides to leave school. But his personality is passive, he rarely asserts himself and he simply has disappeared, on occasion, from games.

F is for the "Feel Good Story," which this year could be Bradley, George Mason or Wichita State.

G is for Guards, the strength of Villanova. The Wildcats start four who, so far, have shot down the adage that basketball is a big man's game.

H is for Homegrown, which is the case with LSU. Five of its top six players are from Baton Rouge or one of its suburbs and the sixth, senior guard Darrel Mitchell, grew up just 60 miles away in St. Martinville.

I is for Inconsistent, which is how Texas point guard Daniel Gibson has played. He has scored as many as 37 points in a game this season. But in 11 others he has failed to reach double figures.

J is for Jordan Farmar, who with Arron Affalo gives UCLA the type of backcourt needed for tourney success.

K is for Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke coach who is inescapable this time of the year.

L is for Jim Les, the Bradley coach whose first job with the school was ball boy.

M is for Makeover, which is what Ben Howland has given UCLA. The Bruins were long a quintessential West Coast team, which means they played little defense and were as soft as a souffle.

N is for the NFL, which has been scouting George Mason's Jai Lewis. The 6-9, 295-pound forward played defensive end and tight end in high school and, obviously, has the body to do some damage on Sundays.

O is for Over, which is the condition of Florida's streak of failures. The Gators, entering this tournament, had lost on the opening weekend to lower-seeded teams for five straight years. That is a record of futility they now share with Illinois (1986-90) and Arizona (1989-93).

P is for Pops, which is how Georgetown coach John Thompson III always refers to his father, former Hoyas coach John Thompson Jr.

Q is for Quarterback, which is another position Duke point guard Greg Paulus played in high school. He threw 152 touchdown passes in just 45 games, set a New York state record with his 11,763 career passing yards and was recruited heavily by major football programs, which he spurned in favor of Krzyzewski.

R is for Brandon Roy, the 6-6 Washington guard who last season started just four games. Entering the tournament, he was the best least-known player in the country.

S is for Stats, which are always fun to play with. How's this one? The Missouri Valley (two of four) and the Colonial Athletic (one of two) conferences got 50 percent of their teams through to the regionals.

T is for Mark Turgeon, the Wichita State coach who played under Larry Brown at Kansas and was an assistant under Brown when the Jayhawks won the national title in 1988.

U is for the Usual Suspects, which this year are Duke guard J.J. Redick and Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison.

V is for the Verb "Pittsnogled," which was created in honor of West Virginia's 6-11, tattoo-laden Kevin Pittsnogle. Mountaineers fans now can buy T-shirts and socks and even underwear emblazoned with the phrase, "You've Been Pittsnogled!"

W is for Williams. There is Shelden, the Duke forward, and Marcus, the Connecticut point guard. If either is in foul trouble, his team is in trouble.

X is for Mr. X-Factor, who always visits this time of year. He shows up this March in the guise of 7-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, who is far from a finished product but already capable of influencing a game.

Y is for Yannick Noah, the former tennis star and 1983 French Open champion whose son, Joakim, now stars for Florida.

Z is for Zero, which is the number of Big Ten teams involved in this weekend's festivities.

Skip Myslenski writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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