NCAA Tournament Preview 2000
A closer look at this year's Madness
by Gerry Brown
The teams have been announced and the NCAA tournament bid committee can return to their lives now that the eyes of the sports world are no longer watching them closer than the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Like every year at this time a few teams left out have a gripe. This year it seems the committee was good to the mid-major conferences like the Missouri Valley and West Coast Conference on Selection Sunday. Good teams from power conferences like Virginia and Vanderbilt were both left off the dance card despite having impressive wins on their schedule.
Former No. 1 Cincinnati was headed for a top seed but was relegated to a two-seed once consensus player of the year Kenyon Martin was sidelined with a broken leg, and they lost their opening game in the Conference USA Tournament.
Another top team with a potentially big injury is Arizona. The Wildcats somehow kept one of the four one-seeds despite losing 7-1 center Loren Woods for what will likely be the rest of the season. It must have been thanks to their late-season win over fellow one-seed Stanford. The Cardinal are No. 1 in the South region and tournament-mainstay Duke is the top seed in the East. In roughly three weeks the 64 teams will be whittled down to the final four who will play for the title in Indianapolis.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
South: Ohio State point guard Penn. Keep an eye on his backcourt mate Michael Redd too. Tennessee's Tony Harris is lightning-quick and fun to watch.
East: Temple's point guard Pepe Sanchez is all over the place on both ends of the court. Hofstra's Speedy Claxton can cause problems for other teams but probably not enough of them to lead the Flying Dutchmen out of the first round.
West: Barkley will be the key to St. John's chances of advancing to the Final Four. Chris Mihm is an inside force for Texas and will have to step up if the Longhorns hope to make noise. Oklahoma senior forward Eduardo Najera should get plenty of touches in the Sooners' drive for their first Final Four since 1988.
Midwest: Michigan State point guard Cleaves is one of the best players in the country. Fizer is a big time player himself who will remind people a little of Kenyon Martin. Central Connecticut State has a special secret in Rick Mickens, a guy can score and defend with the best of them.
[ The Teams ]
Arizona is the top seed with a track record of getting upset in the first couple of rounds. This year could be another surprising early exit for the Wildcats. They'll crush Jackson State in the first round but face a tough challenge in the winner of the Wisconsin/Fresno State game. Apart from Arizona look for the Dayton Flyers to upset Purdue and make a run for the Sweet 16. Mike Jarvis has St. John's united against the world and if on-again, off-again point guard Erick Barkley is on, St. John's will be in Indy.
[ The Teams ]
Obviously, Stanford as the top seed is the team to beat. A seriously depleted Cincinnati team has a tough task going into the tournament without Martin. Look for the once mighty Bearcats to fall to Tulsa in round two in an upset and, if not then, in the Sweet 16 to Scoonie Penn and Ohio State. Look for Stanford and Ohio State to meet in the Regional Finals. Infoplease projects that Stanford will represent the South in the Final Four.
[ The Teams ]
Michigan State is the class of the Midwest. Mateen Cleaves has the Spartans clicking and looking to make a return engagement with the Final Four. Iowa State, led by 6-8 forward Marcus Fizer, is the surprising two-seed in the Midwest. In what should be one of the best games of the tournament, look for Maryland and Iowa State to wage a war in the Sweet 16, barring upsets. The Chris Porter-less Auburn Tigers are ripe for the pickings against ten-seed Creighton who shoot the three extremely well. Michigan State should come out of the Midwest and make their way to Indianapolis.
[ The Teams ]
Coach K's Dukies are once again the top team in the East. They are far from the same team that was upset by UConn for the national championship a year ago. Elton Brand, Trajan Langdon and Will Avery are gone while Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell have stepped to the fore. The team to watch in the East might not be Duke though. Temple is hotter than a $25 DVD player, going 17-1 down the stretch including wins over ACC power Maryland and a then-No. 1 and Martin-fortified Cincinnati squad. Potential first round upsets include 10-seed Seton Hall over 7-seed Oregon and look for Temple to beat Duke in the Elite Eight for their ticket to Indianapolis.