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PACKER: Cal Should Have Made It; Michigan Won't Fold; Marquette Has Itself to Blame; in Accord on Duke

SETTING THE PICKS: Handicapping the NCAA This is the first in a four-part series offering basketball facts, humor and predictions for the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament from television analysts Al McGuire and Billy Packer. McGuire, the former Marquette coach, and Packer, a long-time basketball commentator, became verbal sparring partners when both worked for NBC. Packer has since gone to CBS, but the sparring continues. The second part will appear March 19, with additional stories on March 26 and March 31, the day of the NCAA championship.

March 12, 1986|BILLY PACKER | Distributed by the Dallas Morning News

Although I must credit the selection committee for the 64-team field it came up with for the NCAA tournament, one situation I found tough to believe was taking Washington ahead of California out of the Pac-10 Conference.

The committee had the perfect chance to judge two teams with very similar records that had played twice in the regular season. When one team--Cal--won both games, that would seem to cancel out something like strength of schedule.

My good friend, Al McGuire, no doubt is biased, but the reason Marquette didn't get into the tournament was because the committee apparently put a lot of weight on the last 10 days. Before the DePaul game, I would have had to say that Marquette had a better chance to get in.

A good example is what happened to North Carolina. This was a team ranked No. 1 for 13 weeks and an odds-on pick to be No. 1 seeded in the tournament, but a couple of losses late in the season dropped it to the third-seeded team in the West Regional.

I know some people in Texas are upset that only one Southwest Conference team was selected, but this was a year when the SWC obviously fell out of favor with the committee.

The last few years, you had three teams out of the SWC--SMU, Arkansas and Houston--that were among the very best in the country, teams with a very legitimate shot at reaching the Final Four. The league was looked on as being on the move in basketball, and it's hard to believe it disintegrated as much as it did this year.

The simple fact is that the SWC didn't play enough top 20 teams, making things difficult on themselves in terms of getting respect. I would suggest that any conference that feels misrepresented should try to solve some of those matchups in the future.

When the tournament field is pared to its Final Four, I just can't see an all-ACC championship game. I think Duke has a good chance to get there, and I look for Michigan to be there, too.

The thing Michigan showed Saturday in beating Indiana, 80-52, was that it is without question the most physically powerful team in the country. Bobby Knight had an Indiana team he thought could win, but he had no chance to coach.

If ever there was a good time for a team to fold, as Al says Michigan will do, that was it. With the 45-second shot clock in the NCAA tournament this year, a team like Michigan doesn't have to worry about a Villanova holding the ball, as happened last year.

Regardless of what Al says, here are the powerhouses and sleepers from the eight subregionals:

Charlotte, N.C.--Illinois will beat Kentucky, and the Illini is my power here. They have too much inside strength for the Wildcats. Keep an eye on Alabama. Coach Wimp Sanderson has a good one in Buck Johnson, a player not many people have seen.

Baton Rouge, La.--I have to agree with Al on Georgia Tech as the power, but I look for Gene Keady and Purdue to beat Dale Brown and LSU on the Tigers' home court.

Long Beach--St. John's is the power, and Auburn is the sleeper.

Odgen, Utah--Forget North Carolina. Louisville is the hottest team in the country. My sleeper for the tournament is Alabama Birmingham.

Greensboro, N.C.--Duke, no question, is a powerhouse. How about Virginia as a sleeper?

Syracuse, N.Y.--I like Syracuse to win at home. Navy is the sleeper.

Dayton, Ohio--I was going to consider Temple, but I have to stand up for my friend Al. Temple's coach, John Chaney, said McGuire's comments on television were affecting the selection committee. That can't be right, because anybody with any knowledge about basketball wouldn't pay any attention to Al. Look for Kansas as the power and Michigan State as the sleeper.

Minneapolis--As stated, Michigan could win it all. Watch for Johnny Orr, a former Michigan coach, and Iowa State as a sleeper.

The player who will have the most impact in the early rounds is Michigan State's Scott Skiles, who should be the player of the year in the nation. He has had the greatest year of any true guard in modern basketball history.

One more thing about Al: When it was first suggested that every Division I team be invited to the tournament, he said he thought it was a stupid idea.

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