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COLLEGE BASKETBALL : Competition to Sweet 16 Is Sure to Be Bitter This Season

November 19, 1994|IVAN MAISEL | NEWSDAY

It's got blockbuster written all over it. Cross-country romance, big stars and as always, a happy ending. How's this for a title: Sweetness in Seattle. Can we get Tom Hanks? No? How about Corliss Williamson? Does he do sequels?

The first steps down the road toward the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship have been taken. There are at least 30 teams convinced that this is Their Year. One of them is right. There will be no Cinderella, not in a season when the four teams that ended their season in Charlotte return 16 of their 20 collective starters. That means the cast is familiar. So, too, is the plot. As the director says, "Action!"

1. Arkansas: What can prevent a repeat? Injuries? Pressure? The Razorbacks dealt with those problems last season and won. It comes down to hunger and head coach Nolan Richardson feeds his players three square homilies a day. What players: Guard Corey Beck and swingman Scotty Thurman made the Goodwill Games team. Forward Corliss Williamson would have save for a broken wrist. The Razorbacks' bench could make the NCAAs on its own.

2. UCLA: The memory of the whipping UCLA received from Tulsa in the first round of the NCAAs should drive the Bruins over their self-raised mental hurdles. The tools are there: Tyus Edney at point guard and the O'Bannon brothers, Ed and Charles, in the frontcourt. A stellar freshman class will contribute. Are academics important? Chemistry is one subject Jim Harrick's teams annually fail.

3. North Carolina: Basketball gout: North Carolina consumed such a rich diet of talent last season that Dean Smith didn't have the minutes to satisfy everyone. But the senior class of Eric Montross and Co. are gone. What's left is sumptious. Watch forward Jerry Stackhouse and center Rasheed Wallace work. Guard Donald Williams, the hero of the 1993 NCAA title run, and forward Pat Sullivan, who voluntarily sat out last season, provide leadership.

4. Kentucky: Two SEC teams made it to the Final Four last spring and neither one wore Kentucky blue. The Wildcats will make amends next spring. It's time for forward Rodrick Rhodes to live up to his press clips. Kentucky will get significant inside help from Washington transfer Mark Pope. Guard Tony Delk (37.4 percent on three-pointers) will load it up faster than a teen-ager on a mall shop-a-thon.

5. Florida: Florida won't sneak up on anyone this season. It won't matter. The Gators return four starters from the Final Four team. Forward Andrew DeClercq is as tough to guard as he is to spell. The question is who will join All-SEC guard Dan Cross in the backcourt. Two weeks will define the Gators: They play at Wake Forest and at Kansas the first week in December. Alabama and Arkansas come to Gainesville in late February.

6. UMass: You've heard this before because Massachusetts has the same team as last year. Center Marcus Camby lived up to his billing as a freshman. Lou Roe is the guts of the team, a 6-feet-7 banger who spent the summer working on outside scoring. That's where the Minutemen must improve. Mike Williams is too streaky of a three-point shooter. Coach John Calipari has been campaigning for the spotlight. Now he has it.

7. Indiana: Has Alan Henderson been at Indiana as long as Bob Knight? The forward is on track to become the Hoosiers' all-time leading rebounder. He averaged a double-double (18 points, 10 boards) last season. Henderson, Brain Evans and seven-footer Todd Lindeman mean no one beats the Hoosiers inside. Guard Sherron Wilkerson broke a leg against Temple in the NCAAs. Get well soon -- the sophomore is the veteran in the backcourt.

8. Duke: Forwards Grant Hill and Antonio Lang are gone and how well Duke replaces them will determine the Blue Devils' success. Cherokee Parks will anchor the frontcourt. Sophomores Greg Newton and Joey Beard will have to move up from the far end of the bench.

9. UConn: Everyone is back for Connecticut except Donyell Marshall. Remember the Supremes without Diana Ross? No, no, no. The Huskies will challenge for the Big East championship. Sophomore Ray Allen is the next star. He broke the scoring record at the U.S. Olympic Festival last summer. Kevin Ollie is the league's best defensive guard. Seven-foot junior Travis Knight has bulked up and won the center's job.

10. Maryland: The Maryland woes have faded in the distance, thanks to sophomore Joe Smith. He lit up the paint and the entire state by leading the Terrapins to the Sweet Sixteen. The next step is possible. Forwards Exree Hipp and Keith Booth give coach Gary Williams a formidable frontcourt. Off-guard Johnny Rhodes led the ACC in steals. Depth is non-existent, which could prove deadly in the ACC.

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