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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Midwest Regional

March 10, 1997|Chris Dufresne | Times staff writer

1. MINNESOTA (27-3)

* First-round opponent: Southwest Texas State.

* Season in brief: The Gophers got the message after being snubbed last year with a 19-13 record. Minnesota upgraded the schedule, beat Clemson, Rhode Island and West Virginia and proved it could win on the road early in the season, defeating Indiana in Bloomington on Jan. 8. Success coincided with a steady rise up the polls, with the Gophers actually outranking their hockey team.

* Player to watch: Bobby Jackson. The senior guard has a great first step and also makes outside shots.

* Tidbit: Coach Clem Haskins ended a nine-year NBA career with the Washington Bullets in 1976.

* NCAA bio: Fifth appearance for Gophers under Haskins, including Sweet 16 finish in 1990. Must fight Big Ten's lagging reputation in recent years, but proved they were real when they swept Purdue and Iowa on the road in mid February.

2. UCLA (21-7)

* First-round opponent: Charleston Southern.

* Season in brief: It looked like a crash and burn in November, when Jim Harrick was fired and replaced by his former coffee fetcher, 32-year-old Steve Lavin. After a season-opening defeat by Tulsa and ugly efforts against Kansas and Stanford, UCLA improved steadily, Lavin was rewarded with a four-year contract and the Bruins won their third consecutive Pac-10 title.

* Player to watch: Charles O'Bannon. It took a while, but the senior forward finally started playing with the fire of older brother Ed, catching the eyes of NBA scouts as he single-handedly led UCLA to victories in Arizona.

* Tidbit: As a guard for Chapman College in 1987, Lavin won the team's leadership award.

* NCAA bio: Eleven national titles, but shocked by Princeton in last year's opening round. Cameron Dollar, the unsung point guard of UCLA's national title game win over Arkansas in 1995, has to be the calming influence if UCLA is to get deep into the tournament.

3. CINCINNATI (25-7)

* First-round opponent: Butler.

* Season in brief: Bob Huggins handed out more suspensions than a high school principal as he tried to tame this talented but wayward bunch. The Bearcats talked tough, but did not beat a ranked opponent other than Tulane. Huggins suspended five players for at least one game, and sent others in and out of his doghouse. Even star junior Danny Fortson did not escape the wrath, sitting out a blowout win over DePaul while he pondered what might be the best day to announce he will make himself available for the NBA draft.

* Player to watch: Darnell Burton. The 6-2 senior guard must have has three-point shot going to complement Fortson inside.

* Tidbit: The Bearcats have a 31-14 record in the NCAA tournament, including consecutive titles in 1961 and '62.

* NCAA bio: Lost to Mississippi State in last year's Southeast Regional final. Suspension of point guard Charles Williams before the conference tournament underscores that all is not well with this team. Point guard has been the weakness all season and the reason it will be tough for Cincinnati to get past the Sweet 16.

4. CLEMSON (21-9)

* First-round opponent: Miami of Ohio

* Season in brief: Opened season with a victory over Kentucky, the defending national champion, and won 16 of first 17 games before losing an ACC game to Wake Forest. Tigers' only non-conference loss came against Minnesota. Clemson reached No. 2 in the Associated Press poll on Jan. 20.

* Player to watch: Terrell McIntyre. The sophomore point guard was one of the most underrated playes in the ACC. Says Coach Rick Barnes: "No question, the key to our basketball team."

* Tidbit: In 1987, Barnes was assistant coach at Ohio State under current Maryland Coach Gary Williams.

* NCAA bio: Clemson made the 1996 tournament after going 7-9 in the conference, then was bounced in the first round by Georgia. The Tigers have Sweet 16 talent.

5. TULSA (23-9)

* First-round opponent: Boston University.

* Season in brief: Wrecked Steve Lavin's debut with a victory over UCLA, played well against Duke in a five-point loss and defeated Temple. It was that kind of play that had Tulsa Coach Steve Robinson's name being mentioned in job openings at Memphis and LSU.

* Player to watch: Shea Seals. The senior guard played like a pro against the NBA dream teamers last summer, scoring 20 points.

* Tidbit: Tulsa won six Missouri Valley Conference regular-season titles and four tournament championships before joining the Western Athletic Conference this season.

* NCAA bio: Lost to Louisville in overtime in last year's first round. Made Sweet 16 in '94 and '95 under Coach Tubby Smith, now at Georgia. Tulsa is usually a factor come tournament time.

6. IOWA STATE (20-8)

* First-round opponent: Illinois State.

* Season in brief: Lost a lot of power-rating respect with a nonconference schedule against the likes of Alcorn State, Tennessee Martin and Siena. Recovered from consecutive Big 12 losses to Kansas and Colorado to win five in a row before another loss to Kansas.

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