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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Midwest Regional : What To Look For

March 11, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

The draw: Last year, UCLA got shipped out of the West and threw a fit. This year, the Bruins were sent packing again and go whistling to the airport. A month after an NCAA tournament bid looked like a reach, UCLA has a No. 2 seeding and a good chance to win the regional. After last year's pratfall against Princeton, it's doubtful the Bruins will overlook Charleston Southern in the opening round at Auburn Hills. Assuming a win, UCLA should be able to handle the winner of Xavier-Vanderbilt. No. 1 Minnesota should beware a possible second-round pairing against No. 9 Temple. The Owls' match-up zone is NCAA-tournament-tested tough and impossible to prepare for.

* Best first-round game: No. 8 Mississippi versus No. 9 Temple. The final score might be 25-24. Rob Evans revived the Ole Miss program by recruiting defensive players first and had a breakthrough season this year with a team that held its opponents to 41.7% shooting. This should be an interesting matchup for the Owls, notoriously horrible shooters under Coach John Chaney.

* Sleeper: Miami of Ohio. You'll want to tune in just to get a load of senior forward Devin Davis, who still thinks dreadlocks are a fashion statement. He's also the best player at the school since Ron Harper and Wayne Embry. The Redskins know their sleeper role well. Two years ago, seeded No. 12, they shocked Lute Olson's Arizona in the opening round.

* Upset in the making: No. 12 Boston University over No. 5 Tulsa. At first glance, Boston U appears just another crummy team from one of those sounds-like-an-airline conferences--America East--that receives an automatic bid and denies a more worthy school--West Virginia--a spot in the field. But Boston U has a higher RPI ranking than Boston College, 31 to 34. It's also higher than Iowa State's, Texas' and Colorado's. And, really, what has Tulsa done besides ruin Steve Lavin's debut as UCLA coach?

* Impact coach: Tim Floyd. His Iowa State team has run hot and cold all year, but no one knows defense like Floyd, who many expect to take over the Chicago Bulls when Phil Jackson retires two or three minutes after Michael Jordan does. Floyd did an X's and O's number on Todd Bozeman in beating California in last year's tournament.

* Impact player: Cameron Dollar. If Dollar is the second coming of Tyus Edney, which he appeared to be on that coast-to-coast imitation last weekend against Washington State, UCLA will be in great tournament shape. Dollar needs to run the offense with poise and patience and keep the team turnover total below 20 a game.

* The pick: There's no reason, barring the usual half-dozen or so upsets, why UCLA and Minnesota shouldn't be playing for the Midwest title March 22 in San Antonio. Minnesota should rebound from a season-ending loss to Wisconsin and the Bruins are the second-hottest team in the country, behind North Carolina. It's hard to believe UCLA has recovered from the trauma of Jim Harrick's firing in early November, but that appears to be the case.

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