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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

West Regional : What To Look For

March 11, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

The draw: Kentucky didn't mind packing after getting the No. 1 seeding over South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference, even though the Gamecocks swept the Wildcats in SEC play. Kentucky isn't nearly the powerhouse it was a year ago but is strong enough to make another run at the Final Four. After beating Montana in Thursday's opener, the Wildcats will be looking at No. 8 Iowa or No. 9 Virginia. No problem there. In other words, Kentucky has no complaints, except that Adolph Rupp's record is about to fall. No. 2 Utah will beat Navy and then pray to play UNC Charlotte instead of Georgetown in the second round.

* Best first-round game: No. 3 Wake Forest versus No. 14 St. Mary's. No one's saying St. Mary's is going to win, but you'll want to pay to see the opening jump between Wake Forest's Tim Duncan, the best center in the country, and Brad Millard, the biggest center in the country. It will be interesting to see how Duncan plays against Millard, who is 7 feet 3 and 345 pounds. Duncan has struggled against big men at times.

* Sleeper: No. 6 Stanford. The Cardinal was vastly overrated during the regular season, milking that 48-point victory over UCLA for all it was worth. Still, a team that has Brevin Knight at point guard has to be feared in the NCAA tournament. Knight did not have a spectacular year, but he tends to turn it up a notch when it counts. The key for Stanford is the status of center Tim Young, who is good when his back is feeling right and not so good when it is not.

* Upset in the making: No. 10 Georgetown over No. 7 UNC Charlotte. You have to like John Thompson over first-year Coach Melvin Watkins. This is not anywhere near Thompson's best team, but certainly good enough to wear down a UNC Charlotte team with an inflated record and seeding. Georgetown does not have much of an offense beyond Victor Page, but plays the kind of tough defense that makes a difference at tournament time.

* Impact coach: Rick Pitino. He did a great job this year with a team that lost four starters to graduation or the NBA and Derek Anderson to injury off last year's title team. Kentucky should have won the title last year with that Wells Fargo wagon of riches. This year, it will be more a credit to Pitino's drive and talents if the Wildcats return to the Final Four.

* Impact player. Tim Duncan. The Wake Forest center returned to college this season to make one last run at a national title. Unfortunately, it appears last year's Wake Forest team might have been better. If Duncan is to get his national title, he will have to elevate his game a few more notches. Now, if he could just get his teammates to knock down a few three-point shots. Ricky Peral, are you listening?

* The pick: It's shaping up as a Kentucky-Utah final in San Jose on March 22, with the Utes out to avenge a humiliating 29-point loss to the Wildcats in last year's Midwest Regional semifinals. Not that it would have mattered, but Utah star Keith Van Horn was sick with flu in that game. Van Horn is well now. You could ask Southern Methodist and New Mexico.

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