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East Regional : What To Look For

March 11, 1997|CHRIS DUFRESNE

The draw: Call it the Carolina Invitational, with North Carolina leading the bracket in Winston-Salem and South Carolina at Pittsburgh, all to probably culminate in a North-South battle of the Carolinas in the East Regional final at Syracuse. This is also the made-for-television bracket, with Dean Smith likely to tie Adolph Rupp's victory total Thursday against 11-18 Fairfield. Don't think so? Top-seeded teams are 48-0 against No. 16s since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The Tar Heels are rip-roaring hot, having won 12 consecutive games, but draw a potentially troublesome second-round foe in Indiana. Bob Knight would rather have 10 sportswriters over for dinner than have Smith break Rupp's record against his Hoosiers. He'll do everything he can to postpone the celebration until next year.

* Best first-round game: No. 8 Indiana vs. No. 9 Colorado. These are two good teams masquerading as middle-seeded teams. Office poolers should note that ninth-seeded teams have a 28-20 record against No. 8s since 1985, which means a Colorado victory would hardly be a shock. The Hoosiers finished 9-9 in the Big Ten, but were good enough to beat Duke in November. Indiana isn't very athletic, though, which could mean trouble against Colorado guard Chauncey Billups.

* Sleeper: No. 11 Massachusetts. The Minutemen (19-13) were 16-7 after a 3-6 start and a different team after they went to a three-guard lineup of Charlton Clark, Edgar Padilla and Carmelo Travieso. UMass survived a brutal schedule bequeathed by John Calipari, losing to Georgetown, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Cal and Fresno State, but its last two nonconference games were credibility-boosting victories over Boston College and Maryland.

* Upset in the making: No. 12 Princeton over No. 5 California. This is actually a better Princeton team than the one that shocked UCLA in the opening round last season. Bill Carmody replaced Pete Carril as coach, but most of the players are back, including forward Gabe Lewullis, the man who beat the Bruins on a back-door play in the closing seconds. Cal probably improved two seedings by defeating Arizona last weekend, but the Bears are limited offensively without injured guard Ed Gray, the Pac-10 player of the year.

* Impact coach: Bob Knight. He's the fly in this regional's ointment, a great coach with a lot to prove. Knight's teams have been first-round NCAA knockouts in the last two tourneys, and he has made only one Final Four trip since winning his last title in 1987.

* Impact player: Ed Cota. The vast improvement of North Carolina's freshman point guard is the main reason the Tar Heels are burning a path into this tournament.

* The pick: It will be tough for North Carolina only if the Tar Heels have to play Indiana in the second round. Because of Knight, that game will be a toss-up. If North Carolina survives, it should be a straight shot to the regional final, where Smith will meet, and beat, South Carolina Coach Eddie Fogler--a former Tar Heel assistant.

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