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COLLEGE BASKETBALL NCAA TOURNAMENT | EAST REGIONAL

March 16, 1997|JIM RHODE

TODAY'S GAMES

* No. 6 Louisville (24-8) vs. No. 3 New Mexico (25-7)--OK, so it won't exactly be the Doctors of Dunk vs. Phi Slamma Jamma, but this should be one of the more entertaining, up-tempo matchups of the tournament. Louisville Coach Denny Crum, whose Cardinals, by the way, were given an above-the-rim education by Houston's dunking fraternity in the 1983 Final Four, would be feeling much better about this team's Sweet 16 chances if senior guard DeJuan Wheat was healthy enough to shoulder the scoring load. Wheat has been bothered by a sore shoulder for more than a month, and not by coincidence, Louisville has lost six of 12 games. The Cardinals have more than a sore wing and a prayer, though, now that freshman forward Nate Johnson has elevated his game to the level of a Pervis Ellison, circa 1986--their last NCAA championship season. Johnson, in fact, is from the same Camden, N.J., high school that produced two other starters on that title team, Billy Thompson and Milt Wagner. New Mexico can pick up the pace after having Old Dominion slow it down in the first round. Lobo center Kenny Thomas will get the green light to drive the baseline in this game, while leading scorer Charles Smith will try to light it up from the perimeter.

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* No. 10 Texas (17-11) vs. No. 15 Coppin State (22-8)--Just call this the Rodney Dangerfield bracket. Texas was being criticized for getting in the NCAA tournament with an NIT-like record, while Coppin State was ignored for being, well, Coppin State. Texas Coach Tom Penders, after his mercurial guards ran and shot circles around lead-footed Wisconsin in a 71-58 victory, admittedly thought so little of Coppin State that he instructed his assistants to scout only second-seeded South Carolina. After the Gamecocks wound up getting cold-cocked, 78-65, Penders joined his staff in scrambling for information on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions from Baltimore, even hitting up South Carolina assistants. Uh, Tom, you really don't want their scouting report. Try fellow Big 12 teams Nebraska and Oklahoma, which defeated Coppin State by 16 and 24 points in December.

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