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1998 NCAA TOURNAMENT / SELECTION DAY REPORT | BILL
PLASCHKE

No Luck of Draw for UCLA This Time

March 09, 1998|BILL PLASCHKE

It's not a seeding, it's a sucker punch.

UCLA will enjoy a first-round frolic with a beach ball.

Shortly before being run over by a Traylor.

The Bruins will race away from an opponent that is just as small, just as tired and has been just as troubled.

Shortly before being whipped by a team that won its last six games by an average of 17 points.

The historic Westwood program will intimidate a group that has not been to the NCAA tournament since 1960.

Shortly before being bullied by a program that has been to three national championship games in the last nine years.

To those who actually need to think before filling in the UCLA portion of their NCAA men's basketball tournament brackets, a hint.

After UCLA-Miami, write UCLA.

After Michigan-Davidson, write MICHIGAN.

After UCLA-Michigan, write YIKES!

Everyone knew that without Jelani McCoy, and with a once-gorgeous offense that is consistently rumpled and untucked, the Bruins would only go as far as a lucky draw would allow.

The minute they were seeded sixth--when teams like TCU, New Mexico and Syracuse are surprisingly seeded higher--that luck ran out.

When they were sent to Atlanta to a possible second-round matchup against the late-kicking champions of the Big Ten tournament, dread became apparent doom.

The only way this could have been any worse for UCLA is if it had been thrown into a first-round game against Princeton.

That, or been set up to play the winner of Rhode Island and Murray State (wink, wink).

No offense, Bruins. But you won't have much against a Wolverine team that has a couple of 6-foot-9 stars and a 300-pounder (that's Robert Traylor) on their front line.

Remember how hungry and focused UCLA played last year while united under Steve Lavin's quest to become the main man?

Well, guess what Michigan is doing.

Steve Fisher was fired at the start of the season amid an NCAA rules controversy.

Brian Ellerbe, a new and unknown assistant, took over an incredibly talented team after the athletic director couldn't find anybody else.

Any of this starting to sound familiar?

During the regular season the Wolverines were both brilliant and bone-headed. Beat Duke by eight. Lost to Minnesota by 10. Beat Indiana by 48. Lost to Indiana by 18.

This would all be very comforting to the Bruins, if Michigan didn't finish so strong that everyone is suddenly comparing them to last year's Arizona.

After finishing fourth during the Big Ten regular season, it rolled through the inaugural tournament, led by talented Traylor, Jerod Ward, Louis Bullock and Maceo Baston.

As if that isn't enough to make Coach Lavin nervous, check out who Michigan defeated Sunday in the conference championship game. It was only powerful Purdue and Lavin's mentor, Coach Gene Keady.

Now folks are saying that if Ellerbe guides the Wolverines to the Sweet 16, he has a chance to become the permanent boss.

The way UCLA played in its six games without McCoy--going 3-3 with one overtime win, one last-second win over a bad team, and a 36-point loss--the interim coach's future is bright.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before Lavin can use this column as Sunday bulletin board material, he must first be granted use of the Sunday bulletin board.

This should happen against Miami, a program whose tradition consists of two words: Rick Barry. A program that was so bad, it couldn't even get to the tournament with him.

That last time Miami advanced, before Barry's career, it lost in the first round by 23 points to Western Kentucky.

The program is actually best known for the years it didn't play basketball, from the fall of 1971 until the fall of 1985.

Judging from the tiny crowds at Miami Arena--often less than 5,000--a lot of folks still don't know that it came back. Even when the Hurricanes won 12 of their first 13 games, few believed.

Then they lost eight of their last 14, including a first-round defeat in the Big East tournament to sorry Georgetown, and everyone believed.

The Hurricanes start nobody taller than 6-foot-7. Their top reserves are freshmen, meaning the starters play lots of minutes and are plenty tired.

Earlier this year, starting forward Lucas Barnes withdrew from school after being suspended for off-court behavior, while starting guard Johnny Hemsley was suspended for four games for violating team rules.

Miami would be UCLA's soul mate, if the Hurricanes were actually as talented as the Bruins, which they aren't.

UCLA will win big, and should enjoy it while it lasts. Which will be all of about 36 hours.

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