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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | TODAY'S GAMES:
EAST REGIONAL

At Hartford, Conn.

March 12, 1998|ROBYN NORWOOD

* North Carolina (30-3) vs. Navy (19-10): Like the other 16th-seeded teams, Navy has virtually no chance--although North Carolina allowed Fairfield to stay tantalizingly close in an 82-74 first-round victory last season. One of the many problems for the Midshipmen will be matching up inside. Power forward Hassan Booker, a Los Angeles native who played at University High, does a lot with his 6-foot-3 frame, but asking him to defend 6-9 Antawn Jamison or even 6-6 leaper Vince Carter is unrealistic. A zone is the likely option. Navy guard Skip Victor, who played at Cerritos High, helped his team reach the NCAA tournament with a late steal and layup in the Patriot League final--a game that figures to be remembered as the Midshipmen's final victory of the season.

* North Carolina Charlotte (19-10) vs. Illinois Chicago (22-5): If Charlotte can get past this hard-to-call matchup, the 49ers could play North Carolina for the first time in school history. A meeting almost happened more than 20 years ago when both reached the 1977 Final Four, but Charlotte lost to Marquette in a semifinal and Marquette went on to beat North Carolina in the title game. Charlotte forward DeMarco Johnson averages 21 points and nine rebounds and has an NBA future. Illinois Chicago is a three-point oriented team led by Bryant Lowe--who shoots 56% from beyond the arc--and Mark Miller.

* Princeton (26-1) vs. Nevada Las Vegas (20-12): Can Princeton, best remembered for its 1995 upset of UCLA, live up to its top-10 ranking and a favorite's role? Coach Bill Carmody's back-door brigade meets a hot team in UNLV, which wouldn't have made the field before its impressive Western Athletic Conference run. The size of the Rebels' Kaspars Kambala, Kevin Simmons and Tyrone Nesby could pose serious problems for the Tigers, but UNLV has to contend with Princeton's precision and its perpetual quest for a layup or an open three-point shot. The Tigers are built around center Steve Goodrich, a smooth passer from the high post who also shoots the three-pointer, and three-point aces Brian Earl, Mitch Henderson and Gabe Lewullis.

* Michigan State (20-7) vs. Eastern Michigan (20-9): The upset potential is real with Michigan State--the surprise co-champion of the Big Ten regular season--beginning the tournament on a two-game losing streak. The Spartans run smack into Eastern Michigan and 5-5 point guard Earl Boykins, who helped upset Duke in the 1996 tournament and will be eager to match up against Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves. The Spartans fell to Purdue in overtime in the season finale, then lost to Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the first Big Ten tournament as Cleaves went two for 18. In addition, a series of minor controversies seem to have unsettled Spartan Coach Tom Izzo.

AT WASHINGTON, D.C.

* Xavier (22-7) vs. Washington (18-9): The Atlantic 10 got five teams into the NCAA field and the Pacific 10 barely got four, with Washington just sneaking in. Only an upset by Washington would do much to dispel the thinking that the A-10 is deeper than the Pac-10, though not stronger at the top. Washington can put two 7-footers on the floor with Todd MacCulloch and Patrick Femerling, but Xavier has speed and can apply intense pressure. Guards Gary Lumpkin and Lenny Brown are keys for Xavier, but forward Darnell Williams emerged as the team's leading scorer.

* South Carolina (23-7) vs. Richmond (22-7): The Gamecocks are probably paying attention after they were shocked in the first round by Coppin State last season. Guards BJ McKie and Melvin Watson form a terrific tandem, and freshman forward Antonio Grant has a couple of game-winning buzzer-beaters to his credit. Richmond's best player is Jarod Stevenson, a versatile, 6-7 scorer who drew compliments from North Carolina Coach Bill Guthridge when the Spiders lost to the Tar Heels this season. By the way, 10 years ago, Richmond made the final 16 after upsets of Indiana and Georgia Tech.

* Indiana (19-11) vs. Oklahoma (22-10): Does Indiana's three-year, first-round losing streak finally come to an end? The Hoosiers finished the season with three consecutive losses, but while everyone was fretting about Bob Knight's shenanigans, Indiana played solidly in the Big Ten tournament. And Oklahoma hasn't fared well in the NCAA tournament lately either, with a five-game losing streak that dates to the Billy Tubbs era. Guard Corey Brewer is the Sooners' big gun, with a 21-point average, and he'll probably go against the Hoosiers' best player, A.J. Guyton. Knight says that Indiana freshman Luke Recker--destined to be a Hoosier hero before his career is over--is playing with a broken rib.

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