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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | TODAY'S GAMES

At Sacramento

March 12, 1998|CHRIS DUFRESNE

* Arizona (27-4) vs. Nicholls State (19-9): If not for Prairie View, Nicholls State--No. 1 in your hearts, No. 143 in your RPI--might rank as this year's worst tournament entrant. A few notes about the Colonels before they head home to Thibodeaux, La.: The Southland Conference champions won nine of their last 10 games. They play an exciting, up-tempo style that relies heavily on their guards--sophomore James Banks (7.5 points, 4.8 assists per game, and senior Russell McCutcheon (16.5 points). James McCutcheon, Russell's brother, starts at power forward. If the Colonels keep the game close for a half, consider it a moral victory.

* Tennessee (20-8) vs. Illinois State (24-5): Jerry Green left Oregon last year to take over the Volunteers from Kevin O'Neill, who moved on to Northwestern. Green did a bang-up job with a banged-up team. Tennessee lost three players to season-ending injuries yet still managed 20 victories. The Volunteers would be NIT bound if not for the great play of freshman point guard Tony Harris, the Southeastern Conference's top freshman and Tennessee's leading scorer at 14.5 points per game. Illinois State Coach Kevin Stallings was offered the Tennessee job last year and turned it down. It's hard to knock his decision, considering the Redbirds became the first Missouri Valley Conference school to win the regular-season and conference championships in consecutive years.

* Illinois (22-9) vs. South Alabama (21-6): The Illini won 10 of their last 11 games and held five teams under 60 points in those games. Problem? The Illini have almost no depth and are vulnerable if power forward Jarrod Gee gets in foul trouble (he fouled out five times this season). South Alabama is a misleading 12th-seeded team. It scared the desert out of Arizona in last year's first round. Coach Bob Weltlich has continued to play the same mind-numbing, ball-possession style as Bill Musselman, his predecessor. South Alabama is the team most like Princeton south of the Mason-Dixon line.

* Maryland (19-10) vs. Utah State (25-7): The Terrapins defeated two top-seeded teams in this tournament, Kansas and North Carolina, but also looked pathetic in getting swept by Duke and Wake Forest. This is put-up time for Coach Gary Williams' team after first-round losses the last two years to College of Charleston and Santa Clara. No one really expects a long stay from Utah State with no player taller than 6-foot-6 in the starting lineup.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

WEST REGIONAL

FIRST-ROUND GAMES, THURSDAY

Sacramento

1. Arizona (27-4)*

16. Nicholls State (19-9)

*

8. Tennessee (20-8) 4:45 P.M.

9. Illinois State (24-5)

*

4. Maryland (19-10) 11:30 a.m.

13. Utah State (25-7)

*

5. Illinois (22-9)*

12. South Alabama (21-6)

*

Boise, Idaho

2. Cincinnati (26-5)*

15. Northern Arizona (21-7)

*

7. Temple (21-8) 9:30 a.m.

10. West Virginia (22-8)

*

3. Utah (25-3) 4:45 p.m.

14. San Francisco (19-10)

*

6. Arkansas (23-8)*

11. Nebraska (20-11)

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