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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT | West Regional

What to Look For

March 17, 1998|ROBYN NORWOOD

* How they got there: Arizona won its games over Nicholls State and Illinois State by an average of 36 points, and Illinois State had a respectable 33rd ranking in the Ratings Percentage Index and beat Tennessee to reach the second round. The Wildcats are tournament-tested and--incredibly, as the defending champions--still have something to prove. (Thank you, USC, for the reminder.)

Maryland was the third-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference and the only team in the field that beat two top-seeded teams during the regular season: North Carolina and Kansas. The Terrapins had an easy draw until now, beating Utah State and an overrated Illinois team. LaRon Proffit is best-known, but the players to watch are Rodney Elliott and Obinna Ekezie.

Utah is one of the mystery teams in the field because Rick Majerus' Utes didn't play a schedule tough enough to show how good they are. Center Michael Doleac is smooth, but point guard Andre Miller from Verbum Dei High is one of the most underrated guards in the country. The Utes are a finesse team that gutted out a second-round victory over Arkansas, but Majerus worries about their matchup with extremely athletic teams.

It was Jarrod West--not Jerry--who made West Virginia's last-second shot to upset second-seeded Cincinnati, 75-74, in the second round.

* Difference-maker: Arizona's Mike Bibby is that hardest-to-find of combinations: a high-scoring point guard who runs the team with savvy. If he needs to be a scorer, he scores. When passing is called for, he passes. Whatever the conditions, Bibby can adjust his game to the role's requirements.

* Four questions: Has there ever been a more overlooked defending champion with every starter back than Arizona?

Will Maryland match up against Arizona as badly as it did against Duke--which handled the Terrapins with ease--or as well as it did against North Carolina, which lost to Maryland in overtime once and needed overtime to win in the ACC tournament?

Which Orange County restaurants will get the coveted recommendation of Utah Coach Rick Majerus, who will send over only a few hundred of his closest friends?

Will Jerry West be at the Arrowhead Pond pulling for West Virginia, maybe even giving a talk to the team? The Laker general manager starred for the Mountaineers when they reached the 1959 NCAA championship game.

* Looking forward to: That Arizona-Maryland matchup, mostly because it's hard to figure out the discrepancy between the Terrapins' performances against Duke and North Carolina. It also provides a gauge for potential Final Four matchups: Arizona and North Carolina haven't met since last season's NCAA semifinal, and Arizona was beaten by Duke early this season, before the Wildcats hit their stride.

* A glimpse at the coaches: Lute Olson's four Final Four appearances are more than any coach still in the tournament except Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, who has seven. Syracuse's Jim Boeheim is the only other coach with two and Jim Harrick has one. Maryland's Gary Williams has probably the second-worst sideline demeanor among major college coaches, behind Purdue's Gene Keady. Rick Majerus lost one of the NBA's leading rookies, Keith Van Horn, then rolled to a 27-3 season. West Virginia's Gale Catlett wanted to wind down his career with the Mountaineers' first NCAA appearance since 1992. Congratulations, coach.

* How it shakes out: Arizona-Maryland just might be interesting, but give it all to Arizona.

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