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Regions to Believe

UConn, Duke and Stanford Stand Out in Their Respective Parts of the Country

November 19, 1998|ROBYN NORWOOD

UConn? You can.

Stifle a yawn: Duke is No. 1.

Stanford stands tall in the West.

But connect the dots, and Connecticut might be the nation's best team.

Richard "Rip" Hamilton, a slashing scorer, is a player-of-the-year candidate to rival Duke center Elton Brand, and they will compete to see who has best put his broken foot behind him.

Stanford was stellar in the Final Four--don't forget, it took Kentucky an overtime to get past the Cardinal and into the title game.

But Mike Montgomery's Redwoods are vulnerable to an up-tempo game against standout guards and mobile big men--see Arizona 93, Stanford 75; Connecticut 76, Stanford 56, and Arizona 90, Stanford 58.

Duke is still Duke, with Trajan Langdon, Shane Battier, William Avery, Chris Burgess and a new, improved Brand back from a team that was No. 1 a good chunk of last season and finished 32-4, eliminated by eventual NCAA champion Kentucky in a game in which Duke blew a 17-point lead.

On second thought, how in the world can you pick against Duke?


PACIFIC 10--Best conference in the land? It's getting close. With Stanford and Washington stepping onto the national scene, the depth at the top is better than ever. Who can argue with four teams in the Sweet 16 two years running? The Atlantic Coast is still ahead, top to bottom, but when Arizona and UCLA aren't the cream of the crop in the Pac-10, you know it's a pretty good crop.

At Arizona, Jason Terry goes from sixth-man extraordinaire to big scorer with Mike Bibby and Miles Simon gone, and Lute Olson's coaching is going to show its value this season.

Washington, only a tip from the final eight last season in its loss to Connecticut, has one of the nation's best-kept secrets in Coach Bob Bender--a former Duke assistant, by the way.

Here in town, UCLA's pickup game tendencies might cost the young Bruins, with Earl Watson the only steadying force and Baron Davis' knee uncertain. USC should surprise after a 9-19 season. But that's a tough group to break into at the top, led by Stanford and Washington. And don't be a fool and count out Arizona.

ATLANTIC COAST--Enough of measuring the mileage from Durham to Chapel Hill, N.C., already. How far is it from Durham to College Park, Md.?

The Terrapins are supposed to be the challengers this season, after Antawn Jamison and Vince Carter left North Carolina early to become NBA players-in- waiting. Maryland added guard Steve Francis--one of the best junior college players in the nation--to a team that already had center Obinna Ekezie and swingman Laron Profit and beat Kansas and North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have their own version of Charlie Ward in freshman quarterback- guard Ron Curry, who has been a bit busy with football, so forward Jason Capel and forward Kris Lang became the first freshmen to start since Jamison and Carter.

SOUTHEASTERN--Two of the last four NCAA champions were from the Pac-10, and Kentucky won the other two times.

The Wildcat team with a penchant for comebacks, the one that beat UCLA, Duke, Stanford and Utah in succession to stand atop the college basketball world in San Antonio, lost Jeff Sheppard, Nazr Mohammed and Allen Edwards.

But Tubby Smith's team still looks sturdy with solid, versatile forward Scott Padgett, point guard Wayne Turner, center Jamaal Magloire and forward Heshimu Evans back, and prized recruit Tayshaun Prince from Compton Dominguez High in the fold. Magloire is suspended the first two games .after an off-season scrape.

Tennessee already has lost to a savvy Arizona team, but Volunteer guard Tony Harris, a sophomore, should keep the Volunteers in the picture.

BIG TEN--Is Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves the best point guard in the country, or is it Connecticut's Khalid El-Amin, or Utah's Andre Miller? Cleaves is a big scorer and assist man, but on an off-night shooting, he can sink a Spartan team that doesn't have enough scoring options.

Indiana has an emerging Hoosier hero in Luke Recker.

Two players to watch on lesser teams: Northwestern center Evan Eschmeyer, granted a sixth year of eligibility because of injuries, and Ohio State sophomore Michael Redd, a slashing scorer who was the Big Ten freshman of the year for an 8-22 team last season.

ATLANTIC 10--John Chaney hasn't had this good a team at Temple since the Owls were No. 1 with Mark Macon. Forward Lamont Barnes is his best player, and Temple shows that defense, matchup zones and taking care of the basketball can still work.

At Rhode Island, Jim Harrick followed up the Rams' run to the final eight by watching one of his biggest gambles pay off. Lamar Odom, the peripatetic former high school standout who never enrolled at Nevada Las Vegas after his SAT scores were questioned, is eligible at Rhode Island after attending classes as a non-enrolled student. He made a splash in his debut with a 19-point, 14-rebound, nine-assist game against Texas Christian.

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