YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


West Has That Laid-Back Look

National overview: Stanford likes what it sees in regional. Other top seedings go to Duke, Illinois and Michigan State.

March 12, 2001|CHRIS DUFRESNE

PALO ALTO — Where to begin? The bracket broke so well for Stanford, the coach and players sort of got a lump in their throats, realizing this may be the team's best shot at the national title since Everett Dean was the coach and the Cardinal's nickname was the Indians.

What's not to like? As reward for going 28-2 and winning the Pacific 10 Conference, Stanford was shipped to the sunny port of San Diego, where the Cardinal opens NCAA tournament play Thursday against NC Greensboro.

You could argue Stanford deserved a worse No. 16-seeded opponent, but didn't get it because logistics demanded the NCAA selection committee send this year's play-in pair, Winthrop and Northwestern State, to Dayton for a Tuesday game--the winner getting to stick around town to get blown out Friday in first-round Midwest regional action.

But that's nit-picking.

"From our perspective, it's the best ending we could have asked for from a great season," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. "The kids earned it."

Montgomery mulled over the bracket and had not a problem with it.

It really is good to be king, and Stanford was rewarded for being the most consistently dominant school this season.

Now comes the hard part: living up to a terrific regular season in the mine-filled postseason.

"I don't know how many chances you really have to win a tournament like this," Montgomery said. "Let's be honest. I think we have a pretty good opportunity."

The West has been instantly deemed the cushiest of the four regionals, but that remains to be seen.

Stanford definitely has something to prove.

After making the Final Four in 1998, the Cardinal went out in the second round in 1999, losing as a No. 2-seeded team to Gonzaga.

Last year, as No. 1 in the South, Stanford met a second-round end against North Carolina.

The defeat came on Casey Jacobsen's 19th birthday. He went two for 12 in the loss and hasn't forgotten.

"I felt like I let the whole team down," he said Sunday in Maples Pavilion. "That's what stays with me and motivates me."

Jacobsen is a sophomore now, the superstar on a super team. He knows what people are thinking.

"We don't want the reputation of a team that does real well in the regular season and goes out early in the tournament," Jacobsen said. "Let's just say it."

Stanford enters this tournament with a subdued confidence.

"Do I believe we can do it? Yes," Jacobsen said. "Do I believe we have the weapons? Yes. Do I think other teams can do it? Yes."

The rest of the bracket did not go down so easily.

Duke had already clinched the top spot in the East before trouncing North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game, but the other two No. 1 spots were up for grabs because no team over the weekend stepped up to seize them.

The selection committee, which huddled and hedged on the top floor of the Westin Hotel in Indianapolis, had to go to a fallback position, handing out top spots to two Big Ten schools that were unceremoniously ousted in their own tournament.

Illinois lost to Iowa in the Big Ten semifinals, after Michigan State slipped up against Penn State in the quarters.

Yet, by default, Illinois claimed the No. 1 seeding in the Midwest over Michigan State, which was shipped to the South as a No. 1.

"You're talking about two very good teams," said Mike Tranghese, the NCAA's selection committee chairman. "It was hard to distinguish between the two."

Illinois probably got the nod because it defeated Michigan State in the only meeting between the teams.

Biggest bracket winners?

* Georgia, without a doubt. Jim Harrick's Bulldogs were left for dead by many after losing their Southeastern Conference tournament opener to Louisiana State.

The loss dropped Georgia to 16-14. Fourteen are as many losses as any at-large NCAA tournament team has had.

Yet, the committee rewarded Georgia with a No. 8 seeding in the East, with a first-round game Thursday against Missouri.

Credit Georgia's schedule-maker with this bid. Tranghese said the committee could not ignore the Bulldogs' No. 1-rated schedule. Georgia also scored three huge road wins--at Mississippi, Tennessee and Florida--and finished 9-7 in what Tranghese called the nation's toughest conference.

"It has to be a factor," Tranghese said. "Too many teams from power conferences are trying to hide behind the fact they're a member of a power conference."

He said turning away Georgia would be "hypocritical" for a selection committee that tells teams that who it schedules matters.

* Arizona. The Wildcats' victory over No. 1 Stanford last Thursday night vaulted them into a No. 2 in the Midwest. Arizona opens play Friday against Eastern Illinois.

"They beat Stanford, at Stanford," Tranghese said. "If I can't give them credit for that, I don't know what else I could do. They were probably closer to the one line [seeding] than the three line."

Biggest losers?

* The line forms behind Richmond.

Los Angeles Times Articles