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What To Look For

March 13, 2001|SAM FARMER

* The draw: Boston College didn't command as many headlines as the East regional's top two seeds--Duke and Kentucky--but the Eagles deserve a lot of respect. They won the Big East regular-season title and the conference tournament, even though they were a preseason pick to finish in the middle of the pack. Watch for them to make a run. Another team to watch is Hofstra, which has won 18 consecutive games, the nation's longest winning streak. The story of the tournament would be a Loyola Marymount-type run by Oklahoma State, which endured in the wake of a tragic crash of a team plane.

* Best first-round-game: Missouri has sophomore forward Kareem Rush back in the lineup, and that should make the Tigers' game against Georgia very interesting. Rush, recovering from a torn ligament in the thumb of his shooting hand, scored 16 and 31 points in two Big 12 Conference tournament games and can knock down shots from all over the floor. Georgia played the most difficult schedule in the country and that's how the Bulldogs found their way into the tournament, despite having lost 14 games. They're itching to prove they belong.

* Sleeper: Seventh-seeded Iowa should survive its first two games and make it to the Sweet 16. Reggie Evans, a 6-8, 245-pound rebounding machine, was named the outstanding player of the Big Ten tournament, won by the Hawkeyes. Coach Steve Alford is the type who flourishes in the tournament--tweaking and adjusting during the game, tailoring his team's tactics to an opponent's weakness.

* Upset in the making: Ohio State just isn't that good, especially for a No. 5 seed. So don't be surprised if Utah State sends the Buckeyes home. Yes, Ohio State's Jim O'Brien coached his team to a third consecutive 20-victory season, but his players have a tough time lighting up the scoreboard. The Buckeyes finished eighth in the Big Ten in scoring, averaging 71 points. Utah State, meanwhile, features a smothering defense that allowed only 58.2 points a game and 39.3% shooting. The Aggies, who have lost each of their last eight tournament games, are the first Big West team to win consecutive conference tournaments since Nevada Las Vegas won three in a row from 1989 through '91.

* Impact coach: Oklahoma State's Eddie Sutton is one of three coaches who have taken four teams to the tournament. The other two are Lefty Driesell and Jim Harrick. Sutton reached the Final Four with Arkansas in 1978 and Oklahoma State in '95--losing to eventual champion UCLA, coached by Harrick.

* Impact player: Earl Watson. When he takes the floor against Hofstra, the UCLA point guard will tie Don MacLean's school record with his 127th start. But that isn't the number Watson is thinking about. At the very least, he wants to reach the Sweet 16 for the third time in his career. To get that far, the Bruins need his strong leadership. He has sworn off thinking about offense and says he wants to concentrate entirely on his performance on defense.

* The pick: Get ready to hear a lot about Duke. By the look of things, the Blue Devils are on the verge of making another run deep into the tournament. As they showed in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game against North Carolina, they can win with or without center Carlos Boozer, who sat out the 95-81 Duke victory because of a broken bone in his foot.

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