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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | TODAY / AT ATLANTA

GONZAGA vs. MICHIGAN STATE

March 23, 2001|ROBYN NORWOOD

* STYLE OF PLAY: These are two of the best-coached teams in the tournament. Michigan State is bruising and efficient. Gonzaga is efficient offensively and underrated defensively, though possibly out of its league against the defending national champions. It's little wonder coaches Tom Izzo and Mark Few admire each other.

* MATCHUP TO WATCH: Michigan State point guard Charlie Bell against Gonzaga point guard Dan Dickau. Bell is a savvy and gifted defender who has three inches on the 6-foot Dickau, Gonzaga's leading scorer. That doesn't bode well for Gonzaga.

* INTANGIBLES: Both teams are tightknit and cohesive. The battle of wills is between an upstart that has earned every bit of its place in recent tournament lore and a proud defending champion. "Everywhere we played, we had a bull's-eye on our backs," Bell said. "Most of the places were like the Fourth of July. The crowd was pumped and excited and those were hostile environments to play in."

* MAGIC NUMBERS: +15.5. Michigan State leads the nation in rebounding margin. Only Iowa has outrebounded the Spartans this season. A decided advantage on the boards and a feast of offensive rebounds against Gonzaga should propel Michigan State to the regional final.

* FINAL ANALYSIS: There are very few obstacles between Michigan State and a third consecutive Final Four. The most recent team to accomplish the feat was Kentucky, from 1996-98.

PENN STATE vs. TEMPLE

* STYLE OF PLAY: Temple can be painful to watch, and even more painful to play against. The Owls' matchup zone is one of the perennial best bets in the NCAA tournament because teams don't see it often. Penn State is familiar with it, but that's not the same as mastering it.

* MATCHUP TO WATCH: Guard Joe Crispin, Penn State's leading scorer, needs to be able to hit from long-range or the Temple zone figures to triumph. His brother, Jon Crispin, and Titus Ivory are the other three-point threats.

* INTANGIBLES: Surely the number of people pulling for Temple Coach John Chaney to finally reach the Final Four grows every year. Chaney, impassioned and irascible, is one of the game's originals. "I would be extremely happy if I could reach [the Final Four,]" Chaney said. "Certainly it's something all of us dream about. Some of us dream so much it becomes a nightmare. I'd love to be able to get there. But if I didn't get there, I wouldn't keep playing the last play. Like I tell the kids, go on from the last play."

* MAGIC NUMBERS: 66-60. A score that can actually be ignored. Don't think too much of Penn State's victory over the Owls in December. Quincy Wadley, Temple's top three-point shooter, didn't play because of a shoulder injury, and Temple was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak.

* FINAL ANALYSIS: Temple, despite being an underdog according to the seedings, should win. But if Penn State advances along with Michigan State, the Big Ten will be guaranteed at least one team in the Final Four for the third year in a row.

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