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Saint Joseph's Leads a Stacked Bracket

March 15, 2004|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

Call this the regional of disrespect and contrasting styles.

Saint Joseph's, despite being awarded a No. 1 seeding, has a chip the size of Coach Phil Martelli's bald pate on its shoulder. Many still see the Hawks, who beat up on a mid-major conference in the Atlantic 10 and were then thumped in their first game of the league tournament, as more pretenders than contenders.

Count the selection committee among the haters. How else do you explain it loading the bracket with other powerhouse schools who feel just as slighted?

Consider: Pittsburgh was a missed shot from winning the Big East tournament and garnering an overall top seeding but fell to a No. 3. And all No. 6 Wisconsin did was win the Big Ten tournament, seven straight games and nine of 11. No. 2 Oklahoma State, however, has the look of a Final Four team. Hear that, Hawks?

Best first-round game: As it should be, the 8-9 game between Texas Tech, as unpredictable and fiery as any Bob Knight team, and Charlotte, one of five schools to tie for the Conference USA regular-season title.

Upset in the making: No. 5-seeded Florida began the year as a popular pick to make a run to the Final Four and was a one-time No. 1-ranked team. But the Gators have lost six of 13 and are ripe to be taken out by No. 12 Manhattan. The Jaspers have won 11 of 12 and, led by senior guard Luis Flores' 24.1 scoring average, are just the type of team to give the often undisciplined Gators fits.

Impact coach: Martelli. Long a lovable underdog, his image endured a bigger makeover than anything "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" could throw at him after the Hawks won their first 27 games. The 20-point pounding by Xavier in the Atlantic 10 tournament, however, erased a lot of the good feelings. Martelli, who is 3-3 in the NCAA tournament, has something to prove.

Impact player: Jameer Nelson. The heart and soul of the Hawks is only 5 feet 11 and 190 pounds, but as the senior point guard goes, so goes Saint Joe's. Nelson, a leading candidate for national player of the year, is busier on the court than the always-flapping Saint Joe's Hawk mascot on the sidelines. Nelson leads the Hawks in scoring, assists and steals and can dominate a game when he's on.

The pick: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are still the deepest and most complete team in the region. A trademark of Eddie Sutton-coached teams is their defensive tenacity and Oklahoma State does not disappoint, holding opponents to 63.8 points and 41.6% shooting. The Cowboys also can score; their scoring margin of plus-16 entering the Big-12 tourney ranked third nationally. Devoid of individual stars, the Cowboys will be roaming the streets of San Antonio. How natural.

*--* No. 1 SAINT JOSEPH'S (27-1)


First-round opponent: No. 16 Liberty, Thursday.

Impressive victories: Nov. 14, Gonzaga, 73-66; Dec. 9, Boston College, 67-57; Feb. 2, Villanova, 74-67.

Disturbing losses: In first game of Atlantic 10 tournament.

Top players: Sr. Jameer Nelson, G, 20.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 5.4 apg, 3.1 spg; Jr. Delonte West, G, 19.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.9 apg; Sr. Tyrone Barley, G, 7.3 ppg; Jr. Pat Carroll, G, 10.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg; So. Dwayne Jones, C, 6.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg.

Skinny: Nelson and West are widely considered the best backcourt in America, and they've proven it in running teams nearly ragged. In addition to being able to create, both have been deadly outside shooters as has Carroll, the Atlantic 10's top 3-pointer shooter. The Hawks were also the A-10's top defensive team.

*--* No. 2 OKLAHOMA STATE (27-3)


First-round opponent: No. 15 Eastern Washington, Friday.

Impressive victories: Jan. 24, at Texas, 72-67; Feb. 9, Kansas , 80-60; March 1, Texas, 76-67.

Disturbing losses: Dec. 6, at BYU, 76-71; Jan. 10, at Texas Tech, 83-62.

Top players: Sr. Tony Allen, G, 16.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg; Jr. John Lucas, G, 15.4 ppg; Sr. Ivan McFarlin, F, 12.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg.

Skinny: Oklahoma State is defense-minded and knows how to play possession basketball, which are keys in tournament play. It has a defensive stopper in Allen and an excellent point in Lucas, a transfer from Baylor whose dad once played the position in the pros. The Cowboys are experienced, athletic, confident and guided by the slick Eddie Sutton, one of only 11 coaches who has taken two schools to the Final Four.

*--* No. 3 PITTSBURGH (29-4)


First-round opponent: No. 11 Richmond, Friday.

Impressive victories: Feb. 15, Connecticut, 75-68; Jan. 24, at Syracuse, 66-45.

Disturbing losses: Feb. 22, Syracuse, 49-46; Feb. 9, at Seton Hall, 68-67.

Top players: So. Carl Krauser, G, 15.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.8, apg; Sr. Jaron Brown, G, 11.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg; Sr. Julius Page, G, 11.6 ppg; Fr. Chris Taft, F, 11.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg.

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