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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

What To Look For

March 23, 2004|Rob Fernas

ALABAMA BIRMINGHAM vs. KANSAS

STORY LINE: Alabama Birmingham uses a "40 minutes of hell" attack that Coach Mike Anderson learned under Nolan Richardson at Arkansas, and that's exactly what it has been for opponents and NCAA tournament office pools. Kansas, a college basketball blueblood playing in the round of 16 for the fourth consecutive season, will try to halt the madness.

HOW THEY ADVANCED: Alabama Birmingham outlasted Washington, 102-100, in a track meet and then held on for a stunning upset of top-seeded Kentucky. Kansas got through the first two rounds relatively unchallenged in victories over Illinois-Chicago and Pacific.

COMMON OPPONENTS: Both schools routed Texas Christian but had different results against NCAA tournament qualifier Richmond in the regular season. Alabama Birmingham beat the Spiders by eight; Kansas lost by one in its only home defeat of the season.

STYLE OF PLAY: Alabama Birmingham favors an up-tempo style and uses a platoon of rangy players to cover the court. Defense-minded Kansas, limiting opponents to 66.6 points a game, will try to slow things down and work the ball inside to 6-foot-9, 255-pound Wayne Simien.

X FACTOR: Coach Bill Self, in his first season at Kansas, has enjoyed remarkable success in March. His teams are 12-5 in the NCAA tournament in the last six seasons, including Elite Eight appearances by Illinois in 2001 and by Tulsa in 2000. He knows how to prepare for big games.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Alabama Birmingham, playing in the round of 16 for the first time since 1982, will attack Kansas with everything it's got. But the Jayhawks are 22-0 when scoring more than 70 points, and they should make it 23-0 on Friday playing in Missouri for the second week in a row.

GEORGIA TECH vs. NEVADA

STORY LINE: Nevada has gone from never winning an NCAA tournament game to becoming the Cinderella story this season. Georgia Tech, after losses by Kentucky and Gonzaga, is suddenly the favorite to reach the Final Four.

HOW THEY ADVANCED: Reaching the round of 16 was no fluke for Nevada, which rallied in the closing minutes to defeat Michigan State and then dominated Gonzaga with an impressive all-around performance. Georgia Tech survived two scares by steadying itself down the stretch to defeat Northern Iowa by five and Boston College by three.

COMMON OPPONENTS: Both schools played Connecticut in the Preseason NIT in November. Georgia Tech beat the Huskies by 16 on its way to winning the tournament; Nevada lost by 14.

STYLE OF PLAY: Boston College senior Uka Agbai said Georgia Tech's athletic players reminded him of "a bunch of track stars" after the Yellow Jackets converted many of the Eagles' 22 turnovers into fastbreak opportunities. Georgia Tech will try to do the same against Nevada, which relies on its aggressive inside play.

X FACTOR: Todd Okeson, Nevada's chest-pounding, fist-shaking point guard, had a career performance against Gonzaga, but it remains to be seen if the 6-foot, 160-pound senior can duplicate the feat.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Georgia Tech, which ended Duke's 41-game home winning streak three weeks ago, will use a more athletic lineup to pressure Nevada's guards into mistakes and break the Wolf Pack's nine-game winning streak.

-- Rob Fernas

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