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This Won't Be an Easy Call as Guards Collide

TV analyst's comments on Saint Joseph's offer drama, but on-court matchups also draw notice.

March 25, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

Tonight's two-game NCAA semifinal set at the East Rutherford Regional is all about guards, some of whom actually will be playing against each other.

In order of pregame intrigue, here's the backcourt breakdown:

Phil Martelli vs. Billy Packer.

The skinny: Martelli is head basketball coach at top-seeded Saint Joseph's, which plays No. 4 Wake Forest in one regional semifinal game at Continental Airlines Arena.

(No. 2 Oklahoma State and No. 3 Pittsburgh tip off in the early game.)

Martelli, a former point guard, helped lead Widener University to the NCAA tournament in 1975 and 1976.

Strengths: Tremendous coach and motivator with a keen sense of humor. Has led Saint Joe's to a 29-1 record this year and a top seeding in the East Rutherford bracket.

Weaknesses: Hair.

Packer is a longtime college basketball analyst for CBS. He'll be calling tonight's doubleheader--the Saint Joe's-Wake Forest game will be televised to 68% of the country.

Packer is a former guard from Wake Forest. In the 1962 NCAA tournament, his clutch shooting helped Wake Forest defeat Saint Joe's in overtime.

Strengths: Packer doesn't mince words. For instance, after this year's pairings were announced, he said on national television he didn't think Saint Joe's deserved a top-seeding.

Weaknesses: Hair, and some would say basketball analysis. In calling last week's subregional game between Syracuse and Maryland in Denver, Packer pronounced the game over after Syracuse jumped to a 16-point, second-half lead.

In the final seconds, Maryland freshman guard D.J. Strawberry missed two shots that could have sent the game to overtime.

Oops.

How it shakes out: Martelli called Packer a "jackass" for saying his team didn't deserve a No. 1 seeding. Despite the fact Saint Joe's is still playing in this tournament and two top-seeded teams, Kentucky and Stanford, are not, Packer is not backing off his original stance. This week Packer told the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, "I wasn't completely out to lunch."

Take special note of the word "completely."

In a conference call with reporters this week, Martelli said he laughed out loud when he heard Packer would be assigned to cover his game in the Meadowlands.

Packer, apparently, didn't think it was so funny. The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that Packer went to CBS and tried to beg off the assignment, although the network denied it.

Martelli hopes the furor he helped create will not overshadow the playing of tonight's game.

"He's a professional; he has a job to do," Martelli said of his Packer spat. "I'm a professional; I have a job to do. One of my jobs is to make sure he has a clear picture of my team and of this wonderful university I represent. As long as he doesn't reach over the end line and steal or deflect the ball, he has a job to do and I have a job to do, and nothing will interfere with those things from happening."

Other guard matchups to consider:

Saint Joe's senior Jameer Nelson vs. freshman Chris Paul of Wake Forest might be the most eagerly awaited showdown in this year's tournament.

Nelson is the heart and soul of the Hawks, a savvy veteran who averages 20.6 points and 5.2 assists per game.

Nelson already has been named first-team All-America and probably will win the John R. Wooden Award. Here's why: In two NCAA tournament games, he has averaged 28.5 points.

Paul has been so good as a freshman there may be no need for him to become a sophomore.

Wake Forest has needed Paul to pull out two squeakers so far, a one-point win over Virginia Commonwealth and a four-point win over Manhattan.

Against Manhattan, Paul rescued Wake Forest with a 29-point effort.

As guards go, Martelli may fear Paul more than he fears Packer.

Martelli says Paul reminds him of former Texas guard T.J. Ford, last year's national player of the year.

"This kid can really kill us," Martelli said.

More guard play?

Oklahoma State and Pittsburgh will pit two of the nation's best guard tandems in John Lucas III and Tony Allen vs. Julius Page and Carl Krauser.

Whether any of these guards can steal the spotlight from Martelli-Packer, well, that remains to be seen.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

On Guard

Comparing the season statistics of the star guards in one of today's East Rutherford semifinals, Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson and Wake Forest's Chris Paul:

*--* NELSON PAUL Games 30 30 Minutes per game 33.5 33.6 Field goal % 485 406 3-pt. FG% 392 464 Free throw % 799 841 Points per game 20.6 14.9 Steals per game 2.9 2.7 Turnovers per game 2.9 2.6 Rebounds per game 4.6 3.4 Assists per game 5.3 5.8

*--*

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