1 Michigan State
PLAYER TO WATCH Why is junior Morris Peterson, the nation's best
sixth man, still a sixth man? "Versatility," says coach Tom
Izzo, who notes that the 6'6" Peterson can play any position and
has even defended point guards such as Ohio State's Scoonie
Penn. It was Peterson who was the Spartans' leading scorer (13.7
points per game), not Big Ten co-player of the year Mateen
SCOUTING REPORT The Big Ten champions are 25-1 since losing to
Connecticut on Dec. 5, not least because point guard Cleaves
(11.7 points and 7.1 assists a game) has regained his
freewheeling form. Despite not having anyone taller than 6'9"
forward A.J. Granger, Michigan State boasts one of the country's
best rebound margins (+9.5), which is important given the
Spartans' lack of inside scoring and their 34.3% shooting from
Coach Tom Izzo Record 29-4
Team scoring 72.3 (FG%: 47.8) (3-pointers: 147-429, 34.3%)
Opponent scoring 59.5 (FG%: 43.0)
Rebound margin +9.5 Team FT% 73.0
Whom not to foul Thomas Kelley (85%), Morris Peterson (82%)
Whom to foul Antonio Smith (42%), A.J. Granger (67%)
Quality wins Ohio State 76-71, Wisconsin 56-51
PREDICTION Cleaves might already be psyched for a Sweet 16 war
with Jason Terry. That's where the Spartans' run will end.
16 Mount St. Mary's
PLAYER TO WATCH The spotlight shines on talented 6'10" freshman
center Melvin Whitaker, who joined the Mountaineers in December
after serving 25 months in prison (SI, Feb. 22), but Mount St.
Mary's best player is Gregory Harris, a junior guard who quietly
finished in the top 10 in the Northeast Conference in scoring
(17.2 points per game), assists (4.5), steals (1.9) and free
throw percentage (80.0%).
SCOUTING REPORT The bow-tied, 69-year-old Jim Phelan, whose
victory in the conference tournament final made him just the
fourth coach in NCAA history to get 800 wins, is a master of
shuffling defenses that confound more talented opponents.
However, even Phelan's vast experience (1,242 games over 45
seasons) may not be enough to cover for a team that this season
was outscored and thoroughly outrebounded and attempted 139
fewer free throws than its opponents.
Coach Jim Phelan Record 15-14
Team scoring 68.8 (FG%: 43.2) (3-pointers: 190-569, 33.4%)
Opponent scoring 69.1 (FG%: 42.6)
Rebound margin -5.2 Team FT% 68.8
Whom not to foul Gregory Harris (80%), Aaron Herbert (76%)
Whom to foul Robert Balgac (50%), Terrence Wilson (59%)
Quality wins None
PREDICTION There are only a few tournament teams that the Mounts
could stay with, and Michigan State isn't one of them.
PLAYER TO WATCH After the Wildcats lost four of their first six
Big East games, coach Steve Lappas pulled 7'1" senior Rafal
Bigus from the starting lineup and moved 6'10" junior Malik
Allen from power forward to center. Villanova went 8-4 the rest
of the way, thanks largely to the new man in the middle. Allen,
a 55.4% field goal shooter, averaged 15.4 points a game in
February and provided critical late buckets in bid-clinching
wins over Penn and St. John's.
SCOUTING REPORT A quality, veteran backcourt is a boon this time
of year, and the Wildcats have just that in seniors Howard Brown
and John Celestand. Villanova also has some scoring threats up
front in Allen, 6'6" junior Brian Lynch and emerging reserve
T.J. Caouette. It's nice to be balanced, but the Cats shot like
dogs at times this season, and pressing teams, such as
Connecticut and Miami, gave them fits.
Coach Steve Lappas Record 21-10
Team scoring 75.1 (FG%: 44.8) (3-pointers: 217-599, 36.2%)
Opponent scoring 70.6 (FG%: 42.3)
Rebound margin +1.5 Team FT% 72.9
Whom not to foul Jermaine Medley (83%), Malik Allen (80%)
Whom to foul Rafal Bigus (53%)
Quality wins Arkansas 76-63, St. John's 66-60
PREDICTION Beyond a first-round win over Ole Miss, the Wildcats
just aren't good enough to do much growling this year.
PLAYER TO WATCH Senior guard Keith Carter watches the movie
Hoosiers a few times every year, though he's still hurting from
Ole Miss's upset loss at the buzzer to some real Hoosiers, from
Valparaiso, in last year's first round. He is an All-SEC
first-teamer who averaged 16.6 points per game and knows how to
take over when it counts: He had 33 in an 89-81 win against
SCOUTING REPORT The Rebels were hurt when opposing teams used a
box-and-one defense to shut down Carter earlier in the season,
but eventually help arrived from senior forward Jason Smith, who
averaged 19.8 points and 8.0 rebounds over the last five games
of the season. Ole Miss has three seniors who have started since
their freshman year, which makes its ghastly free throw shooting
a surprise. Looking for a key to what makes the Rebels yell?
When they score 70 or more points, they're 17-3.
Coach Rod Barnes Record 19-12
Team scoring 77.5 (FG%: 46.8) (3-pointers: 183-574, 31.9%)
Opponent scoring 66.8 (FG%: 42.0)
Rebound margin +1.0 Team FT% 62.3
Whom not to foul Jason Harrison (81%), Darrian Brown (81%)
Whom to foul Rahim Lockhart (46%), Jason Smith (50%)
Quality wins Oklahoma 75-72; Arkansas 76-65, 89-81
PREDICTION Ole Miss's mighty mites--the Rebels frequently have
four guards on the floor--won't amount to much of a pest.
PLAYER TO WATCH Senior point guard Jason Terry, the most elusive
desert dweller since the Roadrunner, led the Pac-10 in scoring
(22.1 points a game), assists (5.6) and steals (2.7). Note to
Arizona equipment manager: Make sure to pack Terry's knee-high
cats socks. Without his trademark hosiery in last year's opening
round, Terry went scoreless for the first time in two years. "He
can't play without those socks," says coach Lute Olson, who had
them FedEx'd to Sacramento for the second game.
SCOUTING REPORT How do you stop Terry? "Try to limit his touches
and make him give it up," says Oregon State coach Eddie Payne,
who used swarming double teams to hold Terry to a season-low
five points in a 60-59 upset on Jan. 23. If you can do that--and
good luck--the onus shifts to senior center A.J. Bramlett and
five gifted but tournament-untested freshmen.
Coach Lute Olson Record 22-6
Team scoring 83.0 (FG%: 47.2) (3-pointers: 140-400, 35.0%)
Opponent scoring 75.7 (FG%: 42.3)
Rebound margin +8.4 Team FT% 71.1
Whom not to foul Jason Terry (84%), Richard Jefferson (78%)
Whom to foul A.J. Bramlett (58%), Traves Wilson (58%)
Quality wins Tennessee 73-72, Stanford 78-76, UCLA 87-70
PREDICTION Terry will lead Arizona out of the toughest region and
into the Final Four for the second time in three seasons.
PLAYER TO WATCH Hombre Malo (Tough Guy) is coach Kelvin
Sampson's nickname for 6'8" junior forward Eduardo Najera, an
import from Mexico whose tenacity and birthplace can be summed
up in the same word: Chihuahua. "He's our leader in floor
burns," Sampson says. Najera also led the Sooners in points
(15.6 per game) and rebounds (8.0). In 1996 he passed up an
offer to play in his country's pro league. Why? He wants to be
the first Mexican NBA draftee.
SCOUTING REPORT Oklahoma has balance--five players average
double figures in scoring--and will bomb from outside, having
made 8.5 three-pointers a game, but don't be fooled: Shooting
could be the Sooners' undoing. Oklahoma shot just 39.3% during a
four-game skid in January and cracked 50% in only three games
all year. Sampson's teams always play tough D, but they just as
consistently lose in the NCAAs: The streak is at five and
Coach Kelvin Sampson Record 20-10
Team scoring 70.8 (FG%: 42.3) (3-pointers: 247-639, 38.7%)
Opponent scoring 61.9 (FG%: 41.0)
Rebound margin +3.2 Team FT% 65.5
Whom not to foul Eric Martin (84%), Tim Heskett (82%)
Whom to foul Ryan Humphrey (45%), Alex Spaulding (48%)
Quality wins Arkansas 87-57, at Texas 64-63
PREDICTION The Sooners barely made it into the field, and they'll
barely make a peep in their first-round loss to Arizona.
5 UNC Charlotte
PLAYER TO WATCH It would be obvious that "Go hard" is 6'7"
senior forward Galen Young's mantra even if that weren't the
translation of the Chinese letters tattooed on his right arm.
He's a slashing scorer who averaged a team-high 14.4 points a
game. And to prove he's not one-dimensional, even though he
didn't lead the 49ers in scoring in any of their Conference USA
tournament games, his defensive tenacity earned him the MVP
SCOUTING REPORT Coach Bobby Lutz failed to make, as a walk-on,
the 1976-77 UNC Charlotte squad, which reached the Final Four,
but he's making up for it now. The 49ers set school records this
season for three-pointers made and attempted. They can get out
on the break, too, but because the team lacks depth, Lutz
prefers a slower tempo. Watch for sharpshooting guard Diego
Guevara, who blows kisses to wife Patricia after each trifecta.
Coach Bobby Lutz Record 22-10
Team scoring 68.2 (FG%: 42.3) (3-pointers: 236-624, 37.8%)
Opponent scoring 64.5 (FG%: 41.8)
Rebound margin +1.1 Team FT% 66.8
Whom not to foul Kedric Smith (84%), Diego Guevara (82%)
Whom to foul Kelvin Price (54%), Marlon Thomas (61%)
Quality wins Miami 66-59; Cincinnati 62-60, 55-52
PREDICTION The 49ers are coming in red-hot, but we see Rhode
Island kissing off Guevara and Co. in the first round.
12 Rhode Island
PLAYER TO WATCH After attending three high schools and signing
with two universities in the last five years, 6'10" sophomore
forward Lamar Odom finally launched his college career by
winning the Atlantic 10's rookie of the week award 10 times.
Nicknamed the Package for his versatility, he led the Rams in
scoring (17.7 points per game), rebounds (9.4) and blocks (1.6)
and was second in assists (3.9).
SCOUTING REPORT The Rams have a potent frontcourt but don't
shoot well from outside, averaging fewer than four
three-pointers a game, so they must get out and run. In
transition they can be murder because Odom, Luther Clay and
Antonio Reynolds-Dean make up one of the most athletic front
lines in the tournament. Coach Jim Harrick has had to improvise
in the backcourt, however, playing a freshman forward, Tavorris
Bell, at shooting guard, and a shooting guard, Preston Murphy,
at the point.
Coach Jim Harrick Record 20-12
Team scoring 72.1 (FG%: 46.3) (3-pointers: 127-365, 34.8%)
Opponent scoring 67.6 (FG%: 39.4)
Rebound margin +5.7 Team FT% 66.4
Whom not to foul Tip Vinson (72%), A. Reynolds-Dean (71%)
Whom to foul Tavorris Bell (53%), Luther Clay (64%)
Quality wins Utah 70-63, George Washington 94-78
PREDICTION The Package will probably gift wrap himself for the
NBA after the Rams' second-round bow out to Arizona.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Spartan efficiency Andre Hutson demonstrates the board-banging, rim-rattling style that helped make Michigan State one of the nation's hottest teams, with a 25-1 mark since a Dec. 5 loss to Connecticut.