NCAA East Region 1
by Adam Shandler
The Dreaded 64-65 Game:
(Tuesday, March 12, 7 PM EST, Dayton, OH, ESPN)
And the lucky winners are Alcorn State and Siena. Alcorn (20-9), the SWAC Champion, got to the Tuesday Night Pre-dance by beating Alabama State in the conference final, 70-67. Senior Forward Marcus Fleming leads the team in both scoring (15 ppg) and rebounding (7.5 rpg), but the well-rounded Braves have 4 players who average in double digits.
Siena, the team with the field’s worst record at 16-18, won the MAAC tournament by ripping Niagara, 92-75. Don’t let the Saints’ record fool you. The boys from Albany are peaking at the right time and are on a 4-game win streak. Alcorn State will have to come up with a defensive answer for Dwayne Archibold, who scored 30 in the conference championship and 111 points for the whole MAAC tournament.
Siena is my pick. The MAAC was a jumble this year and somehow the Saints fought their way out of it – even with a subpar record.
The winner, for lack of a better word, earns the privilege of playing No. 1 Maryland on Thursday in Washington, DC.
Mighty Maryland, The No. 1 Seed
2002 marks the first year that the Terps are a 1 seed. Gary Williams’ club looks to wreak havoc on the field of 65 this year but the East Bracket posts some formidable opposition. Marquette, Kentucky and the always-surprising Valpo look to be the biggest obstacles for Maryland, and after (most likely) dumping the Alcorn State/Siena winner, the Terps must make sure they don’t suffer a letdown against the winner of Wisconsin/St. John’s in Round 2.
Think nothing of the Terps’ ACC Tournament loss to NC State. Coach Gary Williams isn’t worried and fans in College Park shouldn’t be. Juan Dixon, one of the most explosive, all-around ballers in NCAA ball, is primed for another Final Four run. He is the first and only player in D-I ball to score 2,000 points, make 300 steals and hit 200 3-pointers. Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox get it done inside. Pick your poison. The Terps are loaded.
8 vs. 9: Wisconsin versus St. John’s
With a new coach, only one returning starter and a weak start to the season, the Badgers have to be happy with the 8 seed. Bo Ryan’s club had major wins against Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Marquette, a team Wisconsin may see again in the Sweet 16. Kirk Penney is the guy to watch. A native of New Zealand, he has a quick release, especially from long range.
Prolific Point Guard Marcus Hatten leads St. John’s, but if he’s off, expect an early exit for the Red Storm. They aren’t coming into the tourney playing great ball. After edging out Seton Hall in a sloppy first round affair in the Big East tournament, they were embarrassed by Notre Dame, 83-63. Mike Jarvis’ team posted a 20-11 record this season with wins against UConn, Notre Dame and Wake Forest.
5 vs.12: Marquette vs. Tulsa
Could be one of the most fun and competitive matchups in the whole tournament. The Golden Eagles of Marquette, The Great Alaska Shootout Champions, have been both consistent and good. They’ve triumphed over Indiana, Tennessee and Gonzaga this year and only lost to teams in this year’s NCAA tournament. Cordell Henry is a mature, mistake-free point guard who’ll have to be trapped to be contained. Sophomore 2-guard Dwyane Ward is a nice complement to Henry and is such a good ballhander that he can take over the point guard role. Marquette is 26-6.
Tulsa, always terrifies teams in the tournament. (‘Scuse the alliteration, couldn’t resist.) The Golden Hurricanes, also 26-6, ripped through the WAC before bowing to eventual winner Hawaii. The WAC regular season co-champs, led by first year head coach John Phillips gave Kansas a run for their money and won 13-14 conference games. The Hurricanes will mostly go with a quick, 3-guard alignment made up of Greg Harrington (13 ppg), Dante Swanson (11.9 ppg) and Antonio Reed (10.6 ppg). But the best player on the team is forward Kevin Johnson (14.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg.).
Tough call. The Hurricanes are stacked and can score at will. I like Tulsa.
4 vs. 13: Kentucky vs. Valparaiso
Kentucky almost blundered against Holy Cross in Round 1 last year, and the Wildcats face an always-entertaining Valpo club. Tubby Smith’s 20-9, 2002 team had a season marred by suspensions and injuries, but all that negativity should only make them tougher. UK most likely got in by way of taking Duke to the wire in OT and besting Florida (twice) and Indiana. Tayshaun Price leads the Cats in scoring and rebounding, but he does so much more. He’s the bionic man for basketball and few teams will be able to find a defender for this big man with bal handling skills.
Mid-Continent Champ Valparaiso, 25-7, didn’t back away from challenges this season, and their non-conference schedule no doubt had an impact on their MCC success. The Crusaders lost close ones to Kansas and Arizona but shocked West Virginia and Charlotte, another NCAA invite. Homer Drew feels that this team is even better than the Sweet 16 version from 1998. Valpo, which is on a 5-game win streak, is led by Lubos Barton, a 6-8 forward averaging over 15 points a game.
If you’re going to pick a first round upset, this is the one. Valpo it is.