On 1st day, tournament is a UNLV-free zone NCAA TOURNAMENT


For another day, at least, the focus of the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament won't be solely on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

For another day, at least, 32 other college basketball teams will share the spotlight while the Runnin' Rebels await their opening-round game tomorrow in Tucson, Ariz.

For another day, at least, there are other questions to ponder aside from those concerning UNLV's place in college basketball history. Among those to be asked today:

* Will Richmond add to its recent string of giant killings, or will the Spiders' magic web be ripped to shreds by Syracuse tonight at Cole Field House, as it was by Duke last year in Atlanta?

* Will Louisiana State center Shaquille O'Neal be recovered fully from the hairline leg fracture that sidelined him during the Southeastern Conference tournament, or will he be a shell of his former self when the Tigers play Connecticut tonight at the Metrodome in Minneapolis?

* Will Coastal Carolina do what is expected against Big 10 powerhouse Indiana at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Ky. -- lose, and lose big -- or will the team with the best nickname in the 64-team field (Chanticleers) become this year's Cleveland State?

* Will cold-shooting Virginia somehow regain its touch from the outside, or will the Cavaliers get bold enough to challenge the nation's leading shot-blocker, 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley of Brigham Young, at the J. M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City?

Those are some of the questions that might be answered when the NCAAs begin today at four regional sites. Play will continue tomorrow at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., the Omni in Atlanta, the University of Dayton (Ohio) Arena and at the McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz.

The regionals are scheduled for next week at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. (East), the Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum (Southeast), the Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich. (Midwest), and the Kingdome in Seattle (West). The Final Four will be played at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis on March 30 and April 1.

"I think that this gives teams that have lost in their conference tournament a fresh start and teams that are hot a chance to keep their momentum going," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The Blue Devils, seeded second in the Midwest, are looking to become the first team since UCLA in 1973 to play in four straight Final Fours. Duke is also looking to recapture what it might have lost during a 22-point loss to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.

Krzyzewski, whose team opens this afternoon with Northeast Louisiana in Minneapolis, doesn't want to even think about what it might take to beat UNLV, which embarrassed the Blue Devils last year, 103-73, in the NCAA final at McNichols Arena in Denver.

"I want to think about one team, and that's the one we play next," Krzyzewski said.

Despite last year's debacle, and last week's demoralizing loss to its archrival, Duke is one of the teams given a chance to knock off the Runnin' Rebels. Others being mentioned prominently are Arizona and Seton Hall in the West, and North Carolina in the East.

Big East champion Seton Hall was the last team to beat UNLV in the NCAA tournament, two years ago in the West Regional final (( in Denver. The Pirates, who won their first Big East championship by beating Georgetown at Madison Square Garden, have two ingredients many think are needed just to have a chance against UNLV: experienced guards and a defense as tenacious as the Runnin' Rebels'.

Seton Hall coach P. J. Carlesimo doesn't fear playing UNLV, but he would have liked to get that opportunity in Indianapolis, not Seattle. "I'd sure rather be in a region where you have five games before playing UNLV," he said. "Of the four, it's clearly not the one to be in."

There are some who think it will take a dominating big man -- or two -- to topple the Runnin' Rebels. Georgetown, which could meet UNLV Sunday if it beats Vanderbilt tomorrow, has 7-foot-1 Dikembe Mutombo and 6-foot-10 Alonzo Mourning, but its freshman guards remind nobody of Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson.

The NCAA tournament could be farewell to the college game for sophomores Anderson and O'Neal. Anderson has all but said he is leaving, and O'Neal has given indications that he might do the same.

"I think the thing that people have to realize is that the news about Shaquille [going pro] isn't the news," said LSU coach Dale Brown. "The news is the NCAA tournament."

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