COLLEGE PARK -- After Oklahoma State and North Carolina State won their opening-round games in the East Regional of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament at Cole Field House, a noted observer offered an intriguing hypothesis.
"If you had a team that played Oklahoma State's defense and North Carolina State's offense, you could have a chance to win a national championship," said University of Maryland coach Gary Williams, who knows a little about both ends of the court.
Nevada-Las Vegas isn't shaking in its Nikes. In fact, only one of the aforementioned teams can advance to the East Regional semifinals next week at the Meadowlands. The 23-7 Cowboys and the 20-10 Wolfpack will meet in a second-round game this afternoon.
It will be a matchup of Oklahoma State's man-to-man defense against N.C. State's offense of "Three Men and a Bakalli."
"I'm not sure they don't have the best 1-2-3 punch other than Vegas," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton.
Sutton was referring to the Wolfpack's trey-umverite of senior guards Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani, and junior forward Tom Gugliotta. Nor should freshman guard Migjen Bakalli be overlooked. Southern Mississippi did, and Bakalli didn't -- miss that is -- making six of six three-pointers to tie an NCAA tournament record. N.C. State had a dozen three-pointers, tying an East Regional mark.
But the Cowboys have a habit of roping in the best offenses. Sutton, who played for the legendary Henry Iba at Oklahoma State, has long been a disciple of defense. OSU limited New Mexico to 22 of 56 and won by 13 while shooting 21 of 62 itself.
"Coach tells us, 'If you don't want to play defense, you can have a seat next to me' " said junior guard Corey Williams, who is called "the terminator" by his teammates and comes off the bench as something of a defensive stopper.
In fact, today's game could come down to which team does better at what it does worst. If N.C. State can stop the Cowboys inside, it should have a pretty good chance. If Oklahoma State can make its shots, forcing the Wolfpack into a halfcourt game, the Cowboys could be the ones to advance to East Rutherford, N.J. for next week's round of 16.
"They've got some pretty good scorers up front," Monroe said. "If we control their big guys, we've got a heck of a shot."
So does Monroe, though you couldn't tell by Thursday's game. The former St. Maria Goretti star was eight of 22 from the field, one of nine from three-point range and missed 10 straight shots in one stretch.
That is not likely to happen this afternoon, when offense meets defense at Cole Field House.