64 teams try to march through madness to New Orleans tune Reaching for a high note

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins probably put it best.

"I already feel like we've been through March Madness," Cremins said Sunday in Charlotte, N.C., after his Yellow Jackets stunned top-ranked North Carolina in the ACC tournament final. "So many underdogs winning. So many upsets. So much basketball has been played, and we haven't even started yet. It's been crazy."

Today, it starts getting crazier when the NCAA tournament officially begins.

But when will the madness end? Will the Davids of college basketball keep jump-shooting down the Goliaths, or will sanity -- not to mention power ratings -- prevail? Which team will be this year's Cleveland State? Which player will be this year's Christian Laettner? Which coach will play the part of Richmond's Dick Tarrant, Mr. NCAA Upset himself?

It won't end until April 5, when the championship game will be played at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Here's a look at some of the teams, players, coaches and games you might want to root for -- and root against -- as March Madness begins:

Five possible upset victims

Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have not won a postseason tournament game in six years, leading coach Dave Odom to suggest "taking the word tournament off might help us." Though he didn't make a difference in the ACC T-word, Rodney Rogers should be good enough to carry the Deacons for a while. Last year's excuse was that Odom was still using players from the previous regime. That won't work this time.

UCLA: Jim Harrick, who didn't graduate from the Dale Carnegie (or Dale Brown) School of Coaching, already has infuriated fans at Arizona's McKale Center by joking that "they should fumigate the place." Actually, it's the Bruins who've been stinking up the NCAA tournament lately.

Kansas: A second-round loser to UTEP last year, the Jayhawks are not exactly a confident bunch these days. Though Roy Williams has taken teams farther than they were supposed to go -- the 1991 team, for example, which lost to Duke in the championship game -- this probably won't be one of them. Point guard Adonis Jordan's stress fracture of the heel as well as nagging injuries could mean problems, possibly as soon as today against Ball State.

Arizona: The Wildcats are supposedly peeved about not being the No. 1 seed in the West. Arizona is loaded with talent -- senior Chris Mills is among the best swingmen in the country -- but Pac-10 competition certainly won't prepare it for a number of potential obstacles.

Florida State: The Seminoles looked bad in the ACC tournament as well. The fussin' and fightin' between guards Sam Cassell and Bob Sura still doesn't seem resolved, even with point guard Charlie Ward back in the lineup. But if the NCAA would employ a three-ball rule, the Seminoles would be a lock for the Final Four.

Five headed for the Sweet 16

North Carolina: If injured point guard Derrick Phelps returns, the Tar Heels should have no trouble cruising back to Charlotte for the regionals. About the only potential pitfall on the road to coach Dean Smith's 13th straight trip to the Sweet 16 is North Carolina's outside shooting. If Donald Williams and George Lynch are off, as they were against Georgia Tech in the ACC final, it could be a long summer in Chapel Hill.

Seton Hall: The Pirates are on a roll. They are a tournament-tough team, led by the Big East's all-time leading scorer, senior guard Terry Dehere. Aside from North Carolina, they are probably the best defensive team in the tournament. Seton Hall is the Big East's only legitimate title contender.

Kentucky: The Wildcats play the way Rick Pitino's teams always play: with relentless defense and arms always cocked to take three-pointers. In Jamal Mashburn, they have one of the game's best players and in Pitino, one of its best big-game coaches. They are more blue-chip than blue-collar this year, and certainly have the motivation after losing to Duke in an overtime classic last year.

Indiana: Even without forward Alan Henderson, whose midseason knee injury has made him a huge question mark for the early rounds, the Hoosiers are in a weak half of a fairly strong Midwest draw. Freshman Brian Evans has diminished the loss of Henderson, and senior forward Calbert Cheaney is likely the national player of the year. And, oh yes, there is Bob Knight, the best bench coach of his generation.

Cincinnati: Sorry, Coppin State fans. The Bearcats, seeded second in the East behind North Carolina, have all the ingredients for a return trip to the Final Four. Senior guard Nick Van Exel is a poor man's Kenny Anderson. Coach Bob Huggins could be a younger Bob Knight. In the watered-down East, Cincinnati should make it all the way to the regional final against North Carolina. They don't have enough size, but the Bearcats might have the quickness that gives the Tar Heels fits.

Five 'money' players

Thomas Hill, Duke: The 6-5 guard is one of those who could earn big NBA contracts with good tournament performances. His stock has dropped since last year, when there was talk that Hill could be a sure-fire No. 1 draft pick. Though hampered by an ankle injury for a good chunk of the season, Hill seemed to be on the way back before a horrible ACC tournament. Scouts are wondering where his commitment to defense -- as well as his jumper -- has gone. Then again, so is Mike Krzyzewski.

Chris Mills, Arizona: Scouts rank him right behind UNLV's J. R. Rider among big guard-small forward types. After the controversial start to his college career at Kentucky (he was the player allegedly sent money in a Federal Express package), he resurrected himself in the desert. If the Wildcats make a run, Mills should play a major part.

Bill Edwards, Wright State: The Mid-Continent champions will have to face No. 1 seed Indiana on what is virtually a home court -- the Hoosier Dome -- so Edwards had better do it quickly. A number of NBA teams are interested in the 6-8 forward, and Edwards will have to prove he can defend the likes of Cheaney.

Tony "Slam" Dunkin, Coastal Carolina: Another who will have to do it in one shot; the Chanticleers play Michigan in the opening round. The Big South Player of the Year in each of his four seasons -- and the first in NCAA history to be named his conference's top player four straight times -- Dunkin is a question mark among the scouts. He, too, will have his hands full defensively.

Yinka Dare, George Washington: Only a freshman, the 7-2, 265-pound center could be the No. 1 pick in the draft if he comes out after next season. The Colonials likely won't go far -- they open against New Mexico tomorrow -- but Dare could start the cash registers in motion if he has a couple of big games.

Five games CBS wants

Duke-California, Midwest second round: This game could be billed as a matchup of point guards Bobby Hurley, the NCAA's all-time assist leader, against Jason Kidd, the player most likely to break Hurley's record if he stays four seasons. There's also the compelling story of Cal's rise from the struggles that resulted in coach Lou Campanelli's firing and Duke's potential fall as two-time defending champions.

Indiana-Duke, Midwest final: A rematch of last year's national semifinal, renewing the recently not-so-friendly rivalry between Knight and protege Krzyzewski. The bad blood started in Indianapolis last year. It could spill over if they meet for a chance to go to the Final Four.

Kentucky-Seton Hall, Southeast final: The best offensive team in the tournament against one of the best defenses. Another two coaching heavyweights -- Kentucky's well-traveled Rick Pitino and Seton Hall's well-liked P. J. Carlesimo. Both teams have come close and lost on last-second calls or shots -- last year, it was the Wildcats losing to Duke.

North Carolina-Duke, national semifinals: Though the Tar Heels should be around at the Final Four, the Blue Devils likely will be home by then. But if both teams do survive, the rest of the country could see what ACC fans are treated to every year: the fiercest rivalry in college basketball.

Duke-Kentucky, national final: Do you get the idea that the folks at CBS would like the Dookies to stay around? They could hype this game as if it were the Super Bowl, interviewing everybody who saw, played in or read about last year's classic game in Philadelphia. But the network might settle for North Carolina-Kentucky, which probably would be a better game.

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