French Quarter offers a lot to like, as does Kentucky in any quarter COLLEGE BASKETBALL


NEW ORLEANS -- Which is pronounced "NAAAAWLNZZ" and is believed to have been named by the same guy who invented the name Krzyzewski, as in Mike, who, incidentally, happens to be in Naaaawlnzz this weekend, though he seems to have forgotten his team.

In keeping with the basketball-hip spirit of the Final Four, I have shaved my head, bought a pair of plaid walking shorts Raymond Burr could wear comfortably and purchased a pair of sneakers made of enough leather and padding to upholster the interior of a Chrysler LeBaron.

Normally I don't bow to fashion, but this is college hoops time, and when I walk down Bourbon Street, I don't want to look like a bumpkin.

March Madness definitely has gripped this city by its fleur-de-lis, can tell you that, although I can also tell you that this city doesn't look a lot different now from when it is gripped with January Madness, February Madness, April Madness and so forth.

I took a quick trip to the French Quarter yesterday to reacquaint myself with the endearing charms of the corner of the city where the motto is "Shop 'til you drop, drink 'till you puke, bolt spicy food, die young and leave a bloated corpse."

The French Quarter looks much the way it did 150 years ago when it was a wild bayou trading post where trappers would swap their alligator hides and muskrat furs for Final Four T-shirts.

Many people say the French Quarter is nothing but a tourist rip-off, but you just have to know your way around. There is plenty of junky souvenir stuff, sure, but using a little local knowledge and a well-honed eye for bargains, I was able to score a rare, limited-edition lithograph of dogs playing pool and a T-shirt that says, "Help, I've fallen and I can't reach my beer."

I drifted on over to the SuperDome, which looks like a nuclear power plant, but without the charm. The NCAA, for some reason, used to play its basketball tournaments in basketball arenas.

But with players today shooting from greater distances, it was feared that shots might hit rafters, so now the Big Dance is played almost exclusively in gigantic domes designed to hold cult mass marriages and Blue Angels flying exhibitions.

Fortunately, the SuperDome ushers are super-helpful. They not only show you to your seat for Final Four games, they take the time to point out where the basketball court is.

I drifted back to the Final Four headquarters hotel for a news conference of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The above-mentioned Mike Krzyzewski, George Raveling and other top coaches grappled with two or three topics, foremost of which was the summary execution of Lou Campanelli.

The coaches say they want a better definition of which abusive and tyrannical "leadership" methods are acceptable in molding the characters of the student-athletes.

"What administrations need," said Krzyzewski, "is a well-defined and articulated performance standard."

No problem. Just call it the Campanelli line. If you do what Lou did, you can be fired on the spot.

"Don't get us wrong," Krzyzewski said, "we're not being paranoid."

Heck no.

As for the teams actually involved in the Big Dance, I have an announcement. Will any of you four teams that feel you have a prayer of winning this thing please step forward?

Not so fast, North Carolina, Kansas and Michigan!

Kentucky, by proclamation of the experts, has been conceded the title. Just for the fun of it, though, here's a brief rundown on the Final Four:

* KANSAS: For good luck, coach Roy Williams jogs through graveyards, patting the headstones of Phog Allen and Dr. James Naismith. And before each of the last two games, Williams had his players spit into the Mississippi River.

Before tomorrow night's game against North Carolina, Williams and his team will again spit into Big Muddy, from the loogie deck of the riverboat Delta Queen, which won the honor by beating out a competing offer from the Goodyear Blimp.

Kansas is a long shot, but with great expectorations.

* NORTH CAROLINA: Please, nobody even mention that coach Dean Smith has had his team in the Large Dance EIGHT TIMES and only won ONCE, and that the one win was thanks to Michael Jordan.

Smith's fans, supporters and grovelers-at-his-feet are very sensitive to criticism that Deano can only win The Big One once in a blue moon, so please, PLEASE don't mention the 1-for-8 Final Four business, or the fact that the Dallas Mavericks' winning percentage is better than that, because the "good coach/great players" label is a really, really sensitive thing, OK?

* KENTUCKY: Living proof that NCAA probation for wholesale major rules violations can be a boon to your program.

While the Wildcats were sitting out a couple Big Dances because of massive violations by the previous coaching regime, coach Rick Pitino stockpiled enough talent for three teams.

Come to think of it, Kansas did the same thing. Crime doesn't pay, at least not for a couple of years.

Kentucky is so loftily goaled that when the Wildcats won the East Regionals, the players didn't bother to cut down the nets. In fact, they won so easily, they didn't even bother to shower.

* MICHIGAN: Suffice it to say that the Wolverines are a threat to the American way of life, and have been voted The Team Most Likely To Be Seen On Bourbon Street, Trying To Toss Beignets (ben-yays -- Cajun doughnut holes) Into The Business End Of Al Hirt's Trumpet.

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