Coaches to watch: Smith, Knight and Chaney shoehorned in East

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Some things to consider before you try to fill out your office pool bracket:

East Regional

Who's Hot: North Carolina (1). The real Carolina surfaced two weeks ago with that impressive victory over Duke at Cameron, then survived rigors of ACC tournament.

Who's Not: Indiana (5). The Hoosiers have been an enigma. I still have trouble believing they lost to Minnesota by 50.

Coaches to Watch: Dean Smith of Carolina is a Hall of Famer attempting to win a second consecutive national championship, but the most intriguing coaches here are Bob Knight of Indiana, who must butt heads with the media after butting heads with Sheron Wilkinson last week, and tempestuous John Chaney of Temple (4), who coaches the best matchup zone in the country.

Most Influential Player: Donyell Marshall is a franchise player for UConn (2), but Donald Williams, the Heels' only real perimeter threat, should determine whether UNC reaches the Final Four. Williams is coming off a shoulder injury, but his stroke has started to re-emerge.

Dark Horse: Temple. The Owls have been to the NCAA final eight three times in five years.

Key First-Round Matchups: Nebraska (6) vs. Penn (11). Nebraska has lost three straight first-round games, but the Huskers are on a roll. Repeat Ivy champ Penn (24-2) was a surprise visitor to the Top 25 and has excellent guards.

Upset Specials: Penn over Nebraska and Ohio U. (12) over inconsistent Indiana. Huskers may have expended too much emotion and energy in Big Eight tourney. MAC champ Ohio deserved better than a 12. I agree with star Gary Trent, who said Bobcats would have won more games in Big Ten than Ohio State.

Survivor: North Carolina. I'm still a believer.

Southeast Regional

Who's Hot: Purdue (1), Providence (8), Kentucky (3). This region is loaded. Boilermakers came out on top in the cannibalistic Big Ten. Providence was surprise winner in Big East. Kentucky was a revelation in SEC.

Who's Not: Kansas (4). The Jayhawks tailed off badly in second half of season, were eliminated in semifinals of Big Eight.

Most Influential Coaches: Rick Pitino of Kentucky and Dave Odom of Wake Forest (5). Odom did the best coaching job in the ACC this year, ahead of Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (2). Despite losing forward Rodney Rogers, he led the Demon Deacons to two victories over Duke and a win over Carolina. He also had the Heels on the ropes in the ACC semis and might have pulled off another upset if Dante Calabaria's circus shot in the final seconds hadn't forced that game into overtime. Pitino coached the Cats to their third straight SEC title. He didn't think his team would recover from the loss of center Rodney Dent, but he did a masterful job compensating for the lack of post defense with lethal trap pressure and gang rebounding.

Best Player: Purdue forward Glenn Robinson. He could have the same impact on the tournament as Danny Manning of Kansas in 1988. He went for a career-high 49 Sunday as the Boilermakers defeated Illinois to win the Big Ten title.

Dark Horse: Wake Forest. Deacons have gotten superb guard play from Charles Harrison and Randoph Childress (who easily could have been ACC Player of the Year ahead of Grant Hill). Keep an eye on Marquette (6).

Most Interesting First-Round Matchup: Form should hold in first round, although Wake (5) and College of Charleston (12) are intriguing. Charleston has won 16 in a row and received an at-large bid after it wasn't allowed to participate in Trans America Conference tournament as a first-year member.

Upset Specials: Not likely in first round.

Down the Road: Can you imagine a Purdue-Providence matchup in the second round? Big East champ vs. Big Ten champ. Further down the road, a matchup between Duke and Kentucky in regional semis at Knoxville rekindles thoughts of historic 1992 game in the Spectrum.

Survivor: Kentucky. I may be somewhat prejudiced, but I'm willing to gamble on the Cats' shooting threes the way they did last week against Arkansas and Florida in the SEC tournament.

Midwest Regional

Who's Hot: UMass (2). Minutemen were awfully impressive in Atlantic 10 tournament, rolled Temple in final.

Who's Not: UCLA (5). The Bruins, ranked No. 1 earlier this year, seemed to hit the wall in the last six weeks. That loss Saturday to Oregon still sticks in my craw.

Dark Horse: Michigan (3). The Wolverines cost themselves a share of Big Ten championship when they lost two late-season games to Purdue and Northwestern, but they should regroup because they have enormous talent.

Most Influential Coaches: Nolan Richardson of Arkansas (1) and UMass' John Calipari are two hot coaches who have taken programs to the next level.

Most Influential Player: Center Bryant Reeves of Oklahoma State (4) and Michigan guard Jalen Rose. Cowboys can't win without Reeves playing well in middle. The often-criticized Rose has matured and enjoyed an All-America season. But he is under scrutiny after federal questioning in connection with wiretaps on a Detroit drug ring.

Key First-Round Matchup: Texas (6) vs. Western Kentucky (11). Ralph Willard of Western made a name for himself last year when he upset Seton Hall in second round. Now he'll get a chance to slow the Longhorns.

Down The Road: Arkansas-Georgetown (9) matchup in second round would feature programs with completely conflicting styles of play.

Upset Specials: Tulsa (12) over UCLA. Game is in Oklahoma City.

Survivor: Arkansas. Hogs have easier route to regional final than UMass or Michigan. May be hard for those teams to adjust to Richardson's 40-minutes-of-hell on one day's turnaround. Arkansas is big favorite in Dallas, where regional will be held.

West Regional

Who's Hot: Arizona (2). Forget that loss Saturday to Arizona State. This is the best Wildcats entry since the one that reached the Final Four in 1988.

Who's Not: Wisconsin (9) and Missouri (1). Badgers were borderline choice for field. Missouri swept through the Big Eight regular season, but struggled with Colorado in the Big Eight first round, then lost to Nebraska in the semifinals.

Dark Horse: Cincinnati (8). The Bearcats have won five straight, winning the highly competitive Great Midwest tournament at home.

Most Influential Coach: Bob Huggins of Cincinnati. Huggins had kids playing like upperclassmen. Besides, I love guys who teach suffocating man-to-man.

Most Intriguing Player: Jason Kidd of California (5). Guards tend to dominate play in this setting and Kidd is the most exciting guard since Scott Skiles.

Key First-Round Matchup: Wisconsin (9) vs. Cincinnati (8). This one should be a showcase for freshman center Rashard Griffith of Wisconsin and freshman forward Dontonio Wingfield of Cincinnati.

Upset Specials: If Cincinnati defeats Wisconsin in Thursday's first round at Ogden, I love the Bearcats against Missouri (1) in a second-round game.

Down The Road: Potential Cincinnati-Missouri, Cal-Syracuse (4) and Minnesota (6)-Louisville (3) matchups.

Survivor: Arizona rates a slight edge over Louisville (3). There are no super heavyweights in this region. The Wildcats have a reputation for going belly-up in the first round, but I love guards Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves and the fact the regional is in L.A.

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