The dominant big man will be missing in this year's Final Four. No Eric Montross of North Carolina to throw his 7-foot, 270-pound frame around. No Juwan Howard of Michigan to post up inside. Not even Bill Curley of Boston College to help make any more surprises.
Except for Duke's Grant Hill and Corliss Williamson of Arkansas, the dominant players on the court Saturday at the Charlotte Coliseum should be guards. Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves of Arizona. Scotty Thurman and Clint McDaniel for the Razorbacks. Craig Brown of Florida. Jeff Capel for the Blue Devils.
"I think all one has to do is to look at the teams who've made it this far in the past, and the teams who've won it once they got there," Arizona coach Lute Olson said during yesterday's national teleconference. "Maybe a team won with a big man. Maybe a team won with a small forward. You don't get there and you're not successful unless you have good guard play."
Last year it was North Carolina's Donald Williams shooting the Tar Heels to the top. During Duke's two-year run, it was Bobby Hurley leading the Blue Devils. In 1990, it wasn't Larry Johnson or Stacey Augmon who won the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player award; it was a guard, Anderson Hunt.
In fact, in the past seven years, a guard has been selected the Final Four's MVP four times. Also, Rumeal Robinson was chosen for the all-tournament team when Michigan won in 1989, and Hurley and Bill McCaffrey were chosen all-tournament in 1991.
"The guard play to me is the most important thing in any ballclub," Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said. "Now that you have the three-point shot and the 35-second clock, you need to have guards."
Olson parts with words
There apparently has been a cease fire in Olson's war of words with the media. Olson, who has spent most of the past two weeks taking his shots at those who've spent the past two years taking shots at him, said yesterday that he will take a different tack when his team arrives in Charlotte.
"What I've said needed to be said for myself and my players," said Olson, who took heat after his teams lost in the first round the past two years.
"They all think that I've said enough, so from now on, I'm going to talk about what happens on the court."
Who's guarding whom
Richardson said that he has yet to decide on his starting lineup for Saturday's first semifinal against Arizona, but is certain that Williamson will start up front with Thurman and Corey Beck in the backcourt. Because the Wildcats start three guards, look for the Razorbacks to counter that by going with three-point specialist Clint McDaniel in a prominent, if not starting, role.
"Arizona is such a strong, quick, explosive team from their guards that we'll have a tremendous challenge trying to stay in the game with their quickness," Richardson said.
This marks the first time in the tournament's history that two Southeastern Conference teams have made the Final Four. But it marks the third time at least one SEC team has reached the semifinals since 1986.
Asked if he thought that this was a significant accomplishment, considering the SEC was supposed to be in a down cycle, Florida coach Lon Krueger said, "I think there isn't as much awareness of the good young players in our league as there [is] in some other leagues."
Home court or hard court?
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski seemed perturbed at the notion that the Blue Devils will have a home-court advantage playing in Charlotte.
"I don't feel there's any advantage," he said. "We lost there the last time we played [against Virginia in the semifinals of the ACC tournament]. And there are more Carolina fans in Charlotte than there are in Chapel Hill."