Going to Indianapolis: Fourth-seeded Villanova is always 40 minutes away from a dud. You never know when South Carolina is going to revert to its December form, but North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in the country, and the Tar Heels will move on.
Team on the rise: South Carolina is making its first appearance since 1989. The Gamecocks were a psychological mess after losses to UNC-Asheville and Charleston Southern. They beat Kentucky twice, and a loss to Georgia in the SEC tournament semifinals took off the pressure that a No. 1 seed would have meant.
Team on the decline: Louisville was ranked No. 9 on Jan. 27, and followed that up with a win over Cincinnati. The Cardinals are 5-6 since then, and the victories are against the likes of South Florida, Houston and Southern Mississippi.
Cinderella story: California had overcome off-season turmoil when guard Ed Gray, the leading scorer in the Pac-10, broke his right foot making a dunk in a loss to Washington State. He had surgery three weeks ago today, but the Bears won two of their last three without him to climb to a fifth seed. Their reward is a first-round date with Princeton.
Prime-time player: The next game at Villanova might be the last for Tim Thomas, but if there's anyone capable of carrying a team in the East, it's Chauncey Billups, the sophomore guard who led Colorado to its first NCAA appearance since 1969. He's flashy, but there's plenty of meat to his game.
Most underrated player: Charles Jones led Rutgers in scoring as a freshman, but transferred to Long Island three years ago. He led the nation in scoring this season, averaging 29.9 points.
Coaching edge: By week's end, North Carolina's Smith could be the Dean of all college coaches, Adolph Rupp included.
Pub Date: 3/10/97