Going to St. Petersburg: The preliminary nod probably goes to Michigan State, the team that has played best the longest this season, despite apprehension about Big Ten performance in the NCAAs (17-22 since '95) and the presence of last year's finalists, Kentucky and Utah.
Team on the rise: Utah hasn't lost since Dec. 13, and has the benefit of one of the best point guards in the country, Andre Miller.
Team on the decline: Kansas. Yes, the Jayhawks won their third straight Big 12 tournament championship yesterday. However, the No. 6 seeding is evidence of a season set up for an early ending rather than pre-empted by it.
Cinderella story: Rhode Island. In Kingston, Lamar Odom's time might be short, but he's capable of moments like Saturday night, when his 24-foot jump shot beat Temple in the final of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Prime-time player: Arizona's Jason Terry. The former sixth man is being mentioned with Elton Brand and Richard Hamilton as a national player of the year candidate.
Most underrated player: Miami of Ohio's Wally Szczerbiak. He tears it up in international play, becomes a lock to be an NBA lottery pick and rates a feature in Sports Illustrated, but becomes a novelty act because his team doesn't play in one of the bigger conferences. His 23.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game suggest that maybe this shouldn't be the case.
Coaching edge: Two coaches have gotten to the national title game -- Kansas' Roy Williams and Utah's Rick Majerus -- and Arizona's Lute Olson, Kentucky's Tubby Smith and Rhode Island's Jim Harrick have won NCAA crowns. Still, Majerus has traditionally gotten more out of his teams than any of the others.
Pub Date: 3/08/99