PLAYER TO WATCH With 16.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 steals a
game, junior college transfer Chris Porter, a 6'7" forward, led
the Tigers and was among the SEC's top 10 in all three
categories. He transformed game tapes into highlight films with
breathtaking dunks, including the season's grand slam: a
one-handed tomahawk off a rebound against LSU.
SCOUTING REPORT All the necessary elements are in place. Agile
7-footer Mamadou N'diaye led the league with 2.4 blocks per
game, point guard Doc Robinson had a 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover
ratio, Scott Pohlman shot 38.1% from behind the arc, and Bryant
Smith was one of the country's best defenders. Auburn's huge
question mark is experience under pressure: None of the Tigers
have ever competed in the NCAA tournament, and Auburn played
just three ranked teams all season and lost both of its road
games against tournament teams.
Coach Cliff Ellis Record 27-3
Team scoring 81.8 (FG%: 43.5) (3-pointers: 211-610, 34.6%)
Opponent scoring 61.5 (FG%: 39.6)
Rebound margin +9.2 Team FT% 64.7
Whom not to foul Scott Pohlman (87%), Doc Robinson (78%)
Whom to foul Adrian Chilliest (46%), Bryant Smith (60%)
Quality wins Arkansas 83-66, Florida 88-69
PREDICTION The Tigers should roar into the South final, but
doppelganger Maryland will outrun them in Knoxville.
PLAYER TO WATCH Junior point guard Tyson Waterman transferred
from Winthrop to Winston-Salem State after the 1996-97 season
because he had been suspended for academic reasons. But when
Gregg Marshall took over as coach last April, Waterman asked for
a second chance. He led the Eagles to their first NCAA
tournament berth by averaging 11.7 points and 4.4 assists and
shooting 37.5% from beyond the arc.
SCOUTING REPORT Marshall, an animated 36-year-old coach, has
used an aggressive defense to lift Winthrop's fortunes. The
Eagles had the best field-goal-percentage defense (39.2%) in the
Big South. Winthrop is also deep--10 players average at least 10
minutes a game--but Heson Groves, a 6'7" post player, is the
only inside scorer for the Eagles, who shot just 44% from the
floor and relied heavily on the long-range bombing of Waterman,
Roger Toxey and Robbie Waldrop.
Coach Gregg Marshall Record 21-7
Team scoring 69.8 (FG%: 43.8) (3-pointers: 190-542, 35.1%)
Opponent scoring 64.1 (FG%: 42.8)
Rebound margin +2.5 Team FT% 66.0
Whom not to foul Tyson Waterman (83%), Roger Toxey (78%)
Whom to foul Jacques Vandescure (57%), Heson Groves (62%)
Quality wins None
PREDICTION Marshall said if the moon is in the right place, the
Eagles have a chance. We see a bad moon risin' against Auburn.
PLAYER TO WATCH It's no coincidence that the Orange runs hot and
cold, because junior point guard Jason Hart switches on and off
from one possession to the next. The three-year starter makes
plenty of good plays--he averaged 13.8 points, 4.4 assists and
3.0 steals per game--but he can just as easily dribble into a
trap or attempt the impossible pass (3.2 turnovers). As he goes,
so goes Syracuse.
SCOUTING REPORT Thanks to improved quickness, the Orange, which
rode a 2-3 zone to the 1996 Final Four, is playing more
man-to-man than it has in nearly a decade. Center Etan Thomas
(4.0 blocks per game) alters shots in the paint. Any team with
the slightest weakness inside will make Syracuse look Final
Four- worthy, but the Orangemen are vulnerable to teams with
bangers. They also have no one who can reliably knock down the
outside shot, and they haven't won more than two in a row since
Coach Jim Boeheim Record 21-11
Team scoring 72.7 (FG%: 44.7) (3-pointers: 181-575, 31.5%)
Opponent scoring 63.0 (FG%: 38.9)
Rebound margin +4.7 Team FT% 66.5
Whom not to foul Damone Brown (75%), Jason Hart (74%)
Whom to foul Etan Thomas (58%), Tony Bland (60%)
Quality wins Indiana 76-63, at Villanova 74-52, at UConn 59-42
PREDICTION The Orange won't have to worry about that two-in-a-row
thing. Syracuse will fall to Oklahoma State in the first round.
9 Oklahoma State
PLAYER TO WATCH The Cowboys won six of their last seven games to
make it all the way to the Big 12 title game thanks largely to
guard Adrian Peterson, who can make threes (39.5%) and score off
screens or off penetration. He led the Big 12 in scoring, with a
SCOUTING REPORT Oklahoma State has come together since
midseason, when frustrated coach Eddie Sutton publicly asked
whether he should retire. Since this is a Sutton-coached team,
you know the Cowboys play a man-to-man defense that will clean
out an opponent's belly-button lint. With a three-guard offense,
they pass well (assists on 68% of their field goals, and point
man Doug Gottlieb led the nation with 8.6 a game), but they can
be beaten on the boards by a team with size. Keep in mind,
though, that Oklahoma State is 6-0 in the first round under
Coach Eddie Sutton Record 22-10
Team scoring 71.5 (FG%: 44.1) (3-pointers: 216-605, 35.7%)
Opponent scoring 62.6 (FG%: 41.9)
Rebound margin -0.1 Team FT% 70.0
Whom not to foul Glen Alexander (85%), Brian Montonati (81%)
Whom to foul Fredrik Jonzen (43%), Doug Gottlieb (45%)
Quality wins Missouri 84-68, Texas 59-57
PREDICTION The Cowboys will get by Syracuse, but Auburn has too
much manpower to be manhandled by Sutton's man-to-man.
4 Ohio State
PLAYER TO WATCH Once 6 a.m. practices started in October, junior
point guard Scoonie Penn wouldn't shut up. "I talked all the
time about the NCAA tournament," says Penn, a transfer who
guided Boston College to the NCAA second round in 1996 and '97.
He's not all talk, either. Penn averaged 17.0 points and 4.3
assists a game this season for the Buckeyes, who were 8-22 last
year. Don't expect Ohio State to play as if this is its first
NCAA berth in seven years.
SCOUTING REPORT Strong guard play is crucial in the NCAAs, and
the Buckeyes had the nation's best backcourt late in the season
in Penn and sophomore Michael Redd (19.5 points a game), who
together provided 55% of Ohio State's scoring after Feb. 1.
Still, it's trouble when a guard (Redd) is your No. 2 rebounder.
Center Ken Johnson (6.2-rebound average) and forward Jason
Singleton (4.5) must lift their inside game.
Coach Jim O'Brien Record 23-8
Team scoring 75.5 (FG%: 47.2) (3-pointers: 189-534, 35.4%)
Opponent scoring 65.5 (FG%: 41.1)
Rebound margin +2.5 Team FT% 61.5
Whom not to foul Neshaun Coleman (83%), Scoonie Penn (74%)
Whom to foul Ken Johnson (45%), Brian Brown (49%)
Quality wins Wisconsin 78-74, 63-54; Indiana 73-56, 69-67
PREDICTION A first-round upset loss to Murray State will only
make these surprising Buckeyes better next season.
13 Murray State
PLAYER TO WATCH Forward Isaac Spencer, a 6'6" junior, reminds
Racers coach Tevester Anderson of an undersized power forward
whom Anderson coached while he was an assistant at Auburn.
"Spencer's a fierce competitor like Barkley was," Anderson says.
"He even talks like Charles." Spencer rebounds like him, too,
averaging 7.2 a game to go along with 16.3 points, both team
SCOUTING REPORT Murray State's tallest player is 6'9", yet the
team consistently outrebounded opponents this season. "If you're
smaller, you have to jump quicker," Anderson says. The aptly
named Racers--especially junior guards Aubrey Reese and Marlon
Towns--do just about everything quicker than most. Murray State
is a poor shooting team, but it scores well in Anderson's
excellent zone offense. Thus, despite the Racers' quickness,
foes are better off sticking with man-to-man.
Coach Tevester Anderson Record 27-5
Team scoring 79.1 (FG%: 47.5) (3-pointers: 183-526, 34.8%)
Opponent scoring 67.0 (FG%: 41.1)
Rebound margin +7.5 Team FT% 68.1
Whom not to foul Aubrey Reese (73%), Rod Murray (73%)
Whom to foul Marvin Gay (52%), Ray Cunningham (55%)
Quality win At Oklahoma 68-64
PREDICTION Anderson, 62, will feel young after beating Ohio
State, but Detroit will win the ensuing Cinderella battle.
PLAYER TO WATCH As the elder statesman on one of the youngest
teams in the tournament, sophomore point guard Baron Davis
appears to have recovered all of his explosiveness after tearing
the ACL in his left knee against Michigan in last year's NCAAs.
Davis averaged 19.2 points during a torrid 10-game stretch to end
the regular season. "You can't really stop him," says Washington
coach Bob Bender. "The only thing you can hope is that he's not
knocking down his threes."
SCOUTING REPORT The Bruins' fast break has been noble of late,
which isn't surprising, given a Baron and an Earl in the
backcourt. Davis (15.9 points per game) and classmate Earl
Watson (13.4) are UCLA's top scorers, but their challenge will
be leading the nation's best crop of freshmen (despite the
absence of injured center Dan Gadzuric). The Bruins' fatal flaw
could be free throws: These iron men shoot a tournament-field
Coach Steve Lavin Record 22-8
Team scoring 78.0 (FG%: 45.6) (3-pointers: 153-470, 32.6%)
Opponent scoring 71.2 (FG%: 41.5)
Rebound margin +1.8 Team FT% 59.9
Whom not to foul Earl Watson (71%)
Whom to foul Baron Davis (61%), Jerome Moiso (62%)
Quality wins Arizona 82-75, Syracuse 93-69
PREDICTION The sprained toe from which Davis is recovering won't
be as aggravating as Detroit's Jermaine Jackson. Bye-bye, Bruins.
PLAYER TO WATCH Jermaine Jackson, a four-year starter for the
Titans, has raised his scoring each season. He's up to 13.7
points per game--with 6.5 rebounds, a big number for a 6'5"
guard. Jackson also averages 4.7 assists and makes his free
SCOUTING REPORT Detroit may have lost three starters from the
team that upset St. John's in the first round last year, but it
won a return bid to the NCAAs with the same style of play:
stifling, man-to-man defense and a deliberate offense that
produced good shots. While Jackson, 5'10" point guard Rashad
Phillips and 6'7" guard Desmond Ferguson can all hit the
three-pointer, opponents made only three of 10 treys on average.
The Titans have won 17 of their last 19 games. Why? No, Whye:
6'8" forward Daniel Whye, who averaged 6.7 points and 5.7
rebounds over that span, gave center Walter Craft needed help
Coach Perry Watson Record 24-5
Team scoring 64.3 (FG%: 44.5) (3-pointers: 184-499, 36.9%)
Opponent scoring 54.7 (FG%: 37.0)
Rebound margin +2.5 Team FT% 75.7
Whom not to foul Rashad Phillips (84%), Daniel Whye (81%)
Whom to foul Bacari Alexander (67%)
Quality win Gonzaga 49-48
PREDICTION A former Detroit coach named Vitale will have a lot
to say when the Titans make their surprise run to the Sweet 16.