The Year Cinderella Stayed Home A paucity of Cinderella upsets and an undercurrent of turmoil combined to crush the storybook feeling of the opening rounds of the NCAAs

March 27, 2000

Given all the Goliath-slaying that typically takes place, the
David Capers isn't a bad name for the early rounds of the NCAA
tournament. And there last week was David Capers himself--David
Messiah Capers, a senior guard for 12th-seeded St. Bonaventure,
taking aim at the mighty Kentucky Wildcats, trying to provide
one of the first-round upsets to which the public is so
enchantedly accustomed.

The Wildcats were clinging to a three-point lead in overtime of
the very first game of the tournament when freshman forward
Marvin Stone pulled a gigglebrained move, fouling Messiah Capers
as he launched a three-point attempt a fraction of a second
before the final buzzer. Messiah Capers, a 55.6% free throw
shooter, stepped to the line having squeezed off just four foul
shots in his previous eight games. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith
called timeouts to ice him before shots numbers two and three.
And still Messiah Capers bottomed out each free throw more
cleanly than the last, forcing another overtime and the
fairy-tale footmen to hitch up the carriage.

Yet the Wildcats put St. Bonaventure away in that second OT,
85-80, in the first of last week's snubs for Cinderella. Indeed,
by Sunday night the tournament was left with a Sweet 16
featuring only one team, Wisconsin, that hadn't been ranked in
the AP Top 25 during the regular season. Just three lower seeds
beat higher ones in the first round, the fewest since the field
expanded to 64 teams in 1985. (Moreover, those upsets that did
occur were hardly seismic: For example, Indiana, a sixth seed,
lost to No. 11 Pepperdine, but the Hoosiers haven't survived the
tournament's first week for six straight years now.) While the
top seeds in the West and the South tumbled in Round 2--Arizona
and Stanford lost to a pair of eights, Wisconsin and North
Carolina, respectively--at-large teams from the Big Ten and the
ACC are stepsisters, not Cinderellas. As for Gonzaga, which
reached the Elite Eight a year ago and returned to the Sweet 16
last week by bouncing second-seeded St. John's, Bulldogs forward
Casey Calvary said it best: "If anybody thinks we're still a
Cinderella, they don't know a damn thing about basketball."

Over the years upsets have kept the NCAAs veiled in feel-good
gauze. But without them last week the seaminess of college
basketball was all too conspicuous. Nike's commercial postcards
from Bracketville, with its trimmed hedges and picket fences,
began to resemble outtakes from a David Lynch film. Suddenly
Bracketville looked like a place where the pep bands play
Megadeth, and any cheerleader could be Mena Suvari, with Kevin
Spacey in lusty pursuit.

Name any small-town virtue, and last week you could find some
parallel vice lurking behind it. Trust? LSU coach John Brady had
retained a campus cop to tail his frontcourt stars, Stromile
Swift and Jabari Smith, to make sure nobody (read: no agent)
bothered (read: paid) them. Neighborliness? Police were
investigating the source of dozens of nasty E-mails, some
threatening, sent to UCLA coach Steve Lavin, whose Bruins lost
11 games before turning their season around a month ago and
humiliating Maryland in Round 2. Unselfishness? Asked what
advice he would give a peer who had won his first tournament
game, Utah coach Rick Majerus said, "Go home, get more money and
a better contract." Forthrightness? Indiana coach Bob Knight,
charged with performing a Sprewellian act on a player, responded
with an Orwellian effort to spin the facts and smear his
accusers. Forgiveness? Luke Axtell, who played this year at
Kansas until he dropped off the team with an unspecified
illness, sued his former school, Texas, for releasing his grades
without permission--which caused former Longhorns coach Tom
Penders to crow, "I know the whole truth! The last thing [Axtell
wants] for me to do is testify!" Sunny optimism? Syracuse coach
Jim Boeheim, sommelier of Bracketville's oldest whine bar, was
notably sour when asked if a school could call itself a
"program" if it reached the NCAA tournament five or six years in
a row. "Five or six?" he said, his joylessness palpable. "How
about 20? You've got to win, and then win some more."

No wonder Cinderella preferred to hole up in her charwoman's
shack. She's not that kind of girl.

The most quarrelsome moments took place out of public view, in
the members' lounge at the Bracketville Country Club. The NCAA
is a friendless entity right now, largely because of the fitful
way it's applying its rules, which caused St. John's coach Mike
Jarvis a few weeks back to liken the organization to the
Gestapo. (Jarvis later retracted that analogy, but last week
Temple coach John Chaney compared the NCAA to Hitler.) In fact
NCAA schools pass rules largely because coaches and boosters
cheat. The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) is
nonetheless trying to stake out a patch of moral high ground in
this swampy wasteland and last month it created a 46-player
Student Basketball Council (SBC) to address issues affecting the
game. Whether or not the group is really a stalking horse for
the coaches' agenda, its founding is a potentially revolutionary
step. The SBC has already scheduled a press conference at the
Final Four, and the NCAA is terrified that the players will
stage some sort of job action, even if it's only symbolic.
Consequently, relations between the NCAA and NABC staffs have
never been chillier.

Still, you could enjoy the racket in the brackets despite all
the off-court conflict. Benefiting from injuries to such stars
as Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin, Arizona's Loren Woods,
Connecticut's Khalid El-Amin, DePaul's Quentin Richardson, and
suspensions that sidelined Chris Porter of Auburn and left Erick
Barkley of St. John's an addled mess, at least one stepsister
made noise in every region. The Midwest, the deepest quadrant of
the draw, remained that way, with the top seeds and top player,
Iowa State's Marcus Fizer, advancing intact. But it was No. 6
seed UCLA, alternately flying by and pounding on Maryland, that
caused the most commotion. Junior guard Earl Watson played a
virtually perfect floor game against the Terps, needing only 26
minutes to score 17 points (on just seven shots), rack up a
school-record 16 assists and make four steals, all without a
turnover. Six of those assists came on lobs, three for circus
dunks by JaRon Rush, the sophomore forward whose reinstatement
by the NCAA on Feb. 28 figured heavily in the Bruins' late run.
Lavin never upbraids his team for trying the lob, Rush says,
"even if it goes off the backboard." Thus, if UCLA wins, Lavin
gets kudos for keeping the Bruins loose; if they don't, he gets
flamed for being lax on discipline. "It's like when someone was
threatening to poison [former UCLA coach] Gene Bartow's dog,"
says Lavin. "I mean, I don't think the dog was calling timeouts."

Teams charged with playing ugly (Miami), without heart
(Tennessee) or both (North Carolina) emerged from the South. No
crew remade itself more thoroughly last week than the Tar Heels,
who finally began to take personally the barbecuing that their
coach, Bill Guthridge, had undergone all season. North
Carolina's three pillars of potential--senior point guard Ed
Cota, freshman swingman Joseph Forte and junior center Brendan
Haywood--finally figured out how to play with one another. Said
sophomore guard Jason Capel, who harassed Stanford freshman
Casey Jacobsen into 1-for-8 three-point shooting, "We feel we
have nothing to lose. Nobody expected us to be here." This was
officially the first time a Tar Heel had ever uttered those two
sentences.

In the East, Seton Hall had stumbled into the field, losing five
of its last seven games. Yet the Pirates ducked Oregon in Round
1 when point guard Shaheen Holloway pulled a Tyus Edney with a
coast-to-coast drive in the final seconds of overtime. After
spraining his ankle early in Seton Hall's next game, against
Temple, Holloway yielded to sophomore understudy Ty Shine, who
knocked down seven three-pointers, including the game-winner in
overtime. Shine is from that cradle of playmakers, Augusta, Ga.,
where he tested his mettle against such point masters as William
Avery and Ricky Moore, who starred last year for Duke and
Connecticut, respectively, but this season he found himself
getting fewer minutes than he did as a freshman. On Sunday he
attended an optional pregame prayer service, conducted by Father
Frank McNulty, a team chaplain. The service addressed courage
and featured the 23rd Psalm. After he shot over the valley of
the shadow of Temple's matchup zone, Shine sought out McNulty to
tell him, "That thing on courage helped me!"

Both Big Ten teams in the West, Purdue and Wisconsin,
advanced--surprises if only because the Boilermakers have pulled
some early fades in March and the Badgers have long been a
cipher. After defeating such NCAA-bound teams as Missouri, Ball
State, Texas and Temple before New Year's, Wisconsin might have
cracked the Top 25. Then the Badgers lost four of their first
five Big Ten games, and caviling about coach Dick Bennett's
grinding style flared on talk radio and the Internet. That
Wisconsin consistently drew more votes in the coaches' poll than
in the writers' is a testament that Bennett's half-court defense
is a connoisseur's delight. Badgers point guard Mike Kelley
spent three days early last week repeatedly watching a video
montage of every offensive move Fresno State's All-America guard
Courtney Alexander had made in his five previous games, then
slipped himself like a glove over Alexander in the first round,
holding him to 11 points on 5 of 19 shooting. Against Arizona,
foul trouble forced Kelley to the bench for much of the first
half, but in two games he still had 15 points, 11 steals and 10
assists.

Bennett has vagabonded around the state of Wisconsin's
university system, imparting his high-tech defense along the
way. He led Wisconsin-Stevens Point to an NAIA title game with
future NBA star Terry Porter, and then moved to NCAA mid-major
Wisconsin-Green Bay before alighting in Madison five years ago.
"Those NAIA days were really fun," he said last week. "It's not
as much fun at this level sometimes, because of the pressures
and expectations."

If even the coach at Wisconsin is bemoaning "pressures and
expectations," what's the point of this whole joy-free exercise?
Well, strictly speaking, to choose a national champion. With
that in mind, expect LSU and Michigan State to emerge from the
West and Midwest, respectively, and meet in the national
semifinals. The Tigers' Swift turned in the play of the second
round, a cold-blooded block of a two-handed dunk attempt by
Chris Mihm, Texas's 7-foot All-America, with LSU leading by a
basket in the final two minutes. "I've never seen a bigger block
at a more crucial time," LSU forward Brian Beshara said. "You
could see them sink." Meanwhile the Spartans responded
emphatically to a second-round challenge from Utah, which held a
three-point lead at the half. To prod lethargic forward Morris
Peterson, coach Tom Izzo wrote NOT DRAFTED on the locker room
blackboard at halftime--proving anew that, in Bracketville,
money is an all-purpose motivator.

On the other side of the draw, with Stanford and Temple bounced
from the South and East, respectively, look for Tulsa and Duke
to survive. The Golden Hurricane is tied for the most wins in
the nation, with 31. Its trapping defense forces more than 20
turnovers a game and its six double-figure scorers include four
starting guards, an inestimable advantage in March, when
backcourt play becomes critical.

The Blue Devils, who may have lost the NCAA final a year ago
because they never had to develop a knack for winning close
games, have won six of their last seven that were decided by
five points or fewer, including Sunday's 69-64 second-round
defeat of Kansas. A prime reason for that record is Duke
tri-captain Shane Battier, who excelled as the Devils fought off
the Jayhawks, another group of blue-chippers suddenly cast in
the role of upstart. Battier scored 21 points, had eight
rebounds and blocked a career-high eight shots, but he also
spent time over the weekend reflecting on his role as chairman
of the Student Basketball Council. "The rigidness of the NCAA
has given college basketball a black eye," he says. "The more
money that enters the equation, the more the game suffers. Too
many players use college just to audition for an NBA contract,
and too many coaches squeeze players dry for their talent
without much interest in helping them graduate. It degrades the
game."

Probably true, and certainly well put. But while endorsing much
of that message, Temple junior Mark Karcher had a quarrel with
the messenger. "It boggles my mind that guys from places like
Duke and Stanford are running this," said Karcher, who spends
most of a $1,500 monthly Pell grant on his two children,
including a daughter with sickle-cell anemia, and is almost
certain to turn pro this spring to better support them. "They're
not like me. I didn't have parents. My grandma raised me, and
I've struggled through my whole life financially. With something
like [the SBC], you should have guys who have really experienced
those problems, not guys that can talk good about it and see it
from the outskirts."

Apparently, Bracketville has its suburbs. It has its inner
city--and it has squabbling among its insurgents, even before
the insurgency has been mounted.

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER [T of C] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MANNY MILLAN GATOR BAIT Butler was a contender to wear the glass slipper but couldn't contain Florida's Mike Miller and lost in overtime. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER UPENDED Wisconsin's Maurice Linton shouldered aside Justin Wessel (30) in the Badgers' upset of top-seeded Arizona. COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN MINISTERS OF DEFENSE Battier snuffed eight shots in Duke's defeat of Kansas; Swift was a human flyswatter in LSU's wins over Southeast Missouri (right) and Texas. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO STORM WARNING Miami brought Ken Johnson and Ohio State to their knees, but the Hurricanes are more stepsister than Cinderella.

That Wisconsin drew more votes in the coaches' poll than in the
writers' is a testament to Bennett's defense.

Swift turned in the play of the second round, a cold-blooded
block of a dunk attempt by Texas's Chris Mihm.

"The NCAA's rigidness has given college ball a black eye," said
Battier, who also criticized many players and coaches.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)