A Method To The Madness Each team in the NCAAs measures success differently. Here's our take on the Week One winners and losers

March 25, 2002

It's safe to say that Wyoming coach Steve McClain won't have a
movie made about him anytime soon. Pity, for the bug-eyed,
Skoal-dipping Steve Buscemi look-alike would be perfect in a
Coen brothers flick about the opening rounds of the NCAA
tournament. Call it Winners and Losers, a quirky charmer about
the only week of the year when our Darwinian sports culture
decides that winning isn't everything. Why, McClain was
positively beaming after his 11th-seeded Cowboys' 68-60 loss to
Arizona in the West region's second round in Albuquerque last
Saturday. "We lined up with the Number 6 and 7 teams in the
country," said McClain, whose charges had upset Gonzaga two days
earlier, "and we gave them everything they wanted."

In turn Wyoming--along with fellow upset perpetrators Creighton,
Tulsa and UNC-Wilmington--gave us everything we wanted from the
opening week. Even though they all lost (in the second round),
they won. In the early phases of the NCAAs each team has its own
measure of success. No matter how double-digit seeds Kent State
and Southern Illinois fare in this week's Sweet 16, they've
already earned mad props by spanking a quartet of powers from the
Big 12 and the SEC. "Getting respect isn't just about winning,
it's how you represent yourself," said UNC-Wilmington coach Jerry
Wainwright, whose 13th-seeded Seahawks valiantly lost 76-67 to
Indiana, a defeat that hardly diminished their stunning 93-89
overtime win two nights earlier against USC, a fashionable Final
Four pick.

Much like Fargo, Winners and Losers features all manner of
oddities (three 12-seeds reaching the second round) and creepy
characters (see: RPI-toting tournament committee apparatchiks) as
well as breakout performances by a gunner named Tootie, a
pediatrician-in-training and a coach who returned from the dead.
That would be Wainwright, who 20 years ago was reported dead by a
wire service after a van he was driving crashed, launching him
headfirst through the windshield. "My life changed," says
Wainwright, 55, who spent 50 days in intensive care and lost most
of his right lung. "Now I'm a big count-your-blessings guy."
Before UNC-Wilmington slayed the fourth-seeded Trojans,
Wainwright told his Seahawks to relax, for the game would take
only 40 minutes of their lives. "He's really good at putting
things in perspective," said star guard Brett Blizzard, "but
after overtime he said he'd tricked us. It was actually 45."

Like UNC-Wilmington, 12th-seeded Creighton needed just one
magical victory--an 83-82 double OT jaw dropper over No. 5
Florida--to make its season. When the Bluejays' Terrell Taylor
drilled the winning three-pointer, his eighth of the game, with
0.2 of a second left, he glided down the United Center court in
Chicago, arms extended, imagining he was Michael Jordan. It
wasn't the first time. Taylor wears number 23, has a three-inch
tattoo of Jordan's Jumpman logo on his right biceps and even
borrowed a Jordan DVD from a team manager to watch in his hotel
room before the game. After Creighton's first practice at the
United Center, he spent 15 minutes posing for pictures next to
the statue of Jordan that stands outside the arena. Told that
Jordan might congratulate him by phone, Taylor got skittish,
though. "I don't think I would know what to say," he confessed.
"I don't want to seem like a big groupie." Surely you wouldn't
want to appear obsessive, right, Terrell?

If you're a mid-major with a two-digit seed, the math is simple:
Win once in the tournament (as Creighton did before tumbling to
Illinois on Sunday), and you've accomplished something. Win
twice, and you've attained Gonzagian status. Consider
Mid-American conference champ Kent State, which defied its
laughable No. 10 seed (if not the Vegas oddsmakers, who had
installed the Golden Flashes as favorites) by beating Oklahoma
State 69-61 and then ambushing second-seeded Alabama, the SEC
champ, 71-58 to win its 20th straight game and reach the Sweet
16 for the first time. So complete was the Golden Flashes'
dominance--they trailed for a total of 28 seconds in the two
games--that they made a mockery of the RPI, the metric used by
the tournament committee to seed the brackets and give a free
pass to the big-conference schools.

Better to measure a team by another yardstick, such as the
character of Kent State senior guard Demetric Shaw, a
self-described "brainiac" who aspires to be a pediatrician,
carries a 3.5 GPA in chemistry and premed and, oh, yes, scored a
season-high 21 points in the win over Oklahoma State. Hours
before leaving with the team for Greenville, S.C., last week,
Shaw was up to his chest in a river, trapping fish in preparation
for his vertebrate zoology midterm. In a tournament during which
the NCAA apparently requires its press conference moderators to
use the term student-athlete in every sentence, Shaw is the real
deal, a guy who says pediatrics "is what I'm put on this earth to
do. My parents instilled in me that each generation of our family
has to get better, and my kids will have to raise the bar even
higher."

While we're at it, let's raise a glass (to say nothing of the
proverbial bar) for 11th-seeded Southern Illinois of the
Missouri Valley Conference, which handed Texas Tech coach Bob
Knight his customary early walking papers--Knight's teams have
lost four of their last six first-round games--before overcoming
a 19-point deficit to dispatch No. 3 seed Georgia 77-75 on
Sunday. The Salukis' star, Jermaine Dearman, writes RIP THELMA
on both of his sneakers, in memory of his maternal grandmother,
Thelma Young, who died at age 65 while waiting for a lung
transplant four years ago. "Life is short," says Dearman, who
had a career-high 25 points against Georgia. "Anything can
happen, so you have to go hard every day."

Dearman is still working on the every day part. Fourth-year
Salukis coach Bruce Weber benched Dearman at the start of the
game against Texas Tech for being late to a pretournament
practice. "Jermaine sometimes takes fadeaway shots that drive me
nuts," says Weber, "but when he gets determined, he's a big-time
talent." So too is Southern Illinois, which was 5-2 against NCAA
tournament teams, but--irony of ironies--likely wouldn't have
been awarded its at-large bid had it not beaten Indiana at home
in December, in a game that was bravely scheduled by...Bob Knight.

Naturally, the tournament's opening week did more than just
herald the arrival of elite mid-majors. It also announced the
rebirth of some of college basketball's hoariest programs.
Perhaps it's time the Hoosiers' faithful gave a smidgen of credit
to coach Mike Davis, who guided fifth-seeded Indiana to its first
Sweet 16 in eight years with victories against Utah and
UNC-Wilmington. Despite back-to-back 20-win seasons and a brutal
schedule, Davis still felt compelled to defend himself last week.
"I think I've done a great job here," he argued. Relax, coach.
Duke may tear your team to bits in the regional semis this week,
but you're already a winner.

Besides the Hoosiers, no teams have absorbed more unfriendly
fire from their own fans than surprise Sweet 16 qualifiers
Kentucky, Missouri and UCLA, whose Internet message boards have
thrummed with the bile of nameless get-a-lifers all season.
After Missouri plummeted from its No. 2 ranking in the AP poll
in December, guard Kareem Rush vowed to stop reading
Tigerboard.com. "They bashed me, they bashed Coach [Quin
Snyder], they bashed everybody," Rush says. With senior Clarence
(Tootie) Gilbert at point guard--he moved over from shooting
guard in late January--the 12th-seeded Tigers revived last week
to thump Miami and Ohio State. "We didn't earn that Number 2
ranking, but we earned this," said the sweet-shooting Gilbert
(36 points in two games), whose mother, Gwendolyn, nicknamed him
after the immortal character from the TV show The Facts of Life.

Rebirths? How about Kentucky, which seemed on the verge of
disintegration entering the tournament, having gone 5-4 to end a
season during which five players had been suspended and that
Tubby Smith called "the most frustrating year I've had as a
coach." After Smith absurdly declared the fourth-seeded Wildcats
a first-round underdog against Valparaiso, Kentucky ripped off
wins against the Crusaders and Tulsa, thanks to the born-again
tandem of Tayshaun Prince (41 points against Tulsa) and Keith
Bogans, who had his highest two-game output (40 points) since
November. "I can't remember the last time I've seen players and
coaches hugging," marveled guard J.P. Blevins after Prince and
Bogans embraced in St. Louis on Saturday. "It's been a long,
long time."

Likewise, few teams or players have been as maligned as UCLA and
its center, Dan Gadzuric, whose career-high 26 points led the
eighth-seeded Bruins past No. 1 seed Cincinnati in the game of
the week, a 105-102 double-overtime shocker. "There's always
going to be someone talking," the Dutch-born Gadzuric said
afterward, though it's rarely him. At the team banquet two weeks
ago, Gadzuric strode to the dais and announced to the crowd of
200, "I'm so nervous, I may pee down my pants." Winner or loser?
We'll give him a W for honesty.

For all the clear winners of Week 1, there were plenty of losers,
too. So extend your thumb and index finger, plant them on your
forehead and give a big L to the following:

--The tournament committee The suits may be an easy target, but
their overreliance on the RPI--75% of which is based on who's
willing to play you, not on how you actually do--reached new
depths in 2002. Is there any fan who wouldn't have preferred to
see No. 8-seeded Wisconsin meet 26-5 Butler, 24-9 Bowling Green
or 22-11 Ball State (none of which got bids) instead of plodding
20-12 St. John's, a mediocre Big East team only a hard drive
could love? Before the tournament selections were announced,
CollegeRPI.com guru Jerry Palm correctly picked all 34 at-large
teams, an indictment of the selection process since Palm's
calculations didn't require him to watch a single game this
season.

--The pod system In an effort to keep more teams closer to home,
thereby increasing ticket sales, the committee regionalized the
tournament into four-team pods, which gave decided home-crowd
advantages to Illinois, Maryland, Pittsburgh and Texas, all of
which reached the Sweet 16. The result? Several teams turned into
pod scum, none more egregiously than No. 3 seed Mississippi
State, which fell to the No. 6-seeded Longhorns in Dallas 68-64.
"Should a lower seed have this advantage?" railed Bulldogs coach
Rick Stansbury afterward. "Absolutely not." Nor should a higher
seed, since one of the beauties of the tournament had been that
teams got to play each other on neutral courts.

--Classless coaches Where to begin? After his Gators' manifold
mistakes led to a first-round implosion against Creighton,
Florida coach Billy Donovan had the nerve to argue that the
Bluejays deserved a technical foul for running onto the court
following Taylor's last-second three-pointer. What's more, while
mid-major powers Gonzaga and Western Kentucky refused to
complain publicly about their disgracefully low seeds, Ohio
State coach Jim O'Brien arrived in Albuquerque bellyaching about
his Buckeyes' No. 4 placement. (The Buckeyes hardly helped
matters when they lost by 16 to 12th-seeded Missouri.)

There's one last group, of course, one that contains neither
winners nor losers, but survivors. After all, the bracket's
heavyweights (Kansas, Duke and Maryland, among others) could win
nothing last week; all they could do was survive to play in the
Sweet 16, a minimum level of achievement in the eyes of their
overly expectant fans. "This is a sigh of relief," said Arizona
forward Luke Walton after the Wildcats, the West's three-seed,
had finished off Wyoming on Saturday. "If we had lost before
this, the critics would have been right back on us again."

So begins a new tournament, in which charm surrenders to skill,
upset all but vanishes from the vocabulary, and the ultimate
prize, the championship trophy, sits tantalizingly close at
hand.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER How sweet it is For different reasons, Southern Illinois's Rolan Roberts (15) and Dearman, UCLA's Jason Kapono and Kent State's Shaw and Andrew Mitchell (12) can all consider themselves successes even if they don't win another game. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [See caption above] THREE COLOR PHOTOS: JOHN BIEVER (3) Air fare A buzzer-beating three-pointer in Michael Jordan's old arena gave Taylor the thrill of a lifetime and sealed Creighton's upset of Florida. COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Tall in the saddle Marcus Bailey and Wyoming fell to Arizona and Walton in Round 2 but exited with heads high. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO The strong survive Mike Dunleavy and Duke had a tough time with Notre Dame, but the Blue Devils kept pace with their high expectations by advancing.

Big Winners

CREIGHTON Terrell Taylor's trey to beat Florida in double OT was
defining moment of first week of these NCAAs

INDIANA Sweet 16 appearance--Hoosiers' first in eight
years--coupled with Bob Knight's one-and-done with Texas Tech
add up to a marvelous March for coach Mike Davis

KENT STATE Carried banner for Mid-American Conference with wins
over Oklahoma State and Alabama

MISSOURI Gritty play of Clarence Gilbert (top) and Kareem Rush
helped Tigers cure seasonlong malaise

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS Salukis proved that mid-majors who lose league
tournaments still belong in NCAAs

UCLA Steve Lavin, coach everyone loves to hate, is 5-1 in
first-round games and has never lost in second round

Big Losers

CONFERENCE USA Fancies itself power conference but is still just
underachieving Cincinnati and not much else

FLORIDA Graceless whining from coach Billy Donovan too much to
bear after lackluster performance by Gators

NCAA SELECTION COMMITTEE Inclusion of St. John's and Boston
College, exclusion of Butler and Bowling Green, expose panel as
unrepentant big league sycophants

USC Dark horse to make Final Four must now rebuild

Jury's Out

DUKE Carnage in South leaves open path for Dookies to Final
Four, their standard of success

KANSAS Was tight performance against Holy Cross anomaly or
harbinger?

OKLAHOMA Needs one more win to go further than coach Kelvin
Sampson has ever gone before

MARYLAND Hard road remains, with Kentucky and possibly UConn and
Kansas ahead, just to get to title game

ILLINOIS Second straight season Illini have had top-seed talent
yet may not reach Final Four

ARIZONA Can mix of Final Four experience and brazen youth take
Wildcats--a surprise all season--to Atlanta?

"We played the Number 6 and 7 teams in the nation," said
Wyoming's McClain, "and gave them all they wanted."

"If we had lost in the first or second round," said Arizona's
Walton, "our critics would have been right back on us."

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)