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Power Ball Forget Cinderella, it's NBA-caliber big men--strong inside and agile outside--who give Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Oklahoma the potential winning ticket in the Final Four

April 01, 2002
April 01, 2002

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April 1, 2002

Pro Basketball
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Power Ball Forget Cinderella, it's NBA-caliber big men--strong inside and agile outside--who give Indiana, Kansas, Maryland and Oklahoma the potential winning ticket in the Final Four

As mosh pits go, it didn't exactly rival the ones at Limp
Bizkit concerts, yet Kansas coach Roy Williams hardly cared as
he joyously careened off his players on the floor of the Kohl
Center in Madison, Wis., on Sunday. So geeked was the
51-year-old Williams, in fact, that he set off another
free-for-all in the locker room after the Jayhawks had
dispatched Oregon 104-86 in the NCAA Midwest Regional final.
"Coach is always starting mosh pits," forward Nick Collison said
later, shaking his head. "He loves banging around with the guys."

This is an article from the April 1, 2002 issue Original Layout

That's not the only kind of banging left in college basketball,
even if all the top 7-footers have lit out for the NBA. For all
the talk of Cinderellas, three-point wonders and pressure
defenses, this week's Final Four in Atlanta--where Kansas will
join Indiana, Maryland and Oklahoma--will come down to one thing:
powerball. All a team needs (insert sarcastic snort here) is an
exceedingly gifted big man or two. "The supply of centers in the
college game shrinks every day," says the Jayhawks' 6'10" Drew
Gooden, the preeminent collegiate frontcourtman, "so you're
seeing a new breed of power forward, guys who can run and jump,
step out on the court and do things inside and outside."

All of the Final Four teams have at least one such player,
whether it's Kansas's black Viking, Oklahoma's erstwhile nun,
Indiana's master of psychology or Maryland's recovering
narcoleptic. Indeed, sleeper only begins to describe 6'10"
Terrapins sophomore Chris Wilcox, an athletic wonder who never
played much basketball during his adolescence in Whiteville,
N.C., because he would fall asleep at 7:30 every night. Even in
high school, his mother, Debra Brown, says, "if Chris and his
friends went to a club, he would sleep in the car while they were
inside." Sure enough, Wilcox somnambulated through his freshman
year at Maryland, averaging only 3.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 8.6
minutes a game. "It was tough for me," he says. "I would always
be like, Why am I not playing?"

This year Wilcox finally woke up. On a team that, like Oklahoma,
doesn't include a McDonald's High School All-American--and keep in
mind, no national champion has been without one since the award
was instituted in 1978--coach Gary Williams is fanatical about
player development. Frustrated by the Terps' lack of toughness in
their NCAA tournament loss to St. John's three years ago,
Williams hired Kurtis Shultz, a 6'6", 295-pound personal trainer
(and former Maryland basketball player) whose clients include
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. During the off-season
Shultz put Wilcox and his teammates through all manner of
unconventional drills. They carried 150-pound heavy bags up
stairs, played a game called King of the Lane (in which they had
to push their hulking trainer from the paint) and even boxed
against Shultz, wearing 16-ounce gloves with their hands wrapped,
to learn how to breathe while taking body blows. No player
impressed Shultz more than Wilcox, whom he calls "a freak. For
someone as strong as he is to be so quick and agile is
unbelievable. He's only 19 years old, but he has an NBA body
already."

Wilcox's skills have come along too. "If Chris couldn't dunk, he
couldn't do anything," Gary Williams says of Wilcox as a
freshman. "So he developed his jump shot and his post moves." If
Wilcox doesn't break an opponent's will inside--his averages have
spiked to 11.9 points and 7.1 boards a game--then frontcourt mate
Lonny Baxter surely will. Similarly fortified by Shultz's
workouts, Baxter defied his 6'8" height and ruled the lane with
29 points in the Terps' 90-82 defeat of UConn in Sunday's East
Regional final. "He's like Charles Barkley," says teammate Byron
Mouton. "When you're strong like that, you can go through
people."

That might be harder than usual in Saturday's semifinal against
the Jayhawks' Gooden and Collison, whose combined 43 points and
35 rebounds against Oregon on Sunday gave further evidence that
they may be the best tandem of college forwards in more than a
decade. Diversity is the hallmark of both players' games--they
post up and run the floor with equal facility--and lifestyles. A
white kid from the farm town of Iowa Falls, Iowa, the 6'9"
Collison has a Jay-Z jones and has dated African-American coeds.
For his part, Gooden, the son of an African-American father and a
Finnish mother, has an Asian-American girlfriend. Owing to
Gooden's exotic bloodlines, his father, Andrew, calls his son a
black Viking. "He's got rhythm, strength and agility," Andrew
says. "He's Leif Ericsson and Shaka Zulu."

Gooden's rise from an unheralded high schooler in Richmond,
Calif., to a first-team All-America this year has coincided with
a fascinating give-and-take between player and coach. "It's very
hard to find a kid who wants to be a post player, almost like
there's a stigma," says Roy Williams, not just of Gooden but of
most big men these days. "So you have to tell the kid, 'Hey,
we'll try to help you develop your total game, but you have to do
some things for us inside.'" It's a precarious balance, which is
why Kansas assistant Joe Holladay believes that with Gooden,
Williams has done his best job of coaching a player in his 14
years with the Jayhawks. "He's accepted that Drew will do
something stupid each game," Holladay says. "In the past he would
have automatically jerked him out, but now he's like, O.K.,
you're allowed one a game. By giving Drew that leeway, he has
made him a much better player."

Williams has liberated the Kansas players another way this
season, by making practices 30 minutes shorter than usual at
Collison's request. As a result Kansas's top big men--Collison,
Gooden and 6'9" freshman Wayne Simien--were spared untold hours of
pounding, and the Jayhawks led the nation in scoring, at 92.0
points a game. "Coach has been more relaxed this year," says
Collison, who is a junior. "Look at our turnovers. We have a lot
of them, but he lets them go because they're the result of the
pace we play."

Oklahoma may seem to mosey compared with its Big 12 rival
Jayhawks, but the Sooners' attack is no less power-oriented,
thanks mainly to 6'8", 250-pound senior forward Aaron McGhee, the
tournament's third-leading scorer with 89 points in four games.
Yet when McGhee joined the Sooners last year--after stops at
Cincinnati and Vincennes (Ind.) junior college--Oklahoma coach
Kelvin Sampson got one glimpse of his tattoos, shaved head,
ripped-like-an-inmate physique and soft playing style and said,
"You look like Godzilla, but you play like a nun."

"The thing that stood out when he came to us was how soft he
played for such a big guy," recalls Sampson, who kicked McGhee
out of practice three times last year for his lackadaisical
behavior. "He'd never played strong inside before, had never been
asked to. I laid into him pretty good." Even McGhee admits that
he "took off some games" last year and that he didn't refocus
himself until he spent last summer in Norman following the
Sooners' disappointing first-round loss to Indiana State in the
NCAA tournament.

These days, however, the former nun has kicked his old habits.
"Coach Sampson makes men out of boys," says McGhee, whose late
nine-point scoring spree, including a three-point dagger,
provided the coup de grace in Oklahoma's 81-75 defeat of Missouri
in last Saturday's West Regional final. As Tigers coach Quin
Snyder said afterward, "He can beat you so many ways," whether
it's through offensive rebounds, turnaround jumpers,
pick-and-rolls, midrange jumpers or startlingly accurate
three-point shots.

In other words, McGhee is blessed with the same sort of
multidimensional skills found in Indiana's coltish 6'9"
sophomore Jared Jeffries. Don't be fooled by the Hoosiers'
otherworldly 15-for-19 three-point shooting in Saturday's 81-69
South Regional final victory over Kent State. By drawing the
Golden Flashes' full attention inside (and thereby leaving
Indiana's shooters open on the perimeter), Jeffries influenced
the game's outcome just as much as he had by scoring 24 points
in the Hoosiers' thrilling 74-73 upset of Duke two nights
earlier. Whether Jeffries is shooting or passing, he's "the
whole key" when it comes to Indiana's offense, says coach Mike
Davis. "Our guards are not quick enough to drive past people. I
needed to create something where they could catch and shoot.
Jared is unselfish, he's a great passer, and he knows where
people are supposed to be on the floor."

Jeffries is probably also the main reason Davis has his job at
Indiana. Davis was hired as an assistant in 1997 by former coach
Bobby Knight after the grumbling got louder that Knight couldn't
recruit top African-American players because his coaching staff
was all white. It soon became clear that Jeffries, then a
sophomore at Bloomington (Ind.) High North, would be a star, and
signing him became Job One for Davis. "Jared was a make-or-break
recruit for us," he says. "We needed him in the worst way. But my
relationship with Jared was more of a friendship than a
recruitment."

In a sport that thrives on coaches' mind games, Jeffries turned
the tables on Davis the night before he was to announce his
college decision in November 1999. "I still didn't know if I was
going to Duke or Indiana, so I asked Coach Davis, 'If I don't
come to Indiana, do you really mean you'll still be my friend?'"
Jeffries says. "He said he would. That was a big part of my
decision, knowing that he felt that way about me even if I wasn't
coming."

So much has changed since then. Knight was fired in September
2000, and Davis took over. No longer an anonymous assistant, he's
now a widely known Final Four coach, the stunned recipient of a
phone call from Jesse Jackson last Friday. ("Blew my mind," Davis
said. "He asked me for my address, and I couldn't even remember
it.") Jeffries is the Big Ten Player of the Year, a surefire pro
who isn't likely to heed the imploring serenade of "One more
year!" from Hoosiers fans in Lexington last weekend. Still, his
bear hug of Davis last Saturday revealed an uncommonly close
bond.

On the night before dethroning Duke, Davis showed the Hoosiers an
"upset tape" that included footage of North Carolina State's 1983
conquest of Houston, Villanova's '85 defeat of Georgetown and
Buster Douglas's '90 knockout of Mike Tyson. Davis might want to
consider cueing it up again before meeting Oklahoma on Saturday,
particularly if Indiana has to play without point guard Tom
Coverdale, who severely sprained his left ankle against Kent
State. Not that it should matter that much for the Sooners, whose
merciless defense figures to keep Jeffries and Indiana's shooters
in check.

All season long, while college hoops mavens clamored for a game
between Kansas and Duke, the Jayhawks pondered a different
matchup. "Not to take anything away from Duke, but I think
Kansas-Maryland is a better game," Gooden said last week. "The
personnel are almost a mirror image." In a Saturday game that
should have been saved for Monday night, the mobility of Kansas's
big men (Collison and Gooden) will prevail over the less agile
Maryland twosome (Baxter and Wilcox), all other things (guards,
defense, depth) being remarkably equal.

While revisiting our pretournament pick of Kansas and Oklahoma
in the final, it's worth noting that one coach will win his
first national title this week. Of course, nobody has ached for
one longer than Roy Williams, whose litany of tournament swan
dives (and attendant criticism) has spurred the Kansas band to
adopt Twisted Sister's We're Not Gonna Take It as a theme song.
All of which is to say that when the Jayhawks band booms its
defiance for the last time on Monday night, it ought to be one
slammin' mosh pit.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER GOODEN STUFF Drew Gooden had 15 points and 13 rebounds to lead Kansas to a gritty Sweet 16 win over Illinois [T of C]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER ATTACK THE RACK Keith Langford added 20 points to the inside dominance of Collison and Gooden as Kansas laid out Oregon in the Midwest final.COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN RISING STAR Wilcox was a sleeper when he first got to Maryland, but the Terps' intense development program has made him a keeper.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO BOOMER SOONERS McGhee (13) teamed with Daryan Selvy to show Arizona's Luke Walton who was boss in Oklahoma's Round 3 victory.COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO HOOSIERS II Jeffries puffed up with pride in the waning minutes of Indiana's stunning comeback victory over Duke.COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Swin CashCOLOR PHOTO: GARRETT W. ELLWOOD Gwen JacksonCOLOR PHOTO: ICON SPORTS MEDIA Iciss TillisCOLOR PHOTO: JERRY LAIZURE/AP LaNeishea Caufield

How to beat Kansas

We asked coaches and assistants who this season have broken down
hours of tape preparing game plans against the Final Four teams
to tell us what they saw and offer insights on how to play those
teams. They were guaranteed anonymity in return for their
candor. Here are some of their observations.

"All the talk has been about how fast they are, but they're also
a great defensive team," says an assistant whose team lost to
the Jayhawks in the NCAAs. "Their defense is 70 percent pressure
man-to-man and 30 percent point zone, which is so effective
because they have such big, long players. Nearly 99 percent of
the time after they miss, they'll run their man-to-man pressure
defense. You can be effective against the pressure defense with
hard screens and by penetrating. The problem is, if you attack,
watch out for forwards Nick Collison and Drew Gooden, great shot
blockers.

"Most of their offense is generated off the fast break. They also
run a three-, four- or five-man motion offense, and if they have
one weakness, this is it. If you can take the first or second
pass out of their motion, you force them into a one-on-one
situation, which without question isn't their strength. This team
has a lot of leaders, but Hinrich is the leader. He looks totally
healthy. Boschee is a great shooter with a quick release and is
an adequate defender, but you can beat him off the dribble."

How to beat Maryland

"Transition is their biggest weapon," says an assistant whose
team lost to the Terps in the NCAAs. "[Point guard] Steve Blake
and [guard] Juan Dixon make good decisions, and [power forward]
Chris Wilcox and [center] Lonny Baxter can really run. They
don't have many weaknesses, and they're very good on the
offensive glass. Dixon is the key. He's the guy that's going to
make plays for them, and they run a lot of offense for him. All
these different sets they've got, probably a third of them are
for him. Blake you have to play straight up and make him go east
and west. Don't let him go north and south. If he gets near the
basket, that's a problem because he has guys who can finish. You
have to guard Drew Nicholas. He's their best three-point
shooter. If you say we're going to play horse, he's the guy.
Swingman Byron Mouton is streaky. He's a guy you can play off of
and help contain Blake and have your stopper on Dixon. So Mouton
will get your weakest defender.

"They're not great defenders. I think they're a little
susceptible off the dribble. I also think you can screen them.
They don't switch a lot. You can spread them out a little bit
and dribble by them. Pound it inside as much as possible because
their big guys, Baxter in particular, are foul prone. Just don't
get in a running-up-and-down-the-floor kind of game."

How to beat Oklahoma

"Stay tight on Hollis Price regardless of what's happening
elsewhere on the floor," says an assistant whose team lost to
the Sooners in the NCAAs. "All he needs is a split second to get
his shot off. You'd much rather have him driving than shooting
the jumper. Point guard Quannas White is dangerous from
three-point range and can shoot off the dribble, but when he
drives in the paint, he's looking to pass. Stay in front of him,
make him score over the top. If you let him get inside, your big
men have to help, and then [center] Jabahri Brown and [forward]
Aaron McGhee will hurt you on the offensive glass. McGhee's
going to do one of two things: post up, turn and shoot or step
out and take a 15- to 18-footer. He can knock down threes if
he's wide open and standing still. He won't dribble drive, so
stay on him. Brown hurts you by running from the high post for
offensive rebounds and tip-ins. We assigned a guy to just keep
Brown off the glass. We told him, 'We don't care if you get the
rebound, we don't care what you do, just block him out.' [Guard]
Ebi Ere is a set three-point shooter. He's very good at using
screens to curl into the paint, catch and shoot."

"Limit their extra possessions," says another assistant. "All the
loose balls they get, all the second and third shots--they feed on
that. They start believing, We've got 'em. They're dead."

How to beat Indiana

"Indiana kills you with the three-point shot," says an assistant
whose team lost to the Hoosiers in the NCAAs. "[Guards] Tom
Coverdale, Dane Fife and Kyle Hornsby are all unbelievable
streak shooters. All three will try threes in any situation--in
transition, off screens, on a kick-out. Plus, [forward] Jared
Jeffries is a lot of trouble in the paint, but you can't double
him because he's an excellent passer and he'll find the open guy
for a clean look. Don't have a guard fully double down on
Jeffries. What you have to do is play him strong in the post
with one defender, and then, when the ball goes in to him, have
a guard take a quick slap at the ball, then close back out on
the shooter. If you do it this way, Jeffries might throw up 30
on you, but the perimeter guys won't be shooting open threes.

"If Coverdale can't play, that's a huge difference, because
[backup point guard Donald] Perry is athletic, but he's not a
good shooter. That gives you a lot more options defensively.

"Defensively the Hoosiers play very solid, man-to-man defense.
They get over screens and take away the catch-and-shoot, as they
did to [Kent State's Trevor] Huffman. But they have a couple of
weaknesses. First, they're not real quick; you can break them
down with dribble penetration. Second, their basic post defense
is not very good. If you have a good low-post player, Jeffries
and Jeff Newton will try to block his shot, but they're not very
physical inside."

Women's Final Four
The stage is set for San Antonio, where UConn is looking to make
history with another perfect season

MIDEAST
Connecticut (37-0)
POINTS PER GAME: 87.7* POINTS ALLOWED: 50.7
FIELD GOAL %: 52.2 OPPONENT'S FIELD GOAL %: 31.6
3-POINT FG %: 41.1 OPPONENT'S 3-POINT FG %: 30.8

SCOUTING REPORT: How good are the Huskies? All five starters
average double figures in points, and all five were recognized
on the All-America team. They have the country's best backcourt
in national player of the year Sue Bird and sharpshooter Diana
Taurasi. On top of all that, they're on pace to break the NCAA
record for scoring defense. Can UConn be beaten? Of course, but
it will take a near-perfect game to knock this team off.

MIDWEST
Tennessee (29-4)
POINTS PER GAME: 80.6 POINTS ALLOWED: 65.2
FIELD GOAL %: 45.5 OPPONENT'S FIELD GOAL %: 39.6
3-POINT FG %: 34.7 OPPONENT'S 3-POINT FG %: 30.4

SCOUTING REPORT: While the Lady Vols have struggled to find an
identity and a stable starting five--they've used 16 different
lineups--they haven't forgotten how to win. When their pressure
defense is clicking, they can beat anyone. On offense they look
inside to 6'5" senior Michelle Snow (50.9% from the floor) or any
of four other athletic post players. The way to beat them? Slow
the pace, spread their defense and pound the boards.

EAST
Duke (31-3)
POINTS PER GAME: 84.7 POINTS ALLOWED: 64.5
FIELD GOAL %: 49.7 OPPONENT'S FIELD GOAL %: 37.8
3-POINT FG %: 38.8 OPPONENT'S 3-POINT FG %: 30.4

SCOUTING REPORT: The Blue Devils may be young and short on
reserves--they have only eight players, including five
underclassmen--but at least one player does the work of several.
Sophomore guard Alana Beard, the ACC player of the year,
averages 19.5 points, 3.2 steals and 4.6 assists. Equally
versatile is 6'4" sophomore center Iciss Tillis, who can bang
inside or pull up for a three-pointer, when Duke isn't using a
five-guard lineup.

WEST
Oklahoma (31-3)
POINTS PER GAME: 77.4 POINTS ALLOWED: 61.6
FIELD GOAL %: 45.4 OPPONENT'S FIELD GOAL %: 38.1
3-POINT FG %: 35.8 OPPONENT'S 3-POINT FG %: 27.1

SCOUTING REPORT: The Sooners are led by three quick senior guards
who all average in double figures and love to run. Without a
starter over 6'2", Oklahoma has outrebounded 23 of its 34
opponents this season. Two-time Big 12 player of the year Stacey
Dales averages 17.3 points and 4.9 assists a game, but she also
leads the Sooners in turnovers with 3.3 a game. Who can beat
Oklahoma? A team with an effective inside game.

*Statistics through end of regular season

"McGhee had never been asked to play tough inside," says
Sampson. "I laid into him pretty good."
"Jared is unselfish, he's a great passer, and he knows where
people are on the floor," says Davis.