The Gazette's March of madness: East and Southeast
By Alex Chiang
It's the time of year again when NCAA hoops fans assume their ceremonial couch-potato positions. Ready or not, March Madness is here and by the end of the month, four teams will be rewarded for their hours of sweat and hard work.
At the top of the Southeast region is the Big 12 champion, Kansas. The top-ranked team in the nation dominated the college scene this year, posting a near-perfect 32-1 record. The only team to beat them was conference rival Missouri, but that was in double overtime.
The Jayhawks are loaded at all positions and are spearheaded by all-Americans Raef LaFrentz and Jacque Vaughn. Plus they have tremendous rebounding and scoring in Scot Pollard (the guy with the Civil War sideburns) and Paul Pierce.
Look for Kansas, which has the talent, size and leadership, to win it all in Indianapolis.
Perhaps the most interesting first round matchup will be between Big South champ, the College of Charleston and Maryland. Maryland's all-star Keith Booth, who averaged nearly 20 points and eight boards a game will go head-to-head with Thaddeous Delaney, who has very similar numbers. The fact that Charleston is on the NCAA's longest current wining streak at 22 games is a remarkable feat for coach John Kresse's Cougars.
If anyone's going to give Kansas a run in the Southeast it may be Duke. The Blue Devils are a mainstay in college hoops and post a strong 23-8 record. The absence of a strong inside game could be their Achilles heel.
To get its shot at Kansas, Duke may have to get past the solid defensive play of Marquette in the second round. If defence truly wins ball games, the Conference USA champs could upset the Devils.
The East bracket holds many potential surprises. The most likely could be Princeton against California in the first round. Last year Pete Carill's Ivy league champs stunned another west coast team, UCLA. This year under Bill Carmody, the Tigers are an intelligent, disciplined team and besides, who said lightning never strikes twice?
The favourites in the East are Antawn Jamison and his top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. Jamison had a huge 33-point game against arch-rival Duke and added 11 rebounds en route to the Atlantic Coast Conference title.
Coach Dean Smith is two wins shy of eclipsing the NCAA record for most wins by a coach, currently held by legend Adolph Rupp, but chances are he'll meet Bobby Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers in the second round a tough challenge.
The boys from Chapel Hill showed they can tough it out, having beaten both Duke and Wake Forest this year. The fact they'll be playing the first two rounds in their own state provides a huge advantage. Fan support should be enough to carry the team on its own.
North Carolina's biggest stumbling block may be South Carolina. B.J. McKie leads a quick, versatile, three-guard backcourt that some say may be the best ever.
As for the rest of the teams from the East, Massachusetts will be hard-pressed to repeat its Final Four appearance of last year and both Villanova and New Mexico are over-achievers.
Final Four picks:
4. North Carolina
College of Charleston, Marquette