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Pool of NCAA contenders shrinks as quarterfinal round draws closer

Pool of NCAA contenders shrinks

as quarterfinal round draws closer

By Thomas T. Huang

The teams with strange names are gone. Their players are looking forward to playing in the summer leagues or the pros. But the remaining teams can still dream. The NCAA is gradually converging on the Elite Eight, and then the Final Four, and then ...

The East

The East has been the strongest region. All four top seeds made it to the semifinals.

Georgetown 65, Loyola 53:

There is 4:13 left in the half. Long jumper by Andre Battle. Makes. The Loyola University Ramblers are up by 4 points. Ewing ain't doing too much, the announcer whispers. The applause drowns him. On your radio, radio.

Whenever I watch St. Patrick Ewing on TV, he leads his Georgetown supporting cast to a crushing victory. I turn down the sound. I play the music John Williams wrote for the giant armored walkers in The Empire Strikes Back. Ewing looms over the other players. His feet pound against the court. The music fits.

The sea in the background: a wall-to-wall crowd. A reporter's question: "Patrick, what did Bobby Knight teach you in the Olympics?"

"How to throw a chair across the basketball court."

Georgetown has an awesome 1-3-1 zone with Ewing jammed down the middle. Loyola, on the other hand, is known as "the Fun Bunch." They averaged 86 points a game, with shoot-out artist Alfrederick "the Great" Hughes.

The game last night: Loyola had to shoot 70 percent from the field to win, according to one coach. They only shot 48 percent, even though they led at the half by 2.

Georgetown pulled away from the Ramblers in the end, 65-53. Georgetown looks unbeatable.

Georgia Tech 61, Illinois 53:

It is with grief that I write this score, for I am a loyal fan of the University of Illinois.

Last year, the Fighting Illini lost to Kentucky on a controversial call by the referee in the closing seconds in Lexington's Temple of Doom. They were that close to making the Final Four. This year, they were back with most of the same players. One crucial player was missing: "Big" George Montgomery, lost to injury. He had glued the talents of the team together with his smile and rebounding muscle.

The Ramblin' Wreck of Georgia Tech was simply the better team. They were favored by a point, having tied for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season championship and won the post-season tournament.

A 13-2 tear early in the second half helped Tech bump the Illini out of the tournament. There are no more Big Ten teams left in the tournament.

Pick:

Georgetown will beat Georgia Tech. The Hoyas should make it to the finals. Only St. John's and Oklahoma can stop them now.

The Midwest

Memphis State 59, Boston College 57:

Keith Lee had shaven off his dreadlocks, and maybe his style, too. Against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, he'd been off and on, off and on, like a cheap sticker out of a Captain Crunch box. The whole Memphis State team did not play well against UAB. It escaped by a point in overtime.

But the BC Eagles were a scrappy team. Talent-wise, they did not belong in the Sweet Sixteen. But they had the desire. They showed it in their upset of highly-touted Duke.

Talent vs. desire -- which would win? Lee only scored nine points and spent most of the time keeping his end of the bargain on the bench. But in the end, BC made a costly turnover, a dribble off the foot.

Why do games always come down to the final seconds, down to a drastic mistake to mar an otherwise bright season?

Andre Turner, down the baseline. Four seconds. Turner to the left of the free throw line, shoots. Hits! It's over!

Memphis State again barely beat the underdog.

Oklahoma 86, Louisiana Tech 84 OT:

Wayman "Mr. All-American" Tisdale will become a millionaire in the NBA. His scoring is impressive.

"What did Bobby Knight teach you last summer?"

"Who?"

But he has been mostly a scoring machine, not a team leader. The team's success depends on Tisdale's heat. One cold game and the Sooners are laters. That changed when Tisdale gutted out an overtime win against Louisiana Tech.

Pick:

Oklahoma should beat Memphis State. Keith Lee has been lackluster: maybe he's thinking about the NBA.

The West

Many agree that the West has been the creampuff regional of the NCAAs. But the teams remaining are top-quality.

St. John's vs. Kentucky:

Lou Carnesseca is wearing his snowflake sweater now, the proud owner of the title "Coach of the Year." His team has beaten and also lost to the current top-ranked Hoyas in the regular season. They would like to get another shot.

Kentucky is a surprise. They are battling to get back home to Lexington. If they make it to the Final Four, the Temple of Doom Arena will give them an advantage. But not much.

St. John's should be able to hold back Kentucky.

North Carolina State vs. Alabama:

I don't know either of these teams, so I won't pull an Al McGuire and lie through my teeth.

The Southeast

Auburn vs. North Carolina:

I don't know. North Carolina should win just because Dean Smith says it's so.

Villanova vs. Maryland:

Maryland had a tough schedule this season and did reasonably well with what they had. But they faltered early on in the tournament. They had to come back to beat Navy.

Villanova "upset" Michigan. The Ann Arbor team was fantastic on offense, but it was really inexperienced. When it ran into the slow, solid Villanova, they crumbled. Besides, they nearly folded to Fairleigh Dickinson. Conclusion: Villanova did not have to play blinding hardball to beat the Wolverines.

Maryland should beat Villanova.

Meanwhile, Bobby Knight is throwing Uwe Blab across the basketball court in the NIT.