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Your Guide To March Mayhem!

Actress Q'Orianka Kilcher, left, and producer Sarah Green pose during a press conference for the film "The New World" at the 56th Film Festival Berlinale in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2006. The movie also stars Colin Farrell and Christopher Plummer.
AP

Will it happen in Milwaukee, where James Forrest sank USC in a second-round game with a 35-foot, last-second heave in 1992?

Will it happen in Denver, where Syracuse needed overtime to beat Georgia Tech and advance to the national championship game? Or in East Rutherford, where Duke needed a last-second jumper by Christian Laettner to beat UConn in OT of the East Final and march to the title game?

Maybe it will happen in New Orleans, where Georgetown's Fred Brown inexplicably threw a late pass into the hands of James Worthy to seal the 1982 title game. Or Seattle, where Temple coach John Chaney screamed at his own freshman, Derrick Battie, before Battie tried two late free throws. "Time to grow up," Chaney yelled. Battie did, hitting both, and the Owls won easily.

Those sites will be revisited during the NCAA Tournament, which undoubtedly will be remembered by an indelible image -- or two, or three -- that will unfold before us in SurroundSound, on kitchen-top, black-and-white screens, or from radio broadcasts across the country.

Some will want to forget what they witness. Take Missouri coach Norm Stewart. This is his first trip back to the tournament since UCLA guard Tyus Edney sent Stewart and his Tigers out of Boise, Idaho, with a coast-to-coast, buzzer-beating banker in a 1995 second-round game. The Bruins went on to win their 11th national title.

Stewart recognized how special the Bruins were when he told fans sitting near him at the Final Four in Seattle that Missouri would have beaten UCLA, oh, maybe four or five times if the teams had played 100 games.

Stuff like that sticks with fans and players, but especially with a coach. Stewart probably will put a defender on the inbounds passer -- which he didn't do in 1995 -- if a similar situation arises against New Mexico on Thursday -- or, if fortune smiles upon him, against UConn on Saturday.

Fate plays games, too. UCLA followed that thrill with one of the all-time underachievements a year later -- a 43-41 first-round ouster at the hands of crafty Princeton in Indianapolis.

UCLA returns to Indy this week with a new coach, Steve Lavin, who was on Jim Harrick's staff three years ago. And the tigers -- the ones sprinting out of all those back doors -- that Lavin will see in his dreams the next couple of nights? He'll tell no one about them.

The coaches forget nothing. Take Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, who has an experienced squad back from last season's run to the Final Four. The Cardinal this season won its first outright conference crown since 1942, when it won its lone national championship. A No. 2 seed, Stanford will play 15th-seeded Alcorn State in Seattle on Thursday.

High times? How do you factor in Montgomery's comments Sunday, when he talked about his team's first-round loss to 14th-seeded Siena (Stanford was a No. 3) in 1989 as if it happened yesterday?

The victories are nice, but th losses ache, because they deny what could have been. There will be many more buckets of tears lost to anguish in the next few weeks than to joy, because only one winner will stand at the end.

The whole world will be watching.

The difference-makers

Lamar Odom, Jason Terry and Wally Szczerbiak are the well-known figures -- the players whose success will depend on how far their teams goes.

Odom, the 6-foot-9 freshman at Rhode Island who can nearly get away with playing all five positions, proved his importance when he shot the Rams into the NCAAs with a last-second, game-winning bomb to win the Atlantic 10 Final.

Terry, a senior point guard at Arizona who has been waiting his entire career for the next couple of weeks, had a Gary Payton-like season for the Wildcats, allowing freshmen Michael Wright and Richard Jefferson to develop some moxie on and off the court.

Szczerbiak, a Miami of Ohio senior, has the most to overcome. He dislocated his right kneecap -- straining a ligament in that knee -- a day before the Mid-American Conference Tournament last week. Then he played all but four minutes in three games, making only nine of 32 shots.

Steve Francis of Maryland and Richard Hamilton of Connecticut deserve some attention, too, but they have the luxury of being on talented teams that don't rely on one player for inspiration. That enables Francis to get free at times to execute his Michael Jordan-like moves. Hamilton has a knack of jump-starting the Huskies, and you'll know he's rolling when he gives his staring-dead-ahead look.

Ed O'Bannon often struck such a similar gaze when he imposed his will on UCLA's championship team of 1995, a year after Scotty Thurman took the big shots that helped Arkansas win its national title.

Glen Rice and Danny Manning knew those feelings. Rice scored 184 points for Michigan en route to the 1989 title, and Manning totaled 163 for Kansas during the Jayhawks' run to the championship in 1988.

Verbal assaults from Bob Knight are as much a part of the NCAA Tournament as cutting down the nets.

Coaches who command attention include Bob Knight, who usually is as red as his sweater. The master of uncouth behavior will hold court in Orlando at the end of the week. Hopefully, he won't show anything from his whip collection this year. Playfully using a whip on Calbert Cheaney in Albuquerque in 1992 drew the ire of many.

Three years later, his berating of a moderator at a postgame press conference earned Knight more stripes from the How to Lose Friends and Influence People handbook. Worse than anything, though, is being within a football field-distance of Indiana's locker room after an early-round loss.

That's a living Knightmare for even the strongest-willed Hoosier.

Two former players who excelled on the court also will bear watching on the sideline. That's where Billy Donovan and Steve Alford call the shots for Florida and Sothwest Missouri State, respectively.

As a Providence guard in 1987, Donovan hit 14 of 22 attempts (.636) from 3-point land in what still stands as one of the top long-range performances since the arc was put into the game in the early 1980s.

Syracuse kept the Friars out of the national title game that year, but the Orangemen were done in by Indiana and Alford's seven 3-pointers a game later. Alford was 21-for-34 (.618) from beyond the 3-point line in that tournament, in which the Hoosiers added a fifth championship to their collection.

Then there are rare and epic confrontations -- like March 26, 1979, when Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson had a date with destiny in Salt Lake City. Johnson guided Michigan State to the title over Bird's Indiana State Sycamores, who haven't been back to the NCAA Tournament since.

Bird scored 136 points in that tournament -- second to only Tony Price of Penn (with 142) -- to go with 26 assists and a tourney-high 67 rebounds. Johnson tallied 109 points, yanked down 44 boards and topped everyone with 50 assists.

What we'd like to see

We're already 1-for-2 after the selection committee deigned Rhode Island a No. 12 seed and UCLA a No. 5. Somehow, though, the Bruins were shipped to Indy and the Rams got a ticket to Milwaukee, proving the committee isn't nearly as diabolical as some might have thought.

That matchup would have caused quite a stir around the UCLA campus in Westwood, where they've come to cheer when Rhode Island's defeats are announced and boo when victories by the Rams (rarely) are given. That 11th banner on the south eave of Pauley Pavilion -- courtesy of Rhody coach Jim Harrick -- doesn't even have a thick coat of dust on it yet.

Harrick was unceremoniously dismissed from his UCLA gig because of expense-report indiscretions, details of which still are cloudy. The job landed in Lavin's lap, and Lavin and Harrick haven't spoken since.

Harrick could face old nemesis Lute Olson of Arizona in a second-rounder in Milwaukee -- a difficult task for the Wildcats, because they wouldn't have many answers for Odom. Besides, the Wildcats probably are still wondering what happened against that triangle-and-two defense Utah threw at them a year ago.

We'd also like to see how Michigan State handles a Magical type of player (Odom) in a Midwest semifinal in St. Louis.

A St. John's-George Washington second-round game in Orlando would be difficult for Red Storm coach Mike Jarvis, who is intimate with the uncanny drive of 5-foot-4 Colonials guard Shawnta Rogers.

Whatever the Miami Hurricanes do and however far they go, we want a side camera on expressive coach Leonard Hamilton. All you have to do is watch Hamilton to know how his team is faring, and you'll find yourself grimacing, laughing and cajoling along with him. It's contagious.

Meanwhile, in Boston, paramedics and area hospitals should be notified if Cincinnati and Temple eara second-round matchup. In that one, bruises and blood will be the norm. If it spills over to a yelling match between coaches Bob Huggins and John Chaney, hide the kids and cover your ears.

And maybe it's wishful thinking, but a Michigan State-Duke national semifinal would have us reaching for the videotape. The way the Spartans can clog the middle and hit the boards could mean that, well, maybe ...

Much has been made about Duke's last three trips to the East Regional in the Meadowlands, when they slipped through to the Final Four in 1986, 1988 and 1990. None of those resulted in championships, though.

Thursday's highlights

  • Right from the start comes one of the most spirited games of the early rounds -- Iowa and outgoing coach Tom Davis vs. Alabama-Birmingham. The Hawkeyes are better than the Blazers, but Davis' squad must be wary of burning all of its emotions while coming out of the gate.
  • The Hawks can't afford to play Arkansas next with empty tanks.
  • Quincy Lewis of Minnesota will have his hands full against a well-disciplined Gonzaga team that has something to prove.
  • The first five minutes of Stanford's game against Alcorn State will show if the Cardinal's off-season banter -- about how the season will be a disappointment if it ends in anything but a Final Four spot -- was serious or smoke.
  • Oklahoma State and Syracuse will feature two point guards -- Doug Gottlieb and Jason Hart, respectively -- who are as wild as they are clever.

Friday's highlights

  • Get lunch out of the way early, because the Rhode Island game will demand your full attention. Odom is No. 5, and that might be the number of positions he plays against UNC Charlotte.
  • Southwest Missouri State's game against Wisconsin will give Alford an up-close-and-personal look at the Big Ten, which he might be a part of next season at Iowa.
  • The Washington Huskies were thought by many to have lucked out when they reached last year's Sweet 16 (they were a defensive board short of nixing UConn from the tourney and reaching the Elite Eight). Some things don't change. Washington's first-round foe, Miami of Ohio, has a gimpy leader in Wally Szczerbiak (right knee).
  • Wake us when the Purdue-Texas game is over.

Saturday's highlights

  • All cameras will be on Jarvis during the first game of the day.
  • He's back in the second round, but this time Missouri coach Norm Stewart doesn't have to sweat out the losing end of a last-second, coast-to-coast prayer. UConn won't have to wait for any late heroics to pull out a victory.
  • If anyone east of the Mississippi is interested in watching a tough, gritty game, Stanford-Gonzaga will not disappoint.
  • The Razorbacks might be ripe against Iowa if they struggle at all against Siena. Iowa will be patient and nickel-and-dime the Hogs into submission with its bounce-passinoffense.
  • Ohio State star Michael Redd shoots the Buckeyes into the Sweet 16, and yet another unsavory football season is forgotten.

Sunday's highlights

  • The coaches responsible for two of the previous four NCAA titles meet in St. Louis when Rhode Island takes on Arizona. Freshmen will rule the highlights.
  • Tennessee guard Tony Harris shows his savvy ways against Wisconsin's methodical game plan.
  • The Flintstones of Michigan State profess to be tough, but center Melvin Whitaker of Mt. St. Mary's earns that quartet's respect.
  • The Miami Hurricanes have a chance to make everyone forget about the Tito Horford era, which didn't exactly highlight the return of hoops to the football school.
  • The capper to the tournament's wild first four days is a game that seems more appropriate a week or so down the road. Still, a Kansas-Kentucky duel in New Orleans should be thrilling. Jayhawks coach Roy Williams might spit in a river for good luck, but all Wildcats coach Tubby Smith will need is point guard Wayne Turner, who is trying to play in all 24 NCAA Tournament games over a four-year stretch.

But that's just the beginning. Like the Iowa Hawkeyes, you have to be careful not to peak too early. The beauty of the tournament is that it takes focus, guile and a few good bounces to endure. That goes for Saints as well as Devils.

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