March 13, 2001

AP MegaSports Writer

A look at this year’s version of March Madness, from A to Z:

A – At-Large Bids. Schools from small conferences were again practically shut out if they didn’t win their respective conference tournament. The Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac 10 and SEC accounted for 29 of the 34 at-large teams.

B – Back-to-Back. It’s tough to win consecutive NCAA championships, as evidenced by the fact that only six schools have done it. UCLA made it look easy with seven in a row from 1967-1973, but Michigan State, the top seed in the South, will try to become just the seventh to repeat. Duke was the last to do it, in 1992.

C – Coaches. The tournament is always a chance for small-conference coaches to make a big name for themselves. Keep your eye on first-year coaches Thad Matta of Butler and John Thompson III of Princeton.

D – Denny. With just a 12-18 record, Louisville had a disappointing season. As a result, Denny Crum, who coached his final game for the Cardinals last week, will be noticeably absent from this year’s field. Still, with two national championships and 23 appearances, his contribution to college basketball will not soon be forgotten.

E – East. Of the four No. 1 seeds, Duke looks to have the easiest road to the Final Four thanks to a relatively weak field in the East. The Blue Devils could be hampered by the injured ankle of Jason Williams and the right foot of Carlos Boozer, but should have enough weapons to advance to Minneapolis.

F – Final Four. Minneapolis will play host to the Final Four for the third time. The last time the championship was held there, Duke beat Michigan 81-61.

G – Georgia. The Bulldogs tied the record for most losses (14) and lowest winning percentage (.533) by an at-large team. Only Villanova (16-14, 1991) had as poor a record.

H – Hawaii. The Warriors, playing in the tournament for only the third time in school history, will have the longest commute as they head to Dayton, Ohio, where they will play Syracuse. Hawaii faced the Orangemen the last time they were in the tournament – in 1994 – and lost 92-78.

I – Indiana. Mike Davis had a tough start to his year, taking over the Hoosier coaching reins from Bob Knight. But he overcame the controversy of the situation and guided Indiana to the Big Ten final and its 16th straight tournament appearance.

J – Jubilation. The feeling Oklahoma State must have had after receiving one of the tournament’s final at-large bids. The Cowboys, who had to deal with a January plane crash that killed 10 members – including two players – of their traveling party, were made the 11th seed in the East and will play Southern California in the first round.

K – Knight. Even though he isn’t currently coaching, Bob Knight is in the spotlight again as he will meet with Texas Tech this week to discuss its vacant coaching position. It will be strange watching an NCAA tournament without him, but it will surely make the life of NCAA press stewards a whole lot easier.

L – Lefty. Georgia State coach Lefty Driesell became just the second coach to lead four different teams to the NCAA tournament. Driesell also took Davidson, James Madison and Maryland, which could wind up being his second-round foe in Boise, Idaho this weekend. Eddie Sutton was the first coach to accomplish the feat, and Georgia coach Jim Harrick became the third when his Bulldogs received an at-large bid Sunday.

M – Mascots. They have a simple job: Rouse the fans and incite the opponent. Everyone knows the Duke Blue Devil, Boston College Eagle, even the Stanford Cardinal. But what exactly is a Western Kentucky Hilltopper, Hofstra Pride or Southern Utah Thunderbird?

N – NIT. Only 65 could make the NCAA tournament this year, so the quest to be the 66th best team in the nation will be headed by UConn, Villanova and Seton Hall.

O – Office pools. The only three-week period of the year where the entire office comes together to test their college basketball knowledge and win a few bucks. Inevitably, most of the time the one who knows the least ends up winning the most.

P – Play-in. With the addition of a 65th team into the field, Northwestern State and Winthrop will meet in the first play-in game since 1983-84. Back then, the tournament had 52 teams. The winner earns the privilege of losing to No. 1 Illinois in the first round. No 16 seed has ever defeated a No. 1.

Q – Question marks. Duke’s title run hinges on the health of Jason Williams and Carlos Boozer. Iowa could make some noise in the tournament if Luke Recker can play. Florida will have to overcome the loss of Brent Wright.

R – RPI. The Ratings Percentage Index is to a college coach what the Dow Jones is to a stockbroker. It’s one of the most important factors in determining who gets in to the tournament and who doesn’t. Just ask Cal Irvine, which failed to make the tournament despite a 22-4 record because its RPI was just 71. Conversely, Georgia, with 14 losses, can thank its RPI rating of 27.

S – Spotlight. The tournament is the chance for the stars to show their stuff. Player of the year candidates Jason Williams of Duke, Joseph Forte of North Carolina and Troy Murphy of Notre Dame have carried their teams all season long. Watch out for some lesser known stars like Marvin O’Conner of St. Joseph’s, Shernard Long of Georgia State or Dan Dickeau of Gonzaga.

T – Top seeds. Duke, Michigan State, Stanford and Illinois earned the four top seeds. Last year, being a No. 1 seed was not a blessing. Two were upset in the second round, and only eventual champion Michigan State made it past the regional finals.

U – Upsets. Some favorites are going down and going down early. The only question is, who will it be? Look for Southern Utah, BYU, Temple and Providence to have the best shots of pulling off early round upsets this year.

V – Vitale. Love him or hate him, nobody gets more excited around tournament time than ESPN commentator Dickie V. He’s picked the NCAA tournament champion the last two seasons, and if he’s correct for a third straight year, expect Duke to be cutting down the nets in Minneapolis.

W – Wildcats. With the starting five returning from a team that went 27-7 and won a Pac 10 championship, Arizona was the consensus pick in the preseason to win it all. But the season got off to a rough start with center Loren Woods being suspended for six games and the death of coach Lute Olson’s wife, Bobbi. Arizona has finally looked like the team that was expected to make it to Minneapolis for the Final Four.

X – “X” factor. So much can happen to make or break a team’s tournament run. But keep in mind when filling out your brackets that either Duke or North Carolina has made 12 of the last 13 Final Fours. Also remember that only one No. 3 seed has won the national championship – Michigan in ’89 – since the field expanded in 1985.

Y – Young guns. While most teams are led by their seniors, these freshman will be called upon to take their team past the first round: Center Rodney White carried Charlotte to the Conference USA tournament crown, Mississippi freshman Aaron Harper and Justin Reed took the Rebels to the SEC tournament championship game.

Z – Zags. The tournament darlings of the last two seasons, Gonzaga returns for a third straight year, facing Virginia in the first round. The Spokane, Wash., school put itself on the basketball map in 1999, coming a win short of the Final Four. Last season, the Zags made it to the regional finals before bowing out.