The Way I See It

Pat Bigold

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, March 9, 1999

Duke won’t be
denied in NCAAs

DOES it really make any difference that Duke is playing Florida A&M in the first round of the NCAA East Regional on Friday night?

I mean, the only Big Dance team with a losing (12-18) record playing the nation's No. 1 team, a team that blew by three ACC tournament foes by an average of 25 points?

Nah, fast forward to the championship final, with Duke vs. Whoever.

I wouldn't mind seeing a New England team like Connecticut get in there, and I sure wouldn't mind seeing a New England team win it all.

Forgive my regional leaning but I am a displaced New Englander still recovering from the Final Four elimination of Massachusetts in 1996.

I am a displaced New Englander who can still remember when his home state was synomymous with the phrase, ''NBA World Champion." And who still can't figure out what Rick Pitino is doing on the Celtics' bench after what he did to my home state three tournaments ago.

ONE of the things that might please me during The Dance would be to see things proceed less predictably.

How about a No. 16 seed like Winthrop knocking off Auburn in the South Regional? Or Mount St. Mary's pulling the rug out from under Michigan State in the Midwest Regional?

(Notice how adroitly I avoid suggesting Texas-San Antonio knock off Connecticut in the West)

No No. 16 seed has ever upset a No. 1 seed in the 14 years since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.

It happened for the first time in the women's tournament last year when Harvard, with some help from former Punahou guard Lisa Kowal, toppled Stanford.

Imagine Winthrop, a women's-only college until 1974, advancing to the men's South final?

Alas, the Final Four will probably wind down to the likeliest suspects.

AND Hawaii coach Riley Wallace, who led the Rainbows to the NCAA tournament in 1994, told me yesterday he's sure he knows who they will be.

''Utah out of the Midwest, Duke out of the East, Ohio State out of the South, and Stanford out of the West."

That means Wallace thinks the Utes will probably knock off defending NCAA champion Kentucky in the regional semifinals. It also means that heralded Connecticut (God forbid) will probably wind up losing to the Cardinal in the West final. And Auburn's Tigers, who made the long jump from outside the preseason top 25 to No. 2 a few weeks ago, are to be bumped by some Buckeyes (hey, that's John Havlicek's school).

Wallace's heart is with the Utes and his buddy, Rick Majerus.

But he doesn't really think last year's national runners-up to Kentucky can finish one notch higher on March 29 in St. Petersburg.

''Nope,'' Wallace said bluntly.

''Duke. Hands down. Hands down," he boomed over his cell phone from a recruiting pitstop.

''Nobody can play with 'em. They have All-Americans sitting on the bench. No one has the equivalent of their depth or front line. They just have the whole package. It might be the best Duke team ever."

Forget the 1991 and 1992 NCAA champion Blue Devils teams?

Well, maybe. The book on this Duke team is staggering.

A 32-1 record, a 27-game win streak on a schedule that was the country's fourth strongest, and only three wins by less than double figures. The Blue Devils won 13 games by 30 or more points.

Of course, the best way to keep me interested would be to have a Connecticut vs. Rhode Island final. (In my dreams.)

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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