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Bill Kwon

Sports Watch

By Bill Kwon

Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Countdown to the
title: It’s Duke

NUMBERS told the story for the University of Hawaii men's basketball team.

Among them:

12 -- The number of losses this season, against 17 victories.

3 -- The number of times the Rainbows lost to Fresno State, as well as the margin of defeat in the double-overtime thriller when they went down for the third and final time this season.

96 -- The number of teams invited to postseason tournaments -- 64 for the NCAA's "Big Dance" and 32 for the NIT, a cotillion for wallflowers who weren't asked to dance by the NCAA.

111 -- UH's RPI ranking among 318 Division I schools.

15 -- The difference between 111 and 96.

Ah, the good ol' RPI, which stands for Ratings Percentage Index. For UH, during "March Madness'' it's not RPI, but RIP, as in Rest In Peace.

And so, once again, America's favorite office pool is under way without Hawaii being anyone's sentimental choice.

I do have one, this year, though. It's Fresno State because it marks the return of its coach, Jerry Tarkanian, to the NCAA tournament for the first time since he took UNLV to back-to-back Final Fours in 1990 and 1991.

The Bulldogs have won at least 20 games in each of Tarkanian's five seasons, but were overlooked by the NCAA tournament selection committee each of the previous four years.

THIS time, with a 24-9 record and a WAC tournament title, Jerry's Kids couldn't be ignored.

"I didn't feel we deserved to get in any of those years," Tarkanian told the Associated Press. But it would have been "devastating for the kids if they were denied this time," according to Tarkanian.

UH fans have got to root for the Bulldogs. They not only beat the Rainbows three times this season but also Tulsa, the only other WAC team to make it to the NCAA.

The only question I had about the RPI ratings is that Tulsa is ranked 24th and Fresno State 26th. You'd figure that when the Bulldogs beat the Golden Hurricane for the third straight time, the RPI people would finally get a clue.

"Tark," who has never lost a first-round game in the NCAA tournament, should keep his record intact.

His Bulldogs should beat Wisconsin on Thursday, but they'll run into Arizona, the West's No. 1 seed, on Saturday if the Wildcats win as expected.

What a matchup that'll be between Tarkanian and Lute Olson. Olson followed Tark as Long Beach State's coach and inherited the NCAA sanctions left behind.

MY upset special in the West is Fresno State beating Arizona before losing to Texas. But the Longhorns will bow to the Johnnies, who'll make it to the Final Four.

I pick Michigan State to survive the Midwest Regionals, knocking off Valparaiso, Utah, Kentucky and Maryland.

Top-seeded Stanford will win the South as the NCAA selection committee flunks geography 101 but proves astute in basketball acumen. The Cardinal bump off North Carolina and defending national champion Connecticut en route.

In the East, who else but the Duke? The Blue Devils are the NCAA tournament's No. 1 seed for the third year in a row.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with three freshmen young guns Jason Williams, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. to go with Shane Battier and Chris Carrawell from last year's national runner-up team.

In the Final Four, it'll be Duke over Stanford and St. John's over Michigan State.

And in the Really Big One, it'll be Duke 87, St. John's 78.

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

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