NCAA TOURNAMENT / A LOOK AT THE REGIONALS : THE SOUTHEAST : Michigan State Hopes Surprise Doesn't Sputter

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Missouri was the No. 1 team in the nation before losing three games in the last two weeks. Michigan State surprised even Coach Jud Heathcoate, who figured he had a contender but didn't expect the Spartans to win their first Big Ten title since Magic Johnson led them to the NCAA championship. Syracuse's seniors figure this is the year for the Orangemen, but they thought that about the Big East title, too.

Matchups--At Knoxville, Tenn., Thursday: Michigan State (26-5) vs. Murray State (21-8); Houston (25-7) vs. UC Santa Barbara (20-8); LSU (22-8) vs. Villanova (18-14); Georgia Tech (24-6) vs. East Tennessee State (27-6). At Richmond, Va., Friday: Minnesota (20-8) vs. Texas El Paso (21-10); Missouri (26-5) vs. Northern Iowa (22-8); Virginia (19-11) vs. Notre Dame (16-12); Syracuse (24-6) vs. Coppin State (26-6).

Seedings--1. Michigan State, 2. Syracuse, 3. Missouri. 4. Georgia Tech, 5. LSU, 6. Minnesota, 7. Virginia, 8. Houston, 9. UC Santa Barbara, 10. Notre Dame, 11. Texas El Paso, 12. Villanova, 13. East Tennessee State, 14. Northern Iowa, 15. Coppin State, 16. Murray State.

Who's hot--Michigan State, Georgia Tech, East Tennessee State.

The Spartans went undefeated in the second round of the Big Ten. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina State, Duke and Virginia in the ACC tournament. East Tennessee State has won eight consecutive games and 12 of 13.

Who's not--Missouri, LSU, Syracuse.

Missouri handled Kansas twice to become No. 1, then fell to Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Colorado. LSU stumbled against so-so Auburn in the SEC tournament. Syracuse lost to a less-talented but superior-coached Connecticut team in the Big East final.

Tournament tested--Syracuse, Notre Dame, Georgia Tech.

The Orangemen have Final Four experience. Whether Notre Dame belongs or not, it usually puts on a good show. Cremins has had Tech in the tournament five consecutive years.

Time will tell--Minnesota, LSU, Notre Dame.

Playing in the Big Ten could help Minnesota. LSU doesn't always play up to its ability. The Irish can salvage what has been a disappointing season.

Players to watch--Kenny Anderson (Georgia Tech); Dennis Scott (Georgia Tech); Derrick Coleman (Syracuse); Stephen Thompson (Syracuse); Billy Owens (Syracuse); Bryant Stith (Virginia); Anthony Peeler (Missouri); Lee Coward (Missouri); Doug Smith (Missouri); Chris Jackson (LSU); Shaquille O'Neal (LSU); Larry Stewart (Coppin State); Greg Foster (Texas El Paso); Carrick DeHart (UC Santa Barbara); Steve Smith (Michigan State); Willie Burton (Minnesota); LaPhonso Ellis (Notre Dame); Tom Greis (Villanova); Greg Dennis (East Tennessee State); Jason Reese (Northern Iowa).

Scott might be the best long-range shooter in the nation, and Jackson is the best show in the bayou since Pete Maravich. Coleman could be player of the year. Owens and O'Neill are future superstars. Stewart and Coppin are sleepers, having knocked off Maryland earlier this season. Missouri's strength is in its backcourt of Peeler and Coward.

Coaches to watch--Dale Brown (LSU); Bobby Cremins (Georgia Tech); Jim Boeheim (Syracuse); Terry Holland (Virginia); Jud Heathcoate (Michigan State); Rollie Massimino (Villanova).

Massimino and Heathcoate know what it takes to go all the way. Boeheim's recruiting talents have never been questioned, but his coaching has. Ditto for Brown. Holland has announced his retirement, effective whenever Virginia loses next.

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