NCAA TOURNAMENT / A LOOK AT THE REGIONALS : THE MIDWEST : A Late Surge Puts Oklahoma in Driver's Seat

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Oklahoma, No. 1 in the country and No. 1 in the Midwest Regional, opens against Towson State, which is making appearance No. 1 in the NCAA tournament. After that, it is a difficult regional, with four top 10 teams in the region--No. 5 Georgetown, No. 9 Arkansas and No. 10 Purdue are the others. Georgetown, after losing to Connecticut, was third seeded behind Purdue, seeded second despite a two-point loss to seventh-ranked Michigan State Sunday. Georgetown can rest easy in one sense: Princeton, which nearly pulled off a monumental upset against the Hoyas last season, would have to win three games to face them again.

Matchups--At Austin, Tex., Thursday: Oklahoma (26-4) vs. Towson State (18-12); North Carolina (19-12) vs. Southwest Missouri State (22-6); Illinois (21-7) vs. Dayton (21-9); Arkansas (26-4) vs. Princeton (20-6). At Indianapolis Friday: Xavier of Ohio (26-4) vs. Kansas State (17-14); Georgetown (23-6) vs. Texas Southern (19-11); Georgia (20-8) vs. Texas (21-8); and Purdue (21-7) vs. Northeast Louisiana (22-7).

Seedings--1. Oklahoma, 2. Purdue, 3. Georgetown, 4. Arkansas, 5. Illinois, 6. Xavier (Ohio), 7. Georgia, 8. North Carolina, 9. Southwest Missouri State, 10. Texas, 11. Kansas State, 12. Dayton, 13. Princeton, 14. Texas Southern, 15. Northeast Louisiana, 16. Towson State.

Who's hot--Oklahoma, Dayton.

Oklahoma beat Missouri and Kansas at home late in the regular season and then rolled through the Big Eight tournament. Dayton is seeded 12th despite knocking off sixth-seeded and 24th-ranked Xavier for the Midwestern Collegiate Conference championship.

Who's not--North Carolina.

The Tar Heels, beaten by Virginia in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, won only 19 games, breaking a streak of nine seasons they have won at least 27 games.

Tournament tested--Oklahoma, North Carolina, Illinois, Georgetown.

Illinois made it to the Final Four last year, Oklahoma the year before, and together, these teams made seven Final Four appearances in the 1980s.

Time will tell--Kansas State.

Kansas State was 12-10 at one point this season, but made a run to make the tournament, and has victories over Missouri and Oklahoma.

Players to watch--Skeeter Henry (Oklahoma), William Davis (Oklahoma), Negele Knight (Dayton), Tyrone Hill (Xavier), Alonzo Mourning (Georgetown), Dikembe Mutombo (Georgetown), Litterial Green (Georgia), Alec Kessler (Georgia); Kendall Gill (Illinois), Steve Bardo (Illinois), Marcus Liberty (Illinois), Steve Henson (Kansas State), Kurk Lee (Towson State), Steve Scheffler (Purdue); Scott Williams (North Carolina); Lance Blanks (Texas);, Travis Mays (Texas).

Illinois' Gill, Bardo and Liberty went to the Final Four last season. Georgetown's Mourning and Mutombo are part of an awesome front line. Xavier's Tyrone Hill, a forward, is considered one of the best little-known players in the country.

Coaches to watch--Billy Tubbs (Oklahoma), Gene Keady (Purdue), John Thompson (Georgetown), Nolan Richardson (Arkansas), Pete Gillen (Xavier), Dean Smith (North Carolina), Tom Penders (Texas), Pete Carril (Princeton).

Some of the biggest names in the college game--Thompson, Smith and Tubbs--are joined by other interesting coaches. Pete Carril, who works with a different brand of player in the Ivy League, nearly pulled off a huge upset against Georgetown last year. Pete Gillen, Xavier's young coach, has taken his team to the tournament in each of his five seasons at the Cincinnati school. Keep an eye on Richardson, who walked off the court in protest late in a game against Texas--but came back on when his team forced an overtime.

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