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COLLEGE BASKETBALL : Before the Show Begins, Here’s Behind-the-Scenes Look

And now, 32 things (one for each first-round game) you should know about the NCAA tournament:

1: Enjoy UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian while you can. The Rebel coach, who blasted the NCAA after the tournament brackets were released Sunday, sounded like a man with nothing to lose and an NBA job to gain.

2: Had Tennessee beaten Alabama in the Southeastern Conference tournament final, the Volunteers would have received an NCAA automatic bid, the first 20-loss team to do so. How bad was Tennessee’s season? The Volunteers could have won each of the six games required to gain the NCAA championship and still would have finished 19-21.

3: Simply press the mute button on your remote control when another television announcer breathlessly refers to the NCAA tournament as “The Big Dance.”

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4: Of all the teams that didn’t receive an at-large bid, Providence has the most legitimate complaint. The selection committee apparently thought seven, not eight Big East teams were enough.

5: The best sports bargain for the money? We would gladly pay the $60 for a Final Four ticket, which includes the two semifinal games and the championship. That’s $20 a game--$5 cheaper than the best seat at a Clipper game.

6: P.J. Carlesimo’s days of courtside acrobatics are temporarily suspended. The Seton Hall coach apparently injured his knee while jumping during the recent Big East tournament. Arthroscopic surgery will be required at season’s end.

7: People will confuse St. Peter’s with St. Francis--but not for long; both teams will be gone after the first round.

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8: Since the NCAA started seeding teams in 1979, no Ivy League team has received a higher place in the bracket than Princeton. The Tigers are seeded eighth.

9: If Indiana wins the tournament, don’t expect Hoosier Coach Bob Knight to share the moment with Illinois’ Lou Henson.

10: With the exception of UNLV this season, no team has entered the tournament undefeated since the NCAA expanded the field to 64 in 1985.

11: The last team to beat UNLV in the tournament was Seton Hall in 1989. The Pirates won, 84-61.

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12: Since 1980, the Big Ten has had 58 teams invited to the tournament. The Big East has had 57. Of those teams that have played, five have won national championships (Indiana--1981, 1987; Georgetown--1984; Villanova--1985 and Michigan--1989.)

13: The five most quotable coaches: Utah’s Rich Majerus, USC’s George Raveling, Princeton’s Pete Carril, Knight (especially if Henson is nearby) and, in a late-season surge, Tarkanian.

14: We previously discounted Alabama’s chances when we saw that center Robert Horry had been suspended. We erred; Horry was suspended for one game, not the remainder of the postseason. That done, we plan to grab hold of Coach Wimp Sanderson’s plaid coattails at least until the Sweet 16.

15: Coastal Carolina Coach Russ Bergman played in the same Louisiana State backcourt as Pete Maravich.

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16: Nothing personal, but if we had to pick a team to jettison from the tournament field, it would be Northern Illinois. Power ratings be damned, Providence would beat NIU nine times out of 10.

17: Speaking of the selection committee’s precious computer ratings, why is Montana, ranked 144th, matched against No. 1 UNLV? Shouldn’t Georgia State, with its No. 201 ranking (the worst among the 64 teams), have to play Las Vegas?

18: If you’re scanning the brackets for some potential upsets, consider these for the office pool:

--East Regional: No. 11 Southern Mississippi vs. No. 5 North Carolina State. (We like N.C. State, but Southern Miss is due to start playing well again.)

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--Southeast: No. 14 New Orleans vs. No. 3 Kansas. (Every first round deserves an upset of epic proportions. This is ours.)

--Midwest: No. 11 Connecticut vs. No. 6 LSU. (If Shaquille O’Neal’s leg isn’t 100%, UConn will cut the Tigers into little striped pieces.)

--West: No. 16 Montana vs. No. 1 UNLV. (Just kidding. Actually, we wouldn’t be amazed if No. 13 South Alabama beats No. 4 Utah or if No. 9 Vanderbilt defeats No. 8 Georgetown.)

19: Poor Princeton. Of all the teams to draw, the Tigers get Villanova, a team not the least bit intimidated by Princeton’s precise offensive and defensive methods. And even if Princeton advances, it will, barring an upset, have to play North Carolina.

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20: UNLV is in the tournament this season, but next year, with the Rebels on probation, the Big West automatic bid could go to much-improved Fresno State. Coach Gary Colson has done wonders with that program.

21: Every NCAA tournament coach with a winning career record and a heartbeat will be mentioned as a possible successor to the embattled Digger Phelps of Notre Dame. Phelps insists he is staying put. Of course, Raghib Ismail said the same thing before he bolted, too.

22: No 16th-seeded team has beaten a No.-1 seeded team since the NCAA expanded the field to 64.

23: Eastern Michigan’s nickname--the Hurons--will exist no more after this season. The school administration recently appointed a committee to change the name after local American Indians said the team logo and moniker offended them.

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24: Three teams that won’t win the championship this season but will be favored in 1991: North Carolina, UCLA and Duke.

25: Who said the NCAA isn’t a sensitive, caring organization? (Well, Tarkanian, for one.) Georgia State asked the NCAA to adjust the first-round schedule so forward Chris Collier wouldn’t be asked to choose between religion and basketball.

Collier, the team’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, is a member of the Worldwide Church of God. According to church beliefs, sundown Friday to sundown Saturday is considered a day of rest. To alleviate the conflict, the NCAA will allow Georgia State to play at noon EST Friday, plenty of time for Arkansas to beat the Panthers.

26: The Gulf War essentially is finished, but the stateside security precautions continue. The NCAA isn’t allowing ticket-holders to bring radios, miniature televisions, camcorders or cameras into the various arenas and stadiums.

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27: How excited were Utah fans with the team’s No. 4 seeding in the West Regional? About 1,000 fans made their way to the Salt Lake City hotel that Majerus calls home. Majerus rewarded them with an impromptu speech.

28: Three players you will know much better by tournament’s end: Murray State center Popeye Jones, Alabama guard James Robinson and DePaul forward David Booth.

29: The rest of America will soon discover what the Pac-10 already knows: that USC’s Harold Miner is the least-known star in the country.

30: Two seasons after getting a humiliating heave-ho from Bo Schembechler, Bill Frieder and his Arizona State team are in the tournament and Michigan isn’t.

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31: Is there a correlation here? Joe Harrington leaves Cal State Long Beach and wins 15 games at heretofore gawd-awful Colorado. Seth Greenberg stays and the 49ers, a team expected to breeze into the tournament, loses 17 games. And darn those copy editors: What we meant to say earlier this season was that the Long Beach women’s, not men’s, team would reach the Sweet 16.

32: Our picks:

Final Four--UNLV, Syracuse, Indiana, Duke.

Semifinal winners--Indiana, UNLV.

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NCAA champion--Indiana.

(Our reasoning: We love longshots. Las Vegas has the best team, but the Hoosier Dome will be crammed to the rafters with crazed Indiana fans. Knight will be especially motivated and, despite the semifinals two days earlier, will already have developed a plan to beat UNLV. Knight sees his program as The School That Does Things The Right Way and UNLV as The Program That Doesn’t. And wouldn’t it be interesting to see the 1990-91 Indiana team prevent Las Vegas from making history? After all, the last team to finish the entire season with an undefeated record were the 1975-76 Hoosiers.


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