Coach: Bobby Knight
Key Player: Forward Calbert Cheaney is the obvious choice, but a case also could be made for injured sophomore center Alan Henderson, whose status for the tournament remains something of a mystery. Henderson hurt his knee near season's end, missed four games and then returned for the final six seconds of last Wednesday's game against Minnesota. Quality time, it wasn't. Luckily, the Hoosiers also have Cheaney, one of the leading candidates for national player of the year. Cheaney provides 20-point-plus scoring, rebounding, defense and a needed go-to player in Knight's motion offense.
Little-known Fact: While recently researching a part for an upcoming movie on college basketball, actor Nick Nolte spent considerable time at Indiana, where he was given complete access to the Hoosier program. Thus, the term: Nick at Knight.
Outlook: If Henderson can't play, or if his availability is limited, the Hoosiers will have to depend on Matt Nover in the middle. Nover is a solid player, but if he gets into foul trouble--as he did at Ohio State, the Hoosiers' only Big Ten loss--then Indiana has problems. The last time Knight won a national championship was in 1987. The Final Four site was the Superdome in New Orleans.
Coach: Roy Williams
Key Player: A tie between guard Rex Walters and center Eric Pauley. Walters is the guts of this team, the one player the Jayhawks depend on when they need a score. Inconsistent for much of the season, Walters got hot near the end of the regular season and averaged 21 points during his last three games. Pauley is the great unknown. Williams says Pauley is "up and down like the stock market." Example: 18 points (eight of 10 from the field) in the first half against Nebraska, two points in the second half.
Outlook: The all-world backcourt of Walters and Adonis Jordan has been a bit disappointing, as has heralded junior college transfer Darrin Hancock, who can dunk, but can't seem to hit the outside shot. That said, if Walters and Jordan reassert themselves and Pauley can learn to concentrate--and this might be a good time, considering he's a senior--Kansas has enough for a final eight and, if the stars are aligned just so, a Final Four run.
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski
Key Player: Tough call, simply because two players--point guard Bobby Hurley and swingman Grant Hill--control the fate of this team. Hurley is the accepted leader of the Blue Devils and does almost everything except rebound and dunk. The all-time NCAA leader in assists, Hurley is crucial to Duke's hopes of winning a third consecutive NCAA championship. Hill, who missed the last six regular-season games because of a toe injury, returned for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Hill is Duke's leading scorer (18.3 points a game) and second-best rebounder.
Little-known Fact: After visiting with sophomore center Cherokee Parks, the sports editor of the Cherokee, N.C., newspaper did some research. After consulting with members of a Cherokee tribe in that North Carolina town, the sports editor was told that the Duke player was indeed 1/16th Cherokee.
Outlook: If Hill is healthy, Duke could go far. Hurley has no peer, Hill gives Duke a much-needed extra offensive weapon and ballhandler, Parks has played well and freshman shooting guard Chris Collins has come on in the second half.
Coach: Denny Crum
Key Player: A tossup. Junior forward Dwayne Morton leads the team with a 16.4-point average, but sophomore forward Clifford Rozier, who transferred from North Carolina, leads the Cardinals with 11.5 rebounds a game and also averages 15.6 points.
Little-known Fact: Sophomore guard Keith LeGree hit .260 and 12 home runs with the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins, an Appalachian League affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
Outlook: Crum prepares his team for the NCAA tournament. He schedules lots of tough games--this season it was Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Xavier, Kansas, Arizona State, Nevada Las Vegas, Western Kentucky and Houston, among others--and he isn't afraid to lose during the regular season.
5. OKLAHOMA STATE
Coach: Eddie Sutton
Key Player: None other than Bryant (Big Country) Reeves, the 7-foot sophomore center who is averaging 19.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and is shooting 62.4%. Sutton said he has never coached a player who has improved more in one season.
Little-known Fact: Reeves is from Gans, Okla., population 300. Before arriving at the Stillwater campus, the biggest city Reeves had visited was Sallifaw, Okla., population 4,000.
Outlook: So much for Dick Vitale's preseason prediction that Oklahoma State was one of five programs on the decline. Sutton, who has taken four different programs to the NCAA tournament, knows how to handle the postseason pressures.
Coach: Todd Bozeman
Key Player: Freshman Jason Kidd gets a lot of the publicity, but senior forward Brian Hendrick might be one of the main reasons the Golden Bears have flourished under interim coach Bozeman. Entering the final weekend of the regular season, Hendrick had scored 14, 16, 12, 13 and 24 points in his last five games (a 15.8-point average) and averaged 10 rebounds. The Golden Bears won all of those games.
Little-known Fact: Among the names being mentioned as possible full-time replacements for the Cal coaching job are Southern Methodist's John Shumate, Tulane's Perry Clark, Marquette's Kevin O'Neill, Washington State's Kelvin Sampson and Illinois State's Bob Bender. Considering the impressive Golden Bear run to the NCAAs, Bozeman might be the easy and logical choice.
Outlook: Tough to find too many teams playing better than the Golden Bears these days. You might not agree with the way Lou Campanelli was fired after 17 games, but it is hard to dispute the effect Bozeman has had. Kidd is averaging 13 points, 4.7 rebounds, 7.4 assists and entered the final regular season game with 95 steals. This is a happy, deep, talented team that could easily win two tournament games.
7. BRIGHAM YOUNG
Coach: Roger Reid
Key Player: It's hard to find anyone more dependable in the pivot than senior center Gary Trost. Last year's numbers: 14.4 points a game, 6.6 rebounds. This year's numbers: 14.9 points, 6.9 rebounds. At 6-10, Trost can score inside and also move outside for 15-foot jumpers. He shoots 56.2% and ranked among the league leaders in scoring, field goal percentage, rebounds and assists.
Little-known Fact: On three occasions, Trost has aided accident victims until medical help could be summoned. Last summer he helped save the lives of a family trapped in a burning truck.
Outlook: The Cougars are another of those teams you would rather not see in your bracket. They are big, talented, deep and experienced--all the ingredients you need to make an impressive tournament run.
8. NEW ORLEANS
Coach: Tim Floyd
Key Player: Center Ervin Johnson, who didn't play high school basketball and had to convince Floyd to give him a tryout, averages 18.3 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
Little-known Fact: The Privateers finished the regular season without a conference loss and reached No. 13 in last week's Associated Press poll. It was New Orleans' highest ranking ever.
Outlook: How important is Johnson? When he was injured and didn't play against Louisiana Tech, the Privateers struggled to a 63-52 victory. Louisiana Tech would finish the season 7-21.
9. XAVIER (OHIO)
Coach: Pete Gillen
Key Player: One of the better kept secrets is the play of senior guard Jamie Gladden, who is as responsible as anyone for Xavier's return to the NCAA tournament after a 15-12 finish last season. Gladden can score from inside or outside, and junior forward Brian Grant is a rebounder extraordinaire and not a bad point producer. He leads the nation in field goal percentage (67.3%).
Little-known Fact: This might be the first year someone hasn't offered Gillen another job. He is considered one of the top young coaches in the business.
Outlook: The Musketeers can play with just about anybody. They have enough size to match up with most big teams and enough athleticism to run and press with anyone. A sleeper team.
10. SOUTHERN METHODIST
Coach: John Shumate
Key Player: Point guard Gerald Lewis isn't the best player on the team--that title would go to guard Mike Wilson--but as Lewis goes, so go the Mustangs. Lewis is the Southwest Conference's leading rebounding guard. He averages 13.6 points, seven assists, seven rebounds and three steals. Yet, he wasn't even a consensus all-SWC pick.
Little-known Fact: Shumate hasn't been offered a new contract, which partly explains why California Athletic Director Bob Bockrath requested credentials for the SWC tournament. Scouting mission.
Outlook: Last year SMU won four conference games. This year it won the conference championship. Equally puzzling are the team's statistics. They rank near the bottom of SWC field goal percentage and free throw percentage. The Mustangs win because they play great defense and rarely commit turnovers. If you want to take a first-round flyer on a team, this isn't a bad one.
11. LOUISIANA STATE
Coach: Dale Brown
Key Player: Senior center Geert Hammink is no Shaquille O'Neal--who is?--but he still managed to average 15.8 points and 10 rebounds, good enough to earn a place on the All-Southeastern Conference first team. That 10-rebound average led the league.
Little-known Fact: Only the legendary Adolph Rupp of Kentucky has won more SEC games than Brown. Through the first round of the SEC tournament, Brown had won 402 league games. Brown is also one of only 13 Division I coaches who have lasted 21 or more years at the same school. And LSU is one of only three schools to keep alive a streak of at least nine consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. The others: Duke and North Carolina.
Outlook: The Tigers, who weren't expected to challenge for an NCAA tournament bid, were helped by a second-place finish in the SEC Western Division and a late-season collapse by Florida. LSU won lots of games, but its schedule was one of the softest in the field of 64. On the strength of Brown's ability to squeeze the unexpected out of his team, figure one victory and no more.
Coach: Kevin O'Neill
Key Player: Junior forward Kevin Curry, a transfer from Arizona, leads the team with a 14.7-point, 8.4-rebound average. His 53.6% shooting also is a Marquette best.
Little-known Fact: If California really wants to hire O'Neill, it will take some doing. He signed a contract extension at Marquette that runs through the 1996-97 season.
Outlook: The Warriors stumbled in the late going and even managed to lose to St. Louis in the first round of the Great Midwest tournament. St. Louis entered the game with one conference victory. Marquette features four players who score in double figures, including junior forward/center Damon Key (13.5) and freshman swingman Ron Eford (11.2). The Warriors may be good for one victory.
Coach: Bob Carpenter
Key Player: No debate here--it's 6-11 senior center Spencer Dunkley, who averages 19.9 points, 12.5 rebounds (second in the nation) and 3.3 blocks (fourth nationally). Few college basketball fans west of Newark, Del., know about him, but the NBA scouts do.
Little-known Fact: When the school honored its five senior players before a recent game, guard Ricky Deadwyler sang the National Anthem.
Outlook: It will be hard for the Blue Hens to do much worse against Louisville in the opening round than last year's NCAA tournament showing. Matched against Cincinnati, Delaware was beaten, 85-47. Considering Cincinnati's eventual climb to the Final Four, there was little shame in the rout.
14. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS
Coach: Rich Herrin
Key Player: Power forward Ashraf Amaya is one of those players who somehow was ignored out of high school by the major college recruiters. So he went to Southern Illinois and has become one of the best players no one really knows about. He averaged 16.7 points and 11 rebounds (tied for 14th nationally) this season and was the MVP of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Little-known Fact: The Salukis haven't been to the tournament since 1977.
Outlook: Even with Amaya in the lineup, Southern Illinois' only chance for a tournament victory is to play great defense. The Salukis have decent size, rebound OK and are fairly quick. But they don't shoot extraordinarily well (46.7%).
15. BALL STATE
Coach: Dick Hunsaker
Key Player: Jeermal Sylvester, a 6-6 junior forward, leads the team in scoring (14 points per game), and sophomore forward Steve Payne, who sat out last season, leads the Cardinals in rebounds (9.9 a game) and is second in scoring average (12.5). Payne was named MVP of the Mid-American Conference tournament.
Little-known Fact: Ball State is the proud alma mater of Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic strip, and, of course, David Letterman.
Outlook: This is Ball State's fifth consecutive 20-victory season and fifth consecutive postseason appearance. During that same span, the Cardinals have finished high in the national rankings in most every defensive category. This is a deep, athletic team with a strong inside game. A first-round victory isn't out of the question.
16. WRIGHT STATE
Coach: Ralph Underhill
Key Player: The Raiders are led by forward Bill Edwards, who averaged 25.5 points. The Mid-Continent player of the year, Edwards is big enough (6-8) to post up low and versatile enough to swing outside for the occasional three-point attempt. He has a smooth shooting touch and is the main reason the Raiders are averaging more than 90 points.
Little-known Fact: This is Wright State's first apperance in the Division I NCAA tournament. The invitation comes 10 years after the school won the Division II national title.
Outlook: Point guard Mark Woods is a talent (8.5 assists and 3.7 steals) and Edwards is certainly capable of a big game. But all in all, the Raiders are a bit too unpredictable to expect an upset.