NCAA tournament capsules by staff writer Gene Wojciechowski

1. KENTUCKY (25-4)

* Player to watch: With the Wildcats, it’s hard to choose only one. No Kentucky starter averages more than 30 minutes, but for argument’s sake, we’ll single out junior guard Tony Delk. Delk scores about 18 points per game and he never met a shot he didn’t like.

* Little-known fact: Rick Pitino . . . coaching mentor? Former Pitino assistants who have gone on to head coaching positions: Tubby Smith (Tulsa), Ralph Willard (Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh), Herb Sendek (Miami of Ohio), Billy Donovan (Marshall), Stu Jackson (formerly Wisconsin).

* Outlook: Few teams have more depth and balance than the Wildcats. From top to bottom, the Kentucky roster is loaded with talent. The Wildcats aren’t especially big inside, but they don’t have to be. A lumbering center wouldn’t fit in Kentucky’s up-tempo, three-point-oriented offense, or in its pressing defense. A Final Four candidate.



* Player to watch: Sophomore forward Jerry Stackhouse might be the Sports Illustrated player of the year, but the key to this team is sophomore center Rasheed Wallace, who is capable of brilliance or pouting fits. In a late-season loss to Wake Forest, Wallace didn’t score from the field, sulked for most of the game and finished with four free throws. Considering that his backup is the well-meaning, but no-scoring Serge Zwikker, this isn’t good news for the Tar Heels.

* Little-known fact: In the eight years since the Atlantic Coast Conference began keeping statistics on minutes played, this is the first time a Tar Heel team has had five players averaging 30 minutes or more.

* Outlook: Despite their obvious depth problems, the Tar Heel starting five is good enough to reach the Sweet 16, possibly the Elite Eight. North Carolina Coach Dean Smith is used to a deep bench and lots of defensive pressure. Now he faces a situation where he can’t risk getting his starters in foul trouble (goodby, defensive pressure). Three musts: Shooting guard Donald Williams has to get his game together, Wallace has to grow up, and the bench--if you can call it that--has to produce some quality minutes.


* Player to watch: Think of Shawn Respert, the Big Ten Conference’s leading scorer, as the Damon Stoudamire of the Midwest. When Respert scores, the Spartans do well. If not, trouble. Also vital to Michigan State’s tournament chances is point guard Eric Snow, who leads the Big Ten in assists and is second in steals.

* Little-known fact: Can you name the starting five on Coach Jud Heathcote’s 1979 national championship team? Heathcote, who is retiring at season’s end, never will forget them: Greg Kelser, Jay Vincent, Ron Charles, Mike Brkovich and Magic Johnson.

* Outlook: For Heathcote to conclude his 19th season at Michigan State with an Elite Eight run, the Spartans have to get points out of someone other than Respert, who undoubtedly will draw lots of special attention.


4. OKLAHOMA (23-8)

*Player to watch: His name is Dion Barnes, otherwise known on the Norman campus as “The Microwave.” For the Sooners to advance, Barnes’ shooting setting has to be on high. The 6-1 junior guard has to hit from the outside, or opposing teams will concentrate solely on high-scoring junior forward Ryan Minor.

* Little-known fact: Minor was a starting first baseman on the Sooners’ 1994 College World Series championship team. He was drafted out of high school by the Baltimore Orioles. Right now, Minor is supposedly leaning toward a return for his senior season.

* Outlook: First-year Coach Kelvin Sampson has done wonders with the Sooners. They can reach the Sweet 16, but only if Minor can keep getting enough shots. Oklahoma has virtually no inside scoring, but is an excellent free-throw shooting team, which comes in handy during the tournament.


* Player to watch: Junior forward Mario Bennett would have been the preseason choice, but now the honor belongs to small forward Ron Riley, who has scored in double figures more than 20 games this season and leads the team in three-point shots. Last season, Riley was so-so shooting three-point baskets.

* Little-known fact: For those who think Coach Bill Frieder is nothing more than a good recruiter and a bad dresser, remember this: In his first five seasons at Michigan, he had a 93-55 record. At Arizona State, Frieder led the Sun Devils to one NCAA appearance and four NITs. This season, he led Arizona State to its first 20-victory campaign since 1980-81.

* Outlook: A potential surprise team. For teams unaccustomed to the Sun Devils’ frenetic style, Arizona State can cause serious problems. The Sun Devils are quick, athletic and finished 8-2 against top 25 teams during the regular season. They beat Maryland, Arizona (twice), Michigan, Oklahoma State, California, Oregon and Stanford, but lost twice to UCLA.


6. GEORGETOWN (19-9)

* Player to watch: Junior center Othella Harrington, who was virtually invisible throughout much of the season, has come on during the last few weeks. Maybe it was the addition of freshman point guard Allen Iverson, or the junking of Georgetown’s traditional half-court offense that caused him trouble. Whatever it was, Harrington has recovered when it counts most.

* Little-known fact: Iverson and forward Jerome Williams didn’t play organized basketball last year. Iverson was serving time in a Virginia correctional institute and Williams was working on his grades. Iverson is the Big East Conference newcomer of the year and Williams is the league’s leading rebounder.

* Outlook: If George Butler, the team’s shooting guard, hadn’t been ruled academically ineligible at midsemester, we would have taken the Hoyas as an Elite Eight selection. Instead, we figure they’ll reach the Sweet 16, thanks to the new and improved Harrington and the unbelievably quick Iverson.

7. IOWA STATE (22-10)

* Player to watch: When senior center Loren Meyer has struggled, so have the Cyclones, who don’t have much margin for error. The 6-10 Meyer, who sat out much of last season because of a broken collarbone suffered in a train accident, commits too many silly fouls and careless turnovers. But when his game is on, Meyer is a 20-point, 10-rebound performer with the ability to block shots too.

* Little-known fact: Swingman Fred Hoiberg, who was an Iowa State ballboy years ago and who was raised in the shadow of the Ames campus, is nicknamed “The Mayor” by adoring fans. Turns out that Hoiberg, an academic All-American, takes a class at Iowa State that is taught by the real mayor of Ames, Larry Curtis.

* Outlook: The Cyclones are too inconsistent to do much damage. First-year Iowa State Coach Tim Floyd, as well as the Cyclone fans, probably would be satisfied with one victory. Sounds about right.



* Player to watch: Russell Larson is sort of a taller version of Utah’s Keith Van Horn, except that the 6-11 Larson doesn’t have Van Horn’s shooting range. Russell is fourth-leading scorer in the Western Athletic Conference and is shooting about 52% from the floor and 82% from the free-throw line. All things considered, Larson might be the most complete player in the WAC.

* Little-known fact: BYU’s starting guards, Randy and Robbie Reid, are the sons of Cougar Coach Roger Reid.

* Outlook: BYU is fine as long as it doesn’t have to play a team that excels in transition basketball. The Cougars are big, can shoot well and play smart. But they lack quickness and struggle against up-tempo opponents.

9. TULANE (22-9)

* Player to watch: Sophomore forward Jerald Honeycutt led the Metro Athletic Conference in scoring.

* Little-known fact: Since the Tulane program was resurrected six seasons ago (a point-shaving scandal shut the program down in 1985), the Green Wave has won 20 or more games in three of the last four seasons. Now you know why Perry Clark’s name comes up whenever a coaching vacancy appears.

* Outlook: Tulane has enough talent to win a game, maybe two. Among the Green Wave’s non-conference victories: Indiana, Mississippi State and Alabama. Honeycutt and sophomore forward Rayshard Allen, the Metro’s leader in field-goal percentage, give Tulane a strong front line.


10. FLORIDA (17-12)

* Player to watch: Senior guard Dan Cross leads the Gators in scoring (18.3) and is the team’s leading three-point shooter (made 52, more than twice as many as the closest Florida player). He has had 13 game-deciding shots, steals or free throws during his four year career.

* Little-known fact: In his five years at Florida, Coach Lon Kruger is 27-13 in games decided by three points or less, or games decided in overtime.

* Outlook: The Gators are tournament tough, but they’re also a pale imitation of last year’s team that reached the Final Four. Florida has senior leadership in Cross and center Andrew DeCler. Along with heavyweight forward Dametri Hill, the Gators also have a decent inside-outside attack. What kills them is 16 turnovers per game. Kruger might be able to coach them past the first round, but a second round victory is a longshot.

11. XAVIER OF OHIO (23-4)

* Player to watch: Senior shooting guard Jeff Massey can leap with the best of them. The former two-time junior college All-American is averaging 18.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

* Little-known fact: Senior forward DeWaun Rose, who played only 17 games last season under then-Coach Pete Gillen, was working in a Chicago public relations firm when he decided to give basketball another try under new Coach Skip Prosser. Rose, now in graduate school, had a year’s worth of eligibility left, but wasn’t going to return as long as Gillen was the coach. Now he’s one of the team’s top reserves.

* Outlook: Xavier has five starters in double figures, all of them quick and athletic. What Xavier doesn’t have is an inside game. Teams that hammer the ball to the post do well against Xavier.


12. BALL STATE (19-10)

* Player to watch: Senior forward Steve Payne is as consistent as they come, averaging team highs in points (17.4) and rebounds (9.4).

* Little-known fact: Certainly not that Ball State is David Letterman’s alma mater.

* Outlook: Don’t look for the surprise winner of the Mid-American tournament to make a run similar to 1990, when Ball State advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to eventual NCAA champion Nevada Las Vegas, 69-67.

13. MANHATTAN (25-4)

* Player to watch: 6-10 senior center Jamal Marshall is regarded as one of the East’s better big men though his statistics (12 points, six rebounds a game) are modest.

* Little-known fact: Manhattan beat Jerry West-led West Virginia in the first round of the 1958 NCAA Tournament.

* Outlook: The Jaspers, unable to win their own conference (Metro Atlantic) tournament, can’t be expected to do much at the next level.

14. WEBER STATE (20-8)

* Player to watch: Senior guard Ruben Nembhard is the Big Sky Conference’s leading scorer (19.5-point average). At 6-3, 215 pounds, Nembhard is also the league’s leading rebounding guard (5.2).


* Little-known fact: Nembhard, who is from the Bronx, originally was recruited by Arkansas and Clemson. He didn’t get the grades, went to a junior college in Texas and later transferred to Weber State.

* Outlook: Look for jitters, mostly because the Wildcats haven’t been to the tournament since 1983, when Neil McCarthy was the coach. Weber State doesn’t have a starter taller than 6-8, but the Wildcats shoot three-point baskets fairly well.

15. MURRAY STATE (21-8)

* Player to watch: Junior guard Marcus Brown led the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring (22.2) and also was named the OVC tournament most valuable player. Brown is second in the country in free-throw shooting.

* Little-known fact: Coach Scott Edgar, a longtime assistant under Nolan Richardson at Tulsa and Arkansas, borrowed one of Richardson’s favorite motivational tactics earlier this season. Stuck in fifth place in the Ohio Valley Conference, Edgar started conducting team practices at 6 a.m. The Racers haven’t lost since.

* Outlook: Murray State has a history of NCAA upsets and near upsets. As a No. 14 seed in 1988, it beat third-seeded North Carolina State in the first round. In 1990, the Racers lost in overtime to Michigan State. In 1992, Murray State led Arkansas with 12 minutes remaining before eventually losing the game.

16. MOUNT ST. MARY’S, MD. (17-12)

Player to watch: Junior point guard Riley Inge averages 14.8 points, 4.9 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.6 steals. As Inge goes, so do the Mountaineers, who don’t have anyone else who can match his shooting touch, his ability to run the offense and his few turnovers. In something of an oddity, the 6-3 Inge often passes off to 5-9 shooting guard Chris McGuthrie.


* Little-known fact: Jim Phelan, second in victories to only North Carolina’s Dean Smith among active coaches, has paced the sidelines for 1,128 games. That figures out to 31.33 continuous full days of coaching. Only Big House Gaines of Winston Salem State has coached more games than Phelan, who is finishing his 41st season at the Emmittsburg, Md., school.

* Outlook: This is the first Division I NCAA tournament appearance for the Mountaineers, who moved up from Division II in 1988 but weren’t eligible until 1991. As Phelan has said, enjoy the moment.