Look Into the Final Four and See Days Gone By

If I'm a Michigan State fan, I'm excited and eager about a whole Dome-load of things after huffing through that knee-scraping 4-0 series sweep over Wisconsin and as I look toward finalizing the deal tonight . . .

* Mateen Cleaves: He's this era's Quinn Buckner, right?

* Morris Peterson: That left-handed slingshot. The guts inside. Fifth-year senior, helping lead a tight-knight community of players to the promised land. Anybody else thinking of Ed O'Bannon and UCLA in 1995?

* No, beating the same team four times in a row is not the hardest thing to do in sports when, repeat after me, you're a much, much better team. It never seems that hard for the Yankees, either.

* What's Florida going to do the 10th time Mike Miller or Teddy Dupay gets sent catapulting to the floor after meeting the Spartans' bump-and-run defense?

* What everybody else has done so far, probably: Wear down.

If I'm a Florida fan, after watching the Gators fly past North Carolina and knowing that they are sure to test the speed limit again tonight against Michigan State, I optimistic about all sorts of things, even if I'm wondering that maybe fate is on the Spartans' side . . .

* Brett Nelson: So this is what Jason Williams would've been like if he had any desire to stay around in Gainesville.

* Nelson, Joseph Forte, Casey Jacobsen, Gilbert Arenas or Jason Kapono . . . Which rising freshman is going to be next season's player of the year?

* Gee, Billy Donovan gets to national-title games and he doesn't even throw his visor!

If I'm a North Carolina fan, I'm convinced of at least one thing . . .

* Ed Cota will be remembered as the Tar Heel point guard who passed (the ball and the torch) to both Vince Carter and Forte.

If I'm a Wisconsin fan, I'm conflicted about at least one thing . . .

* Yes, the Badgers were a hustling, screening basketball lesson every time they played, but did they have to let Teemu Selanne outscore them for most of Saturday afternoon?

THE BIG PICTURE

Look on the bright side! Be positive!

Baseball is back, and this is a sport that would never do anything so brain-dead as stage its opening day in Japan--an ocean away from the fans who live and die with these teams.

Check that. OK, let's start over, pretend some things never happened, and concentrate on the happier hopes for Baseball 2000:

1. That Andres Galarraga hits .330, 40 home runs, leads the Atlanta Braves to 100 victories, or at least just keeps putting on the uniform, every day, for as long as he wants.

2. That Shawn Green hits more homers in April and May than Carlos Perez gives up, and that Todd Hundley, Kevin Elster, Orel Hershiser and Devon White (this team is not young!) remind us of their salad days.

3. That Troy Percival breezes into June with a heavy workload and no arm-tingles, that Mo Vaughn stays away from foul balls into the dugout, and that Garret Anderson makes the Jim Edmonds trade seem irrelevant.

4. That the Seattle Mariners are in contention all season, and that (nothing against Ken Griffey Jr.) the supporting cast plus new faces John Olerud and Kazuhiro Sasaki relieve the strain of the last few years.

5. That Bobby Abreu, Edgardo Alfonzo, Vladimir Guerrero, Carlos Guillen, Tim Hudson, Gabe Kapler and many, many other young players stay injury-free and continue to race toward superstardom.

6. That Adrian Beltre doesn't get any younger.

WEEKEND TALKING POINTS

1. NBC underwrites Vince McMahon's football league: Next up for NBC's Dick Ebersol is bringing the same kind of drug scandals, vulgar money grabs and manipulative TV hokum to a worldwide event. Oops, he already has the Olympics.

2. Sporting titans: Ebersol, McMahon, Juan Antonio Samaranch--yes, we have found the gatekeepers of sports purgatory.

3. Martina Hingis over Lindsay Davenport: They'll probably play each other at least three more times, at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.

4. Gary Nicklaus, loses to Phil Mickelson in rain-forced playoff: The son could've used more sun.

5. Kobe Bryant: OK, he deserves first team all-defense nod, but he should keep his left hand higher and watch out for the lead right cross.

6. Shaquille O'Neal: Put him on that first team, too, over Alonzo Mourning, Patrick and Dikembe Mutombo, only we're talking about tag-team wrestling.

7. Michelle Kwan, wins world skating title: You knew UCLA would win it all.

8. Peter Warrick, slipping: Typical NFL groupthink might send most talented player to draft's sixth slot, or lower.

9. John Wooden: Twenty-five years later, any doubt that he could still coach a team to the Final Four?

10. Rick Pitino, looking to Westwood: UCLA is the job every big-name coach wants but none gets.

LEADING QUESTIONS

The New York Rangers have fired their coach and general manager . . .

The Kings have slogged/battled (your choice) their way to a playoff spot . . .

The Mighty Ducks have two superstars and no postseason margin for error . . .

The whole city of Philadelphia is worried about Eric Lindros . . .

Larry Robinson has popped up in a prime spot for a playoff run in New Jersey, and he might have to go through Ron Wilson's Washington Capitals to do it . . .

Ah yes, isn't beginning to feel a lot like the NHL playoffs?

Is it time to start paying attention yet?

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