Given all the Goliath-slaying that typically takes place, the I David Capers isn't a bad name for the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. And there last week was David Capers himself—David Messiah Capers, a senior guard for 12th-seeded St. Bonaventure, taking aim at the mighty Kentucky Wildcats, trying to provide one of the first-round upsets to which the public is so enchantedly accustomed.
The Wildcats were clinging to a three-point lead in overtime of the very first game of the tournament when freshman forward Marvin Stone pulled a gigglebrained move, fouling Messiah Capers as he launched a three-point attempt a fraction of a second before the final buzzer. Messiah Capers, a 55.6% free throw shooter, stepped to the line having squeezed off just four foul shots in his previous eight games. Kentucky coach Tubby Smith called timeouts to ice him before shots numbers two and three. And still Messiah Capers bottomed out each free throw more cleanly than the last, forcing another overtime and the fairy-tale footmen to hitch up the carriage.
Yet the Wildcats put St. Bonaventure away in that second OT, 85-80, in the first of last week's snubs for Cinderella. Indeed, by Sunday night the tournament was left with a Sweet 16 featuring only one team, Wisconsin, that hadn't been ranked in the AP Top 25 during the regular season. Just three lower seeds beat higher ones in the first round, the fewest since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. (Moreover, those upsets that did occur were hardly seismic: For example, Indiana, a sixth seed, lost to No. 11 Pepperdine, but the Hoosiers haven't survived the tournament's first week for six straight years now.) While the top seeds in the West and the South tumbled in Round 2—Arizona and Stanford lost to a pair of eights, Wisconsin and North Carolina, respectively—at-large teams from the Big Ten and the ACC are stepsisters, not Cinderellas. As for Gonzaga, which reached the Elite Eight a year ago and returned to the Sweet 16 last week by bouncing second-seeded St. John's, Bulldogs forward Casey Calvary said it best: "If anybody thinks we're still a Cinderella, they don't know a damn thing about basketball."
Over the years upsets have kept the NCAAs veiled in feel-good gauze. But without them last week the seaminess of college basketball was all too conspicuous. Nike's commercial postcards from Bracketville, with its trimmed hedges and picket fences, began to resemble outtakes from a David Lynch film. Suddenly Bracketville looked like a place where the pep bands play Megadeth, and any cheerleader could be Mena Suvari, with Kevin Spacey in lusty pursuit.
Name any small-town virtue, and last week you could find some parallel vice lurking behind it. Trust? LSU coach John Brady had retained a campus cop to tail his front-court stars, Stromile Swift and Jabari Smith, to make sure nobody (read: no agent) bothered (read: paid) them. Neighborliness? Police were investigating the source of dozens of nasty E-mails, some threatening, sent to UCLA coach Steve Lavin, whose Bruins lost 11 games before turning their season around a month ago and humiliating Maryland in Round 2. Unselfishness? Asked what advice he would give a peer who had won his first tournament game, Utah coach Rick Majerus said, "Go home, get more money and a better contract." Forthrightness? Indiana coach Bob Knight, charged with performing a Sprewellian act on a player, responded with an Orwellian effort to spin the facts and smear his accusers. Forgiveness? Luke Axtell, who played this year at Kansas until he dropped off the team with an unspecified illness, sued his former school, Texas, for releasing his grades without permission—which caused former Longhorns coach Tom Penders to crow, "I know the whole truth! The last thing [ Axtell wants] for me to do is testify!" Sunny optimism? Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, sommelier of Bracketville's oldest whine bar, was notably sour when asked if a school could call itself a "program" if it reached the NCAA tournament five or six years in a row. "Five or six?" he said, his joylessness palpable. "How about 20? You've got to win, and then win some more."
No wonder Cinderella preferred to hole up in her charwoman's shack. She's not that kind of girl.
The most quarrelsome moments took place out of public view, in the members' lounge at the Bracketville Country Club, the NCAA is a friendless entity right now, largely because of the fitful way it's applying its rules, which caused St. John's coach Mike Jarvis a few weeks back to liken the Organization to the Gestapo. ( Jarvis later retracted that analogy, but last week Temple coach John Chaney compared the NCAA to Hitler.) In fact NCAA schools pass rules largely because coaches and boosters cheat. The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) is nonetheless trying to stake out a patch of moral high ground in this swampy wasteland and last month it created a 46-player Student Basketball Council (SBC) to address issues affecting the game. Whether or not the group is really a stalking horse for the coaches' agenda, its founding is a potentially revolutionary step. The SBC has already scheduled a press conference at the Final Four, and the NCAA is terrified that the players will stage some sort of job action, even if it's only symbolic. Consequently, relations between the NCAA and NABC staffs have never been chillier.
Still, you could enjoy the racket in the brackets despite all the off-court conflict. Benefiting from injuries to such stars as Cincinnati's Kenyon Martin, Arizona's Loren Woods, Connecticut's Khalid El-Amin, DePaul's Quentin Richardson, and suspensions that sidelined Chris Porter of Auburn and left Erick Barkley of St. John's an addled mess, at least one stepsister made noise in every region. The Midwest, the deepest quadrant of the draw, remained that way, with the top seeds and top player, Iowa State's Marcus Fizer, advancing intact. But it was No. 6 seed UCLA, alternately flying by and pounding on Maryland, that caused the most commotion. Junior guard Earl Watson played a virtually perfect floor game against the Terps, needing only 26 minutes to score 17 points (on just seven shots), rack up a school-record 16 assists and make four steals, all without a turnover. Six of those assists came on lobs, three for circus dunks by JaRon Rush, the sophomore forward whose reinstatement by the NCAA on Feb. 28 figured heavily in the Bruins' late run. Lavin never upbraids his team for trying the lob, Rush says, "even if it goes off the backboard." Thus, if UCLA wins, Lavin gets kudos for keeping the Bruins loose; if they don't, he gets flamed for being lax on discipline. "It's like when someone was threatening to poison [former UCLA coach] Gene Bartow's dog," says Lavin. "I mean, I don't think the dog was calling timeouts."
Teams charged with playing ugly ( Miami), without heart ( Tennessee) or both ( North Carolina) emerged from the South. No crew remade itself more thoroughly last week than the Tar Heels, who finally began to take personally the barbecuing mat their coach, Bill Guthridge, had undergone all season. North Carolina's three pillars of potential—senior point guard Ed Cota, freshman swingman Joseph Forte and junior center Brendan Haywood—finally figured out how to play with one another. Said sophomore guard Jason Capel, who harassed Stanford freshman Casey Jacobsen into 1-for-8 three-point shooting, "We feel we have nothing to lose. Nobody expected us to be here." This was officially the first time a Tar Heel had ever uttered those two sentences.
In the East, Seton Hall had stumbled into the field, losing five of its last seven games. Yet the Pirates ducked Oregon in Round 1 when point guard Shaheen Holloway pulled a Tyus Edney with a coast-to-coast drive in the final seconds of overtime. After spraining his ankle early in Seton Hall's next game, against Temple, Holloway yielded to sophomore understudy Ty Shine, who knocked down seven three-pointers, including the game-winner in overtime. Shine is from that cradle of playmakers, Augusta, Ga., where he tested his mettle against such point masters as William Avery and Ricky Moore, who starred last year for Duke and Connecticut, respectively, but this season he found himself getting fewer minutes than he did as a freshman. On Sunday he attended an optional pregame prayer service, conducted by Father Frank McNulty, a team chaplain. The service addressed courage and featured the 23rd Psalm. After he shot over the valley of the shadow of Temple's matchup zone, Shine sought out McNulty to tell him, "That thing on courage helped me!"