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It must be the pull of the moon in March, because the Crimson Tide runs high most every spring. In the 11 years Wimp Sanderson has been the coach, Alabama has made six appearances in the Sweet 16—and gone no farther. Yet in beating Wake Forest 96-88 in the second round, thanks to 21-point efforts from point guard Gary Waites and forwards Melvin Cheatum and Latrell Sprewell, 'Bama showed why its fortunes could change. Said Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, whose team had also lost to the Tide in November, "Waites is doing all the things now that he did then, plus he's trying to score. Now they attack you from five spots instead of four."
Alabama next faces Arkansas, whose coach, Nolan Richardson, found himself having to cheer up his players following their 97-90 second-round defeat of Arizona State. Seems that the Hogs, winners by 41, 47, 29 and 31 points in their previous four games, were disappointed that they didn't dispatch the Sun Devils more easily. "Just remember that a raggedy ride is better than a smooth walk," said Richardson. Arkansas can expect the former from the Crimson Tide.
With five of the top eight seeds in the EAST falling in the first round, the region opened up all the more for top-seeded North Carolina. And the Tar Heels showed no trace of complacency, drumming Northeastern (101-66) and Villanova (84-69) in Syracuse to reach the Round of 16 for the 11th year in a row.
The Tar Heels travel to East Rutherford, N.J., to take on what will have to pass as this season's Cinderella, Mid-American Conference champ Eastern Michigan, which recently retired its nickname, the Hurons, because it was an affront to Native Americans. (A Detroit Free Press contest has proposed a replacement: Emu, which, while acronymically apropos, is also a flightless, ostrichlike bird.) The proposed Emus beat Penn State 71-68 in OT inside the Carrier Dome to reach the regional semis. Eastern Michigan's splendid point guard, Lorenzo Neely, scored five of his 18 points in the extra session and guided the team after two frontliners fouled out.
Funny thing about North Carolina: For all the early-season second-guessing coach Dean Smith endured for using so many players and not finding a "rotation," you're hearing something altogether different now that he's employing his scrambling, half-court D to excellent effect. "I know Vegas is in this thing," said Villanova coach Rollie Massimino. "But I think Carolina has the talent to win it all."
If Smith is firing off thank-you notes for the way the draw has broken, the first one should go to Dick Tarrant, Richmond, Va., 23173. The Spiders never trailed in their 73-69 stunner over Syracuse. Late in the first half forward Terry Connolly, Richmond's lone senior, found himself in heavy traffic under the basket and improvised a behind-the-back flip to teammate Jim Springer for a layup that put the Spiders ahead by six. Just then, any neutral observers at Cole Field House in College Park, Md., threw their loyalties to the underdogs.
So deep were the Spiders, and so confident was Tarrant in his overmatched players, that he inserted a cold freshman, guard Eugene Burroughs, into a hot game with 1:29 to play. Fouled with 21 seconds left and the score 70-69, Burroughs calmly toed the line, winked at his dad in the stands and swished the two free throws that, minutes later, had students in Syracuse screaming obscenities out of their dorm-room windows. Not since the tournament went to 64 teams in 1985 had a team seeded so low (No. 15) knocked off one so highly placed (No. 2).
If you can come to terms with Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton's being in the tournament while Kentucky, the team he left on probation, stays home, you'll cotton to the Cowboys. They play the throwback defensive style favored by paterfamilias Henry Iba. That was enough to defeat turnover-prone New Mexico 67-54 in the first round and to bamboozle N.C. State's dynamic backcourt of Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani in the second. Corchiani, who had upbraided Duke's Bobby Hurley during the ACC Tournament the previous week for whining to the refs, was caught caterwauling a few times himself during the 73-64 loss to the Cowboys.
Oklahoma State, which plays a fierce man-to-man defense, now faces Temple in one of the tournament's most intriguing matchups. The Owls showed unusual balance and consistent shooting, in addition to their normal sticky matchup zone, in easing past Purdue 80-63 and the itsy-bitsy Spiders 77-64. Temple's superb guard, Mark Macon, will meet up with the Cowboys' defensive specialist, Corey (the Terminator) Williams, who says, "When I come in, I tell the man I'm guarding, 'I'm baaaaaaack.' " Macon is baaaaaaack, too—back in the Meadowlands, where he surely will want to atone for the 6-for-29 shooting performance he turned in there in a losing effort against Duke three years ago in the regional final.
In the MIDWEST, Ohio State entered the tournament as the shakiest of the No. 1 seeds, having lost its last two regular-season games. Coach Randy Ayers considered his team to be on "the critical list," and even after a 97-86 first-round defeat of Towson State in Dayton, he refused to give the Buckeyes a clean bill of health. "We didn't sustain the lead [at one point it shrank from 18 points to five]," he said, "and we shot free throws badly." Indeed, poor foul shooting nearly did in the Buckeyes against Georgia Tech and its wondrous sophomore guard, Kenny Anderson, but they hung on to win 65-61.