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Big Ten, Big Eight, Big East, Big West? Big deal. Sixteen teams from those four conferences made this year's NCAA tournament, and after the first two rounds only three of them remained. The Atlantic-10's George Washington, a low-seeded underdog in the first round against New Mexico, suddenly found itself a higher-seeded favorite in the second round against Southern of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, an unexpected round-one winner over Georgia Tech. "I'm sure that's why they tell us to bring along both sets of uniforms, "said Colonial coach Mike Jarvis, referring to the fact that the higher-seeded team always wears the home threads, "because, as you know, crazy things do happen."
Don't they. George Washington beat Southern for a spot in the Sweet 16. Joining the Colonials were Indiana, (Virginia coach Jeff) Jones and the Temple (Matchup Zone) of Doom. The Midwest Regional alone features four schools—Kansas, Cal, Louisville and Indiana—that have won 10 national titles among them. The Southeast finds Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and his protégé, Western Kentucky's Ralph Willard, while North Carolina coach Dean Smith has two former assistants of his own, Vandy coach Eddie Fogler and Kansas's Roy Williams, left in the field. Arkansas and Cincinnati showcased chilling pressure defenses, while Michigan seemed once again to play down to the level of its competition. For our entertainment, no doubt.
We set out last week in search of those things that make the NCAA tournament so entertaining, and we found no shortage of superlatives. What follows are the best and the brightest moments from rounds one and two. If you think our task was easy, consider our first stumble along the way. We wanted to nominate Southern's band as the brassiest in creation after the Jaguars rocked the house in the West subregional in Tucson. Then Marino Casein, Southern's athletic director, set us straight: "You think they're something? They're the sixth-best band in the SWAC!"
College basketball is like a distance relay, with players running their respective four-year legs. Last Saturday two Promethean point guards, a senior and a freshman, exchanged whatever baton symbolizes preeminence at that position. Duke's Bobby Hurley had become the NCAA's alltime assist leader during his four seasons with the Blue Devils, three of which wound up with him in the Final Four and two of which ended with him winning national titles. California's Jason Kidd was still in the first leg of his college career, a season in which tumult threatened to eclipse all the promise that accompanied his decision to attend Berkeley.
Hurley and Kidd—or, after Cal's 82-77 second-round victory over Duke, which put the Bears in the Sweet 16 and ended the Blue Devils' run at a third straight title, Kidd and Hurley—turned the grimy Horizon in Rosemont, Ill., into a place of sublime overlap. The two point guards staged a summit in the passing zone.
Against Duke, Cal didn't "have a prayer." No less an authority than the Preacher Man himself, LSU coach Dale Brown, had said so in an astonishingly chippy moment following his Tigers' 66-64 opening-round loss to the Bears last Thursday. Ah, but Brown has made his name as a motivator, and he proved to be one again. Cal coach Todd Bozeman, the 29-year-old who began the season as an assistant to Lou Campanelli, only to find himself in charge of the Bears on Feb. 8 when the players, chafing under Campanelli's verbal abuse, staged a putsch, had so steadied Cal that it closed the regular season with nine wins in 10 games. Bozeman happily used Brown's blathering to inspire his troops.
Not five years ago Bozeman was a part-time assistant coach who earned his living delivering Federal Express packages. Last year he delivered Kidd, and the fortunes of the Golden Bears were altered irrevocably. With five seconds to go and the scored tied against LSU, Kidd dribbled hard into the viscera of the Tiger defense, briefly turned his back to the basket and then spun between forward Lenear Burns and 7-foot center Geert Hammink before finally Hipping up a shot that dragged high off the backboard and through, setting up the encounter with Hurley.
On the game's very first scoring play against Duke, Kidd found forward Lamond Murray with an alley-oop pass for a dunk. Again and again Kidd pounded into the lane—at 6'4" and 205 pounds, he is one point guard who doesn't dart—and pitched passes out to teammates who calmly sank three-pointers.
Hurley, at 6 feet, is smaller than Kidd by four inches, and, at 165, lighter by 40 pounds, but he is wiser. A shooter and passer in equal measure, he was the man who, following Duke's early elimination from the ACC tournament a week earlier, had met individually with every Blue Devil for an attitude check. He had made six of seven three-pointers in Duke's 105-70 first-round defeat of Southern Illinois. And against Cal. even as the Bears pushed to a 10-point lead at the half, Hurley kept the Blue Devils competitive with another hailstorm of treys. On the evening he would drop in 32 points, pass for nine assists and, in a valedictory reminder of how he has grown since his freshman season, commit only one turnover.