Monday, March 22, 1999

A capsule look at the Final Four


Michigan State (33-4)
        Coach: Tom Izzo

        Last Final Four: 1979 (beat Indiana State in final)

        Road to St. Petersburg: Mount St. Mary's, 76-53; Mississippi, 74-66; Oklahoma, 54-46; Kentucky, 73-66

        In a nutshell: The Spartans returned every starter from a team that lost to North Carolina in the Sweet 16 a year ago. So it's no surprise that they're still playing. Three years ago Mateen Cleaves was ranked as one of the nation's two best high school point guards. The other? Mike Bibby, who helped Arizona to a national title as a freshman.

        Key player: Cleaves might not excite NBA scouts with his jump shot, but it's hard to criticize his skills as a college floor leader.

        Doesn't get enough credit: Junior swingman Morris Peterson doesn't start but leads the Spartans in scoring. In the Midwest Regional final victory against Kentucky, he had game highs of 19 points and 10 rebounds and made 6 of 6 free throws in the last 29 seconds.

        Did you know? Izzo's best friend is San Francisco 49ers coach Steve Mariucci. They were classmates at Northern Michigan.

Duke (36-1)
        Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

        Last Final Four: 1994 (lost to Arkansas in final)

        Road to St. Petersburg: Florida A&M, 99-58; Tulsa, 97-56; Southwest Missouri State, 78-61; Temple, 85-64

        In a nutshell: The Blue Devils came into the tournament as the overwhelming favorites to capture their third national title of the '90s. And nothing during the first four rounds makes anyone think differently. Krzyzewski's team cruised through the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and the first round of the NCAAs without Trajan Langdon (ankle sprain). But the fifth-year senior recovered in time to juice the Blue Devils' perimeter attack and picked up the East Regional Most Outstanding Player honor.

        Key player: Sophomore Elton Brand gives Krzyzewski an inside presence no one has matched up with, man to man, this season.

        Doesn't get enough credit: Junior forward Chris Carrawell. Sophomore Shane Battier has gotten much more national recognition, but Carrawell is even more versatile, serving as point guard William Avery's backup.

        Did you know? Krzyzewski's first three Duke teams were a combined 38-47 and none of them went to the NCAA Tournament.

Connecticut (32-2)
        Coach: Jim Calhoun

        Last Final Four: This will be first

        Road to St. Petersburg: Texas-San Antonio, 91-66; New Mexico, 78-56; Iowa, 78-68; Gonzaga, 67-62

        In a nutshell: An argument can be made that only Duke came into this season with more expectations. And the Huskies have done nothing to disappoint even the most devout Connecticut rooter. This is a team Calhoun built, mainly, through two recruiting classes. They signed forwards Kevin Freeman and Richard Hamilton and center Jake Voskuhl, in the prep class of '96, and guard Khalid El-Amin and top reserves Albert Mouring and Edmund Saunders in the class of '97.

        Key player: Hamilton has been a bit of a streak shooter during his three seasons in Storrs, Conn., but was a combined 17 of 33 from the field in the two West Regional games in Phoenix.

        Doesn't get enough credit: Senior guard Ricky Moore lost much of his offensive responsibilities when El-Amin came into the program last season. But he's one of the nation's best man-to-man defenders, often guarding sub-6-footers or players as tall as 6-6. Moore is 6-2.

        Did you know? Calhoun coached the late Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis at Northeastern.

Ohio State (27-8)
        Coach: Jim O'Brien

        Last Final Four: 1968 (lost to North Carolina in semifinals)

        Road to St. Petersburg: Murray State, 72-58; Detroit, 75-44; Auburn, 72-64; St. John's, 77-74

        In a nutshell: At No.4, the only non-No.1 seed in the Final Four. But that certainly isn't the biggest surprise about this team's appearance in St. Petersburg next Saturday. The Buckeyes were 8-22 in O'Brien's first season with the program and finished last in the Big Ten Conference. But their leading scorer was a freshman, Michael Redd. And he teamed with guard Scoonie Penn, who played for O'Brien at Boston College, to move OSU into the national top 10 and lead it to a second-place finish in the Big Ten.

        Key player: It's no coincidence the Buckeyes made such a stunning turnaround after Penn joined the team.

        Doesn't get enough credit: Junior center Kenny Johnson wasn't nationally recruited but has evolved into one of the nation's best shot blockers.

        Did you know? O'Brien's Boston College team lost in the East Regional final to Florida in 1994.