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Wednesday, March 20, 2002
The Sweet lowdown

By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

More partial to the pro game than college, but I do watch the kids during March. Here's a view of the Sweet 16 from the next level.

Midwest

Kansas vs. Illinois

The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft is in this game. Or he would be, if I were doing the picking. People talk about how players don't play the game right. Just as many people watching don't see it right. They see what they want to see, or what they're told to see.

Frank Williams
Frank Williams should go near the top of the draft in June.
Most people have got Williams going No. 1 to the NBA. But it's the wrong one. If it was me picking, it wouldn't be that Jason Williams from Duke. It would either be Frank Williams of Illinois, or Drew Gooden of Kansas.

Frank Williams can hit the 3, but when he needs it, he shoots layups. Against all manner of defense. He's got smooth, strong inside moves. Can spin either way and under control, has not all the dribbles but plenty enough for now, has the ball on a string, is 6-foot-4, can guard most points in the big league, much less the Sweet 16. Wouldn't surprise me if Illinois won. With Frankie, Illinois has the edge over Kansas on the perimeter.

Kansas has the edge inside because of Gooden. His key is lateral movement. Most big men can just go north and south. Gooden can go east and west. Watched him guarding small guys on the perimeter. Without him, I doubt if Kansas beats Holy Cross.

Winner: Illinois.

2002 NBA lottery picks: 2. Frank Williams and Drew Gooden should go 1-2.

Oregon vs. Texas

The Longhorns -- they run and jump, but against a set defense, against some calculating zones, against Ernie Kent, who I see as a great coach in the making, I don't know about Texas. But I must admit I have not watched them all that close. Like I say, they run and jump, and that will take you a long way, but that will only take you so far, too.

The Ducks -- I'm liking their ability to run a set. I'm liking two Lukes putting their feet together. But that only works if the defense has to congeal around a man attacking. That's Freddie Jones. Freddie falls out of the skies. If he has a deep shot, and it looks like he does, and handle, which I have not seen yet, then he could be a very good point guard in the league one day. But if he cannot overcome the runners and jumpers from Texas ... no.

Winner: Oregon

2002 NBA lottery picks: 0. But Frederick Jones is interesting.


East

Maryland vs. Kentucky

Lonny Baxter
Lonny Baxter is a rebounder in the mold of Danny Fortson, and he'll play 10 years at the next level.
Might pay to watch this one. Juan Dixon? Boy knows how to play. Plays the angles, the passing lanes, quick to the hole, can hit the 3. Might be unguardable at the highest college level. Can play without the ball, and that's key. Can you make plays from off the ball? That's another level. Haven't seen much handle from him though, and he's kind of light, can be knocked off the ball in the NBA. Has to play 2, so I don't know. Some guys can be great at the highest college level, but just be caught in between at the next level.

Dixon might be one of them. Unless he develops two-three evasive dribbles and plays the 1.

Wilcox is an NBA baller in the future at some point, and Baxter as well. Baxter knows how to use his body. He'll play 10 years in the NBA. Like Danny Fortson all over again. Don't laugh. Danny Fortson can help somebody who can help themselves.

Tayshaun Prince is a physical freak. Like Dixon, got an understanding of how to play. Tayche has the edge of having the rack of a 7-footer. Unfortunately, he also has the rack of a 160-pound archery student. Inside player's game, though he has the deepest range of any shooter still playing. Think I would take him at the butt-end of the lottery, but not top three. Jules Camara (shot-blocker), Baxter and Wilcox. Tubby Smith will miss Marvin Stone's body here, if not Marvin Stone himself.

Gary Williams and Tubby Smith know what they're doing. It might come down to Tubby's point guard making decisions. He was a total wreck earlier in the year. It was painful to watch, he made so many bad choices. Good athlete who was putting in great effort to play the game wrong, make bad decisions. That might be the edge for the Terps.

I see this going overtime. I see No. 1 for Maryland is guarding Tayshaun. I see Tubby's point guard turning it over when it really counts. Nice run, though, best of this round.

Winner: Maryland in OT

2002 NBA lottery picks: 1, Tayshaun. Knows how to play and is physically unique.

UConn vs. Southern Illinois

Emeka Okafor
Emeka Okafor and UConn's shot-blockers are vulnerable to the pump fake.
That Butler boy can score, and UConn is long, but an educated scorer can do some business against them. The trick is to get them off their feet. Show ball. Ball fake. If that Adams boy from Hampton had done that, then he could've done some more business, and Hampton would've only lost by three or four instead of 11.

The UConn inside players are unaware of this flaw in the game, that they can be had by an educated baller showing ball and pump fakes, getting them off their feet and getting them into trouble. But hesitate, and swing the ball around the perimter too much against UConn and you're dead.

Can Jermaine Dearman be that educated scorer? Who can get the UConn long baller's up off their feet. Well, you can't assume that he will be. A player can be a prove-it-to-me player as a shooter. Dearman can prove that. He can shoot. A player can also be a prove-it-to-me player in terms of knowledge of the game, how to affect the game. Can't assume that.

Winner: Connecticut

2002 NBA lottery picks: 0.


South

Indiana vs. Duke

Boozer and Dunleavy are both future NBA ballers, and should be hard to match up with, but Dunleavy has not yet shown that steel will of a Larry Bird. If he did, he'd be unguardable at this level. IU has Jeffries and Newton, so they can match up ... although Jeffries is still just a baby, he's already the best player in the Big Ten and second-team All-American.

Jason Williams
Jason Williams will experience some serious growing pains when he makes the leap to the NBA.
Jason Williams is good. But not as good as the hype surrounding him. When he gets to the league, he'll have big trouble guarding pro 1s. Not the starting points guards. He can't guard even the smaller 1s -- GP, Mighty Mouse, Snow, Alley I., Alvin Williams, Baron, Nash,Van Exel, etc., etc., -- let alone when it's onions-time and Kobe or T-Mac go to point. Light him up like Christmas. The backups will give him pause. You think beating Troy Hudson or Bobby Jackson or Lindsay Hunter is cake?

Jason will be a lottery pick and a good pro. Can start for the few teams in the league with weak or aging points. But is he all that? Hmm. His day will come. But not by any royal appointment. He'll have to earn his way. Put it this way, it's not like Coverdale and Hornsby will be overmatched. Duke more familiar with Indiana's offensive sets than Indiana. A backbone game. A will game. New sheriff in town. Goes by Daniel Ewing.

Winner: Duke

2002 NBA lottery picks: 2; Jason Williams, Jeffries, though the latter should not go yet.

Kent State vs. Pitt

Brevin Knight's little brother can play, and Pitt's defense and tenacity are outstanding. But Kent State has three good guards who play well in space. Kent State can win this game. As a unit, Kent's backcourt will outplay Pitt's. The question is -- can they rebound, and can they affect shots inside? My guess is, no, but I'm taking a flyer here. Gut call.

Winner: Kent State

2002 NBA lottery picks: 0


West

Arizona vs. Oklahoma

Jason Gardner
Arizona's Jason Gardner might be just as good as that Jason from Durham.
Lute's killer good, but Kelvin Sampson's no fool either. Jason Gardner is as good or better than Jason Williams. If I had to take one, I'd probably take Gardner. But that Hollis Price boy can compete as well. Calling it even-steven. Luck of the bounce, another OT game.

Winner: Oklahoma

2002 NBA lottery picks: 1, Gardner.

UCLA vs. Missouri

Frankly, UCLA does not act like it knows how to play. I don't see how coach Wooden watches them at all. The Bruins take the most ridiculous shots in the most untimely fashions. They appear to have limited court vision. They only see the shot they see for themselves. They have Highlight Reel Fever, but they have the saving grace of being strong in the hole. If they play right, they win, but either way, the winner of the Arizona-Oklahoma game is Final Four bound.

Missouri is playing well, but vulnerable to pressure. Will Steve Lavin press this edge, take on the Tigers over 94 feet, make it a scramble, assign a man to stay up on Kareem Rush, who cannot take his man off the bounce? Or will Quinn Snyder get to run his patterns, catch UCLA on one of its "Hey It's My Turn To Score" photo ops?

Stay tuned. And I know you will.

Winner: UCLA.

2002 NBA lottery picks: 1 possible, Godzilla Gadzurik.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."