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Archive for Wednesday, April 4, 2001

WEDNESDAY WOODLING COLUMN

April 4, 2001

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In the 13 years since KU, a No. 6 seed, stunned the CBS three-piece suits and everyone else by clipping Big Eight Conference rival Oklahoma, 83-79, in the '88 championship game, nine No. 1 seeds -- including Duke this year -- have cut down the nets in the season finale.

The four exceptions are No. 2 seeds Duke in '91 and Kentucky in '98, No. 3 Michigan in 1989 and No. 4 Arizona in 1997.

Back in the '80s, three low seeds won NCAA titles -- North Carolina State, a No. 6 in 1983; Villanova, a No. 8 in 1985; and Kansas.

Does a team seeded as low as No. 6 really have a chance in contemporary college basketball?

Bob Frederick, Kansas University's athletics director and a former chair of the NCAA men's basketball selection committee, concedes it's "probably a little more difficult than it was 10 years ago."

Frederick bases his opinion on the increased amount of computer-generated information available to today's selection committees. It's virtually impossible for a team to slip through the cracks.

Still, even if more information had been available after the 1987-88 season, I'm convinced Kansas wouldn't have been seeded any higher than sixth -- not with a 21-11 record -- even though that may have been the most difficult team to handicap in history.

I'd venture to say no NCAA championship team ever changed more from the beginning of the season to the end than coach Larry Brown's 1987-88 outfit.

All you have to do is look at the team picture taken before the season. Pictured are 15 players. Only nine of those 15 were suited at the NCAA Final Four.

Mark Randall and Sean Alvarado were red-shirted, Mike Masucci and Otis Livingston were booted, Archie Marshall tore up a knee in late December and Marvin Branch failed to make grades during the fall semester and was done in mid-January.

When the Jayhawks opened the season around Thanksgiving of 1987 at the Maui Invitational, Brown's starters were Danny Manning, Kevin Pritchard, Lincoln Minor, Branch and Marshall.

The KU starters in the NCAA championship game against Oklahoma were Manning, Pritchard, Milt Newton, Chris Piper and Jeff Gueldner.

A dozen different Jayhawks started during that troubled, yet magical season. Manning was the only one who answered the bell in all 38 games.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good and Kansas was definitely lucky in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. After disposing of No. 11 seed Xavier, the Jayhawks faced No. 14-seeded Murray State which had stunned North Carolina State, a No. 3.

Later the Jayhawks drew Vanderbilt, a No. 7, after the Commodores had disposed of Pittsburgh, a No. 2, and Kansas State, a No. 4, after K-State had sent Purdue, a No. 1, packing.

At the Final Four, however, Kansas had no more bracket breaks. Oklahoma and Arizona were No. 1 seeds and Duke was a No. 2. In the semifinals, OU knocked Arizona out while Kansas outlasted Duke. Then, of course, Kansas shocked OU in the title game.

Could a No. 6 seed rise up and smite a No. 1 seed today? I wonder.

I don't think there's any question the three '80s Cinderella went a long way toward turning the NCAA Tournament into the multi-billion dollar cash cow it is today. TV ratings tend to turn stale, though, when the same national powerhouses win it year after year.

"It wouldn't be healthy for the tournament," Frederick said, "if the number of teams capable of winning becomes smaller and smaller because I think that's a problem we have in football."

Maybe there'll be a No. 6 or lower seed lurking in the weeds in 2002. I sure hope so.

-- Sports editor Chuck Woodling can be reached at 832-7147.

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