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Mighty Have Had Troubles

Mon., March 16, 1998

Shane Battier was riveted to his television set Saturday afternoon, when he sat in his downtown hotel room and watched North Carolina Charlotte take mighty North Carolina to overtime in a second-round National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball tournament game.

Battier is a freshman forward for Duke, North Carolina’s fierce rival, so he had good reason to care about the outcome of the game. Mostly, though, Battier was acting like many Americans this weekend: He was caught up in a four-day extravaganza of men’s and women’s basketball that produced a remarkable number of upsets, overtimes, nail-biters, dramatic game-altering shots and matchups only these single-elimination events seem able to produce.

From sports bars to Camp David - where President Clinton got his hoops fix - sports fans across the nation were transfixed by the opening weekend of college basketball’s annual spring ritual, an event that is living up to its “March Madness” moniker. And the office pools based on the cumulative outcomes of each tournament are going to be littered with big red “X’s” for eliminated contenders, although several other favored teams managed to squeak through some awfully close games.

Never before in NCAA tournament play - men’s or women’s - had a No. 16 seed beaten a No. 1. That happened last Saturday night, when the 16th-seeded Harvard women shocked Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., as one of the nation’s powerhouse programs ended its season in a burst of disappointed tears.

“Look at the upsets,” said Battier, whose team, the No. 1 seed here in the South Region, advanced to the round of 16 Sunday. “Clemson, Xavier, (Texas Christian)… . It really hits home.”

Hours after Battier said those words, another men’s national championship hopeful - Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region - was erased. But the Jayhawks’ 80-75 loss to Rhode Island in a second-round game in Oklahoma City set the stage for one more of those delicious tournament matchups.

Rhode Island’s opponent in a round-of-16 game Friday night in St. Louis will be Valparaiso, a team that has an assistant coach named Jim Harrick Jr. His father, Jim Harrick, is Rhode Island’s head coach.

Even more serendipitously, the Harricks got to watch each other’s triumphs in person Sunday at a place where they weren’t the only successful father-son combination. Just before Rhode Island took the court at the Myriad Convention Center, Valparaiso coach Homer Drew and his son - the team’s star senior guard, Bryce Drew - were on the floor celebrating the Crusaders 83-77 overtime win over Florida State.

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