By Gene Phelps
INDIANAPOLIS Gentlemen, start your engines!
March Madness cranks up here today in the Indy 500 city with the start of the NCAA Southeast Regional at the RCA Dome.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski already has his foot on the pedal. His No. 8-seeded Blue Devils (18-12) take on No. 9 seed Eastern Michigan (24-5) in the second afternoon game.
“This team is running a race for a national title. It’s the only race a Duke team should run,” said Krzyzewski, who admitted that this team doesn’t rival his 1991 and 1992 national championship teams. “We’re not as talented as we’ve been in the past, but I think we’ve got a team that can compete.
But a run for the national title?
“We aren’t a typical Duke team,” Blue Devil center Greg Newton said. “We don’t have a Grant Hill, a Bobby Hurley or a Chistian Laettner. We have to fight and we have to scrap to win.”
The Blue Devils had plenty of punch the last time they played in this arena, winning the ’91 national title with wins over UNLV and Kansas.
“Coack reminded us that Indy has been a good place for Duke,” guard Chris Collins said. “He has a good track record here.”
But Eastern Michigan is no pushover. The Eagles, who are back in the tournament for the first time since a Sweet 16 visit in 1991, were the only team to beat Southwest Conference champ Texas Tech (93-77) this year.
In today’s other games, top-seeded Connecticut (30-2) opens with No. 16 seed Colgate (15-14) and its 6-foot-10 shot-blocking machine Adonal Foyle.
The night session features defending national champion and No. 4 seed UCLA (23-7) and No. 13-seed Princeton (21-6). The Ivy League champs are coached by defensive wizard Pete Carril, who is retiring after 31 seasons.
UConn coach Jim Calhoun knows that no 16th seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed. It makes him just a little bit nervous.
“It will happen,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t happen to us. I’ve got great respect for Colgate.”
Calhoun’s Huskies, who lost in the West Regional finals last season to UCLA, are ready to make a run for the national championship.
“We want to begin our climb,” he said. “Our goal is to get to the Final Four and reach the national championship. We’ll be disappointed if we don’t advance, because we have a pretty good basketballl team.”
Leading the Big East champs is Ray Allen, the conference’s Player of the Year. The Huskies’ AP All-America guard averaged 23.3 points during the season.
“Our goal is to win the national championship,” Allen said. “I think we’re on track to do that.”