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Playing in Madison Square Garden is a dream for college players. 
Despite the fact that the glory days are decades gone - swept away by fixed
games, increased competition, the NCAA surpassing the NIT, and television - the
Garden is still a spiritual home of college basketball. There aren't many left.
Cameron is one, Butler Field House maybe, The Palestra, though it's not used as
much now as it was before, but the old palaces are mostly gone. Reynolds is the
latest to succumb.

Jason Williams will make his college debut (regular season) in the Garden,
which is fantastical for a Jersey kid. Imagine being from the Triangle,
committing to say Miami - and then opening our career at Cameron. Not exactly
the same thing, but you get the idea.  It must be a huge idea for a kid
from Jersey to debut in the Garden.

Duke will open with Stanford, a team which used to be a bit of a joke in
basketball but lately is anything but.  The man responsible for this is
Mike Montgomery, who has done a brilliant job building this program. Stanford and
Duke have a great deal in common of course - both schools with great academics,
excellent basketball, and private schools in conferences which are otherwise
almost exclusively state schools (The Pac 10 has USC and the ACC has Wake for
other private schools).

Also like Duke, Stanford lost most of  last year's starters - four in
their case, three in Duke's (but six players overall).  There, though, the
similarities pretty much end.

Stanford has built an identity over the last several years as a team with
very quick guards and a strong, but not necessarily quick frontcourt. 
Think Tim Young. Think Mark Madsen.   Think Peter Sauer.

This season, they lose Arthur Lee, who replaced Brevin Knight.  Lee is supposed to
be replaced by junior Michael McDonald, but he's recovering from a foot injury,
so point guard, which has been very stable for them for years, is somewhat up in
the air. They also have Tony Giovachinni and Julius Barnes to turn to, but last
we heard it was unresolved.

The frontcourt, though they lost two starters, will be much quicker and much
more athletic, as they will likely start the Collins twins, Jarron and Jason,
who were also recruited by Duke at one point (Duke and Stanford will be
competing a lot more for players now, the latest of whom is Casey Jacobsen, who
is a Cardinal freshman).  And they also return the Mad Dog, Michael Madsen,
who is a very aggressive player, to say the least. From a team which went 7-2,
6-9, and 6-7 across the front line, Stanford will now likely go 6-10, 6-9, and
6-9.  The biggest difference is that either Madsen or Jarron Colllins will
have to play small forward - or someone else will have to step up. Jacobsen?

Though Duke lists six freshman on the roster (seven counting a walkon),
Stanford lists seven.   So a lot of this game will come down to who
adjusts best to Big Time hoops in the Garden. It could go either way.  But
these are two teams who should be playing, because they share an awful lot in

In the other bracket we find UConn, who of course knocked off Duke in the
title game, led by their sensational point guard Khalid "The Lid" El-Amin,
and Iowa, led by Steve Alford of IU fame, and who Duke also faced as the
underrated Southwest Missouri State team gave Duke all it wanted in an earlier
round.  It was a
magnificent performance by a gutty team. 

Alford takes over at Iowa after Tom Davis, who spent several years racing up
and down the court, pressing full-time, but to little real avail.  Iowa had
a few good runs under Davis, but essentially it was a Big 10/1 version of
Garyland hoops.  It's fun when it works but ugly when it doesn't.

Alford will be quite different. Out of the Knight/Krzyzweski mold,  the
former IU point guard is a brilliant coach and a rising star. Unfortunately this
year his talent is not rising very far, so it's hard to see how he can do much.
But he has what he wanted, a Big 10 job, and we expect he'll do extremely well
there.  His team will probably play superb defense, and as sometimes
happen, like at UVa last year, a team can do much better under a new coach than
anyone expected.

UConn is a team which deserves great admiration, and not least of all because
of El-Amin, who showed he's a gamer of the highest order. That said, they lost two very key
players in Richard Hamilton and Ricky Moore. Hamilton,obviously, was a brilliant
offensive talent and a good defender. But Moore is one of those guys that you
have to have, who is willing to subordinate himself to the team's needs, and who
was a sensational defender. Who will fill those needs now? On such questions
championships are won and lost.

Kevin Freeman
might fill some of the leadership void, but he isn't a guard and won't defend
ballhandlers much.  Albert Mouring might be ready to step up, as might
freshmen Doug Wrenn or Tony Robertson, but no one can fill what Moore did
exactly.  Then, also, there are the demands of being the pursued.

Regardless, UConn will still be very good, and as long as they have The Lid,
they'll be very dangerous as well.  He stands above all current college
players in his willingness to embrace clutch situations.