Five Questions from East Rutherford

Q: What happened to Jason Miller in Kansas City? <BR><BR> A: Mistakes are magnified in NCAA Tournament play, and coach Eddie Sutton's tolerance for them in the postseason grows painfully thin. <BR><BR> When Miller came in to replace Joey Graham after Graham picked up his second foul in the first-round victory over Eastern Washington, he made a quick mistake. Miller set a lazy screen and was called for a foul, turning the ball over to the Eagles.

The team was already playing lackadaisical in a game that shouldn't have been at all close, so Sutton probably figured he could make an example out of Miller by yanking him immediately. Miller was replaced by Frans Steyn and didn't return. He also didn't play much in the second-round win over Memphis.

With so little room for error, most coaches tend to lean more on starters in the tournament. When a player shows he's not mentally prepared and isn't a front-line contributor to begin with, he can become a warning sign to others, posted right there on the floor. After the game, Sutton had a quiet and intimate conversation with Miller in the locker room, and Miller's reaction was tearful.

Q: Does the fact that the top four seeds all advanced to the Sweet Sixteen mean the East Rutherford Regional is, after all, the best?

A: Absolutely. With the way No. 1 seeds Kentucky and Stanford flamed out in the second round, St. Joseph's now has a legitimate claim to being the top overall seed. Few – including Memphis coach John Calipari and the Tigers' talented point guard, Antonio Burks – would disagree that the Cowboys deserve a No. 1 seed. And OSU's third-round opponent – Big East champ Pittsburgh – was being considered for a No. 1 seed going into the final weekend. And don't forget Wake Forest, one of the top programs in the top conference, is the No. 4 seed.

Q: And did the Big 12 prove its mettle by landing three of its four NCAA participants in the Sweet Sixteen?

A: Yes, and it would have been 4-for-4 if Texas Tech had been a little steadier against St. Joe's. Kansas did nothing special in taking apart Illinois-Chicago and Pacific, and with UAB and either Georgia Tech or Nevada up next, the Jayhawks could have their easiest road to the Final Four ever.

Texas' resilience against North Carolina in the second round was impressive. The Tar Heels have arguably the NCAA's most talented starting five and made several runs in the second half when the Longhorns had the lead, but Texas held them off. Oklahoma State got it together in the second half against Eastern Washington, then kept it together for the first half against Memphis. Both games could have been close, but neither team ever had a chance.

Q: So what kind of opponent does O-State face in Pittsburgh?

A: The Panthers rank second in NCAA Division I in scoring defense, allowing just 56.2 points per game. They also rank fourth nationally in shooting percentage defense at 38.3. Clearly, this team can defend.

Pitt is bigger than the Cowboys – the frontcourt of Chevon Troutman (6-7, 237) and Chris Taft (6-10, 250) are taller and wider than OSU's Joey Graham (6-7, 215) and Ivan McFarlin (6-7, 235) – and more physical. Associate head coach Sean Sutton said the Panthers play within the rules, but don't ever pass up a chance to toss an elbow or shove a shoulder on screens or rebounds.

The starting five can also score. All five – point guard Carl Krauser, swingman Jaron Brown, shooting guard Julius Page, center Chris Taft and power forward Chevon Troutman – average double figures (Troutman is actually 9.9). But there is virtually no offensive punch coming off the bench, and the Panthers' team shooting percentage (.474) and scoring average (68.4) are the lowest figures of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament.

Q: What has to happen for the Cowboys to get to San Antonio and the Final Four?

A: There's no reason to think they can't. The only reason O-State slogged through the first half against Eastern Washington was because they didn't respect their opponent – they even said so. There are no creampuffs left in the tournament, so everyone from here out will likely get OSU's A-game.

The bottom line is, it doesn't matter whether it's Pitt, St. Joe's or Wake. If the Cowboys play like they did in the first half against Memphis, Eddie Sutton could be crowned king of college basketball for the first time. But for the sake of argument, here's a checklist of must-haves:

– If Joey Graham and Ivan McFarlin stay out of foul trouble against teams that are slightly bigger and play slightly more physical, the Cowboys can survive.

– If Tony Allen doesn't think too much and just plays his game, and if Daniel Bobik hits one or two open shots, the Cowboys can thrive.

– If Graham comes out with that look in his eye – the one he had twice against Texas, the one that Eddie Sutton sparked early in the first half against Memphis – then the Cowboys will remain alive.

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