March 23, 2000
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) - Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said before the NCAA tournament started that Michigan State was his favorite to win the national championship.
He's changed his tune now that the Orangemen and Spartans will meet in the Midwest Regional semifinals Thursday night at The Palace.
"They were my choice," Boeheim said after Syracuse's 90-minute workout Wednesday afternoon. "I never pick against my own team."
Boeheim said he initially favored the Spartans because of their returning talent and last year's Final Four experience.
"I had them and Cincinnati in my mind as the top two teams all along, and when (Cincinnati star) Kenyon Martin got hurt, that left only one," Boeheim said.
After he was told of Boeheim's remarks, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was asked if he picked a favorite in the tournament.
"Syracuse," Izzo said.
Top-seeded Michigan State plays No. 4 Syracuse in the first half of Thursday's regional doubleheader before No. 2 Iowa State takes on sixth-seeded UCLA.
WOWING THE CROWD: There were equal parts practice and pep rally when Michigan State went through its Palace workout.
The Spartans, playing only about 80 minutes away from their East Lansing campus, drew a decidedly partisan crowd of about 3,500 to watch their practice.
Chants of "Go Green ... Go White" and "Let's Go State" were heard often, and many fans were seen mugging for television cameras.
The highlight came late in the 90-minute workout, when Izzo cut his team loose for a little showtime dunking exhibition.
Freshman Jason Richardson brought down the house with a pair of spectacular dunks, including one where he spun the ball around his back and between his legs before windmilling it through the hoop.
"Stay focused," Lavin said.
Watson had the surgery to correct a problem after he took an elbow to his left eye during the Bruins' 105-70 rout of Maryland last week. Watson played a career game with 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting (5-for-6 from 3-point range) with a school-record 16 assists and no turnovers.
"After Earl took the elbow, he hit five of six 3-pointers and his passes, most of which took place after the elbow," Lavin said. "And I don't think it's affected his vision at all. He's had a lot of injuries over the year and he's a tough kid and has played through them.
"He said he felt good today after the hour workout, and that was my biggest concern, to get a feel for where he's at, and he looked pretty good."
WARMING UP: During Syracuse's practice Wednesday, Orangemen center Etan Thomas was working on some post moves with a teammate.
"Three seconds!" yelled a Michigan State fan sitting in the stands.
MISSING YOU: Iowa State athletic director Gene Smith has both his men's and women's teams playing in the Sweet 16, but he won't be able to watch either play in person.
Smith is also a member of the NCAA men's basketball committee and will supervise the East regional at Syracuse this weekend.
Smith's absence from The Palace also prevented him from a homecoming of sorts. He was athletic director at nearby Eastern Michigan before moving to Iowa State.