March Madness is when even the casual fan becomes a college basketball fanatic.
This weekend starts the nine-day period the fanatics await all season -- Championship Week.
Make sure the recliner is adjusted and the refrigerator is stocked. Let the answering machine handle all calls.
From Saturday through March 12, Selection Sunday, ESPN and ESPN2 will show 52 games, including 25 conference championship games that determine automatic bids to the NCAA tournament.
It starts Saturday at 2 p.m. EST with the Trans America Athletic Conference championship game and comes to an end on March 12 with the Big 12 title game, one that should end about 90 minutes before the field of 64 is announced.
Twenty-six conferences will appear during Championship Week and that includes all 12 Big East games, seven Atlantic Coast Conference games and five games from the Big Ten tournament.
The most intense days will be March 9-11 when 10 games are broadcast each day.
This is ESPN's 15th Championship Week, the sixth also utilizing ESPN2.
ZEBRA FAREWELL: Rich Weiler, one of the most familiar faces in a striped shirt in the Midwest, will retire at the end of the 1999-00 season, capping a 50-year career involved in officiating at the collegiate level.
Weiler started officiating in the lower college ranks in 1950. In 1964, he started working in the Big Ten in both football and basketball. When he resigned from the league in 1988, he had worked as a lead official in almost 700 games.
In 1985, Weiler started working in the Mid-Continent Conference and also became its first coordinator of officials. He worked his last game in 1990 but held his position as Mid-Continent coordinator through this season.
Weiler, who also officiated in the Missouri Valley and Metro conferences, worked 18 NCAA tournaments, including five Final Fours. He also was an official in the 1984 Rose Bowl.
''Rich was a terrific official when he was on the court and he was a great supervisor of officials in that role. He was a fantastic supporter of the NCAA officiating program for a long, long time,'' NCAA director of Officiating Hank Nichols said. ''He has done a lot of teaching of young officials and he has given quite a few officials their first break in the college game. He is a heck of a guy. We'll miss him.''
''I had my day in the sun. Now it is time to enjoy my family,'' Weiler said. ''I have 13 grandchildren. My wife Eve and I will be able to see them grow up and watch their sporting events now.''
FORGOTTEN FROSH: Ask for the country's best freshmen and the names roll easily -- Arizona's Jason Gardner and Gilbert Arenas, Cincinnati's DerMarr Johnson and Kenny Satterfield, Duke's Jason Williams and Mike Dunleavy, and Stanford's Casey Jacobsen, among many.
One name not found on most lists is Roy Smallwood of Texas-El Paso, a 6-foot-6 forward who produced solid numbers as the key player for first-year coach Jason Rabedeaux.
''What has impressed me most is the impact he has had on our team, not only with his numbers but with the way he has become a leader with great poise and maturity. He's no longer a freshman,'' Rabedeaux said of Smallwood, who is averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 52 percent from the field, including 47 percent from 3-point range.
Smallwood has the highest scoring average ever for a UTEP freshman and is the school's top rookie rebounder in 21 years.
Rabedeaux, a former assistant to Kelvin Sampson at Oklahoma, has a .500 record after replacing Hall of Famer Don Haskins.
''It's been an unbelievable experience. Each day has been a learning process,'' Rabedeaux said. ''You can't imagine what it's like to have a Hall of Fame coach in town and to be able to pick up the phone and ask for advice. He's made it easy.''
FINAL FOUR VISITORS: ''Sweet Georgia Brown'' will be heard at the Final Four.
The Harlem Globetrotters will play the NABC All-Stars, a team of college basketball's top seniors, on April 1 at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis during Final Four weekend.
The deal with the National Association of Basketball Coaches has the Globetrotters playing the All-Stars for the next three years and also calls for them to have a multigame fall tour against some of the nation's top college programs.
The Globetrotters resumed playing competitive games when Mannie Jackson purchased the team in 1993 after a 35-year layoff. They have a 150-65 record in games against college competition.
CAROLINA NUMBERS: The jersey of former North Carolina star Antwan Jamison was retired at halftime of Wednesday night's victory over Georgia Tech, making him the seventh player so honored by the Tar Heels.
Jamison, the 1998 national player of the year who led North Carolina to the Final Four in coach Bill Guthridge's first season, plays for Golden State Warriors.
Jamison's No. 33 joined Jack Cobb (no number), George Glamack (20), Lennie Rosenbluth (10), Phil Ford (12), James Worthy (52) and Michael Jordan (23) among the retired jerseys.
The eighth will come next season when Jamison's teammate, Vince Carter of the Toronto Raptors, will have his No. 15 retired.
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