1. DUKE (29-3)
* First-round opponent: Radford.
* Season in brief: Ranked No. 1 much of the season, Duke beat defending NCAA champion Arizona early and blew out UCLA on Feb. 22, but lost to Michigan and North Carolina before avenging the loss to the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils lost to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final, 83-68, but earned the No. 1 seeding in the South Regional. Duke got a boost in late February when freshman Elton Brand returned after a foot injury that was expected to keep him out for the season.
* Player to watch: Brand was Duke's best player early in the season, but 6-foot-8 forward Roshown McLeod emerged as the leading scorer in ACC games.
* Tidbit: Reserve center Chris Burgess from Irvine Woodbridge High is the latest in a line of high-profile local players to choose Duke.
* NCAA bio: Duke is the only team since UCLA to win successive national championships, in 1991 and '92. From 1986-94, the Blue Devils made the Final Four seven times, including five in a row from 1988-'92. UCLA and Cincinnati are the only other schools to reach five in a row.
2. KENTUCKY (29-4)
* First-round opponent: South Carolina State.
* Season in brief: Tubby Smith replaced Rick Pitino as coach when Pitino jumped to the Boston Celtics, and the Wildcats hummed along. Except, that is, for three stunning losses at Rupp Arena: to Louisville, Florida and Mississippi. Arizona won an early-season NCAA title-game rematch at Maui, but Kentucky has victories over Purdue and Mississippi and swept South Carolina and Georgia, where one of Smith's sons, G.G. Smith, was a senior. Notable flaw: 66% free-throw shooting.
* Player to watch: Nazr Mohammed, a 6-10 junior center, once weighed 310 pounds but lost 65 pounds and emerged as a quick, powerful scorer.
* Tidbit: Athletic Director C.M. Newton served as chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
* NCAA bio: Kentucky reached the NCAA final for the second year in a row last season, losing to Arizona in overtime, 84-79. Kentucky has won six NCAA championships, most recently in 1996 with Tony Delk, Ron Mercer and Antoine Walker. The Wildcats also won in 1948, '49, '51, '58 and '78.
3. MICHIGAN (24-8)
* First-round opponent: Davidson.
* Season in brief: The enigmatic Wolverines were the only team to beat Duke until North Carolina did, and humiliated Indiana by 48 points in February. Early losses to Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Bradley and a February loss to Minnesota hurt, but by the end of the season Michigan was playing fairly well and won the Big Ten tournament with a 76-67 victory over Purdue. After winning the NIT last season, Michigan endured a tumultuous off-season of reports of NCAA problems that culminated in the firing of coach Steve Fisher before the season. Assistant Brian Ellerbe, still new to the staff, was named interim coach, but is expected to be replaced.
* Player to watch: Robert "Tractor" Traylor, a 6-8, 300-pound center with nimble feet, returned for his junior season after almost turning pro.
* Tidbit: Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached the Houston Rockets to NBA championships in 1994 and '95, still holds the school record with 30 rebounds in a game.
* NCAA bio: The Wolverines won the NCAA title in 1989 after Fisher took over in tournament when Bill Frieder jumped to Arizona State. Michigan has reached the Final Four six times, most recently with members of the "Fab Five" in 1992 and '93, losing in championship games to Duke and North Carolina.
4. NEW MEXICO (23-7)
* First-round opponent: Butler.
* Season in brief: Once ranked in the top 10, the Lobos were thrown into disarray at end of February by guard Royce Olney's season-ending knee injury during a decisive loss to Texas Christian. The next game, lowly Brigham Young brought a 7-20 record into the Pit and won by a 19 points, ending New Mexico's 41-game home-court winning streak. Olney averaged 15 points a game and was a deadly three-point shooter, making more than 50% from long range to help open up the inside for power forward Kenny Thomas. New Mexico was upset by Nevada Las Vegas in the Western Athletic Conference championship game.
* Player to watch: Thomas, a hometown player from Albuquerque High, is an NBA prospect but disappeared in some big games this season, notably against UCLA.
* Tidbit: Thomas and senior Clayton Shields each have 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.
* NCAA bio: New Mexico is 4-9 in tournament history and has made it past the second round only once in eight appearances, in 1974.
5. SYRACUSE (24-8)
* First-round opponent: Iona.
* Season in brief: The Orangemen didn't seem to be at their best late in the season. They started 11-0 but lost five of their last 12, including an ugly upset by Rutgers. Syracuse, however, reached the Big East Conference tournament final, losing to Connecticut. The only nonconference loss was to Michigan.
* Player to watch: Senior Todd Burgan, a 6-7 slasher, leads the team in scoring.
* Tidbit: Sophomore guard Jason Hart, who started as a freshman last season, played at Inglewood High.
* NCAA bio: The Orangemen are back after being relegated to the NIT last season, the year after Syracuse lost to Kentucky in the 1996 NCAA championship game. They also made the Final Four in 1975 and '87, when the Orangemen lost in the title game to Indiana.
6. UCLA (22-8)
* First-round opponent: Miami (Fla.).
* Season in brief: UCLA endured two of the worst defeats in its history against the nation's top teams, opening the season with a 41-point loss to North Carolina followed in February by a 36-point loss to Duke. The Bruins' tumultuous season included suspensions of Kris Johnson and Jelani McCoy. Johnson became a mainstay of the team, and McCoy's UCLA career came to an end after he left the team in February. J.R. Henderson carried the load in the post and fellow seniors Johnson and Toby Bailey were steadying forces.
* Player to watch: Unless terrifically talented freshman point guard Baron Davis can play with maturity and limit his foul trouble, the Bruins--despite all of their talent--will be a bust.
* Tidbit: The Bruin seniors are 9-2 in the NCAA tournament.
* NCAA bio: You know the history: 11 NCAA championships, including seven in a row under John Wooden, capped off by the 1995 title under Jim Harrick. Steve Lavin guided the Bruins to the Midwest Regional final in his rookie season before UCLA fell to Minnesota, 80-72.
7. MASSACHUSETTS (21-10)
* First-round opponent: Saint Louis.
* Season in brief: The Minutemen seemed the class of the highly competitive Atlantic 10 but slumped down the stretch. Massachusetts was only one of many teams that stumbled against St. Bonaventure at Olean, N.Y., and also lost to Rhode Island in double overtime. In the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, Massachusetts lost to George Washington in the quarterfinals. A strong nonconference schedule included losses to Kansas--by two points--Connecticut and Purdue.
* Player to watch: Junior center Lari Ketner is the Minutemen's leading scorer, shoots better than 50% and is an intimidating shot blocker.
* Tidbit: As a prep player, sophomore guard Monty Mack was MVP of the Boston Shootout, an award previously won by Bernard King, Mark Aguirre, Dale Ellis, Doc Rivers and Joe Smith.
* NCAA bio: Six of the school's seven appearances have been in the '90s, and Massachusetts made it to the Final Four in 1996 under John Calipari, with Marcus Camby as the team's star.
8. OKLAHOMA STATE (21-6)
* First-round opponent: George Washington.
* Season in brief: Eddie Sutton's team reached the top 25 with only five regular-season losses, the last one a 61-57 defeat by to Kansas in the season finale. Its best wins were over Washington, Arizona State and Texas Christian. Oklahoma State was upset by Texas, 65-64, in the Big 12 Conference quarterfinals.
* Player to watch: Senior center Brett Robisch, the son of former Kansas All-American Dave Robisch, averages 16 points and eight rebounds a game.
* Tidbit: Guard Doug Gottlieb, a Notre Dame transfer, is from Tustin.
* NCAA bio: The Cowboys reached the Final Four with center Bryant Reeves in 1995, losing to UCLA in the semifinals, but didn't make tournament last season. They were a power 50 years ago under Hank Iba, winning NCAA titles in 1945 and '46 and reaching Final Four in '49 and '51.
9. GEORGE WASHINGTON (24-8)
* First-round opponent: Oklahoma State.
* Season in brief: The fringe top-25 team stumbled at times in the evenly matched Atlantic 10, but put together solid run to reach the Atlantic 10 final against Xavier and lost to the Musketeers, 77-63.
* Player to watch: Center Alexander Koul, a 7-footer from Belarus.
* Tidbit: Coach Mike Jarvis is the president of the National Assn. of Basketball Coaches.
* NCAA bio: It's the sixth appearance overall. The Colonials lost to Iowa in 1996 first round in their most recent appearance.
10. SAINT LOUIS (21-10)
* First-round opponent: Massachusetts.
* Season in brief: The Billikens gave UCLA a bit of a game in a 76-67 loss at Pauley Pavilion in December. Conference USA was competitive and balanced, and the Billikens lost to Alabama Birmingham by two points in the tournament quarterfinal.
* Player to watch: Hometown-product Larry Hughes might be the best freshman in the nation, and the Billikens are worried about the 6-5 guard turning pro.
* Tidbit: Coach Charlie Spoonhour has a popular restaurant in St. Louis' Union Station.
* NCAA bio: There have been only four appearances, most recently in 1994 and '95.
11. MIAMI, Fla. (18-9)
* First-round opponent: UCLA.
* Season in brief: The Hurricanes scraped into NCAA tournament after losing to Rutgers in first round of Big East Conference tournament. They started the season strong and beat Connecticut in early January before swooning out of contention with a string of losses to conference rivals.
* Player to watch: Tim James, a 6-7 junior forward, is the Hurricanes' marquee player.
* Tidbit: Rick Barry is the school's all-time leading scorer.
* NCAA bio: Miami lost the only NCAA tournament game in school history in 1960.
12. IONA (27-5)
* First-round opponent: Syracuse.
* Season in brief: The Gaels beat Siena in the Metro Atlantic tournament final to make the field. Key results earlier in season include a 30-point loss to Clemson and a loss to Duquesne.
* Player to watch: Center Kashif Hameed, a 6-8 junior, is more natural at forward, and Iona plays with a three-forward lineup.
* Tidbit: The late Jim Valvano, who guided North Carolina State to the 1983 NCAA title, coached at Iona early in his career.
* NCAA bio: The first appearance since 1985. The only victory in five appearances was over Holy Cross in 1980, when Valvano's team was ranked 19th in the final AP poll.
13. BUTLER (22-10)
* First-round opponent: New Mexico.
* Season in brief: A surprise team reached its second consecutive NCAA tournament by beating Wisconsin Green Bay in Midwestern Collegiate tournament final.
* Player to watch: Senior forward Jon Neuhouser is only 6-6 but is a hard worker who surpassed 1,000 point before his senior season.
* Tidbit: Coach Barry Collier is a former Stanford assistant under Mike Montgomery.
* NCAA bio: Butler reached the NCAA tournament last season for the first time since 1962 and only the second time in school history, but lost to Cincinnati by 17 points in the first round.
14. DAVIDSON (20-9)
* First-round opponent: Michigan.
* Season in brief: The Wildcats opened their season with a 100-65 loss to Duke, but won their first NCAA berth in 12 seasons by defeating Appalachian State in the Southern Conference tournament final.
* Player to watch: Mark Donnelly, a senior guard and the Wildcats' go-to player, has appeared in 85 Davidson victories, more than any other player in school history.
* Tidbit: Ali Ton, a junior point guard from Turkey, played at Los Alamitos High.
* NCAA bio: The glory days were in the late '60s, when Davidson reached the final eight in '68 and '69.
15. SO. CAROLINA ST. (22-7)
* First-round opponent: Kentucky.
* Season in brief: It won Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament over Coppin State on Raheem Waller's tip-in with three seconds left. South Carolina State knocked out Coppin State, which stunned South Carolina in the first round of the 1997 tournament.
* Player to watch: Guard Roderick Blakney, only 5-10, is one of the best little-known players in the country.
* Tidbit: Blakney won the John McClendon Award last season that is given to the best player at a historically black college.
* NCAA bio: The last appearance was in 1996, when Bulldogs lost to fourth-ranked Kansas, 92-54.
16. RADFORD (20-9)
* First-round opponent: Duke.
* Season in brief: The Hilltoppers won an NCAA bid by coming from 17 points behind to win Big South tournament on Kevin Robinson's off-balance shot with two seconds left, defeating North Carolina Asheville, 63-61.
* Player to watch: Corey Reed, a 6-6 senior swingman, is the leading scorer and more than half of his field goals are three-pointers.
* Tidbit: Guard Leslie Ballard had eight three-point baskets in a game against Liberty.
* NCAA bio: First appearance.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
FIRST-ROUND GAMES, FRIDAY
1. Duke (29-3)
16. Radford (20-9)
8. Oklahoma State (21-6)
9. George Washington (24-8)
4. New Mexico (23-7)
13. Butler (22-10)
5. Syracuse (24-8)
12. Iona (27-5)
2. Kentucky (29-4)
15. South Carolina State (22-7)
7. Massachusetts (21-10)
10. Saint Louis (21-10)
3. Michigan (24-8)
14. Davidson (20-9)
6. UCLA (22-8)
11. Miami (18-9)
1. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski needs three victories in this tournament for 43, which would put him in third place all-time behind Dean Smith (65) and John Wooden (47)
2. UCLA is seeded sixth. Only two sixth-seeded teams have won the titles: North Carolina State in 1983 and Kansas in 1988.
3. If Duke plays North Carolina in the final it will be only the third time teams from the same state will play each other. The first two: Cincinnati vs. Ohio State in 1961 and 1962.