* The draw: The South is where the fast teams are, and if you want to get to St. Petersburg for the regional semifinals, you had better have the transition defense fired up and the lungs prepared for a lot of sprinting. All of the top six teams, with the possible exception of fourth-seeded New Mexico, play best at a fast pace. Top-seeded Duke's side of the bracket isn't horribly difficult--a stodgy Oklahoma State, a streaky Syracuse--but its potential South final against No. 2 Kentucky could be the game of the entire tournament. No. 3-seeded Michigan would have been better served if it ended up as a No. 4 in Lexington, Ky., with Duke--which Michigan beat this season--instead of having to get through UCLA and Kentucky in the Atlanta side of the bracket.
* Best first-round game: Oklahoma State against George Washington for the right to face Duke in the second round. Eddie Sutton's Cowboys haven't been to the tournament since losing to UCLA in the 1995 Final Four, but, with a careful, defense-minded team, they're the team no top squad wants to face. George Washington is deep and has a dangerous combination: a quality big man in 7-1 center Alexander Koul and a tricky point guard in 5-4 Shawnta Rogers.
* Sleeper: No. 10 Saint Louis. With future NBA player Larry Hughes able to score 30 points against anybody, the Billikens may be the only real threat to the assumed Duke-Kentucky showdown. If Saint Louis can get past UMass, it will face Kentucky in the second round, and Coach Charlie Spoonhour's ball-control style might give the Wildcats some trouble.
* Upset in the making: No. 13 Butler over No. 4 New Mexico. It's not that Butler is an unusually scary team, it's that the Lobos don't have a history of big-game success, especially when the big game is away from Albuquerque. New Mexico star forward Kenny Thomas has fouled out of the Lobos' last two NCAA losses to less-talented teams, Georgetown and Louisville, and the No. 4 seeding is a bit of a stretch.
* Impact coach: Tubby Smith of Kentucky. Always go with a proven tournament winner. Smith worked wonders with Tulsa and Georgia, and now has better players, the hottest team in the field and a cluster of fast-paced potential opponents--either UCLA or Michigan in the third round--in the first few rounds.
* Impact player: Trajan Langdon of Duke, especially since William Avery, Mike Chappell and Steve Wojciechowski have slowed down from outside. As he proved by pouring in 34 against UCLA but going brick central against North Carolina, Langdon is fully capable of either leading the blitz or shooting the Blue Devils out of the tournament. If the middle is clogged for Elton Brand and Roshown McLeod, Duke's Final Four berth may depend on Langdon's shooting.
* The pick: Kentucky.
FIRST-ROUND GAMES, FRIDAY
1. Duke (29-3)*
16. Radford (20-9)
8. Oklahoma State (21-6) 4:30 P.M.
9. George Washington (24-8)
4. New Mexico (23-7)*
13. Butler (22-10)
5. Syracuse (24-8) 9:15 a.m.
12. Iona (27-5)
2. Kentucky (29-4) 9:15 a.m.
15. South Carolina State (22-7)
7. Massachusetts (21-10)*
10. Saint Louis (21-10)
3. Michigan (24-8) 4:30 p.m.
14. Davidson (20-9)
6. UCLA (22-8)*
11. Miami (18-9)
* Thirty minutes after previus game
ALL TIMES PACIFIC