Sooners Have Plans for Later

Times Staff Writer

No. 1 OKLAHOMA (24-6)

First-round opponent: No. 16 South Carolina State.

Season in brief: Beaten by Alabama in the first game of the season, the Sooners showed their mettle later, particularly with a 77-70 victory over Kansas in a game Oklahoma led by 32 only to have to fend off a charge down the stretch. Key injury: Guard Ebi Ere broke his left wrist before the Big 12 tournament, which the Sooners still won.

Player to watch: Hollis Price. The senior guard -- who had to have elbow surgery to remove part of an Indiana State player's tooth after a first-round loss in the 2001 tournament -- is the Sooners' heart, soul, and best clutch player.

Tidbit: Coach Kelvin Sampson is a Lumbee Indian from North Carolina, and his father was among a group of men who made national news by breaking up a Ku Klux Klan rally in 1958.

NCAA bio: Made the Final Four last season the first time since 1988, losing to Indiana in the semifinals. Ninth consecutive appearance under Kelvin Sampson, but that streak included five first-round losses and two second-round losses.

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No. 2 WAKE FOREST (24-5)

First-round opponent: No. 15 East Tennessee State.

Season in brief: The Demon Deacons won their first outright regular-season title in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 41 years, ending the recent Duke-Maryland stranglehold. But Wake couldn't make it a double after being upset by North Carolina State in a semifinal of the ACC tournament. Best victory of the season was an upset of Duke in February, and the only regular-season losses were to Duke, Virginia, Marquette and Maryland.

Player to watch: Josh Howard. Somewhat underrated before this season, Howard is a 6-foot-6 senior forward capable of 30-point outbursts who is on the short list for most national player of the year awards.

Tidbit: Howard and Xavier forward David West -- another player of the year contender -- played on the same prep school team at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.

NCAA bio: The Demon Deacons lost to Oregon in the second round last year after a first-round victory over Pepperdine. Eighteenth appearance overall. One Final Four, in 1962 under Coach Horace "Bones" McKinney.

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No. 3 SYRACUSE (24-5)

First-round opponent: No. 14 Manhattan.

Season in brief: The Orangemen started 11-1 before losing to Pittsburgh and were also hot down the stretch before falling to Connecticut in a Big East tournament semifinal. Their other losses were to Memphis, Rutgers, and again to Connecticut.

Player to watch: Carmelo Anthony. He's the best freshman in the nation, and the explosive 6-8 forward with three-point shooting range isn't long for the college game after averaging 22.7 points and 10 rebounds a game.

Tidbit: This marks the Orangemen's 22nd tournament appearance under Jim Boeheim. The only active coaches with more are Bob Knight, Lute Olson and Eddie Sutton -- all of whom have won the national championship.

NCAA bio: Failed to make the tournament last season for only the third time in 20 seasons. Played for the NCAA title twice, losing to Indiana in 1987 on Keith Smart's late shot, and falling to Kentucky in 1996.

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No. 4 LOUISVILLE (24-6)

First-round opponent: No. 13 Austin Peay.

Season in brief: In only their second season under Rick Pitino, the Cardinals won 17 games in a row and rose as high as No. 2 in the rankings before hitting a losing stretch late in the season. Key victories were over Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and Marquette. But their tournament prospects dimmed considerably when leading rebounder Ellis Myles was lost for the season to a knee injury and center Marvin Stone faced repeated suspensions because of NCAA scrutiny over his amateur status.

Player to watch: Reece Gaines. The senior guard switched from shooting guard to the point at Pitino's request and still led the team in scoring, averaging almost 19 points.

Tidbit: Pitino's NCAA record is a stunning 26-7 with four Final Fours -- one at Providence and three at Kentucky -- along with the 1996 national title.

NCAA bio: First appearance under Pitino. First trip under any coach other than Denny Crum since 1968. Two NCAA titles, in 1980 and '86, and seven Final Fours, six of them under Crum.

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No. 5 MISSISSIPPI STATE (21-9)

First-round opponent: No. 12 Butler.

Season in brief: The Bulldogs were one of the Southeastern Conference's up-and-down teams. But they were more up than down at the end, reaching the SEC title game against Kentucky before losing, 64-57, to the conference's dominant team and one of the tournament's four No. 1 seeded teams. Mississippi State's most notable nonconference victories were over Xavier and Oklahoma.

Player to watch: Mario Austin. The junior center says he will return for his senior season after briefly declaring for the NBA draft last year, only to change his mind. Staying is a good idea after his erratic season. He had as many as 28 points and as few as five.

Tidbit: The only first-round NBA draft picks in Mississippi State history are Bailey Howell, Wiley Peck, Rickey Brown, Jeff Malone, Erick Dampier and Dontae' Jones.

NCAA bio: Lost to Texas in the second round last year. Only sixth appearance overall, but reached the Final Four in 1996 under Richard Williams, losing to Syracuse in the semifinals.

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No. 6 OKLAHOMA STATE (21-9)

First-round opponent: No. 11 Pennsylvania.

Season in brief: The Cowboys' 17-1 start and sturdy defense helped them become a fixture in the Top 25. Their best victory came on a controversial finish against Oklahoma, when Oklahoma State won, 48-46, on a game-winning jumper that did not appear to beat the shot clock on replays. They took their lumps later in the Big 12 season, finishing fourth and were upset by Missouri in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.

Player to watch: Victor Williams. The 5-10 senior point guard leads the way in a starting lineup that features three guards and two 6-8 forwards.

Tidbit: Eddie Sutton is one of four active coaches who have taken two schools to the Final Four. The others are Hugh Durham, Lute Olson and Rick Pitino.

NCAA bio: A first-round loser the last two seasons, to USC in 2001 and to Kent State last season. Reached the Final Four in 1995, losing to UCLA in the semifinals. Won two NCAA titles under Henry Iba, in 1945 and '46.

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No. 7 ST. JOSEPH'S (23-6)

First-round opponent: No. 10 Auburn.

Season in brief: The Hawks, a disappointment last season, were ranked in the Top 25 late this season. Defense is their strong suit, holding opponents under 60 points a game.

Player to watch: Jameer Nelson. The senior point guard runs the offense, carries much of the scoring load, leads the team in assists and helps out with the rebounding too. But his career-high 39 points weren't enough for the Hawks to survive against Dayton in an Atlantic 10 semifinal.

Tidbit: Coach Phil Martelli's wife, Judy, played on three national championship teams at Immaculata, and one of their children, Phil Jr., is a senior reserve for the Hawks.

NCAA bio: Third appearance in seven seasons, all under Martelli. Lost to top-seeded Stanford in the second round in 2001 after defeating Georgia Tech. One Final Four appearance, in 1961. Reached the Elite Eight in 1963 and '81.

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No. 8 CALIFORNIA (21-8)

First-round opponent: No. 9 North Carolina State.

Season in brief: With a potent trio of scorers -- Joe Shipp, Amit Tamir and Brian Wethers -- the Bears finished third in the Pac-10 despite losing Shantay Legans and Jamal Sampson after last season. The Bears weren't consistent down the stretch, going 3-4 in their final seven games and losing to USC in a semifinal of the Pac-10 tournament.

Player to watch: Joe Shipp. The senior forward led the Pac-10 in scoring, averaging 21.5 points in conference games.

Tidbit: As a high school senior, Shipp played on the same Fairfax team as Boston College's Craig Smith and San Diego State's Evan Burns.

NCAA bio: Lost to Pittsburgh in the second round last season, a year after losing to Fresno State in the first round. Reached the Final Four under Nibs Price in 1946, and won the 1959 title under Pete Newell by defeating Jerry West's West Virginia team. Returned to the Final Four in 1960, losing to Ohio State in the final.

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No. 9 NORTH CAROLINA STATE (18-12)

First-round opponent: No. 8 California.

Season in brief: Considered a bubble team before the tournament, N.C. State stamped its ticket with a run to the ACC title game, where it held a 15-point lead on Duke before losing, 84-77. The Wolfpack split with Duke during the regular season, and had a 9-7 conference record that outweighed a nonconference loss to Massachusetts.

Player to watch: Julius Hodge. The sophomore guard scored a career-high 31 points in N.C. State's ACC semifinal upset of top-seeded Wake Forest.

Tidbit: Dereck Whittenburg, one of the heroes of Jim Valvano's underdog national championship team in 1983, is in the NCAA tournament this season as the coach at Wagner.

NCAA bio: After returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 10 years last season, the Wolfpack defeated Michigan State in the first round before losing to Connecticut. Two NCAA titles, one in 1974 with David Thompson and the other in 1983 when Lorenzo Charles slammed home Whittenburg's airball to upset Houston.

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No. 10 AUBURN (20-11)

First-round opponent: No. 7 St. Joseph's.

Season in brief: Something of a surprise choice, Auburn was only 8-8 in the Southeastern Conference. But with an RPI of 39 this season, Auburn ranked well ahead of SEC rival Tennessee -- and probably earned its berth by defeating Tennessee in the SEC tournament in what amounted to a play-in game. The Tigers reached a semifinal of the SEC tournament before losing to Kentucky, 78-58.

Player to watch: Marquis Daniels. The high-scoring senior swingman was also the SEC leader in steals.

Tidbit: Coach Cliff Ellis also has taken South Alabama and Clemson to the NCAA tournament.

NCAA bio: Back in the tournament after a two-year absence, making only its eighth appearance overall. Earned a No. 1 seeding in 1999 with a team led by Chris Porter, only to lose to Ohio State in the Sweet 16. Reached the Elite Eight in 1986.

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No. 11 PENNSYLVANIA (22-5)

First-round opponent: No. 6 Oklahoma State

Season in brief: The Quakers earned an automatic bid by going 14-0 to win the regular-season title in the Ivy League, the only conference that doesn't stage a tournament to pick its representative. Junior guard Jeff Schiffner leads the nation in three-point shooting at 49.7%. For an inkling of what Penn is capable of, consider the USC game in January: Penn made 15 of 20 three-pointers in a 99-61 victory.

Player to watch: Ugonna Onyekwe. The senior forward from England leads the team in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots -- and surprisingly, in steals.

Tidbit: Senior forward Koko Archibong is from Pasadena Poly High School.

NCAA bio: Fourth appearance in last five years. Reached the Final Four in 1979 before losing to Magic Johnson's Michigan State team in the semifinals. Lost to Cal in first round last season.

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No. 12 BUTLER (25-5)

First-round opponent: No. 5 Mississippi State.

Season in brief: Left out of the field last season despite a 25-5 record after losing in the first round of the Horizon League tournament, Butler landed on the bubble again this season after losing to Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the title game. An RPI of 35 -- and perhaps memories of the outcry over the omission of last year's team -- convinced the committee the Bulldogs belong.

Player to watch: Joel Cornette. The senior forward broke down crying after the loss to Wisconsin-Milwaukee, saying "I really hope this isn't it."

Tidbit: Butler's five losses came on the road against teams that were a combined 61-3 at home, counting Milwaukee's victory in the tournament 10 minutes from its campus.

NCAA bio: Sixth appearance. The 2001 team upset seventh-seeded Wake Forest in the first round before losing to Arizona.

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No. 13 AUSTIN PEAY (23-7)

First-round opponent: No. 4 Louisville.

Season in brief: Picked to finish fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference, Austin Peay's defense-oriented team capped its improbable season with a 63-57 victory over Tennessee Tech in the title game of the conference tournament. The Governors won their semifinal game in overtime after blocking a dunk attempt, and survived the first round after making a last-second three-pointer. Key result: Missouri defeated Austin Peay by 35 points.

Player to watch: Adrian Henning. The junior forward led the team in scoring and rebounding and had a 30-point game against Evansville in December.

Tidbit: The team is nicknamed the Governors after Austin Peay, governor of Tennessee from 1923-27 and known as "The Maker of Modern Tennessee."

NCAA bio: Fifth appearance, but only the second since 1987.

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No. 14 MANHATTAN (23-6)

First-round opponent: No. 3 Syracuse.

Season in brief: "We're a dangerous opponent in the first round. Mark it down," Coach Bobby Gonzalez said after Manhattan defeated Fairfield, 69-54, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title game. Statistics that back him up include a victory over St. John's and the Jaspers' 78.6% free-throw percentage, one of the best in the nation.

Player to watch: Luis Flores. The junior guard averaged almost 25 points a game, had a season-high of 44 and topped 30 points six times.

Tidbit: Manhattan College is not located in Manhattan, but in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

NCAA bio: Upset fourth-seeded Oklahoma in the first round in its last appearance in 1995, when Fran Fraschilla was coach. Fifth appearance overall.

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No. 15 EAST TENNESSEE STATE (20-10)

First-round opponent: No. 2 Wake Forest.

Season in brief: The high-scoring Buccaneers -- whose 82-point average ranks among such teams as Arizona, Kansas and Duke near the top of the NCAA statistics -- earned an NCAA bid with a 97-90 victory over Chattanooga in the Southern Conference tournament final after upsetting favored College of Charleston in the semifinals.

Player to watch: Tim Smith. A 5-9 guard from Hargrave Military Academy, Smith was the Southern Conference freshman of the year after averaging 15 points a game.

Tidbit: East Tennessee State, located near the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains, is the only four-year university in the world with a comprehensive bluegrass music program.

NCAA bio: The Buccaneers are pedigreed upset threats, eliminating third-seeded Arizona in 1992 and throwing a scare into top-seeded Oklahoma in 1989 before losing by one point.

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No. 16 SOUTH CAROLINA STATE (20-10)

First-round opponent: No. 1 Oklahoma.

Season in brief: The Bulldogs lost seven games before January, but won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season title and earned the league's automatic bid with a 72-67 victory over Hampton in the tournament final. One result to gauge their prospects by: The Bulldogs lost to Wake Forest, 100-57.

Player to watch: Thurman Zimmerman. The sophomore forward was the conference rookie of the year and scored 29 points in a MEAC quarterfinal victory over Bethune-Cookman.

Tidbit: Moses Malone Jr., a 6-5 senior guard who started his career at Houston when Clyde Drexler was coach, is a starter for the Bulldogs. His father, inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001, was in the stands for the MEAC tournament.

NCAA bio: Fifth appearance, all under Coach Cy Alexander. Seeded 15th three times and 16th once, the Bulldogs have never won a game.

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