THE DRAW: Is this a regional, or the launching point for Noah's Ark? Five states have two teams each -- Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, Austin Peay and East Tennessee State, Pennsylvania and St. Joseph's, and Syracuse and Manhattan (New York). Sixth-ranked Oklahoma has a walk in the first round but could have trouble with North Carolina State in the second round. The Wolfpack defeated Wake Forest, the regional No. 2 seed, in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament before losing to Duke in the final. Third-seeded Syracuse is back in the NCAA tournament after a one-year absence.
BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME: California-North Carolina State. Cal will be playing for the honor of the Pac-10 after getting embarrassed by USC in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Coach Ben Braun's team is better than it showed in that game, but the Golden Bears will have their hands full trying to take down the Wolfpack and its dynamic duo of forward Julius Hodge and center Josh Powell.
SLEEPER: Austin Peay. It's been said that Coach Rick Pitino could run for governor of Kentucky after reviving the fortunes of the state's top two college basketball programs. Now he'll face a team of Governors known for their stingy defense. Austin Peay, named for a Tennessee governor, won the Ohio Valley Conference championship after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason. "These guys have been called overachievers," said Coach Dave Loos, "but they are not on the defensive end." Five Governors scored in double figures in a 63-57 victory over Tennessee Tech in the Ohio Valley tournament final. Now that's a winning ticket.
UPSET IN THE MAKING: Penn over Oklahoma State. It's a time-honored tradition for the Ivy League champion to throw a scare into a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. The Quakers' precision play is no joke, as the Cowboys will soon find out.
IMPACT COACH: Pitino. Though Louisville has slumped lately, losing five of its last 11 games, it's hard to ignore Pitino's postseason record. His teams are 26-7 in the NCAA tournament, a winning percentage of 78.8 that ranks third among active coaches. He is among 11 coaches who have taken teams from two schools to the Final Four, and he is among 14 coaches all-time with at least four Final Four appearances. In 17 seasons at four different schools, he has a 395-143 record that includes a national championship at Kentucky in 1996.
IMPACT PLAYER: Hollis Price. Oklahoma fans gasped Sunday when the senior guard was helped off the court in the final minute of the Sooners' 49-47 victory over Missouri in the Big 12 tournament final. Price, who averages 19.5 points, had his right knee taped after taking several hard falls, but Coach Kelvin Sampson says it will take a lot more than that to keep his star from playing in the NCAA tournament.
THE PICK: Sampson says the Sooners aren't as good as last year's team that reached the Final Four, but they're good enough to repeat.
-- Rob Fernas
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BY THE NUMBERS
*--* Team PPG PA FG% 3-PT% PPS RPG 1. Oklahoma 71.9 60.6 449 395 1.27 37.3 16. So. Car. St 72.8 71.3 456 334 1.34 37.2 2. Wake Forest 78.4 67.6 457 344 1.37 41.7 15. East Tenn 82.3 75.2 467 349 1.32 38.8 3. Syracuse 79.5 69.9 475 338 1.29 41.2 14. Manhattan 76.2 67.8 451 349 1.32 34.6 4. Louisville 81.9 70.6 468 364 1.34 38.3 13. Austin Peay 71.3 67.2 460 357 1.34 35.2 5. Miss St 70.6 60.0 476 345 1.27 37.4 12. Butler 68.3 60.1 477 387 1.35 28.3 7. St. Joe's 70.6 61.6 446 368 1.30 35.3 10. Auburn 70.9 65.5 468 344 1.28 35.1 8. Cal 74.5 69.8 466 377 1.27 35.6 9. N.C. State 72.2 67.4 457 355 1.36 31.6
Key: PPG-points per game; PA-Points allowed per game; FG%-Field goal percentage; 3-PT%-3-point field goal percentage PPS-Points per shot; RPG-Rebounds per game