Texas Looks Beyond Sweet 16

Times Staff Writer

No. 1 TEXAS (22-6)

First-round opponent: North Carolina Asheville-Texas Southern winner.

Season in brief: Edged by Kansas for the Big 12 regular-season title, the Longhorns lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals but still managed to get a No. 1 regional seeding. Lost close games to Arizona and Kansas but swept Oklahoma during the regular-season, ending the Sooners' 37-game home winning streak along the way.

Player to watch: T.J. Ford. No one can stay in front of the ultra-quick sophomore point guard, but his inconsistent shooting keeps him from being as good as he could be.

Tidbit: Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight has called underrated center James Thomas one of his favorite players in the Big 12: "I'm not sure there's a kid anywhere who comes to play harder than that kid does."

NCAA bio: Lost to Oregon in the Sweet 16 last season on Frederick Jones' running jumper in the lane in the final seconds. Reached the national semifinals twice in the 1940s, but hasn't advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1990, when Texas made the Elite Eight under Tom Penders.

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No. 2 FLORIDA (24-7)

First-round opponent: No. 15 Sam Houston State.

Season in brief: Florida spent a few days in February as the No. 1-ranked team in the country before a 15-point loss to Kentucky. Buoyed by three standout freshmen -- Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson and Christian Drejer -- the Gators earned a top-10 ranking and set a school record for regular-season victories. But they faltered late, losing their last three to Georgia, Kentucky and then to Louisiana State in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals.

Player to watch: Matt Bonner. The senior forward leads one of the deepest lineups in the nation, with perhaps only Arizona as its peer.

Tidbit: With a 3.98 grade-point average in business administration, Bonner was designated the Verizon Academic All-America national player of the year.

NCAA bio: Upset in overtime in the first round last season by Creighton, and in the second round of the 2001 tournament by Temple. Made Final Four under Lon Kruger in 1994 and again in 2000 under Billy Donovan, losing to Michigan State in the title game after defeating North Carolina in the semifinals.

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No. 3 XAVIER (25-5)

First-round opponent: No. 14 Troy State.

Season in brief: The Musketeers were a top-10 team with a 16-game winning streak before their loss to Temple in a semifinal of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Their other losses were to Stanford, Mississippi State, Alabama and Richmond. Among the notable teams they defeated: Cincinnati, Creighton, Dayton and St. Joseph's.

Player to watch: David West. The senior power forward is among the leading contenders for national player of the year, and his 47-point game against Dayton was one of the season's most impressive performances.

Tidbit: Two former Xavier coaches are in the ACC: Virginia's Pete Gillen and Wake Forest's Skip Prosser.

NCAA bio: The Musketeers lost to Oklahoma in the second round last season. Xavier has reached the Sweet 16 once, in 1990, upsetting a Georgetown team led by Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.

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No. 4 STANFORD (23-8)

First-round opponent: No. 13 San Diego.

Season in brief: For the second year in a row, Stanford was upset by USC in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. Overall, the Cardinal's season was a dramatic surprise after losing Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt to the NBA draft, as well as losing point guard Chris Hernandez to injury. Stanford notched nonconference victories over Xavier, Florida and Gonzaga, and finished second in the Pac-10, upsetting No. 1 Arizona in Tucson in January.

Player to watch: Julius Barnes. The senior guard led the Cardinal with 15.7 points a game as well as in assists and free-throw shooting.

Tidbit: Reserve guard Dan Grunfeld is the son of Milwaukee Buck General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, who starred along with Bernard King at Tennessee in the 1970s.

NCAA bio: Lost to Kansas in the second round last season. The previous two years, Stanford was a No. 1-seeded team but was upset by Maryland in the Elite Eight in 2001 and by North Carolina in the second round in 2000. Made the Final Four in 1998, losing to eventual champion Kentucky in the semifinals. Won the 1942 NCAA title.

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No. 5 CONNECTICUT (21-9)

First-round opponent: No. 12 Brigham Young.

Season in brief: The Huskies were distracted in February by Jim Calhoun's unexpected surgery for prostate cancer, but he returned to the team after missing a little more than two weeks. UConn subsequently returned to form, reaching the Big East title game against Pittsburgh before losing, 74-56.

Player to watch: Emeka Okafor. This intellectual sophomore shot-blocker is expected to play another year, partly because he can graduate as a junior.

Tidbit: Okafor, a finance major, has a 3.73 grade-point average and was named a first-team Verizon Academic All-American.

NCAA bio: Won the NCAA title in 1999, stunning Duke with a team lead by Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin. In 10 previous appearances under Calhoun, the Huskies have reached the Elite Eight five times, including last season, when they lost to eventual champion Maryland.

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No. 6 MARYLAND (19-9)

First-round opponent: No. 11 North Carolina Wilmington.

Season in brief: The Terrapins lost Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter and Chris Wilcox from the 2002 NCAA championship team but nevertheless are a veteran team with four senior starters. The Terps faltered early with losses to Indiana, Notre Dame and Florida before mid-December. But Maryland regrouped, splitting with Wake Forest and Duke to earn the second-seeding in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament -- only to be upset by North Carolina in a quarterfinal.

Player to watch: Steve Blake. The senior point guard is the only player in ACC history with at least 1,000 points, 800 assists, 400 rebounds and 200 steals.

Tidbit: Guard Calvin McCall started 17 games at quarterback for Maryland as a freshman and sophomore before giving up football to concentrate on basketball.

NCAA bio: The Terrapins made the slogan "Fear the Turtle" famous as they won the school's first NCAA basketball title last year with a 64-52 victory over Indiana at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Maryland has reached the Final Four the last two seasons.

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No. 7 MICHIGAN STATE (19-12))

First-round opponent: No. 10 Colorado.

Season in brief: A victory over Kentucky in December made people take notice, but the Spartans slumped badly at midseason, losing to Toledo at home. Still, they rallied to finish 10-6 in the Big Ten and advanced to the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, only to lose a close game to Ohio State after shooting only 30% from the field.

Player to watch: Chris Hill. The sophomore guard led the Spartans in scoring, assists, steals and three-pointers.

Tidbit: Tom Izzo's NCAA tournament winning percentage of .800 (16-4) is the highest among active coaches with at least 10 games. (Mike Krzyzewski is second at .795 and Rick Pitino is third at .788.)

NCAA bio: Lost in the first round last season to North Carolina State. Reached the Final Four each of the previous three years, winning the NCAA title in 2000 with a team led by Mateen Cleaves. Won the 1979 title with Magic Johnson. Has been to five Final Fours overall, including 1957.

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No. 8 LOUISIANA STATE (21-10)

First-round opponent: No. 9 Purdue.

Season in brief: Among the Tigers' distinctions this season is that they were one of only three teams to beat Arizona -- defeating the Wildcats when Luke Walton was out because of injury. They also upset Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament and had victories over Alabama, Tennessee and Auburn in the final 10 games before losing to Mississippi State in a semifinal of the SEC tournament.

Player to watch: Ronald Dupree. The senior forward leads a one-two punch with junior college transfer Jaime Lloreda.

Tidbit: LSU played in the last consolation game in the Final Four, losing to Virginia in 1981, the year President Reagan was shot the day of the final games.

NCAA bio: Last appearance was in 2000, when the Tigers defeated Texas in the second round to reach the Sweet 16 before losing to Wisconsin. Three Final Fours -- two under Dale Brown, in 1981 and '86 -- and one under Harry Rabenhorst in 1953.

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No. 9 PURDUE (18-10)

First-round opponent: No. 8 Louisiana State.

Season in brief: The Boilermakers had an up-and-down season, but going 13-18 last season, this qualified as considerable progress. Some of the excitement of returning to the postseason slipped away when the Boilermakers were held to only 42 points in a Big Ten quarterfinal loss to Michigan State, scoring only 12 points in the first half.

Player to watch: Willie Deane. The senior guard was barely beaten out for the Big Ten scoring title, finishing second at 19.8 points a game.

Tidbit: After 17 tournament appearances and two trips to the Elite Eight (in 1994 and 2000), Coach Gene Keady is still after an elusive first trip to the Final Four. (Temple's John Chaney has made 17 appearances with five trips to the Elite Eight, but is still seeking his first Final Four.)

NCAA bio: Returning to the tournament after missing two in a row. Purdue has made the Final Four twice, losing to UCLA both times -- in the 1969 final and in a 1980 semifinal.

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No. 10 COLORADO (20-11)

First-round opponent: No. 7 Michigan State.

Season in brief: The Buffaloes' best victory was a 60-59 upset of Kansas, and they also beat Texas and Oklahoma State. That was all at home. Warning: The Buffaloes were only 3-9 on the road, 1-7 in the Big 12.

Player to watch: David Harrison. In a college game almost devoid of quality centers, the 7-foot Harrison, still only a sophomore, is one of the best. Michel Morandais, a junior guard, is the Buffaloes' leading scorer.

Tidbit: Ralphie is Colorado's buffalo mascot, the one seen on the field at football games. The name of the costumed mascot? That would be the buffalo Chip.

NCAA bio: First appearance since 1997, when Colorado beat Indiana in the first round, sending Bob Knight walking back to his hotel from the arena at night, then lost to North Carolina in the second round in Dean Smith's record-breaking 877th victory. Two Final Fours, in 1942 and 1955.

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No. 11 N.C. WILMINGTON (24-6)

First-round opponent: No. 6 Maryland.

Season in brief: The Seahawks lost coach Jerry Wainwright to Richmond after last season's NCAA tournament success, but new Coach Brad Brownell has them in the NCAA field again after a 70-62 victory over Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Assn. tournament final.

Player to watch: Brett Blizzard. In last season's NCAA tournament, the senior guard scored 18 points in an upset of USC and 29 against Indiana in the second round.

Tidbit: North Carolina Wilmington was named the best surfing university on the East Coast by Swell.com and Surfing Girl magazine.

NCAA bio: The Seahawks stunned fourth-seeded USC in overtime in the first round last season before losing to a Hoosier team headed for the Final Four in the second. Third appearance overall, also making the field in 2000 and 2002.

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No. 12 BRIGHAM YOUNG (23-8)

First-round opponent: No. 5 Connecticut.

Season in brief: Brigham Young tied Utah for the regular-season title in the Mountain West after leading the league in shooting, three-point shooting, free-throw percentage and scoring margin, then lost to Colorado State in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Swept by Utah during the regular season, the Cougars' nonconference results included victories over Arizona State and San Diego and a loss to Creighton.

Player to watch: Travis Hansen. The senior swingman has led the Cougars in scoring the last two seasons and is one of the leaders in assists as well.

Tidbit: Guard Austin Ainge, redshirting this season, is the son of former NBA player and coach Danny Ainge, whose famous moment at BYU came on a buzzer-beating shot after an end-to-end drive to upset Notre Dame in the 1981 NCAA tournament.

NCAA bio: Second appearance in the last three seasons under Steve Cleveland, a 1976 graduate of UC Irvine. Lost to Cincinnati in first round in 2001. Advanced to Elite Eight in 1981 on Ainge's game-winning shot.

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No. 13 SAN DIEGO (18-11)

First-round opponent: No. 4 Stanford.

Season in brief: The Toreros' victory over UCLA in November was one of the early signs UCLA was headed for trouble. But San Diego wasn't NCAA-bound until it upset Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference tournament final, 72-63. Key performance: Senior guard Matt Delzell made eight of 10 three-pointers in the final two games.

Player to watch: Jason Keep. The senior center, a transfer from Oklahoma State, was named one of the 10 best players on the West Coast by the U.S. Basketball Writers Assn.

Tidbit: Coach Brad Holland was the last player recruited by John Wooden at UCLA, but never played for him, spending two seasons under Gene Bartow and two under Gary Cunningham.

NCAA bio: First trip to the NCAA tournament since 1987, and third overall. The Toreros are 0-2 in NCAA games.

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No. 14 TROY STATE (26-5)

First-round opponent: No. 3 Xavier.

Season in brief: The Trojans were the first team to clinch a spot in the NCAA field, earning the Atlantic Sun's automatic bid with an 80-69 victory over Central Florida. Once known for triple-digit scoring in the style made famous by Loyola Marymount, Troy State still plays a high-octane game, averaging 80.6 points.

Player to watch: Ben Fletcher. The junior guard shares the load with junior forward Rob Lewin, but it was Fletcher who scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Trojans in the tournament title game.

Tidbit: In one of the school's earlier brushes with big-time athletics, Troy State's football team lost to Nebraska, 42-14, in 2001

NCAA bio: First appearance. Troy State reached the NCAA Division II title game in 1993, losing to a Cal State Bakersfield team coached by Pat Douglass, now at UC Irvine.

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No. 15 SAM HOUSTON STATE (23-6)

First-round opponent: No. 2 Florida.

Season in brief: It would be hard for a team to grab its first NCAA tournament berth more dramatically than Sam Houston State. Donald Cole sank a three-pointer with 14 seconds left in overtime to defeat Stephen F. Austin in the Southland tournament final in front of a jubilant home crowd.

Player to watch: Cole. A 6-8, left-handed senior forward, Cole had 26 points -- including the game-winners -- and 11 rebounds in the title game. He was the nation's 13th-leading rebounder in 2002 at 10.3 a game, but averaged only eight this season.

Tidbit: Located in Huntsville, Tex., the school of 13,000 students is named after the first President of the Republic of Texas. Houston also served as a United States senator and as governor of Texas.

NCAA bio: First appearance.

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N.C. ASHEVILLE (14-16)

Play-in opponent: Texas Southern.

Season in brief: The 17th team in history to make the NCAA tournament with a losing record, the Bulldogs qualified for the field of 65 by beating Radford, 85-71, in the Big South tournament final after surviving the first two rounds in overtime. Worth noting: UNC Asheville played an ambitious schedule this season, losing to Connecticut by 50, Oklahoma by 36 and Kansas by 52.

Player to watch: Andre Smith. The senior guard led the team in scoring, assists and steals and made the shot in overtime that helped UNC Asheville move on from the first round of the conference tournament.

Tidbit: Coach Eddie Biedenbach was an assistant coach for the 1974 North Carolina State team that interrupted UCLA's run of NCAA championships.

NCAA bio: First appearance.

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TEXAS SOUTHERN (18-12)

Play-in opponent: North Carolina Asheville.

Season in brief: With an RPI below 200, the Tigers were designated for the play-in game Tuesday in Dayton and must win to make the main draw of 64. Despite a late-season slump, they made the field of 65 with a 77-68 Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament victory over Alcorn State, ending the career of Alcorn Coach Davey Whitney, who won 12 SWAC titles during his 27 seasons.

Player to watch: Rakim Hollis. The senior guard and leading scorer matched his average in the SWAC title game, scoring 18 points.

Tidbit: Coach Ronnie Courtney led Sugarland Willowridge High in the Houston area to two state championships before becoming the Tigers' coach.

NCAA bio: Three previous appearances, in 1990, '94, and '95. No NCAA victories.

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