Upset Doesn't Cost Arizona

Times Staff Writer

No. 1 ARIZONA (25-3)

First-round opponent: No. 16 Vermont.

Season in brief: Ranked No. 1 for more of the season than any other team, Arizona was stunned by UCLA in overtime in the first round of the Pacific 10 tournament, but still claimed a top regional seeding in the NCAA field. The Wildcats' only other losses were to Stanford and to Louisiana State, in a game Luke Walton missed because of an ankle injury and graduation. Key victories were over Texas and Kansas.

Player to watch: Jason Gardner. The senior point guard's pro prospects are limited because of his 5-10 build, but he is the Wildcats' player in the clutch despite sometimes erratic shooting. Walton raises the level of play with his passing finesse, and guard Salim Stoudamire is Arizona's X-factor.

Tidbit: If Arizona wins the NCAA title, Lute Olson will become the oldest coach to win the national championship, at 68. Phog Allen was 66 when Kansas won in 1952.

NCAA bio: The Wildcats' string of 19 consecutive tournament appearances is the longest current streak and second only to North Carolina's 27 in NCAA history. Arizona has played in Four Final Fours -- 1988, '94, '97 and 2001 -- and the 1997 championship team was the only team in NCAA history to defeat three No. 1-seeded teams on the way to the title.

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No. 2 KANSAS (25-7)

First-round opponent: No. 15 Utah State.

Season in brief: The Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular-season title in a fierce battle with Texas and Oklahoma, then lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament but got a No. 2 regional seeding. After starting the season ranked No. 2, they lost three of their first six, to North Carolina, Florida and Oregon, before hitting their stride. Lost to Arizona at home in January. Jayhawks' key injury is the loss of starting forward Wayne Simien late in the season because of a recurring shoulder injury.

Player to watch: Kirk Hinrich. Senior forward Nick Collison is a national player-of-the-year candidate too, but senior guard Hinrich's three-point shooting and fastbreak ability make the Jayhawks go.

Tidbit: Hinrich and Collison both played for teams coached by their fathers in high school in Iowa.

NCAA bio: Reached the Final Four last season for the first time since 1993, but lost to eventual champion Maryland in the semifinals. Kansas has appeared in 11 Final Fours -- trailing only North Carolina, UCLA, Duke and Kentucky -- and won two national championships, in 1952 and '88.

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No. 3 DUKE (24-6)

First-round opponent: No. 14 Colorado State.

Season in brief: Although the Blue Devils spent a couple of weeks at No. 1 this season, they aren't quite up to the level of recent Duke teams. They split regular-season meetings with Wake Forest, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Florida State, and were upset by St. John's before turning it on in the ACC tournament, winning the title with a 84-77 decision over N.C. State on Sunday.

Player to watch: J.J. Redick. Senior forward Dahntay Jones often leads the way, but Redick, a freshman guard, isn't far behind, and he's the Blue Devils' best three-point shooter. He had 30 points in the ACC tournament championship game. Other freshman standouts: Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph.

Tidbit: Randolph, the grandson of North Carolina State All-American Ronnie Shavlik, wears No. 42 in hopes he'll be "half the player" his grandfather was. (Shavlik wore No. 84.)

NCAA bio: Three NCAA championships, in 1991, '92 and 2001, and 13 Final Fours. Eliminated in a regional semifinal by Indiana last season after entering the tournament as the No. 1-seeded team in the South and the defending national champion.

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No. 4 ILLINOIS (24-6)

First-round opponent: No. 13 Western Kentucky.

Season in brief: The Illini were the highest-ranked team from the much-maligned Big Ten even though Wisconsin won the regular-season title, and they proved themselves by winning the conference tournament with a 72-59 decision over Ohio State Sunday in the final. Notable nonconference results included a victory over Missouri and a loss to Memphis.

Player to watch: Brian Cook. The senior forward averaged 20 points and seven rebounds to earn Big Ten player-of-the-year honors.

Tidbit: Cook is only the second Illinois player in 60 years to lead the league in scoring. (Kendall Gill was the other, in 1990.)

NCAA bio: Lost to Kansas in the Sweet 16 last season after defeating San Diego State and Creighton, a year after reaching the Elite Eight in Bill Self's first season as coach. Made the Final Four in 1949, '51 and '52 under Harry Combes, and returned in 1989 with a team led by Gill, Kenny Battle and Nick Anderson and coached by Lou Henson.

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No. 5 NOTRE DAME (22-9)

First-round opponent: No. 12 Wisconsin Milwaukee.

Season in brief: The Irish made an early impression with victories over highly ranked Marquette, Maryland and Texas. But they enter limping after a first-round Big East tournament loss to St. John's and four losses in their last five. Put it in its best light, that means Notre Dame is rested.

Player to watch: Matt Carroll. Sophomore point guard Chris Thomas had some disappointing performances, and Carroll, a senior guard, emerged as the surprise of the season with several 30-point games.

Tidbit: When Notre Dame vaulted from unranked to No. 10 in the Dec. 9 Associated Press poll, it was the third-biggest leap since the rankings expanded to 25 teams. (Kansas debuted at No. 4 in 1989, and Arizona at No. 8 in 2001.)

NCAA bio: Despite Notre Dame's fame as a basketball power under Digger Phelps during the 1970s and '80s, the Irish made the Final Four only once, in 1978. Third consecutive appearance under Mike Brey, with second-round losses in 2001 and '02.

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No. 6 CREIGHTON (29-4)

First-round opponent: No. 11 Central Michigan.

Season in brief: The Bluejays made an early splash with a victory over Notre Dame and became a fixture in the Top 25. But they were shaky at times, losing the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title to Southern Illinois and surviving by only one point in each of the first two rounds of the conference tournament before soundly defeating Southern Illinois in the final, 80-56. Still, with a solid RPI, Creighton figured to make the NCAA tournament even if it had lost.

Player to watch: Kyle Korver. The senior forward and national player-of-the-year finalist averages 17.7 points a game and shoots almost 48% from three-point range, making as many as nine in a game.

Tidbit: Baseball Hall of Famer Bob Gibson played basketball as well as baseball at Creighton, and played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1957-58.

NCAA bio: The Bluejays upset fifth-seeded Florida in double overtime in the first round last year on Terrell Taylor's last-second three-pointer. Fifth consecutive appearance under Coach Dana Altman.

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No. 7 MEMPHIS (23-6)

First-round opponent: No. 10 Arizona State.

Season in brief: In his third season at the school, Coach John Calipari has Memphis back in the NCAA tournament a year after failing to get there with Dajuan Wagner, who played only one season before jumping to the NBA. (The Tigers won the NIT, however.) Key nonconference results included victories over Syracuse and Illinois and a loss to Missouri.

Player to watch: Chris Massie. The senior forward is the Tigers' top player, but he was held scoreless for the first time this season in a loss to Louisville in the Conference USA semifinals.

Tidbit: Calipari's tournament record at Massachusetts was 11-5, advancing to the Elite Eight in 1995 and to the Final Four in 1996.

NCAA bio: First appearance since 1996. Reached the Final Four in 1973 under Gene Bartow, losing to UCLA in the title game, and in 1985 under Dana Kirk, losing to eventual champion Villanova in the semifinals. Made the Elite Eight in 1992.

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No. 8 CINCINNATI (17-11)

First-round opponent: No. 9 Gonzaga.

Season in brief: Cincinnati endured an emotional start after Coach Bob Huggins survived a heart attack in September, only to return to the court for the beginning of practice two weeks later. It was far from a typical season for the Bearcats, who had to sweat out an NCAA bid after losing to Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals. Key victories: A 77-52 defeat of Oregon as well as triumphs over Oklahoma State and Louisville.

Player to watch: Leonard Stokes. At 6-6, the senior guard and leading scorer is the Bearcats' most versatile player.

Tidbit: Dodger great Sandy Koufax attended the University of Cincinnati.

NCAA bio: Lost to UCLA in double-overtime in the second round last season. Under Huggins, the Bearcats reached the 1992 Final Four and the Elite Eight two other times, in '93 and '96. Two national championships, in 1961 and '62, and six Final Fours.

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No. 9 GONZAGA (23-8)

First-round opponent: No. 8 Cincinnati.

Season in brief: The Zags landed on the bubble after losing to San Diego when forward Cory Violette sat out the West Coast Conference title game because of an ankle injury. But their ambitious schedule helped them secure an at-large berth. Gonzaga's early losses were to Indiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Stanford and St. Joseph's, though they also stumbled against Loyola Marymount, Portland and San Diego.

Player to watch: Blake Stepp. Forward Ronny Turiaf might be the best NBA prospect, but Stepp, a junior guard, was the West Coast player of the year.

Tidbit: Turiaf speaks four languages: French, English, Creole and Spanish.

NCAA bio: After three consecutive Sweet 16s--including a 1999 trip to the Elite Eight -- Gonzaga lost its tournament magic last season in a first-round upset at the hands of Wyoming. The Zags had entered the tournament with a top 10 ranking and a No. 6 seeding.

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No. 10 ARIZONA STATE (19-11)

First-round opponent: No. 7 Memphis.

Season in brief: There is nothing spectacular about the Sun Devils, who simply compiled a very solid season against a quality schedule. Still a victory shy of their first 20-win season since 1995 after losing to Oregon in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament, the Sun Devils finished fourth in the Pac-10 regular-season race and led the league in shooting percentage at 49.2%.

Player to watch: Ike Diogu. The 6-8, 250-pound forward is virtually unstoppable once he gets the ball inside, averaging 19 points and 7.9 rebounds to earn Pac-10 freshman-of-the-year honors.

Tidbit: Guard Kevin Kruger, redshirting this season, is the son of former Atlanta Hawk coach Lon Kruger, who guided Florida to the Final Four in 1994.

NCAA bio: First trip since Bill Frieder guided the Sun Devils to the Sweet 16 of the 1995 tournament. Before then, ASU hadn't reached the Sweet 16 since 1975, under Ned Wulk.

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No. 11 CENTRAL MICHIGAN (24-6)

First-round opponent: No. 6 Creighton.

Season in brief: The Chippewas won the Mid-American tournament, defeating Kent State in the final, 77-67, to win the MAC title for the first time in 16 years. Earlier in the season, they had a nonconference victory over Michigan during the Wolverines' 0-6 start.

Player to watch: Chris Kaman. The 7-foot junior still needs to develop, but he is projected to be a first-round NBA draft pick if he decides to leave this season after averaging 23 points and 12 rebounds.

Tidbit: Kaman struggled with attention-deficit disorder in high school, but since learned to manage the disorder without medication.

NCAA bio: First trip since 1987, when the Chippewas lost to UCLA in the first round, one game before the Bruins lost to Wyoming and Fennis Dembo.

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No. 12 WISCONSIN MILWAUKEE (24-7)

First-round opponent: No. 5 Notre Dame.

Season in brief: After losing the Horizon League's regular-season title to Butler on a last-second shot, the Panthers took revenge in the game that mattered most, blowing out Butler in the conference tournament final, 69-52. Nonconference record included double-digit losses to Wisconsin and Georgia.

Player to watch: Clay Tucker. The senior forward averaged 18.3 points a game and had a 40-point performance against Wright State.

Tidbit: Wisconsin Milwaukee added to a banner season for basketball in the state of Wisconsin, where Marquette is a fixture in the top 25 and Wisconsin won the Big Ten regular-season title.

NCAA bio: First appearance. Not to be confused with Wisconsin Green Bay, which has made four previous trips.

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No. 13 WESTERN KENTUCKY (24-8)

First-round opponent: No. 4 Illinois.

Season in brief: Western Kentucky was ranked No. 20 in the Associated Press preseason poll, but a lot of people gave up on the Hilltoppers when the foot problems of 7-foot center Chris Marcus kept him out of the picture. Western Kentucky persisted without him and earned its berth with a 64-52 victory over Middle Tennessee to win the Sun Belt tournament.

Player to watch: Patrick Sparks. The sophomore guard leads six players in double-figures scoring, but he is locally renown for being the Kentucky high school scoring champion as a senior.

Tidbit: Dennis Felton is the latest coach in a Western Kentucky history that includes Gene Keady, Clem Haskins and Ralph Willard.

NCAA bio: Third consecutive appearance, and 19th overall. Reached the Final Four in 1971 before losing to Villanova in double-overtime in a semifinal game. Last NCAA victory was in 1995, over a Michigan team that boasted the last remnants of the Fab Five.

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No. 14 COLORADO STATE (19-13)

First-round opponent: No. 3 Duke.

Season in brief: The Rams made an improbable comeback in the Mountain West title game before defeating Nevada Las Vegas, 62-61, on Brian Greene's jumper with 5.7 seconds left. But it took an improbable comeback just to get that far. The Rams lost seven games in a row at one point during the season before reaching the tournament and beating Wyoming, Brigham Young and then defeating the Rebels on their home court.

Player to watch: Matt Nelson. The 7-foot sophomore center and tournament most valuable player exited the title game with 13 minutes left after getting poked in the eye, but Colorado State won anyway.

Tidbit: Colorado State has made a nice turnaround after going 12-18 last season -- and only 3-11 in the Mountain West.

NCAA bio: Last appearance was in 1990, under renowned defensive strategist Boyd Grant. Eighth appearance overall, with one trip to the Elite Eight, in 1969.

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No. 15 UTAH STATE (24-8)

First-round opponent: No. 2 Kansas.

Season in brief: UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine finished at the top of the Big West standings, but third-seeded Utah State took the tournament title -- and the only Big West bid -- with a 57-54 victory over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The Aggies needed overtime to outlast Cal State Fullerton in the first round before defeating UC Irvine in the semifinals.

Player to watch: Desmond Penigar. The senior forward was an all-conference player as well as the most valuable player of the Big West tournament.

Tidbit: Coach Stew Morrill is a graduate of Gonzaga.

NCAA bio: Fourth appearance in six years and 15th overall. Reached the Elite Eight in 1939 and 1970, but the Aggies only NCAA victory since the 1970s was a 2001 first-round upset of fifth-seeded Ohio State in overtime. UCLA eliminated Utah State in the second round.

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No. 16 VERMONT (21-11)

First-round opponent: No. 1 Arizona.

Season in brief: David Hehn, a 6-5 guard, made a fall-away turnaround jumper in the final seconds of a 56-55 victory over Boston University on BU's home court to win the America East title and send Vermont to the tournament. Still, the Catamounts -- who had a six-game losing streak early in the season -- don't appear to be any threat to pull an upset.

Player to watch: Taylor Coppenrath. The sophomore forward is the Catamounts' leading scorer, averaging about 19 points a game.

Tidbit: Coach Tom Brennan is the host of the top-rated morning radio show in Burlington, Vt. "I'd never claim I am as good a coach as Rick Pitino or 326 other guys, but I am every bit as good as [Don] Imus and [Howard] Stern," Brennan told CBSSportsLine last year.

NCAA bio: First appearance.

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