Going to Indianapolis: Defending champion Kentucky's path is golden. Once the Wildcats dispense with the Montana formality, they most likely have to beat Iowa, St. Joe's and either Wake Forest, whom they crushed in last year's tournament, or Utah.
Team on the rise: St. Joseph's Hawks won their last eight games, rolling through the Atlantic 10 tournament to end UMass' five-year domination.
Team on the decline: Despite Player of the Year candidate Tim Duncan, Wake Forest faded down the stretch, winning only three of its last seven games. Offense suddenly became a major struggle. For the first time since Duncan's freshman year, the Demon Deacons did not win the ACC tournament.
Cinderella story: St. Joe's not only won the A-10, but the Hawks also passed highly touted Villanova as the best college team in Philadelphia. They soared into the Top 25 for the first time in 24 years, and posted their first 20-win season in 11.
Prime-time player: In a bracket with Utah's Keith Van Horn and Kentucky's Ron Mercer, Duncan is still the West's most dominant player. He has to overcome a lot of Wake ills to deliver the Deacons to the Final Four.
Most underrated player: Point guard Rashid Bey directed St. Joe's revival this year, one season after he shot a ragged 34 percent from the field. This year he hit 43 percent and averaged nearly 15 points.
Coaching edge: Kentucky's Rick Pitino wanted no tournament distractions in his bid to repeat this year, so he had Mercer declare for the NBA draft back in February. And even though Kentucky was swept by South Carolina during the regular season, the Cats had a cakewalk in the SEC tournament, where they hammered Georgia in the final.
Pub Date: 3/10/97