March 12, 2001|By Chicago Tribune

1. Illinois (24-7)

Coach: Bill Self.

Conference: Big Ten.

How they made it: Leadership of Big Ten Most Valuable Player Frank Williams; depth; inside play of Marcus Griffin and Brian Cook; wins over Maryland, Seton Hall, Arizona, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Key to advancing: Guard play. Cory Bradford's outside shooting and a consistent Williams are crucial if the Illini are to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1989.

2. Arizona (23-7)

Coach: Lute Olson.

Conference: Pac-10.

How they made it: Early road losses to Connecticut, Purdue and Illinois hurt, but the Wildcats came together after Olson returned from mourning the death of his wife, Bobbi. They're a Final Four threat again.

Key to advancing: The Wildcats have more pure talent than anyone in the land, but they have to accept their roles. If they don't, they're a lock to join the long line of highly seeded Arizona teams that never made it out of the first weekend.

3. Mississippi (25-7)

Coach: Rod Barnes.

Conference: Southeastern.

How they made it: Playing in one of the nation's tougher conferences, the Rebels boast SEC wins over Kentucky and Tennessee. They also defeated Oklahoma and Southern California.

Key to advancing: Senior Rahim Lockhart might have to carry an inexperienced team. At 6 feet 8 and 255 pounds, he's up to the task.

4. Kansas (24-6)

Coach: Roy Williams.

Conference: Big 12.

How they made it: After a 17-1 start, the Jayhawks lost four of their next six, including two to Iowa State, before regrouping. Injuries to Drew Gooden (wrist) and Luke Axtell (back) contributed to the slump.

Key to advancing: A consistent go-to guy. Kenny Gregory averaged 16 points, Gooden 15 and Nick Collison 12, but the Jayhawks were sometimes shaky in crunch time.

5. Syracuse (24-8)

Coach: Jim Boeheim.

Conference: Big East.

How they made it: The Orangemen survived a tough conference schedule by never allowing themselves to fall too deeply into a rut. Their longest losing streak lasted two games. Preston Shumpert leads Syracuse with nearly 20 points a game.

Key to advancing: Both Shumpert and Damone Brown, averaging 17 points and a team-leading 8.8 rebounds, must have good shooting nights. And the Orangemen must complement the scoring with strong defense.

6. Notre Dame (19-9)

Coach: Mike Brey.

Conference: Big East.

How they made it: The Irish won the Big East West Division and earned a trip to the tournament for the first time in 11 years by earning five conference road victories to supplement the six at home. They were paced by Troy Murphy, who led the Big East with 22 points a game.

Key to advancing: The Irish have to get strong shooting from guard Matt Carroll and sixth man David Graves. And they must maintain their defensive focus for 40 minutes, something they haven't done all season.

7. Wake Forest (19-10)

Coach: Dave Odom.

Conference: Atlantic Coast.

How they made it: The Demon Deacons won their first 12 but haven't been the same since the New Year. They rode in on the ACC's coattails.

Key to advancing: Wake Forest needs better work on the boards if it hopes to live until the second weekend. The Demon Deacons were seventh in the ACC in rebounding.

8. Tennessee (22-10)

Coach: Jerry Green.

Conference: Southeastern.

How they made it: Barely. Ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason, the Volunteers were one of the nation's major disappointments.

Key to advancing: Tennessee has to put aside egos and play as a team. That has proved much easier said than done for this talented but selfish bunch.

9. Charlotte (21-10)

Coach: Bobby Lutz.

Conference: Conference USA.

How they made it: The 49ers were their league's second-highest scoring team, averaging just over 75 points a game, and finished just behind Cincinnati in their division race.

Keys to advancing: They ride the considerable skills of freshman forward Rodney White, who must continue his superb play in a tourney that often humbles freshmen. Their defense also must improve, as tourney games are tighter than those in the regular season.

10. Butler (23-7)

Coach: Thad Matta.

Conference: Midwestern Collegiate.

How they made it: MCC Coach of the Year Matta, like Barry Collier before him, built his team around defense. Bulldogs get back quickly on defense and take away opponents' transition games.

Key to advancing: LaVall Jordan is a key. Only 6-2, he'll guard and frustrate high scorers up to 6-8. Thomas Jackson made All-MCC.

11. Xavier (21-7)

Coach: Skip Prosser.

Conference: Atlantic 10.

How they made it: This season's Musketeers again exhibited the smart, quick style that has become a trademark under Prosser. David West shoots better than 55 percent from the field while scoring a team-leading 17 points.

Key to advancing: Freshman guard Romain Sato must complement West's inside game with the long-range shot. Sato shoots 39 percent from beyond the three-point line.

12. Hawaii (17-13)

Coach: Riley Wallace.

Conference: Western Athletic.

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