Ncaa Tournament

Regional Roundup

West

March 17, 2003|By JEFF ZREBIEC

GOING TO NEW ORLEANS

Once defined by a couple of early-round exits in the NCAA tournament, Arizona answered the skeptics by winning the title in 1997 and finishing runner-up to Duke in 2001. This year, with the return of a talented senior class led by point guard Jason Gardner and forward Luke Walton, the Wildcats have been one of the top dogs since Day One. A first-round Pac-10 tournament loss to UCLA will just make Arizona, probably the most talented team in the country, hungrier for the trip to the Big Easy.

TEAM ON THE RISE

In an average year for the Big Ten, Illinois won the conference tournament yesterday for its eighth win in nine games. The Illini's only loss in the last month was a one-point defeat at the hands of Big Ten regular-season champ Wisconsin. Illinois will open the tournament in Indianapolis, just 120 miles from its Champaign campus.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

Notre Dame's Mike Brey was well on his way to Big East Coach of the Year honors before the Irish hit a late-season tailspin. They lost four of their last five, Including an embarrassing 13-point loss to Rutgers and a first-round exit in the Big East tournament to St John's. The result: a fifth seed and a date with Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

CINDERELLA STORY

Western Kentucky lost two of its top players, 7-footer Chris Marcus and Todor Pandov, when the season was not even a month old. But the 13th-seeded Hilltoppers, out of the Sun Belt Conference, are back for a third straight year and an upset over Big Ten champ Illinois would make quite a statement. Coincidentally, the Hilltoppers' last tournament win came against a Big Ten opponent, Michigan in 1995.

PRIME-TIME PLAYER

Nick Collison, a 6-9 senior forward from Kansas, is one of the few big men in the field of 65 who can dominate the game. For proof, just go back to late January when he scored 24 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in the Jayhawks' 90-87 win over Texas. He averages 18.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER

Sure, Notre Dame is struggling, but the Fighting Irish's Matt Carroll is doing just fine. The sweet-shooting 6-6 senior guard, a Big East first-team player, averages 20.6 points and has scored in double figures for 37 straight games, dating back to last season.

COACHING EDGE

Lute Olson guided Arizona, this year's West top seed, to a national title in 1997. But it would be hard to look any other way than in the direction of Duke's Mike Krzyzewskl, who sports three national championship rings as a coach.

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