Ncaa Tournament

Regional Roundup

Midwest

March 17, 2003|By JEFF ZREBIEC

GOING TO NEW ORLEANS

After beating Mississippi State yesterday in the Southeastern Conference tournament title game in New Orleans, Kentucky opted to forgo the tradition of the victorious team cutting down the nets. No matter. It should get that chance in three weeks when the college basketball season culminates at the Superdome. A balanced offense and arguably the best defense in the country has made the Wildcats the popular and most logical choice to go all the way. Who could argue with a 23-game winning streak?

TEAM ON THE RISE

Oliver Purnell's Dayton Flyers won their first Atlantic 10 tournament title on Saturday by downing Temple. Ranked 22nd, the Flyers have lost just three times since Christmas: once to Duke and twice to conference foe Xavier.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

It's hard to believe that Alabama was once ranked No. 1 in the country. After winning its first nine games, the Crimson Tide played its way onto the tournament bubble courtesy of an 8-10 record over its last 2 1/2 months of the season. Many felt that Alabama shouldn't have been invited to the Big Dance.

CINDERELLA STORY

As a 15th seed in the 2001 tournament, Holy Cross, out of the Patriot League, nearly toppled second-seeded Kentucky before losing, 72-68, in the first round. Last year, as a No. 16 seed, it gave top-seeded Kansas quite a tussle before falling, 70-59. Will this be the year the Crusaders and unheralded forward Tim Szatko finally get fitted for the glass slipper?

PRIME-TIME PLAYER

Good luck finding a player that means more to his team than Marquette's versatile junior guard, Dwyane Wade. The Conference USA Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, Wade led the league in scoring (21.9), was ninth in assists (4.15), seventh in field-goal percentage (.511) and second in steals (2. 26).

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER

With his quick release and size advantage on most guards, Wisconsin 6-foot-5 senior guard Kirk Penney can be a handful for defenses. The native of Auckland, New Zealand, leads the Badgers in scoring (16.3), assists (3.0).

COACHING EDGE

Tubby Smith guided Kentucky to a national title in 1998 in his first year at the helm of the Wildcats, so give him the edge as the only coach in this region who has won a national crown. Twenty years ago, Dereck Whittenburg helped N.C. State and Jim Valvano win a national title. Now, as the coach of 15th-seeded Wagner, which plays Big East tournament champ Pittsburgh in the first round, Whittenburg is more than a long shot this year.

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