Debatable selections, choice games

Committee first criticized, but Sweet 16 field shows good decisions, matchups

Analysis

College Basketball

Ncaa Tournament

March 24, 2003|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

A week ago, chairman Jim Livengood and the rest of the NCAA tournament selection committee were being lambasted for some of their choices and seedings. One reporter -- see the byline on this story for a hint -- had the audacity to suggest that picking Butler was a make-up call for it being snubbed last year.

Oops.

When the tournament resumes later this week with the Sweet 16 -- in Anaheim, Calif., and Minneapolis on Thursday, in San Antonio and Albany, N.Y., on Friday -- there will be a nice mix of chalk teams in the West and Midwest, Cinderellas in the South and East.

Here's a regional breakdown:

West Regional

Three of the top four seeds advanced, meaning that the region remains the most top-heavy with traditional powers. The four -- No. 1 seed Arizona, No. 2 Kansas, No. 3 Duke and No. 5 Notre Dame -- have combined for six national championships.

The top-seeded Wildcats had the toughest time advancing, barely escaping a double-overtime classic with ninth-seeded Gonzaga. Arizona used all five starters for more than 40 minutes each, which speaks to coach Lute Olson's confidence in some of his younger bench players at this time of year.

Notre Dame can present problems if it shoots like it did in upsetting Illinois in the second round. There are several good individual matchups, particularly former Terp Danny Miller and Luke Walton at forward.

Kansas and Duke have a pretty rich recent history together in the tournament, having played twice in the semifinals as well as for the 1991 title. While neither is as good as they were a year ago, the aura of these two elite programs remains because of coaches Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski.

Even without Wayne Simien, who was injured late in the regular season, the Jayhawks are the most physical team in this region because of center Nick Collison. The Blue Devils can be, but they rely more on forcing turnovers and hitting jumpers. If freshman guard J.J. Redick gets hot, Duke could advance.

Midwest Regional

The dominance of the first two seeds, Kentucky and Pittsburgh, should ensure that the chalk won't be erased, at least until the Elite 8. Third seed Marquette could continue to win close games, but No. 5 Wisconsin is a sacrificial Badger.

Marquette and Pitt feature two of the nation's best backcourts, and the edge clearly belongs to Duane Wade and Travis Diener, who combined for 50 points in Marquette's overtime win against Missouri. Brandin Knight and Julius Page are very good, but the Panthers must win the game inside.

Who's going to beat Kentucky? Though the reputation of the Southeastern Conference took a hit in the first week -- only the Wildcats and Auburn are left of the six teams that received bids -- Kentucky still has the same look of invincibility it has had for a while.

Wisconsin could be one of those teams of destiny, as happened when the Badgers reached the Final Four in 2000. More likely, this bunch of relative no-names will remain fairly anonymous outside Madison, especially if point guard Freddie Owens' sprained ankle doesn't heal fast enough.

East Regional

With two double-digit seeds remaining --- the first time that has happened in the same regional semifinal since 1999 -- this justifies the committee's choices. No. 12 Butler, the last at-large team in, beat Mississippi State and Louisville, while No. 10 Auburn surprised St. Joe's and Wake Forest.

Butler guard Darnell Archey could present similar problems to top-seed Oklahoma that he did to the Cardinals yesterday, when he scored 26 points. If All-American Hollis Price is still bothered by a pulled groin, the Sooners will have to look for freshman D'Angelo Alexander to continue filling the void.

Auburn is another team making the selection committee look good, going from the bubble to its first Sweet 16 in four years. The Tigers match up athletically with Syracuse, and Derrick Bird might be just the defensive stopper to slow down Orangemen phenom Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic).

Given Price's uncertain status, and Syracuse's inconsistency, this is the region with the best chance for upsets. Archey and his teammates want to show that the Horizon League is every bit as good as some of the other mid-major conferences that have sent teams this far -- or farther.

South Regional

Maryland probably has a tougher matchup in seventh seed Michigan State than in Florida. Beating a team that likes to hit the boards is more difficult than stopping a bunch of jump shooters. The way the Spartans shredded the Gators yesterday will certainly help coach Gary Williams get his team's attention.

The Terps did a magnificent job against Xavier, particularly in the first half and again down the stretch, of shutting down David West and Romain Sato. If Maryland's seniors continue to play as they have the first week, a third straight Final Four trip is not out of the question.

Texas, though, will have a distinct advantage over the other three teams. It is the only team left in the tournament that is essentially playing at home. While the Longhorns were spotty at times before dispatching Purdue yesterday, point guard T.J. Ford proved again to be the difference.

Connecticut has looked particularly strong, and Emeka Okafor should give Longhorns center James Thomas all he can handle. The Huskies have good depth in the backcourt to help on Ford and Royal Ivey, and Ben Gordon's 29 points against Stanford might signal that UConn is ready for a run.

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