1. Duke

March 15, 2004

1. Duke

Location: Durham, N.C.

Record: 27-5

RPI: 1

Record against tournament field: 14-4

Road record: 9-3

Record in past 10: 7-3

Impressive victories: Dec. 3, at Michigan State, 72-50; Jan. 17, Wake Forest, 84-72; March 6, North Carolina, 70-65.

Disturbing losses: Nov. 29, Purdue, 78-68; Feb. 15, N.C. State, 78-74.

Top players: So. J.J. Redick, G, 16.6 ppg; Sr. Chris Duhon, G, 10.1 ppg, 6.3 apg; Fr. Luol Deng, F, 14.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg; So. Shelden Williams, F, 12.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg

Skinny: There hasn't been a dominant No. 1 team in college basketball this season, but Duke has been consistently one of the best all year. A 12-point collapse to Maryland in the closing minutes of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final raises some questions, but this year's squad still appears to have the right mixture of leadership (Duhon) and talent (Redick) to get to San Antonio. Redick might be the best pure shooter in the country (42 percent from three-point range) and Williams, when he stays out of foul trouble, provides enough muscle inside to keep teams honest. The X-factor is Deng. The 6-foot-8 freshman is a tough matchup, but he can be taken out of his game. He shot just 1-for-14 in a loss to Georgia Tech on March 3, but came back three days later and scored 25 in a win over North Carolina.

Famous grad: Former President Richard Nixon (Duke Law School).

Little-known fact: Tobacco tycoon James B. Duke, who in 1924 had the college of Trinity renamed Duke University, didn't like to smoke cigarettes even though their sale made him a fortune. He instead preferred chewing tobacco.

2. Mississippi State

Location: Starkville, Miss.

Record: 25-3

RPI: 4

Record against tournament field: 6-3

Road record: 12-0

Record in past 10: 8-2

Impressive victories: Jan. 17, at Louisiana State, 64-54; Jan. 21, at Florida, 79-68; Feb. 28, at Vanderbilt, 72-69.

Disturbing losses: Feb. 21, Alabama, 77-73.

Top players: Sr. Timmy Bowers, G, 15.3 ppg, 4.7 apg; Jr. Lawrence Roberts, F, 17.0 ppg, 10.4 rpg; Sr. Branden Vincent, F, 7.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg.

Skinny: In Roberts and Bowers, the Bulldogs have one of the nation's best inside-outside duos. Roberts is a transfer from Baylor who deserves All-American mention: This bull in the low post also can hit the occasional 15-footer. There's also a nice group of complementary players. The Bulldogs use their quickness to play good defense and their size to really crash the boards. This is a team that could go a long way. Questions remain about the coaching acumen of Rick Stansbury, though. And depth is iffy.

Famous grad: Best-selling author John Grisham. He lives in Oxford, Miss., home of his alma mater's archrival, Ole Miss.

Little-known fact: Mississippi State is the only university in North America offering a course in wildlife forensics. Students track crimes ranging from hunting out of season to importing restricted animals.

3. Texas

Location: Austin

Record: 23-6

RPI: 10

Record against tournament field: 6-5

Road record: 6-3

Record in past 10: 7-3

Impressive victories: Jan. 5, at Providence, 79-77; Jan. 13, Wake Forest, 94-81; Feb. 23, Kansas, 82-67.

Disturbing losses: Feb. 14, at Iowa State, 78-77; March 6, at Kansas State, 58-48.

Top players: Sr. Brandon Mouton, G, 13.6 ppg; Fr. P.J. Tucker, F, 10.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg; Sr. Royal Ivey, G, 9.1 ppg.

Skinny: The team boasts depth, getting scoring from the little guys but pounding away at opponents down low with a wave of big guys: Brian Boddicker (6-8, 228 pounds), James Thomas (6-8, 235), Brad Buckman (6-8, 235) and Jason Klotz (6-9, 240). Boddicker is an effective outside shooter, which makes him an especially tough matchup.

Famous grad: Broadcasting legend Walter Cronkite.

Little-known fact: Legend has it that Bevo, the Longhorns' mascot, was named after a non-alcoholic, near-beer introduced by Anheuser-Busch in 1916. The company brought out the product as the nation debated Prohibition and came up with a name that was a play on "pivo," the Bohemian word for beer.

4. Cincinnati

Location: Cincinnati

Record: 24-6

RPI: 11

Record against tournament field: 8-6

Road record: 6-5.

Record in past 10: 7-3

Impressive victories: Dec. 23, Dayton, 82-53; Feb. 21, Louisville, 66-61 OT; Feb. 28, at Charlotte, 75-67.

Disturbing losses: Feb. 3, at Xavier, 71-69; March 4, at DePaul, 68-65.

Top players: Jr. Jason Maxiell, F, 13.9 ppg, 7.0 rpg.; Sr. Tony Bobbitt, G, 13.1 ppg; Sr. Field Williams, G, 11.7 ppg.

Skinny: The Bearcats play a full-court, swarming defense that disrupts teams. Cincinnati started the season 13-0 and was ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation.

Famous grad: Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Sandy Koufax.

Little-known fact: There is a statue of superstar Oscar Robertson outside Shoemaker Arena, the Bearcats' home gym.

5. Illinois

Location: Champaign

Record: 24-6

RPI: 23

Record against tournament field: 4-4

Road record: 7-2

Record in past 10: 9-1

Impressive victories: Dec. 23, Missouri, 71-70; Feb. 10, Michigan State, 75-51; Feb. 18, Wisconsin, 65-57.

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