Atlanta

Regional Rounup

March 15, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec

GOING TO SAN ANTONIO

Duke has a tough early road with a matchup against Arizona or Seton Hall, both dangerous, in the second round and a likely opponent in Cincinnati or Illinois in the Sweet 16. But, opening up in Raleigh, N.C., great guard play, and a lights-out shooter in J.J. Redick are nice luxuries in March. That combination should be enough to get the battle-tested Blue Devils to San Antonio, though it wont be easy.

TEAM ON THE RISE

A week ago Xavier occupied one of those dreaded spots on the bubble, but throttling previously undefeated Saint Josephs and its dominance in the Atlantic 10 tournament changed that. The Muskeeters, the seventh seed that opens against Louisville, took four games and their conferences tournament title by an average of 19.5 points. After losing three straight in late January, the Romain Sato-led team has won 13 of its past 14 games.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

In the top 10 early in the season, Rick Pitinos Louisville Cardinals have fallen off almost everyones radar and are seeded 10th, which is what happens after losing eight of the final 12 games. That miserable stretch includes a 25-point loss to Texas Christian, which finished 12-17.

CINDERELLA STORY

The mere mention of Cinderella conjures up memories of Princeton s 1996 upset of defending national champion UCLA, but the Tigers will face steep odds of pulling another upset as they face a tough Texas team. Murray State has won 28 games topped only in the field by Pittsburgh and could give Illinois some trouble. However, Air Force, which will play North Carolina in its first tournament game since 1962, would be the most intriguing story and the Falcons have already scored some big wins en route to the regular-season Mountain West title.

PRIME-TIME PLAYER

There have been questions about North Carolina sophomore Rashad McCants defense, but nobody has questioned his ability to put the ball in the hoop. The 6-foot-4 swingman, who led the Atlantic Coast Conference with 20.1 points a game, is one of the countrys most explosive scorers. Jason Maxiell and Tony Bobbitt, both of Cincinnati, Dukes Chris Duhon and Redick, and Louisvilles Francisco Garcia also warrant mention.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER

Brandon Moutons 13.6 point average and 3.4 rebounds a game wont floor anyone, but the 6-4 senior makes key plays much like his cousin and former Terp Byron Mouton and he showed last year that the big stage suited him just fine. Mouton, who has fought through injuries and inconsistency, hit 11 three-pointers and was every bit a factor as teammate T.J. Ford in the Longhorns trip to the Final Four.

COACHING EDGE

A host of big-name coaches dot this region. Pitino coached Kentucky to a championship in 1996. Lute Olsons Arizona Wildcats unseated Pitino and Kentucky as national champions a year later. North Carolinas Roy Williams, Texas Rich Barnes and Cincinnatis Bob Huggins have both been to Final Fours. But none can match the three NCAA championship rings sported by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski sports.

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