Austin Regional

March 14, 2005|By Amos Whitney

GOING TO ST. LOUIS

Despite the doubters who said this would be a down year for Duke, the Blue Devils are a No. 1 seed for the ninth time. Playing in North Carolina and with momentum from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, expect Duke to cruise into the Sweet 16. There is a chance the Blue Devils could stumble in Texas, with depth being a question.

TEAM ON THE RISE

Syracuse avenged regular-season losses to Connecticut en route to the Big East tournament championship, leaving its confidence sky high. Consistently tough competition in the regular season has Jim Boeheim's team ready for its projected matchup with Michigan State. The Orange return eight players from the 2003 championship team, including point guard Gerry McNamara and forward Hakim Warrick.

FOR THE RECORD - In the same section, Mike Montgomery was mistakenly listed as Stanford's coach. Montgomery is with the NBA's Golden State Warriors. Trent Johnson coaches Stanford.

TEAM ON THE DECLINE

Stanford struggled down the stretch, going 6-5 in its past 11 games. Four of those defeats came on the road, but losses at Oregon State and Arizona State and an embarrassing home loss to Washington State spell trouble for the Cardinal.

CINDERELLA STORY

There might not be a better story in the tournament than Niagara making its first appearance since 1970. The Purple Eagles won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament on the strength of the nation's fourth-leading scorer, Juan Mendez, and inspiration from coach Joe Mihalich's cancer-stricken mother. Old Dominion is in the tournament for the first time since 1997 after an overtime thriller in the Colonial Athletic Association championship. The Monarchs are set to play Michigan State in the treacherous matchup of the No. 5 and 12 seeds.

PRIME-TIME PLAYER

The target on J.J. Redick's back got even bigger this season, and the guard responded by improving his game. His 26 points and clinching free throws led the Blue Devils to victory in the ACC tournament championship game yesterday. Syracuse's Warrick is a nightly threat for a double double and the Orange will need big performances from him to advance. However, the player whose team needs him the most is Utah's Andrew Bogut. His 20.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game make the Utes a threat.

MOST UNDERRATED PLAYER

Kentucky was a threat to grab a No. 1 seed all season, but none of its players received national attention. Overshadowed by the big names in the regional, look for Wildcats junior swingman Kelenna Azubuike to make a name for himself with clutch baskets. He averages just under 15 points and five rebounds a game, but look for those numbers to go up in the tournament, where marquee players often carry their teams.

COACHING EDGE

The regional's list of coaches is a who's who of winning. Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Syracuse's Boeheim and Kentucky's Tubby Smith have won national championships, while Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson, Cincinnati's Bob Huggins and Stanford's Mike Montgomery have made it to the Final Four. Headliner Mike Krzyzewski has led Duke to three national titles and 10 Final Four appearances.

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