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MIDWEST

THE BALTIMORE SUN

1. Illinois (24-7)

Coach: Bill Self.

Conference: Big Ten.

How they made it: Leadership of Big Ten Most Valuable Player Frank Williams; depth; inside play of Marcus Griffin and Brian Cook; wins over Maryland, Seton Hall, Arizona, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Key to advancing: Guard play. Cory Bradford's outside shooting and a consistent Williams are crucial if the Illini are to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1989.

2. Arizona (23-7)

Coach: Lute Olson.

Conference: Pac-10.

How they made it: Early road losses to Connecticut, Purdue and Illinois hurt, but the Wildcats came together after Olson returned from mourning the death of his wife, Bobbi. They're a Final Four threat again.

Key to advancing: The Wildcats have more pure talent than anyone in the land, but they have to accept their roles. If they don't, they're a lock to join the long line of highly seeded Arizona teams that never made it out of the first weekend.

3. Mississippi (25-7)

Coach: Rod Barnes.

Conference: Southeastern.

How they made it: Playing in one of the nation's tougher conferences, the Rebels boast SEC wins over Kentucky and Tennessee. They also defeated Oklahoma and Southern California.

Key to advancing: Senior Rahim Lockhart might have to carry an inexperienced team. At 6 feet 8 and 255 pounds, he's up to the task.

4. Kansas (24-6)

Coach: Roy Williams.

Conference: Big 12.

How they made it: After a 17-1 start, the Jayhawks lost four of their next six, including two to Iowa State, before regrouping. Injuries to Drew Gooden (wrist) and Luke Axtell (back) contributed to the slump.

Key to advancing: A consistent go-to guy. Kenny Gregory averaged 16 points, Gooden 15 and Nick Collison 12, but the Jayhawks were sometimes shaky in crunch time.

5. Syracuse (24-8)

Coach: Jim Boeheim.

Conference: Big East.

How they made it: The Orangemen survived a tough conference schedule by never allowing themselves to fall too deeply into a rut. Their longest losing streak lasted two games. Preston Shumpert leads Syracuse with nearly 20 points a game.

Key to advancing: Both Shumpert and Damone Brown, averaging 17 points and a team-leading 8.8 rebounds, must have good shooting nights. And the Orangemen must complement the scoring with strong defense.

6. Notre Dame (19-9)

Coach: Mike Brey.

Conference: Big East.

How they made it: The Irish won the Big East West Division and earned a trip to the tournament for the first time in 11 years by earning five conference road victories to supplement the six at home. They were paced by Troy Murphy, who led the Big East with 22 points a game.

Key to advancing: The Irish have to get strong shooting from guard Matt Carroll and sixth man David Graves. And they must maintain their defensive focus for 40 minutes, something they haven't done all season.

7. Wake Forest (19-10)

Coach: Dave Odom.

Conference: Atlantic Coast.

How they made it: The Demon Deacons won their first 12 but haven't been the same since the New Year. They rode in on the ACC's coattails.

Key to advancing: Wake Forest needs better work on the boards if it hopes to live until the second weekend. The Demon Deacons were seventh in the ACC in rebounding.

8. Tennessee (22-10)

Coach: Jerry Green.

Conference: Southeastern.

How they made it: Barely. Ranked in the Top 10 in the preseason, the Volunteers were one of the nation's major disappointments.

Key to advancing: Tennessee has to put aside egos and play as a team. That has proved much easier said than done for this talented but selfish bunch.

9. Charlotte (21-10)

Coach: Bobby Lutz.

Conference: Conference USA.

How they made it: The 49ers were their league's second-highest scoring team, averaging just over 75 points a game, and finished just behind Cincinnati in their division race.

Keys to advancing: They ride the considerable skills of freshman forward Rodney White, who must continue his superb play in a tourney that often humbles freshmen. Their defense also must improve, as tourney games are tighter than those in the regular season.

10. Butler (23-7)

Coach: Thad Matta.

Conference: Midwestern Collegiate.

How they made it: MCC Coach of the Year Matta, like Barry Collier before him, built his team around defense. Bulldogs get back quickly on defense and take away opponents' transition games.

Key to advancing: LaVall Jordan is a key. Only 6-2, he'll guard and frustrate high scorers up to 6-8. Thomas Jackson made All-MCC.

11. Xavier (21-7)

Coach: Skip Prosser.

Conference: Atlantic 10.

How they made it: This season's Musketeers again exhibited the smart, quick style that has become a trademark under Prosser. David West shoots better than 55 percent from the field while scoring a team-leading 17 points.

Key to advancing: Freshman guard Romain Sato must complement West's inside game with the long-range shot. Sato shoots 39 percent from beyond the three-point line.

12. Hawaii (17-13)

Coach: Riley Wallace.

Conference: Western Athletic.

How they made it: Warriors have won seven of their past eight, including Saturday's 78-72 overtime win over Tulsa in the WAC title game. Predrag Savovic averages 18 points, Troy Ostler 16.

Key to advancing: If freshman Carl English, who averaged 3.9 points during the season, can repeat his 25-point game vs. Tulsa, the Warriors have a chance.

13. Cal State-Northridge (22-9)

Coach: Bobby Braswell.

Conference: Big Sky.

How they made it: Senior center Brian Heinle is the Matadors' all-time leading scorer. Heinle is sixth in the nation in double doubles. Senior Markus Carr is the school's all-time assists leader.

Key to advancing: Because of its quality schedule, the Matadors could be a Cinderella team with the right breaks.

14. Iona (22-10)

Coach: Jeff Ruland.

Conference: Metro Atlantic.

How they made it: The Gaels entered their conference tourney on their only three-game losing streak of the season. But they swept through that tourney, defeating Canisius in the final to grab an automatic bid.

Key to advancing: They led their league in defense, which is always a helpful skill in tight tourney games. In center Nakiea Miller, they also have a performer who shot 67 percent and averaged 15.2 points. But a miracle is their best hope.

15. Eastern Illinois (21-9)

Coach: Rick Samuels.

Conference: Ohio Valley.

How they made it: Panthers feature the nation's most prolific 1-2 scoring duo. Guard Kyle Hill averages 23.1 points and forward Henry Domercant averages 22.8.

Key to advancing: Eastern could surprise if 15-point scorer Matt Britton catches fire along with the other two.

16a. N'western State (18-12)

Coach: Mike McConathy.

Conference: Southland.

How they made it: Despite finishing fourth in the league, Northwestern State beat the three teams that finished ahead of it during the regular season in the conference tournament.

Key to advancing: A whole lot of luck. Northwestern State will be making its first NCAA tournament appearance and is led by Michael Byars-Dawson's 13.5 points a game.

16b. Winthrop (18-12)

Coach: Gregg Marshall.

Conference: Big South.

How they made it: Winthrop won the conference tournament and is making its third straight appearance in the NCAA tournament, the first Big South team to accomplish that feat. The Eagles advanced by defeating Big South regular-season champion Radford.

Key to advancing: Could surprise an unprepared opponent in an early round, but lacks quality depth.

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