NCAA TOURNAMENT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

1. OKLAHOMA

Record: 24-6, 12-4 in Big 12 Conference.

RPI: 3.

Location: Norman, Okla. (28,954 students).

Coach: Kelvin Sampson, ninth season, 211-80.

Tournament history: This is the 22nd appearance for the Sooners, who have been to four Final Fours, including last season's. This is their ninth consecutive appearance under Sampson.

Top players: PF Kevin Bookout (9.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg), SF Ebi Ere (13.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg), G Hollis Price (19.5 ppg, 44.4 three-point FG pct.).

Skinny: The Sooners played one of the nation's toughest schedules and did just fine, thanks to Price, a New Orleans native who would love nothing more than to go home for the Final Four. The Sooners are athletic and play good defense. But they're not the best offensive team and they're surprisingly mediocre on the boards. OU will go as far as its defense takes it.

Famous grad: Darrell Royal, who made his name as Texas' football coach, graduated from Oklahoma in 1950.

Little-known fact: Oklahoma's Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has more than 5 million artifacts, including the oldest work of art ever found in North America -- a lightning bolt painted on a bison skull.

2. WAKE FOREST

Record: 24-5 overall, 13-3 in Atlantic Coast Conference.

RPI: 7.

Location: Winston-Salem, N.C. (3,850 students).

Coach: Skip Prosser, second season, 45-18.

Tournament history: 18th appearance in NCAAs, 23-17 record with one Final Four appearance.

Top players: F Josh Howard (20.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg), F Vytas Danelius (13.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg).

Skinny: Picked to finish sixth in the ACC, the Demon Deacons instead won their first outright crown since 1962 while building around likely All-American Howard and sophomore forward Danelius and Jamaal Levy and guard Taron Downey. Wake won seven in a row before falling to N.C. State in the ACC tournament. The Deacons average nearly 78.4 points and give up only 67.6 -- but it is a team that needs to find an answer to its troubles against frontcourts with bigger and more athletic players.

Famous grad: Arnold Palmer, professional golfer.

Little-known fact: The last year Wake Forest held sole possession of the ACC championship in men's basketball, in 1962, was also the year when the program made its only Final Four appearance.

3. SYRACUSE

Record: 24-5, 13-3 in Big East Conference.

RPI: 9.

Location: Syracuse, N.Y. (10,000 students).

Coach: Jim Boeheim, 27th season, 647-226.

Tournament history: 27 appearances (40-28). Three Final Fours (1975, 1987, 1996).

Top players: F Carmelo Anthony (22.7 ppg, 10.0 rpg), F Hakim Warrick (15.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg).

Skinny: Anthony, a freshman from Baltimore's Towson Catholic, is likely headed to the NBA after developing into one of the Big East's top scorers and rebounders.

Famous grad: Marty Glickman, former New York Knicks and Giants sportscaster and member of the 1936 Olympic track and field team.

Little-known fact: Syracuse's last home game, an 83-74 victory over Rutgers, was played before the largest on-campus crowd (33,071) in NCAA history.

4. LOUISVILLE

Record: 24-6, 11-5 in Conference USA.

RPI: 11.

Location: Louisville, Ky. (22,000 students)

Coach: Rick Pitino, second season, 43-19.

Tournament history: The Cardinals have won a pair of national championships (1980, 1986), have advanced to nine Final Fours and are now in their 30th NCAA tournament. But, they were bounced in the first round in their past two tournaments ('99, '00).

Top players: PG Reece Gaines, (17.7 ppg), C Marvin Stone, (10.7 rpg).

Skinny: The Cardinals fashioned a 17-game winning streak during the season, but were severely damaged when PF Ellis Myles went down for the year during their Feb. 27 loss to Marquette. That robbed them of their most-powerful inside force. They still have Gaines, a point who can both score and create. But they need to replace the inside presence they lost with Myles' injury if they hope to advance.

Famous grad: Johnny Unitas, Baltimore Colts Hall of Fame quarterback.

Little-known fact: Louisville's all-female cheerleading squad won last year's National Cheerleading Association Championship for the third time in five years. Its coed cheerleading squad, which finished third last year, has won eight national championships. And its dance team, the Ladybirds, won last year's National Dance Alliance Collegiate Championship.

5. MISSISSIPPI STATE

Record: 21-9, 9-7 in Southeastern Conference West.

RPI: 24.

Location: Starkville, Miss. (16,878 students).

Coach: Rick Stansbury, fifth season, 100-59.

Tournament history: This is the sixth appearance for the Bulldogs, who advanced to the Final Four in 1996.

Top players: C Mario Austin (15.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg), SG Timmy Bowers (14.8 ppg, 42.0 three-point FG pct.), PG Derrick Zimmerman (9.1 ppg, 5.6 apg).

Skinny: Austin is a load down low and Bowers can be an outside shooting force, but the Bulldogs too often this season struggled to score. Mississippi State shoots just 34.4 percent from three-point range. When Austin is banging away inside and Bowers is firing away from the outside, Mississippi State can hang with anybody. The Bulldogs beat Xavier and Oklahoma in December, which means A.) they peaked early or B.) their losses came to conference teams who know all about the Bulldogs and were able to exploit their weaknesses. Bottom line: This team has the talent to make a Sweet 16 run, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see it lose in the first round, either.

Famous grad: Best-selling author John Grisham is a Mississippi State alum. He lives in Oxford, Miss., home of Ole Miss, Mississippi State's archrival.

Little-known fact: The school is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.

6. OKLAHOMA STATE

Record: 21-9, 10-6 in Big 12 Conference.

RPI: 22.

Location: Stillwater, Okla. (21,800 students).

Coach: Eddie Sutton, 13th season, 293-123.

Tournament history: This is the Cowboys' 20th appearance. They won it all in 1945 and '46, when the school was known as Oklahoma A&M;, and have been to three other Final Fours, the last in 1995 under Sutton.

Top players: G Tony Allen (14.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg), F Ivan McFarlin (10.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg), PG Victor Williams (15.2 ppg, 3.1 apg).

Skinny: As usual, the Cowboys play tough defense. They sometimes struggle to score, they don't rebound particularly well and they don't always take care of the ball. But their defensive acumen makes them a tough opponent. The bench is weak, and if Allen or Williams struggles offensively, this team can be downright painful to watch. But their defense creates turnovers, and the Cowboys are at their best in transition.

Famous grad: Chester Gould, creator of the Dick Tracy comic strip.

Little-known fact: The school was founded on Christmas Day 1890 as Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College. The name was changed to Oklahoma State on July 1, 1957.

7. ST. JOSEPH'S

Record: 23-6, 12-4 in Atlantic 10 Conference.

RPI: 27.

Location: Philadelphia (3,800 students).

Coach: Phil Martelli, eighth season, 149-96.

Tournament history: 16 previous appearances, finished third in 1961, reached the Elite Eight in 1981 and the Sweet 16 in 1997. Most recent appearance in 2001, when Saint Joseph's defeated Georgia Tech before losing to Stanford, 90-83, in the second round.

Top players: G Jameer Nelson, (19.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, 5.0 rpg), G Delonte West, (17.6 ppg, 48.3 FG pct.), G/F Pat Carroll, (11.9 ppg, 46.3 three-point FG pct.).

Skinny: Everything on Hawk Hill revolves around Nelson, as creative and effective a point guard as any. West has come into his own this season and Carroll is as sharp from the three-point line as older brother Matt, but they both benefit from Nelson's dishes. If Nelson is on his game, and 6-11 Dwayne Jones and 7-1 Alexandre Sazonov can hold their own inside, the Hawks will be a tough out for anyone.

Famous grad: Former Wide World of Sports host Jack Whittaker.

Little-known fact: Saint Joseph's finished third overall in 1961 by defeating Utah, 127-120, in four overtimes. Those still are the two highest team scores and the longest game ever recorded in the Final Four.

8. CALIFORNIA

Record: 21-8 overall, 13-5 in Pacific-10 Conference.

RPI: 33.

Location: Berkeley, Calif. (32,000 students).

Coach: Ben Braun, seventh season, 139-78.

Tournament history: 17-12 in 12 NCAA appearances; won the 1959 championship, 71-70, over West Virginia and finished second to Ohio State, 75-55, in 1960.

Top players: F Joe Shipp (20.3 ppg), F Amit Tamir (15.7 ppg, 41.3 three-point FG pct.), G Brian Wethers (14.9 ppg).

Skinny: It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Golden Bears, who lost their starting point guard to a transfer and their starting center to the NBA. But Braun was able to fill the holes and ride Shipp, who many considered the true Pac-10 Player of the Year, and a strong supporting cast to Cal's fifth 20-win season in seven years. Still, the Bears faltered a bit down the stretch, losing three of their final five games.

Famous grad: Jerry Brown, former governor of California, current mayor of Oakland.

Little-known fact: The Golden Bears are well-versed in international affairs with players from Spain, England and Israel.

9. N.C. STATE

Record: 18-12 overall, 11-8 in Atlantic Coast Conference

RPI: 53.

Location: Raleigh, N.C. (28,011 students)

Coach: Herb Sendek, sixth season, 127-97.

Tournament history: 19th appearance in NCAAs, 28-17 record with three Final Fours and two national titles.

Top players: G Julius Hodge (17.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg), F Marcus Melvin (12.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg).

Skinny: With a 1-7 record against the top 50 in the RPI, the toughest part has been getting in for N.C. State. The good news is that the Wolfpack's spread offense works good for a round or two in the NCAA. It did last year, the team getting past Michigan State and a last-second call away against Connecticut from getting into the Sweet 16. The bad news is that while Hodge has had a solid season as a sophomore, he doesn't have the type of supporting cast that Anthony Grundy had last season.

Famous grad: John Edwards, U.S. senator from North Carolina and 2004 presidential candidate

Little-known fact: This season marks the 20-year anniversary of the school's "Cardiac Pack" squad, which upset top-ranked Houston for the national championship.

10. AUBURN

Record: 20-11, 8-8 in Southeastern Conference West.

RPI: 36.

Location: Auburn, Ala. (21,775 students).

Coach: Cliff Ellis, ninth season, 170-110.

Tournament history: This is the eighth appearance and the third in five seasons. The Tigers advanced to the West Regional final in 1986, where they lost to eventual national champion Louisville.

Top players: G Derrick Bird (9.7 ppg), F/G Marquis Daniels (17.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 51.1 FG pct), PF Marco Killingsworth (13.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg).

Skinny: The Tigers were picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC West, but they got off to a great start (15-2) before they hit the wall. The Tigers have good athletes, and those athletes can play lockdown defense. But the Tigers sometimes struggle to score. Swingman Daniels is one of the best players in the SEC, but he doesn't get enough help. The Tigers do not shoot all that well from the outside or the line, and finished the regular season with 66 more turnovers than assists. Depth is lacking, too.

Famous grad: Don Logan is president and CEO of Time Inc.

Little-known fact: Auburn, Ala., often is referred to as "the loveliest village on the plains." The line comes from a 1770 poem by Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village.

11. PENN

Record: 22-5, 14-0 in Ivy League.

RPI: 59.

Location: Philadelphia (22,326 students).

Coach: Fran Dunphy, 14th season, 253-134.

Tournament history: 13-21. One Final Four appearance in 1979.

Top players: F Ugonna Onyekwe (16.0 pg, 6.4 rpg), G Jeff Schiffner (11.7 ppg, 49.7 three-point FG pct.), F Koko Archibong (10.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg).

Skinny: The Quakers posted their fifth undefeated Ivy season under Dunphy with a 74-67 victory at Princeton. They also had impressive non-league victories against Villanova, USC and Temple. Penn, powered by Schiffner, made 41.2 percent of its three-point shots. The Quakers haven't won a first-round game since 1994.

Famous grad: Donald Trump.

Little known fact: Onyekwe's mother, Dorothy, saw him play in the United States for the first time during the Quakers' final homestand March 7-8 against Columbia and Cornell. With 1,732 points, he ranks second on Penn's career scoring list behind Ernie Beck (1,827).

12. BUTLER

Record: 25-5, 14-2 in Horizon League.

RPI: 35.

Location: Indianapolis (4,100 students).

Coach: Todd Lickliter, second season, 51-11.

Tournament history: The Bulldogs are 3-5 in five previous trips to the NCAA tournament. They feel they were snubbed last year when the NCAA passed over them, despite their 26-5 record.

Top players: G Brandon Miller, (12.3 ppg). C Joel Cornette, (11.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg).

The skinny: The system is the key. Players know their roles, stick to them and fulfill them. Miller has a habit of defusing opponents' high scorers and hitting clutch baskets. To advance, Cornette must lead the way.

Famous grads: John DiBiaggio, president of Tufts University, and James W. Farrell, chairman-CEO of Illinois Tool Works.

Little-known fact: Now 75-year-old Hinkle Fieldhouse (11,043 capacity) was the largest basketball arena in the United States for more than 20 years and was the site of the state tournament in the popular movie Hoosiers.

13. AUSTIN PEAY

Record: 23-7, 13-3 in Ohio Valley Conference.

RPI: 73.

Location: Clarksville, Tenn. (7,004 students).

Coach: Dave Loos, 13th season, 198-180.

Tournament history: Fifth appearance. In the Governors' last appearance in 1996, they defeated Jacksonville, then lost to Kentucky in overtime.

Top players: F Adrian Henning (15.4 ppg., 7.1 rpg), C Josh Lewis (12.6 ppg, 7 rpg).

Skinny: The Governors had a surprising season. They were picked to finish fifth in the conference but, without a senior in the starting lineup, wound up winning 15 of their last 16 games and taking both the regular-season and tournament titles. At 6 feet 9, Lewis is the tallest starter and the key to Loos' inside-out offensive system. Defense is a strong point -- opponents have made only 42.8 percent of their shots.

Famous grad: Wayne Pace, executive vice president and chief financial officer of AOL/Time-Warner.

Little-known fact: The urban campus dates back to 1806 when it was used by Rural Academy. Two other high schools and four other colleges were based there before Austin Peay Normal School was founded in 1925.

14. MANHATTAN

Record: 23-6, 14-4 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

RPI: 55.

Location: Riverdale, N.Y. (3,600 students).

Coach: Bobby Gonzalez, fourth season, 69-45.

Tournament history: Four previous appearances, most recently in 1995 when the Jaspers defeated Oklahoma before losing to Arizona State, 64-54, in the second round.

Top players: G Luis Flores (24.8 ppg, 38.4 three-point FG pct.), F Dave Holmes (12.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg), F Jared Johnson (12.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg).

Skinny: One of Gonzalez's mentors is Rick Pitino, so it should be no surprise that the Jaspers like to press, run and substitute in waves. That is except for the offensively-gifted Flores, who is on the floor almost all the time. The Jaspers wear down opponents, Flores breaks them down. He needs to score big for Manhattan to pull an upset.

Famous grad: Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Little-known fact: Manhattan is in the Bronx. Actually, the school is in a well-to-do section of the Bronx called Riverdale, but no one who lives in Riverdale ever says he or she is from the Bronx.

15. EAST TENNESSEE STATE

Record: 20-10, 11-5 in Southern Conference.

RPI: 125.

Location: Johnson City, Tenn. (11,331 students).

Coach: Ed DeChellis, seventh season, 105-92.

Tournament history: Sixth appearance, first since 1992. Advanced one round in 1968 and '92.

Top players: F Zakee Wadood (14.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg), G Tim Smith (15.1 ppg).

Skinny: The Bucs are 9-3 since top scorer Tiras Wade (16.3 ppg) left the team in February for undisclosed personal reasons. They upset top-seeded Charleston in the conference tournament semifinals and defeated Chattanooga in the final. ETSU ranks sixth nationally in scoring (82.3 ppg) and does not start any seniors. Freshman PG Smith was MVP of the Southern tournament. Outside the conference, the Bucs lost to Vanderbilt, Virginia, South Carolina and UNC-Wilmington.

Famous grad: Journalist Bill Kovach.

Little-known fact: The Bucs almost became the first No. 16 seed to win a tournament game, falling to top-seeded Oklahoma, 72-71, in the first round of the 1989 Southeast Regional.

16. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE

Record: 20-10, 15-3 in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

RPI: 178.

Location: Orangeburg, S.C. (5,000 students).

Coach: Cy Alexander, 16th season, 277-201.

Tournament history: 0-4.

Top players: F Thurman Zimmerman, (16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg), G Moses Malone Jr., (16.1 ppg), F Dustin Braddock, (12.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg).

Skinny: The Bulldogs won the MEAC with superior frontcourt depth, but they struggled against nonconference opposition, getting routed by Wake Forest and Auburn. Zimmerman, a former South Carolina Mr. Basketball who was named MEAC Rookie of the Year, is a big-time player. Malone, a 6-4 senior guard, runs the halfcourt offense.

Famous grad: Former NFL player Donnie Shell.

Little-known fact: Former S.C. State players have appeared in 16 of the 37 Super Bowls.

Note: Rating Percentage Index rankings courtesy of collegeRPI.com.

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