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NCAA TOURNAMENT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

1. ARIZONA

Record: 25-3, 17-1 in Pacific-10 Conference.

RPI: 2.

Location: Tucson, Ariz. (35,400 students).

Coach: Lute Olson, 20th season, 496-146.

Tournament history: 34-20 in 21 NCAA appearances; won 1997 championship, 84-79, in overtime against Kentucky, lost 2001 title game to Duke, 82-72; played in 1988 and 1994 Final Fours.

Top players: G Jason Gardner (14.4 ppg, 4.9 apg), C Channing Frye (12.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg), G Salim Stoudamire (13.2 ppg, 44.8 three-point FG pct.).

Skinny: As deep as any team in the country, some think that the Wildcats' second five players would be a top 25 team on their own. And they're probably right. Entering the season, the Wildcats were supposed to dominate the Pac-10 and garner a No. 1 ranking. That they have been able to maintain their composure while keeping everyone on the team happy is a testament to everybody's accepting their roles. Not even the midseason Candygate controversy, in which Wildcats players were accused of looting a hotel vending machine for goodies and cash, could derail Arizona, which could play in its third national championship game in seven years.

Famous grad: Journalist Geraldo Rivera.

Little-known fact: While Coach Olson referred to the accusations of Candygate and senior forward Luke Walton serving as a lookout as "hogwash," an Arizona assistant paid the $80 to the hotel, which then considered the matter closed.

2. KANSAS

Record: 25-7, 14-2 in Big 12 Conference.

RPI: 6.

Location: Lawrence, Kan. (26,894 students).

Coach: Roy Williams, 15th season, 413-100.

Tournament history: This is the 32nd appearance for the Jayhawks, who have two national titles and 11 Final Four appearances. Williams has been to three Final Fours but just one (last season) since 1993.

Top players: F Nick Collison (18.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg), G Kirk Hinrich (17.6 ppg), G Keith Langford (15.4 ppg).

Skinny: The Jayhawks have two of the best players in the nation in Collison and Hinrich, who make up perhaps the nation's best inside-outside duo. But with the loss of F Wayne Simien, there is no interior depth, and with its three-guard lineup, Kansas could be susceptible on the boards. With Simien, the Final Four was a legit goal. Without him? It would take a dream run to get there now.

Famous grad: Businessman Clarence Coleman, whose company is best known for its camping equipment.

Little-known fact: Two of the nation's most prestigious honorary societies, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi, chartered their first chapters west of the Mississippi River at Kansas. U.S. News and World Report ranks Kansas among the top 50 public universities in the nation.

3. DUKE

Record: 23-6 overall, 11-5 in Atlantic Coast Conference.

RPI: 12.

Location: Durham, N.C. (6,202 students).

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski, 23rd season, 587-174.

Tournament history: 27th appearance in NCAAs, 75-23 record, with 13 Final Fours and three national titles.

Top players: F Dahntay Jones (16.9 ppg, 5.7 rpg), G Chris Duhon (9.0 ppg, 6.7 apg) G J.J. Reddick (14.2 ppg, .406 three-point FG pct.).

Skinny: The Blue Devils know how to get hot. Check out Krzyzewski's 58-15 NCAA tourney record. Check out the 12-0 record to start this season. Duke does appear like a team primed as usual for a March run. Losses over the past six weeks to Florida State (80) and St. John's (77) aren't embarrassing, but they're not typical of a Duke team. With Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer leaving early for the draft last year, the Blue Devils have rebounded nicely behind Jones and Reddick and need a steady performance from Duhon to reach the Final Four.

Famous grad: President Richard Nixon (law school).

Little-known fact: Duke students had been slumbering at Cameron Indoor Stadium long before Krzyzewskiville, as the school used the facility's concourse for emergency dorm space during a post-World War II enrollment boom.

4. ILLINOIS

Record: 23-6, 11-5 in Big Ten Conference.

RPI: 18.

Location: Champaign, Ill. (36,000 students).

Coach: Bill Self, third season, 76-23.

Tournament history: Eliminated in second round in 1997, 1998 and 2000; lost to Arizona in Elite Eight in 2001; lost to Kansas in Sweet 16 in 2002.

Top players: F Brian Cook, (20.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G Dee Brown, (12.4 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.8 spg), F Roger Powell, (8.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg).

Skinny: Illini have All-America candidate in Cook and never-give-up mindset but are very young (three freshman starters). Less-than-demanding schedule and 1-3 record in close games (by three points or fewer) worrisome signs. Keys: avoiding foul trouble -- especially Cook and freshman F James Augustine -- and not losing poise.

Famous grad: Early NFL star Red Grange.

Little-known fact: Long before freshman point guard Dee Brown made a name for himself, Illinois alum and author Dee Brown became famous for his book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

5. NOTRE DAME

Record: 22-9, 10-6 in Big East Conference.

RPI: 14.

Location: South Bend, Ind. (10,311 students).

Coach: Mike Brey, second season, 42-22.

Tournament history: 26 appearances (27-30), one Final Four (1978).

Top players: G Matt Carroll (20.6 points), G Chris Thomas (18.5 points).

Skinny: Carroll converted 42.5 percent from the three-point line in conference play. Thomas won the Big East's assist crown (6.8) for the second straight season.

Famous grad: Regis Philbin.

Little-known fact: Father Edward Sorin founded the university in 1842 with just $310 cash and three log buildings badly in need of repair.

6. CREIGHTON

Record: 29-4, 15-3 in Missouri Valley Conference.

RPI: 23.

Location: Omaha, Neb. (6,297 students).

Coach: Dana Altman, ninth season, 175-99.

Tournament history: 14th appearance. Last year, the Bluejays beat Florida and lost to Illinois in second game.

Top players: F Kyle Korver, (17.7 ppg., 6.3 rpg, 3 apg), G Larry House, (11.1 ppg).

Skinny: Creighton finished second in the Valley's regular-season race but routed champion Southern Illinois, 80-56, to win the conference tournament's title game and thereby earn the automatic NCAA tournament bid for the second straight year. Altman uses a nine-man rotation of creating havoc and going on scoring sprees by immediately exerting full-court zone pressure each time they score a basket. Korver excels at three-point shooting from NBA range.

Famous grad: Lt. Col Michael Anderson, one of the astronauts who died in the Feb. 1 Columbia space shuttle disaster.

Little-known fact: Despite a 29-year hiatus from the Missouri Valley Conference, Creighton has won more regular-season championships -- seven outright titles -- than any of the other nine current members of the league. Creighton entered the conference in 1928-29, left after the 1947-48 season and returned in 1977-78.

7. MEMPHIS

RPI: 23-6, 13-3 in Conference USA.

RPI: 26.

Location: Memphis, Tenn. (20,332 students).

Coach: John Calipari, third season, 71-30

Tournament history: The Tigers are most-remembered as Bill Walton's victims in the 1973 title game, which ended with the UCLA star going for 44 points on 21-of-22 shooting from the field. In their last appearance, which came in 1996, they were beaten by Drexel in the opening round.

Top players: F Chris Massie, (16.5 ppg, 10.7 rpg), PG Antonio Burks, (4.6 apg).

Skinny: The Tigers opened strong, defeating Syracuse and Illinois in December. They floundered in mid-January, when they lost three of four, then rallied to close out the regular season with 11 straight victories. Massie is a rarity, a true inside force in a game that is perimeter-oriented. But it was Memphis' unselfishness and commitment to defense that spurred its late run and will spark any run it makes in the tourney.

Famous grads: Lynda Mead Shea, Miss America, 1960; Kelly Cash, Miss America, 1987; Isaac Bruce, wide receiver, St. Louis Rams.

Little-known fact: The musical roots of Memphis, named after the ancient capital of Egypt, run back to 1909, the year famed band leader W.C. Handy wrote a campaign theme for Mayor "Boss" Crump called the "Boss Crump Blues." The city later housed Stax Records, Hi-Records and Sun Records, whose artists included Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, and Booker T and the MGs.

8. CINCINNATI

Record: 17-11, 9-7 in Conference USA.

RPI: 29.

Location: Cincinnati (34,000 students).

Coach: Bob Huggins, 14th season, 349-111.

Tournament history: This is the Bearcats' 13th straight appearance in the NCAAs. But last year, as a No. 1 seed, they were upset in the second round by UCLA, and they have not advanced to a regional final since 1996.

Top players: G Leonard Stokes, (16.0 ppg), F Jason Maxiell, (12 ppg, 6.9 rpg).

Skinny: The only thing consistent about the Bearcats this season has been their inconsistency, which is why they defeated then-No. 5 Oregon and then-No. 11 Oklahoma State but lost to unranked Charlotte and Saint Louis. Stokes and Maxiell are proven performers. But the issue here is the supporting cast, which has been woefully unreliable, and the Bearcats' traditionally rugged inside game, which has been soft. If they hope to advance, both those facts will have to change.

Famous grads: Albert Sabin, developer of polio vaccine; President William Howard Taft; Cleveland Abbe, founder of the U.S. National Weather Service.

Little-known fact: College football's first soccer-style place kicker was Cincinnati's Heinrich "Hank" Hartong, who introduced the style in 1961. The school was also the first to appear in five consecutive Final Fours (1959-1963).

9. GONZAGA

Record: 23-8, 12-2 in West Coast Conference.

RPI: 43.

Location: Spokane, Wash. (4,500 students).

Coach: Mark Few, fourth season, 104-28.

Tournament history: 7-5. Lost in first round in 1995. Reached Elite Eight in 1999. Reached Sweet 16 in 2000 and 2001. Lost in first round last season.

Top players: Blake Stepp (17.9 ppg, 5.9 apg), Ronny Turiaf (15.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Cory Violette (11.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Tony Skinner (8.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg).

Skinny: The Bulldogs needed an at-large berth after losing to San Diego in the WCC tournament final March 10. Power forward Cory Violette sat out the game because of a sprained ankle suffered the night before, but Gonzaga hopes he'll be back this week. Center/forward Richard Fox returned last week after missing nearly a month because of a broken finger. Point guard Stepp, the WCC Player of the Year, is looking for a return to form after making only three of 15 shots, including two of 11 from three-point range, in the loss to San Diego. Turiaf is the Bulldogs' other go-to player.

Famous grad: Bing Crosby.

Little-known fact: Turiaf left his hometown of Le Robert, Martinique, at 15 to attend the National Institute of Physical Education in Paris.

10. ARIZONA STATE

Record: 19-11 overall, 11-7 in Pacific-10 Conference.

RPI: 32.

Location: Tempe, Ariz. (45,693 students).

Coach: Rob Evans, fifth season, 79-71.

Tournament history: 11-12 in 11 NCAA appearances; only two appearances since 1982 and last appeared in 1995, when it advanced to the Sweet 16.

Top players: C Ike Diogu (19.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 60.7 pct. FG), G Curtis Millage (16.1 ppg, 43 steals), F Tommy Smith (11.2 ppg, 64 blocks).

Skinny: Evans knew what he was doing when he resisted last spring's overtures to return to his home state to coach New Mexico -- Arizona State would be loaded. Diogu, who came from Garland, Texas, transformed the Sun Devils from afterthoughts to legitimate contenders as they rebounded from a late three-game losing streak to win their final two games of the regular season. With Diogu's low post presence, Arizona State has Sweet 16 potential, though Evans is 0-2 lifetime in the NCAAs.

Famous grad: Al Michaels, sports broadcaster

Little-known fact: Kevin Kruger, son of unemployed basketball coach Lon Kruger, is a freshman redshirt guard for the Sun Devils. His father's name has been mentioned as a possible successor at UCLA, making for an interesting subplot in the Pac-10 should he get the job.

11. CENTRAL MICHIGAN

Record: 24-6, 14-4, in Mid-American Conference.

RPI: 44.

Location: Mount Pleasant, Mich. (28,159 students).

Coach: Jay Smith, sixth season, 74-93.

Tournament history: Central Michigan's last trip was in 1987, when the 13th-seeded Chippewas lost, 92-73, to UCLA in the first round.

Top players: C Chris Kaman, (22.7 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 3.3 bpg), Mike Manciel (16.5 ppg), G J.R. Wallace (14.4 ppg).

Skinny: Kaman, the MAC's Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, must continue to play a big role for the Chippewas. The athletic 7-footer ranks in the national top 10 in three categories (fifth in field-goal percentage, third in rebounding and eighth in blocked shots). Central Michigan is fifth in the country in field-goal percentage (.503). If the Chippewas continue with their balanced inside-outside game, they could advance.

Famous grads: Sports broadcaster Dick Enberg; former Olympian and NBA star Dan Majerle.

Little-known fact: Coach Smith is the leading scorer in Michigan high school history.

12. WISCONSIN- MILWAUKEE

Record: 24-7, 13-3 in Horizon League.

RPI: 45.

Location: Milwaukee (23,332 students).

Coach: Bruce Pearl, second season, 40-20.

Tournament history: First appearance.

Top players: F Clay Tucker (18.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg), F Dylan Page, (17.7 ppg, 6.5 rpg).

Skinny: Panthers feature a balance of finesse, muscle and depth. Panthers play a body-banging man-to-man defense. They like to put the ball in Tucker's hands at key moments, and they play rough. Whistle could be decisive.

Famous grads: Alberto Fujimori, former president of Peru; Golda Meir, late prime minister of Israel.

Little-known fact: Pearl had a record of 247-59 (.807) in his first 10 years as head coach, nine at Southern Indiana and one at Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He reached 200 victories in his 240th game, sooner than any coach at one school.

13. WESTERN KENTUCKY

Record: 24-8, 12-2 in Sun Belt Conference.

RPI: 58.

Location: Bowling Green, Ky. (16,492 students).

Coach: Dennis Felton, fifth season, 100-53.

Tournament history: 15-19.

Top players: G Patrick Sparks, (13.6 ppg, 5.9 apg), G Mike Wells, (10.9 ppg), F David Boyden (12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg).

Skinny: The Hilltoppers don't have center Chris Marcus, who left the team for personal reasons, but they are still loaded with NCAA tournament experience and will be a tough first-round opponent. They won their third consecutive Sun Belt title behind the guard play of Sparks and Wells. They are returning to the NCAA tournament for the sixth time since 1990.

Famous grad: Duncan Hines.

Little-known fact: Before the Hilltoppers nickname came into use in 1925, Western teams were commonly referred to as "Pedagogues" or "Teachers."

14. COLORADO STATE

Record: 19-13, 5-9 in Mountain West Conference.

RPI: 75.

Location: Fort Collins, Colo. (23,934 students).

Coach: Dale Layer, third season, 47-44.

Tournament history: 3-8 in seven NCAA appearances. Lost to Drake in the Midwest regional final in 1969. Last appeared in tournament in 1990, losing in first round to Alabama, 71-54.

Top players: C Matt Nelson (16.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg), F Brian Greene (13.9 ppg), G Andy Birley 10.8 ppg).

Skinny: The sixth-place Rams started the season hot, winning 11 of their first 14 games, before fading and losing seven straight in league play. But they righted themselves in time to shock the Mountain West by pulling off three upsets in the conference tournament to gain its automatic bid, beating third-place Wyoming, 74-71, co-champ Brigham Young, 86-80 in overtime, and fourth-place UNLV in the final.

Famous grad: Kent Rominger, deputy director NASA flight crew operations.

Little-known fact: Coach Layer has no problem leaning on assistant Bill Peterson; they were college teammates in the Eckerd College backcourt in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the late 1970s.

15. UTAH STATE

Record: 24-8, 12-6 in Big West Conference.

RPI: 79.

Location: Logan, Utah (21,490 students).

Coach: Stew Morrill, fifth season, 118-41.

Tournament history: 5-16. Made regional final in 1970, regional semifinals in 1962 and 1964, second round in 2001. Lost in first round in 1939, 1963, 1971, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1988, 1998, 2000.

Top players: F Desmond Penigar, (15.4 ppg, 6.9 rpg), F Spencer Nelson, (10.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg), G Mark Brown, (8.7 ppg, 4.6 apg).

Skinny: Fundamentally sound team lives off defense and rebounding. Led league in scoring defense and rebounding margin. Penigar, a physical specimen at 6-7, 245 pounds, is capable of taking over a game but also tends to disappear. Aggies have nice set of complementary players in Nelson, forward Toraino Johnson and guard Ronnie Ross but need to get more production out of backcourt to advance.

Famous grads: Football player Merlin Olsen; volleyball players Karolyn Kirby and Elaine Roque.

Little-known fact: Utah State was originally known as the Agricultural College of Utah and opened in 1888. It is the largest employer in the Cache County.

16. VERMONT

Record: 21-11, 11-5 in America East Conference.

RPI: 144.

Location: Burlington, Vt. (7,400 students)

Coach: Tom Brennan, 17th season, 217-259.

Tournament history: First appearance.

Top players: F Taylor Coppenrath (19.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 26 steals), F/C Matt Sheftic (10.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 18 blocks), F Grant Anderson (7.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg).

Skinny: The Catamounts won the regular-season title last year but were upset in the conference tournament semifinals by Maine. That has provided the mental fuel this season. The Catamounts defeated Hartford in the semifinals, a team that had beaten them twice in the regular season. Coppenrath, 6-9 forward, is conference Player of the Year and top scorer.

Famous grad: Former Villanova and UNLV coach Rollie Massimino.

Little-known fact: Sheftic (6-8, 260) is a member of Army ROTC and has completed airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga.

Note: Rating Percentage Index (RPI) rankings courtesy of collegeRPI.com.

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