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WEST REGIONAL

The Baltimore Sun

1. KANSAS

LOCATION -- Lawrence, Kan.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won Big 12 tournament.

RECORD -- 30-4.

RPI -- 11.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 5-3.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Sherron Collins (5-11 freshman, 9.4 pts., 41.0 three-point pct.); G Brandon Rush (6-6 sophomore, 13.6 pts., 5.7 reb., 40.5 three-point pct.); F Julian Wright (6-8 sophomore, 11.8 pts., 8.0 reb., 1.4 blocks, 55.1 FG pct.).

THE BUZZ -- The Jayhawks have no seniors, but it hasn't mattered. Coach Bill Self has athletic players who like a fast pace, and despite their youth, these guys can play good defense. There's nice inside-outside balance (49.4 percent from the field, including 38.2 percent from three-point range), and the Jayhawks crush foes on the boards (plus-7.7 rebound margin). At times, though, they can be sloppy with the ball.

2. UCLA

LOCATION -- Los Angeles.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Pacific-10.

RECORD -- 26-5.

RPI -- 3.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 13-2.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Arron Afflalo (6-5 junior, 16.7 pts., 37.9 three-point pct.); G Darren Collison (6-0 sophomore, 12.4 pts., 5.9 assists, 2.3 steals, 45.0 three-point pct.); F Josh Shipp (6-5 sophomore, 13.5 pts., 3.7 reb.).

THE BUZZ -- The backcourt of Afflalo and Collison may be the nation's best; Collison is quick with the ball and Afflalo does everything well. Shipp completes a top-notch perimeter trio. The Bruins aren't going to get much frontcourt scoring, but Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Lorenzo Mata are solid defensively and on the boards. Depth is iffy.

3. PITTSBURGH

LOCATION -- Pittsburgh.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Big East

RECORD -- 27-7.

RPI -- 5.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 6-6.

KEY PLAYERS -- G-F Mike Cook (6-4 junior, 10.5 pts.); G Levance Fields (5-10 sophomore, 9.3 pts., 4.5 assists); C Aaron Gray (7-0 senior, 14.1 pts., 9.6 reb., 1.7 blocks, 56.3 FG pct.).

THE BUZZ -- The Panthers are a physical bunch who will bang you around on defense. Gray is a big-time presence in the paint, but he doesn't always seem to get enough touches offensively. The Panthers prefer a deliberate pace and take good care of the ball. But they're poor from the free-throw line (66.6 percent).

4. SOUTHERN ILLINOIS

LOCATION -- Carbondale, Ill.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Missouri Valley.

RECORD -- 27-6.

RPI -- 7.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 4-3.

KEY PLAYERS -- F Randal Falker (6-7 junior, 12.8 pts., 7.6 reb., 2.2 blocks, 60.9 FG pct.); G Jamaal Tatum (6-1 senior, 14.8 pts., 41.8 three-point pct.).

THE BUZZ -- Southern Illinois has been in the Top 25 for most of the season, thanks mostly to a stifling defense. The Salukis aren't going to win up-and-down affairs, but their defense doesn't allow that to happen anyway. Tatum is the key guy offensively; if he's shut down, the team will have more problems than usual scoring. One staggering statistic: Southern Illinois has 75 more turnovers than assists. So how does it win? Its opponents have 200 more turnovers than assists.

5. VIRGINIA TECH

LOCATION -- Blacksburg, Va.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Atlantic Coast Conference.

RECORD -- 21-11.

RPI -- 34.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 8-4.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Zabian Dowdell (6-3 senior, 18.0 pts., 2.2 steals, 38.7 three-point pct., 81.3 FT pct.); G Jamon Gordon (6-3 senior, 11.3 pts., 4.5 reb., 4.6 assists, 2.7 steals); F Deron Washington (6-7 junior, 11.8 pts., 5.4 reb., 1.3 blocks).

THE BUZZ -- Dowdell and Gordon form a solid backcourt; as a duo, they're underrated nationally. The athletic Hokies play tough defense, generally avoid turnovers and take good shots. But they don't have an overwhelming frontcourt and can be exploited in the low post. Washington is foul-prone and must stay on the court if Tech is to make any NCAA noise.

6. DUKE

LOCATION -- Durham, N.C.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from ACC.

RECORD -- 22-10.

RPI -- 15.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 8-8.

KEY PLAYERS -- F Josh McRoberts (6-10 sophomore, 12.6 pts., 7.8 reb.); G DeMarcus Nelson (6-4 junior, 14.2 pts., 5.3 reb., 2.5 blocks); G Greg Paulus (6-1 sophomore, 11.2 pts., 3.8 assists, 45.6 three-point pct.).

THE BUZZ -- Duke has struggled some on offense this season, but the Blue Devils' defense has been solid. McRoberts has a lot of skills, but he lacks athleticism and can be overpowered in the low post. Paulus has improved as the season has progressed, but he's a half-step slow and has trouble with elite point guards on both ends of the court. This team doesn't lack talent, but it's still on the young side and its bench is suspect.

7. INDIANA

LOCATION -- Bloomington, Ind.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Big Ten.

RECORD -- 20-10.

RPI -- 28.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 5-8.

KEY PLAYERS -- F D.J. White (6-9 junior, 13.7 pts., 7.0 reb., 2.2 blocks); G Roderick Wilmont (6-4 senior, 12.5 pts., 5.8 reb., 39.1 three-point pct.).

THE BUZZ -- New coach Kelvin Sampson has gotten a lot out of a little. White is a big-timer, but that's about it. As with all Sampson teams, Indiana plays good defense, especially on the perimeter, and is fundamentally sound. But the Hoosiers aren't particularly athletic, and if their three-pointers aren't falling, they're going to have a tough time winning.

8. KENTUCKY

LOCATION -- Lexington, Ky.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Southeastern Conference.

RECORD -- 21-11.

RPI -- 13.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 6-9.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Ramel Bradley (6-2 junior, 13.8 pts., 82.0 FT pct.); G Joe Crawford (6-5 junior, 14.2 pts., 4.1 reb.; C Randolph Morris (6-11 junior, 15.8 pts., 7.7 reb., 2.0 blocks, 59.2 FG pct.).

THE BUZZ -- This is not a vintage Kentucky team. The Wildcats lack consistency and a true go-to scorer, and can be sloppy with the ball. Morris has all the skills, but too often looks as if he simply doesn't care. The Wildcats do play good defense. All in all, Tubby Smith may be coaching for his job.

BOTTOM 9 SEEDS

9. VILLANOVA

LOCATION -- Villanova, Pa.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Big East.

RECORD -- 22-10.

RPI -- 19.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 5-6.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Mike Nardi (6-2 senior, 12.4 pts., 87.3 FT pct.); G Scottie Reynolds (6-1 freshman, 14.6 pts., 4.1 assists, 38.7 three-point pct., 84.4 FT pct.); F Curtis Sumpter (6-7 senior, 17.3 pts., 7.2 reb., 81.9 FT pct.).

THE BUZZ -- Sumpter is underrated nationally and does a lot of things well, but he's the Wildcats' only top-flight frontcourt player. Reynolds is one of the nation's top freshmen and he was on fire down the stretch. But Villanova sometimes struggles to score and is careless with the ball.

10. GONZAGA

LOCATION -- Spokane, Wash.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won West Coast tournament.

RECORD -- 23-10.

RPI -- 61.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 3-6.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Jeremy Pargo (6-2 sophomore, 12.5 pts., 4.5 reb., 4.7 assists, 1.5 steals, 40.7 three-point pct.); G Derek Raivio (6-3 senior, 18.0 pts., 1.4 steals, 41.5 three-point pct., 95.5 FT pct.).

THE BUZZ -- The Zags, who can be exploited defensively, didn't dominate the West Coast Conference as usual, but they did win the regular-season and tournament titles. With star big man Josh Heytvelt suspended, the pressure increases on the perimeter players to provide the points.

11. VCU

LOCATION -- Richmond, Va.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won Colonial Athletic Association tournament.

RECORD -- 27-6.

RPI -- 44.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 2-2.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Eric Maynor (6-2 sophomore, 13.6 pts., 4.4 reb., 6.3 assists, 1.3 steals); F-G Jesse Pellot-Rosa (6-4 senior, 13.0 pts., 4.5 reb., 1.1 steals, 43.3 three-point pct., 80.2 FT pct.); G B.A. Walker (6-2 senior, 14.8 pts., 1.0 steals, 42.0 three-point pct., 87.3 FT pct.).

THE BUZZ -- Virginia Commonwealth is athletic and puts that to good use on defense, where it forces 16.4 turnovers per game. Three-point shooting is important, not surprising when you consider no one taller than 6 feet 7 plays more than 10.5 minutes per game. The Rams have held their own on the boards, but they really haven't seen many big-time big men.

12. ILLINOIS

LOCATION -- Champaign, Ill.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- At-large, from Big Ten.

RECORD -- 23-11.

RPI -- 29.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 7-9.

KEY PLAYERS -- F Warren Carter (6-9 senior, 13.7 pts., 6.2 reb.); C-F Shaun Pruitt (6-10 junior, 11.6 pts., 7.6 reb., 55.4 FG pct.).

THE BUZZ -- The Illini have a nice duo up front in Carter and Pruitt, but the perimeter players leave something to be desired. Illinois wants a slow-paced, grind-it-out game, one in which its frontcourt can flex its muscle and it can bully opponents with its defense. If the Illini get in an up-and-down affair, they're in trouble.

13. HOLY CROSS

LOCATION -- Worcester, Mass.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won Patriot League tournament.

RECORD -- 25-8.

RPI -- 60.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 0-2.

KEY PLAYERS -- C Tim Clifford (6-10 junior, 11.8 pts., 4.7 reb., 1.9 blocks, 83.0 FT pct.); G Keith Simmons (6-5 senior, 17.3 pts., 5.8 reb., 2.3 steals); G Torey Thomas (5-11 senior, 13.6 pts., 4.8 reb., 4.8 assists, 2.8 steals, 41.0 three-point pct.).

THE BUZZ -- The Crusaders are a well-coached bunch who play solid defense. Simmons is a solid all-around player. That said, they lack athleticism, don't shoot all that well and are porous defensively on the perimeter. Clifford is the only true big man, but he's a foul machine (seven foul-outs).

14. WRIGHT STATE

LOCATION -- Dayton, Ohio.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won Horizon League tournament.

RECORD -- 23-9.

RPI -- 72.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 3-1.

KEY PLAYERS -- F Drew Burleson (6-6 senior, 8.8 pts., 5.8 reb.); G DeShaun Wood (5-11 senior, 19.8 pts., 5.0 reb., 1.9 steals, 88.6 FT pct.).

THE BUZZ -- The Raiders don't overwhelm you with athleticism, scoring ability or frontcourt. But they're well-coached and play good defense, and in Wood they have a legitimate big-time player. Wood is the team's only double-figure scorer, and if he is stymied, Wright State will be blown out.

15. WEBER STATE

LOCATION -- Ogden, Utah.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won Big Sky tournament.

RECORD -- 20-11.

RPI -- 143.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 0-1.

KEY PLAYERS -- F David Patten (6-8 senior, 14.4 pts., 5.5 reb., 1.2 steals, 1.1 blocks, 54.1 FG pct.); G Juan Pablo Silveira (6-3 sophomore, 11.2 pts.).

THE BUZZ -- The Wildcats are efficient offensively (49.3 percent from the field). Patten, one of 10 transfers on the roster, is the key guy. Silveira has a nice three-point stroke, and he'll need to be on fire from outside if the Wildcats hope to hang close.

16a. FLORIDA A&M;

LOCATION -- Tallahassee, Fla.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won Mid-Eastern Athletic tournament.

RECORD -- 21-13.

RPI -- 171.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 0-5.

KEY PLAYERS -- G Brian Greene (6-5 senior, 1.4 pts., 7.2 reb.); C Rome Sanders (6-8 senior, 15.6 pts., 6.0 reb., 64.8 FG pct.).

THE BUZZ -- The Rattlers shocked top-seeded Delaware State in the MEAC final. They're proficient from three-point range, play a scrambling defense and send everyone to the boards.

16b. NIAGARA

LOCATION -- Niagara Falls, N.Y.

HOW BID WAS EARNED -- Won Metro Atlantic Athletic tournament.

RECORD -- 22-11.

RPI -- 136.

RECORD VS. TOURNAMENT FIELD -- 1-0.

KEY PLAYERS -- F Clif Brown (6-7 senior, 16.0 pts., 9.8 reb.); G-F Charron Fisher (6-3 junior, 21.0 pts., 8.1 reb.).

THE BUZZ -- The Purple Eagles started 1-6 but enter the NCAAs on an 11-game winning streak. They prefer an up-tempo pace, but don't shoot all that well (42.3 percent from the field) and don't defend all that well, either.

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