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Southeast Regional

March 10, 1997|Chris Dufresne | Times staff writer

1. KANSAS (32-1)

* First-round opponent: Jackson State.

* Season in brief: The Jayhawks weathered significant injuries to two standouts--guard Jacque Vaughn and center Scot Pollard--to establish themselves as the class of the nation. In nonconference games, Kansas waxed California, Virginia, Cincinnati, UCLA and George Washington before doing similar damage in the Big 12. It took double-overtime for Missouri to snap the Jayhawk winning streak at 22.

* Player to watch: Vaughn, the senior point guard, is the key to Kansas winning the title. He'll have to control tempo and break down defenses with his quickness.

* Tidbit: Roy Williams has won at least 25 games each season since 1988-89.

* NCAA bio: Won national titles with Phog Allen in 1952 and Larry Brown in '88. This is the year Williams gets his. Kansas has the same kind of talent Kentucky used to run the NCAA field last season. No team is deeper and can match the Jayhawks' Scot Pollard and Raef LaFrentz.

2. DUKE (23-8)

* First-round opponent: Murray State.

* Season in brief: Rebounded from last year's disappointing NCAA first-round loss with a spectacular season under Mike Krzyzewski, who mixed up his deep lineup masterfully and boldly. The turning point was going "small" in a victory at No. 2 Wake Forest, defeating the Demon Deacons' huge front line by sitting down center Greg Newton and relying on quickness and outside shooting.

* Player to watch: Steve Wojciechowski was the biggest question mark entering the season, but the scrappy junior point guard has exceeded expectations with his defensive tenacity and three-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio.

* Tidbit: Duke became the fifth school with 1,500 victories in basketball this season, joining Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas and St. John's.

* NCAA bio: Seven Final Four appearances in nine years, including titles in 1991 and '92. An interesting team, making up for its lack of inside bulk with depth and skill on the perimeter. Trajan Langdon has the best-looking shot in basketball.

3. GEORGIA (24-8)

* First-round opponent: Tennessee Chattanooga.

* Season in brief: Tubby Smith did a great job molding a team that lost eight seniors and five starters into a tournament contender. Georgia defeated South Carolina twice as well as Colorado, Maryland and Memphis.

* Player to watch: G.G. Smith, a sophomore guard contributes valuable minutes and never talks back to the coach--his father.

* Tidbit: Georgia lost its two exhibition games, to Marathon Oil and Australia.

* NCAA bio: Smith has made three consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, two with Tulsa, but returns with an untested team. The Bulldogs do have depth and balance.

4. ARIZONA (19-9)

* First-round opponent: South Alabama.

* Season in brief: Without Miles Simon, the Wildcats stunned North Carolina while unveiling freshman Mike Bibby, college basketball's point guard of the future. Arizona's only nonconference losses were to New Mexico and at Michigan in overtime, but the Wildcats stumbled in conference play, being swept in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, losing at Washington and to UCLA at home.

* Player to watch: Bibbywasn't quite as sensational as his 22-point debut suggested, but he has the ability to control a game.

* Tidbit: Lute Olson was 24-2 in his one season at Long Beach State, in 1973-74.

* NCAA bio: Advanced to Sweet 16 last year before three-point loss to Kansas in West Regional final. A great perimeter team that can shoot its way in or out of any game. Forward Bennett Davison runs the floor like Dennis Rodman, but the Wildcats lack inside power.

5. MARYLAND (21-10)

* First-round opponent: College of Charleston.

* Season in brief: Despite losing four starters off last season's team, the Terrapins opened the season with 11 consecutive wins before an overtime loss to Georgia. Played first nine games in state of Maryland, stumbled a bit in ACC play and took a credibility hit with a blowout loss at Massachusetts.

* Player to watch: Keith Booth, a senior forward, emerged from the shadow of Joe Smith and Johnny Rhodes to become an ACC standout.

* Tidbit: Joe Smith, had he not opted for the NBA two years ago, would have been a senior this season.

* NCAA bio: First-round loser to Santa Clara last year. Booth is super, but the Terrapins had some serious late-season lapses that make them a tournament question mark.

6. ILLINOIS (21-9)

* First-round opponent: USC.

* Season in brief: Crept out of nowhere in the conference under first-year Coach Lon Kruger, who did what the Illini could not do last season in Lou Henson's swan song: make the NCAA tournament with standout guard Kiwane Garris. Illinois was a first-round NIT casualty. Nonconference notes include losses to Louisville and California but a 16-point December rout of UCLA.

* Player to watch: Garris shoots a lot for a point guard, but is an explosive scorer who can handle the ball and pass.

* Tidbit: The school has the nation's largest fraternity and sorority system, and the baseball coach is Richard "Itch" Jones.

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