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1998 NCAA TOURNAMENT / SELECTION DAY REPORT

South Regional

March 09, 1998

1. DUKE (29-3)

* First-round opponent: Radford.

* Season in brief: Ranked No. 1 much of the season, Duke beat defending NCAA champion Arizona early and blew out UCLA on Feb. 22, but lost to Michigan and North Carolina before avenging the loss to the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils lost to North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final, 83-68, but earned the No. 1 seeding in the South Regional. Duke got a boost in late February when freshman Elton Brand returned after a foot injury that was expected to keep him out for the season.

* Player to watch: Brand was Duke's best player early in the season, but 6-foot-8 forward Roshown McLeod emerged as the leading scorer in ACC games.

* Tidbit: Reserve center Chris Burgess from Irvine Woodbridge High is the latest in a line of high-profile local players to choose Duke.

* NCAA bio: Duke is the only team since UCLA to win successive national championships, in 1991 and '92. From 1986-94, the Blue Devils made the Final Four seven times, including five in a row from 1988-'92. UCLA and Cincinnati are the only other schools to reach five in a row.

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2. KENTUCKY (29-4)

* First-round opponent: South Carolina State.

* Season in brief: Tubby Smith replaced Rick Pitino as coach when Pitino jumped to the Boston Celtics, and the Wildcats hummed along. Except, that is, for three stunning losses at Rupp Arena: to Louisville, Florida and Mississippi. Arizona won an early-season NCAA title-game rematch at Maui, but Kentucky has victories over Purdue and Mississippi and swept South Carolina and Georgia, where one of Smith's sons, G.G. Smith, was a senior. Notable flaw: 66% free-throw shooting.

* Player to watch: Nazr Mohammed, a 6-10 junior center, once weighed 310 pounds but lost 65 pounds and emerged as a quick, powerful scorer.

* Tidbit: Athletic Director C.M. Newton served as chairman of the NCAA tournament selection committee.

* NCAA bio: Kentucky reached the NCAA final for the second year in a row last season, losing to Arizona in overtime, 84-79. Kentucky has won six NCAA championships, most recently in 1996 with Tony Delk, Ron Mercer and Antoine Walker. The Wildcats also won in 1948, '49, '51, '58 and '78.

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3. MICHIGAN (24-8)

* First-round opponent: Davidson.

* Season in brief: The enigmatic Wolverines were the only team to beat Duke until North Carolina did, and humiliated Indiana by 48 points in February. Early losses to Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Bradley and a February loss to Minnesota hurt, but by the end of the season Michigan was playing fairly well and won the Big Ten tournament with a 76-67 victory over Purdue. After winning the NIT last season, Michigan endured a tumultuous off-season of reports of NCAA problems that culminated in the firing of coach Steve Fisher before the season. Assistant Brian Ellerbe, still new to the staff, was named interim coach, but is expected to be replaced.

* Player to watch: Robert "Tractor" Traylor, a 6-8, 300-pound center with nimble feet, returned for his junior season after almost turning pro.

* Tidbit: Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached the Houston Rockets to NBA championships in 1994 and '95, still holds the school record with 30 rebounds in a game.

* NCAA bio: The Wolverines won the NCAA title in 1989 after Fisher took over in tournament when Bill Frieder jumped to Arizona State. Michigan has reached the Final Four six times, most recently with members of the "Fab Five" in 1992 and '93, losing in championship games to Duke and North Carolina.

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4. NEW MEXICO (23-7)

* First-round opponent: Butler.

* Season in brief: Once ranked in the top 10, the Lobos were thrown into disarray at end of February by guard Royce Olney's season-ending knee injury during a decisive loss to Texas Christian. The next game, lowly Brigham Young brought a 7-20 record into the Pit and won by a 19 points, ending New Mexico's 41-game home-court winning streak. Olney averaged 15 points a game and was a deadly three-point shooter, making more than 50% from long range to help open up the inside for power forward Kenny Thomas. New Mexico was upset by Nevada Las Vegas in the Western Athletic Conference championship game.

* Player to watch: Thomas, a hometown player from Albuquerque High, is an NBA prospect but disappeared in some big games this season, notably against UCLA.

* Tidbit: Thomas and senior Clayton Shields each have 1,000 points and 500 rebounds.

* NCAA bio: New Mexico is 4-9 in tournament history and has made it past the second round only once in eight appearances, in 1974.

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5. SYRACUSE (24-8)

* First-round opponent: Iona.

* Season in brief: The Orangemen didn't seem to be at their best late in the season. They started 11-0 but lost five of their last 12, including an ugly upset by Rutgers. Syracuse, however, reached the Big East Conference tournament final, losing to Connecticut. The only nonconference loss was to Michigan.

* Player to watch: Senior Todd Burgan, a 6-7 slasher, leads the team in scoring.

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