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Arizona Top-Seeded, but Certainly Not Out of Woods


1. ARIZONA (26-6)

* First-round opponent: Jackson State.

* Season in brief: School's 13th consecutive 20-win season under Lute Olson, played nonconference schedule that included wins over Kentucky, Texas and Michigan State, swept Stanford in conference play but also suffered rare home defeat to New Mexico, lost by 26 at Louisiana State, hurt by late-season back injury to center Loren Woods.

* Player to watch: Woods. The 7-1 transfer from Wake Forest emerged as the Pac-10's most dominating post player, but will his back be OK for the tournament?

* Tidbit: Forward Luke Walton, son of Bill, was named after former Portland Trail Blazer star Maurice Lucas.

* NCAA bio: Sixteenth appearance for team under Olson. Final Four appearances in 1988, '94, won title in 1997. Knocked out in first-round last year by Oklahoma.

2. ST. JOHN'S (24-7)

* First-round opponent: Northern Arizona.

* Season in brief: Suffered nonconference losses to Samford and DePaul, but swept Connecticut in the Big East and scored an impressive win at Duke on Feb. 26.

* Player to watch: Erick Barkley. A turbulent season for the 6-1 sophomore point guard, who missed two games in February while NCAA investigated a car swap he made with a longtime friend and summer league coach, and was held out another as another possible infraction was being looked into.

* Tidbit: In 1985, St. John's had two players taken in the first round of the NBA draft, Chris Mullin (Golden State) and Bill Wennington (Dallas).

* NCAA bio: One of the greatest programs never to have won an NCAA title. Under former coach Lou Carnesecca, was one of three Big East teams to make the Final Four in 1985, losing to Georgetown in the semifinals.

3. OKLAHOMA (26-6)

* First-round opponent: Winthrop.

* Season in brief: Started 9-0 before losing to Cincinnati Dec. 11, suffered consecutive Big 12 losses to Texas and Colorado, scored a double overtime win over Iowa State.

* Player to watch: Eduardo Najera. The 6-8 senior plays as hard as anyone in the country and his violent collision with Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves was perhaps the lasting memory of last year's tournament.

* Tidbit: In 1889, free land was offered in the Oklahoma territories, so long as settlers left to make their claims at the same time. Those who cheated, and jumped the gun, were called "Sooners." Hence, the school's nickname.

* NCAA bio: Shocked Arizona in the first round and advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing to Michigan State last year. NCAA appearance No. 18 for the program, finished second in 1947 and 1988.

4. LOUISANA ST. (26-5)

* First-round opponent: Southeast Missouri State.

* Season in brief: Started 13-0, which included a 75-point win over Grambling. Suffered first loss Jan. 8 against Tennessee, followed by successive losses to Florida and Vanderbilt, then beat Arizona by 26 points at Baton Rouge Jan. 29.

* Player to watch: Stromile Swift. The 6-9 sophomore forward is a former Mr. Basketball in Louisiana.

* Tidbit: Former Tiger star Pete Maravich still holds the NCAA record for points, 3,667, and scoring average, 44.2. On Feb. 7, 1970, Pistol Pete scored 69 points against Alabama.

* NCAA bio: Has never won an NCAA title, but did win a national championship in 1935, defeating Pittsburgh in the American Legion Bowl held in Atlantic City, N.J.

5. TEXAS (23-8)

* First-round opponent: Indiana State.

* Season in brief: Played the nation's third-toughest schedule, beat Michigan State and DePaul in nonconference games, lost to Arizona, Wisconsin, Utah and Connecticut. Six of team's losses came against ranked opponents.

* Player to watch: Chris Mihm. The 7-foot junior averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds. Probably an NBA lottery pick if he leaves school early.

* Tidbit: Longhorns have four players named Chris on their roster: Chris Mihm, Chris McColpin, Chris Owens and Chris Odgen.

* NCAA bio: School's 18th appearance. Knocked out in first round last year by Purdue. Finished third in 1943 under coach Bully Gilstrap and 1943 and in 1947 under Jack Gray, advanced to the round of eight in 1939 and 1990.

6. PURDUE (21-9)

* First-round opponent: Dayton.

* Season in brief: Started 2-2, which included a win over Florida and a loss to Ball State, lost to UCLA by two at Pauley Pavilion in late December, split with Indiana in the Big Ten, scored a key win against Michigan State on Feb. 8.

* Player to watch: Brian Cardinal. The 6-8 senior forward averaged only 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in nonconference, then averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in conference.

* Tidbit: Brian Cardinal's father, Rod, is the head athletic trainer at Illinois.

* NCAA bio: Boilermakers' eighth consecutive appearance and the 15th for Coach Gene Keady. Keady's teams were top-seeded in 1988, '94 and '96, but never reached the Final Four. Last season's team advanced to the Sweet 16 despite being No. 10 seeded in the East.

7. LOUISVILLE (19-11)

* First-round opponent: Gonzaga.

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