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At Dayton, Ohio

March 16, 2001|VINCE KOWALICK

* Illinois vs. Northwestern State: Northwestern State, which beat Winthrop in the tournament's play-in game, doesn't figure to make a dent in Illinois. The Demons are making their first tournament appearance, as well as their first plane trip of the season. The school is located in tiny Natchitoches, La. Top-seeded Illinois has played among the toughest schedules in the nation, with all its losses coming against tournament teams. Illinois defeated five of the teams to which it lost, including No. 2-seeded Arizona. Sophomore point guard Frank Williams averages 14.9 points and was the Big Ten's most valuable player. Illinois last reached the Final Four in 1995.

* Tennessee vs. Charlotte: Tennessee, in its fourth season under Coach Jerry Green, has lost to a lower-seeded team three consecutive seasons. Observers wonder if the Volunteers, who weathered a 2-8 slump down the stretch, can muster enough teamwork. Selfish play has been the knock on Tennessee this season. Forward Vincent Yarbrough, a three-year starter, leads the team in scoring (14.1) and rebounding (7.3). Charlotte overcame injuries to win 11 of its last 13. Forward Rodney White leads Charlotte in points (19.3) and rebounding (6.5).

* Syracuse vs. Hawaii: It is plain to see Syracuse would have trouble advancing without 6-6 junior forward Preston Shumpert, who had a season-high 36 points against DePaul. Shumpert is expected to play--probably with protective goggles--after suffering a scratched cornea in his right eye last week against Pittsburgh in a Big East semifinal. An excellent long-range shooter, Shumpert averages 19.5 points. Hawaii swingman Predrag Savovic, a 6-6 junior from Yugoslavia, averages 18.1 points. Syracuse lost to Kentucky in the 1996 final. Hawaii, making its third tournament appearance, lost to Syracuse in the first round in 1994.


* Notre Dame vs. Xavier: Mike Brey is the Irish's third coach in as many seasons and first to take them to the tournament since 1990. Forward Troy Murphy, a 6-10 senior, was selected co-Big East player of the year and leads the team in scoring, averaging 22.6 points. Forward Ryan Humphrey, a transfer from Oklahoma with tournament experience, averages 9.0 rebounds. Xavier, making its first appearance since 1998, relies on defense, rebounding and tenacity. Sophomore forward David West, the Atlantic 10 player of the year, is at his best inside, where he scores most of his points and goes all-out for rebounds. West was among the nation's leaders in games of double figures in points and rebounds. Notre Dame defeated Xavier, 76-64, in the NIT last season.

* Mississippi vs. Iona: Jeff Ruland, a former Iona center and the school's most famous basketball alum, leads a team as coach that was the first to repeat as Metro Atlantic Conference champions in 11 years. The Gaels have three starters who average in double figures, including guard Earl Johnson (12.7 points)--a transfer from Rutgers and the team's best shooter. Mississippi raised eyebrows this season by storming to its first tournament appearance since 1981. Mississippi, picked to finish last in the SEC West, beat several good teams, including USC, Kentucky and Oklahoma, and advanced to the conference tournament final.

* Wake Forest vs. Butler: Butler has four impact players from the team that nearly knocked off eventual national runner-up Florida in the first round last season. Thomas Jackson, a 5-9 guard, averaged 13.2 points while leading the Bulldogs to the Midwestern Collegiate Conference title. Senior guard LaVall Jordan averaged 12.2 points and is the team's best defender. Wake Forest was the host school for Butler's near-upset of Florida. The Deacons are skidding, having lost seven of their last 10. They also lost guard Craig Dawson, who averages 12.5 points, to a dislocated shoulder last week against Maryland. Forward Josh Howard averages 14.1 points. Forward Darius Songalia averages 13.5.

* Arizona vs. Eastern Illinois: There might be no stopping Arizona, now that the Wildcats have appeared to have packed up their troubles and earned a No. 2 seeding. Arizona has overcome the suspension of 7-1 center Loren Woods and dealt with the emotional time that followed the New Year's Day death of Coach Lute Olson's wife, Bobbi. The Wildcats, the preseason No. 1 in the Associated Press, surged down the stretch, winning 15 of 17 and closing with victories at Stanford and Cal. Guard Gilbert Arenas is shooting 57% from the field over 10 games and appears to destined for greater things. Eastern Illinois, Ohio Valley Conference champion, is making only its second appearance and first since 1992. The Panthers advanced with an 84-83 victory over Austin Peay in a game decided by a last-second goaltending call. Eastern Illinois' Kyle Hill and Henry Domercant were the nation's No. 3 and 4 leading scorers at 23.5 and 22.9 points a game.

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