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NCAA PREVIEW | Midwest Regional/ THE BREAKDOWN

Kentucky Leads This Derby

March 17, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

No. 1 KENTUCKY (29-3)

First-round opponent: No. 16 Indiana Purdue Indianapolis.

Season in brief: After a rocky start that included a loss to former Wildcat coach Rick Pitino and rival Louisville, Kentucky remade itself as a defensive team and became stunningly dominant, winning 23 in a row. The Wildcats swept through the Southeastern Conference unbeaten, joining the 1996 Kentucky team as the only other team to go 16-0 in the SEC. With a 64-57 victory over Mississippi State in the SEC championship game, Kentucky became the first team to combine an unbeaten SEC season with the tournament title since the 1952 Wildcats.

Player to watch: Keith Bogans. Before this season, Bogans had been an erratic disappointment, but the senior has found himself, emerging as the clear offensive leader.

Tidbit: Pitino says Tubby Smith has one of the two toughest coaching jobs in America -- and the other is Notre Dame football.

NCAA bio: Seven NCAA championships, more than any school except UCLA. The Wildcats' 13 Final Fours are tied with Duke for third behind North Carolina and UCLA, which have each appeared in 15. Won the 1996 and '98 titles, but the Wildcats haven't advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1999.

*

No. 2 PITTSBURGH (26-4)

First-round opponent: No. 15 Wagner.

Season in brief: The Panthers opened a new arena at the beginning of the season and pulled off a new feat at the end, winning the Big East tournament title for the first time, defeating Connecticut, 74-56. Pitt's only losses were at Georgia, at Syracuse, at Notre Dame and at Seton Hall.

Player to watch: Brandin Knight. The senior point guard -- the younger brother of NBA player Brevin Knight -- doesn't have striking statistics other than his assist totals. But he is the Panthers' leader and best player -- and once again he is showing he can play hurt.

Tidbit: Coach Ben Howland -- a Californian who once was passed over for jobs at UC Irvine, Loyola Marymount and UC Santa Barbara -- was the national coach of the year last season and is high on the list for the UCLA job.

NCAA bio: Advanced to the Sweet 16 last season before losing to Kent State in overtime in the Panthers' first NCAA tournament under Howland. The appearance marked the end of an eight-year NCAA tournament drought for Pitt, which reached the Final Four in one of the early eight-team tournaments, in 1941.

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No. 3 MARQUETTE (23-5)

First-round opponent: No. 14 Holy Cross.

Season in brief: Marquette spent part of the season in the top 10 and won 15 of its last 16 regular-season games before losing Alabama Birmingham in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament, committing 30 turnovers in the process. The Eagles' other losses were to Notre Dame, East Carolina, Dayton and Louisville.

Player to watch: Dwyane Wade. The junior guard, a finalist for numerous national-player-of-the-year awards, averages 21.5 points a game.

Tidbit: Spelling Wade's first name D-w-y-a-n-e is a family tradition. His father spells his the same way.

NCAA bio: First-round upset victim against Tulsa last season. Won the NCAA title in Al McGuire's final game as coach in 1977, defeating North Carolina. Also reached the Final Four in 1974, losing to North Carolina State in the title game.

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No. 4 DAYTON (24-5)

First-round opponent: No. 13 Tulsa.

Season in brief: The Flyers found a home in the Top 25 and confirmed it by defeating Temple to win the Atlantic 10 tournament title for the first time. (They had the notable advantage of playing on their home court.) During the regular-season, the Flyers defeated Cincinnati and Marquette, lost to Duke by 11 and were swept by Xavier.

Player to watch: Keith Waleskowski. The senior forward is one of a trio of players who share the load, along with Brooks Hall and Ramod Marshall.

Tidbit: Dayton ranked 23rd in the nation in attendance last season with an average crowd of 12,130.

NCAA bio: Dayton played UCLA in the 1967 NCAA title game, losing to the third of John Wooden's 10 championship teams. Made the Elite Eight in 1984 before losing to eventual champion Georgetown. The Flyers were first-round losers in their most recent appearance, in 2000.

*

No. 5 WISCONSIN (22-7)

First-round opponent: No. 12 Weber State.

Season in brief: The Badgers were the surprise regular-season champions of the Big Ten after clinching with a dramatic 60-59 victory over Illinois in a battle of Top 25 teams. But they bowed out of the conference tournament with a quarterfinal loss to Ohio State. The Badgers' nonconference schedule included losses to Wake Forest and Marquette.

Player to watch: Kirk Penney. The senior guard and leading scorer averages 16.3 points a game.

Tidbit: Penney played for the New Zealand team that lost to the U.S. in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and then performed the haka, a traditional Maori dance, at midcourt as a sign of respect for the NBA stars.

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