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NCAA PREVIEW | Midwest Regional

What To Look For

March 17, 2003|Paul Gutierrez

* THE DRAW: Easily the least competitive region in the tournament. Could the selection committee have made things any easier for Kentucky? Sure, Oregon could run with the Wildcats in the second round, but how much gas will the high-octane Ducks have left after being pushed to the edge in winning the Pacific 10 tournament? Dayton in the Sweet 16? Please. No. 2 seeded Pittsburgh could possibly throw a scare into the Wildcats -- that is, if the Panthers, who until winning the Big East tournament have had a habit of flaming out in big-game situations this year, can get to the regional final. Then again, maybe Kentucky deserves the royal treatment. After all, the Wildcats have won 23 games in a row and are sure to be named the nation's No. 1 team today, and to the victors go such spoils.

* BEST FIRST-ROUND GAME: The 8-9 game between Oregon and Utah. The Ducks should beware the same fatigue bug that bit USC in the first round last year (the Trojans, after pulling out all the stops to get to their conference tournament title game, had nothing left for the Big Dance and were upset by North Carolina Wilmington). The Utes, meanwhile, were less than impressive in losing three of their final six games, and their best player, senior forward Britton Johnsen, is questionable after sitting out the Mountain West tournament because of mononucleosis.

* UPSET IN THE MAKING: Tulsa over Dayton. The Flyers were indeed rewarded with a No. 4 seeding, but they have to go all the way to Spokane, Wash., for the tournament's first two rounds. Plus, Dayton has been a hometown tiger, padding its resume with a home record of 17-1 while winning the Atlantic 10 tournament on its home floor. No. 13 Tulsa, which plays in the expansive WAC, is used to long travel and with no home cooking in Spokane, the Flyers are ripe to be picked off.

* IMPACT COACH: Tubby Smith. On the hot seat after a 6-3 start that included an 18-point pounding by hated rival Louisville, the oft-maligned Smith has refocused and taken the Wildcats to their first No. 1 seeding in his six years in Lexington. He won the 1998 national championship in his first season, as a No. 2 seed, but has not advanced as far as a regional final since 1999. Still, his record in the tournament at Kentucky is 15-4 and his Wildcats became the first team in 51 years this season to go unbeaten in SEC play and win the conference tournament.

* IMPACT PLAYER: Keith Bogans. As the 6-5, 213-pound senior guard goes, so goes Kentucky. On a team lacking true star power, Bogans comes closest, leading the Wildcats in scoring (15.9 points), three-pointers (64) and assists (85).

* THE PICK: Kentucky. Is there any question? Only a worn-out Oregon in the second round or an untested Pittsburgh in the regional final figure to throw any kind of threat the Wildcats' way. Entering the SEC tournament, Kentucky's scoring offense (77.9 points) was only ranked 30th nationally and its scoring defense (64.6 points) was 50th, but the Wildcats' scoring margin of 13.3 points was eighth. All the Wildcats do is win ... and they'll keep winning all the way to the Final Four.

-- Paul Gutierrez

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

BY THE NUMBERS

*--* Team PPG PA FG% 3-PT% PPS RPG 1. Kentucky 78.8 64.3 487 358 1.32 37.1 16. IUPUI 71.5 70.0 452 345 1.31 32.9 2. Pitt 74.6 58.8 504 340 1.39 36.7 15. Wagner 75.5 71.5 472 384 1.31 34.4 3. Marquette 78.0 75.1 481 373 1.39 37.2 14. Holy Cross 70.4 58.3 463 363 1.33 36.6 4. Dayton 72.8 66.3 452 360 1.34 36.7 13. Tulsa 73.5 65.3 463 363 1.29 37.0 5. Wisconsin 70.7 58.7 464 359 1.31 32.9 12. Weber St 74.5 67.2 470 330 1.41 33.4 6. Missouri 72.6 67.1 443 360 1.22 39.6 11. S. Illinois 74.5 68.1 473 385 1.29 33.3 7. Indiana 70.5 67.0 427 348 1.29 37.1 10. Alabama 69.3 65.0 420 320 1.21 37.5 8. Oregon 82.2 74.0 461 391 1.33 35.9 9. Utah 68.3 68.9 464 384 1.32 33.4

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Key: PPG-points per game; PA-Points allowed per game; FG%-Field goal percentage; 3-PT%-3-point field goal percentage PPS-Points per shot; RPG-Rebounds per game

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