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NCAA PREVIEW | South Regional/ THE BREAKDOWN

Texas Looks Beyond Sweet 16

March 17, 2003|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

No. 1 TEXAS (22-6)

First-round opponent: North Carolina Asheville-Texas Southern winner.

Season in brief: Edged by Kansas for the Big 12 regular-season title, the Longhorns lost in the conference tournament quarterfinals but still managed to get a No. 1 regional seeding. Lost close games to Arizona and Kansas but swept Oklahoma during the regular-season, ending the Sooners' 37-game home winning streak along the way.

Player to watch: T.J. Ford. No one can stay in front of the ultra-quick sophomore point guard, but his inconsistent shooting keeps him from being as good as he could be.

Tidbit: Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight has called underrated center James Thomas one of his favorite players in the Big 12: "I'm not sure there's a kid anywhere who comes to play harder than that kid does."

NCAA bio: Lost to Oregon in the Sweet 16 last season on Frederick Jones' running jumper in the lane in the final seconds. Reached the national semifinals twice in the 1940s, but hasn't advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1990, when Texas made the Elite Eight under Tom Penders.

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No. 2 FLORIDA (24-7)

First-round opponent: No. 15 Sam Houston State.

Season in brief: Florida spent a few days in February as the No. 1-ranked team in the country before a 15-point loss to Kentucky. Buoyed by three standout freshmen -- Matt Walsh, Anthony Roberson and Christian Drejer -- the Gators earned a top-10 ranking and set a school record for regular-season victories. But they faltered late, losing their last three to Georgia, Kentucky and then to Louisiana State in the Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinals.

Player to watch: Matt Bonner. The senior forward leads one of the deepest lineups in the nation, with perhaps only Arizona as its peer.

Tidbit: With a 3.98 grade-point average in business administration, Bonner was designated the Verizon Academic All-America national player of the year.

NCAA bio: Upset in overtime in the first round last season by Creighton, and in the second round of the 2001 tournament by Temple. Made Final Four under Lon Kruger in 1994 and again in 2000 under Billy Donovan, losing to Michigan State in the title game after defeating North Carolina in the semifinals.

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No. 3 XAVIER (25-5)

First-round opponent: No. 14 Troy State.

Season in brief: The Musketeers were a top-10 team with a 16-game winning streak before their loss to Temple in a semifinal of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Their other losses were to Stanford, Mississippi State, Alabama and Richmond. Among the notable teams they defeated: Cincinnati, Creighton, Dayton and St. Joseph's.

Player to watch: David West. The senior power forward is among the leading contenders for national player of the year, and his 47-point game against Dayton was one of the season's most impressive performances.

Tidbit: Two former Xavier coaches are in the ACC: Virginia's Pete Gillen and Wake Forest's Skip Prosser.

NCAA bio: The Musketeers lost to Oklahoma in the second round last season. Xavier has reached the Sweet 16 once, in 1990, upsetting a Georgetown team led by Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo.

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No. 4 STANFORD (23-8)

First-round opponent: No. 13 San Diego.

Season in brief: For the second year in a row, Stanford was upset by USC in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament. Overall, the Cardinal's season was a dramatic surprise after losing Casey Jacobsen and Curtis Borchardt to the NBA draft, as well as losing point guard Chris Hernandez to injury. Stanford notched nonconference victories over Xavier, Florida and Gonzaga, and finished second in the Pac-10, upsetting No. 1 Arizona in Tucson in January.

Player to watch: Julius Barnes. The senior guard led the Cardinal with 15.7 points a game as well as in assists and free-throw shooting.

Tidbit: Reserve guard Dan Grunfeld is the son of Milwaukee Buck General Manager Ernie Grunfeld, who starred along with Bernard King at Tennessee in the 1970s.

NCAA bio: Lost to Kansas in the second round last season. The previous two years, Stanford was a No. 1-seeded team but was upset by Maryland in the Elite Eight in 2001 and by North Carolina in the second round in 2000. Made the Final Four in 1998, losing to eventual champion Kentucky in the semifinals. Won the 1942 NCAA title.

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No. 5 CONNECTICUT (21-9)

First-round opponent: No. 12 Brigham Young.

Season in brief: The Huskies were distracted in February by Jim Calhoun's unexpected surgery for prostate cancer, but he returned to the team after missing a little more than two weeks. UConn subsequently returned to form, reaching the Big East title game against Pittsburgh before losing, 74-56.

Player to watch: Emeka Okafor. This intellectual sophomore shot-blocker is expected to play another year, partly because he can graduate as a junior.

Tidbit: Okafor, a finance major, has a 3.73 grade-point average and was named a first-team Verizon Academic All-American.

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