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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

What To Look For

March 23, 2004|Paul Gutierrez

DUKE vs. ILLINOIS

STORY LINE: It would seem they revived the ACC-Big 10 Challenge for the NCAA tournament as the two leagues' regular-season champions meet. Duke, making its seventh consecutive Sweet 16 appearance, is one of only two remaining No. 1-seeded teams. The Blue Devils are aiming for their fourth national title. Illinois is finding its groove under first-year Coach Bruce Weber, who came from Southern Illinois.

HOW THEY ADVANCED: Duke destroyed Alabama State, 96-61, and Seton Hall, 90-62. Illinois thumped Murray State, 72-53, and then defeated Cincinnati, 92-68.

COMMON OPPONENTS: Both faced North Carolina, Purdue and Michigan State. Duke went 3-1, its loss coming against Purdue. Illinois was 2-2, losing to North Carolina, beating Michigan State and splitting with Purdue.

STYLE OF PLAY: Because the Blue Devils have no true post presence, they love to shoot from the outside, setting up multiple screens to free up three-point sharpshooter J.J. Redick. Illinois is also a perimeter-oriented team that likes to run. Point guard Dee Brown may be the quickest player in the tournament, and when he's not breaking down defenders off the dribble, he's creating for others.

X FACTOR: Duke point guard Chris Duhon sustained an injury to his ribs in the ACC tournament and was slowed through the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. But by blowing out its first two opponents by a combined 63 points, Duke did not need a sound Duhon. Against an ultra-athletic Illinois, Duhon must be healthy.

WHAT TO EXPECT: A frenetic game in which both teams will score in the 90s. When the dust settles, a more battle-tested Duke will be standing -- though perhaps wheezing a bit.

TEXAS vs. XAVIER

STORY LINE: Texas, sans Wooden Award-winning point guard T.J. Ford, is back in the Sweet 16 after last year's Final Four run. But it won't have the same home cooking it did in San Antonio for last year's regional final. Xavier, which handed Saint Joseph's its lone loss of the season, has won 15 of its last 16 games.

HOW THEY ADVANCED: Texas was tested by Princeton's slow-down game before getting untracked in the second half of a 66-49 victory. Then the Longhorns outlasted North Carolina, 78-75. Xavier handled Louisville, 80-70, then upset No. 2-seeded Mississippi State, 89-74.

COMMON OPPONENTS: The Longhorns and Musketeers both played Iowa State and George Washington, with similar results. Both fell to Iowa State, and while Texas beat George Washington in its lone meeting, Xavier took two of three from the Colonials.

STYLE OF PLAY: Texas likes to run and prefers to have its aggressive, man-to-man defense fuel its transition game. Xavier is all about free will and free-wheeling. The Musketeers, 36-6 after Feb. 1 under third-year Coach Thad Matta, excel when point guard Lionel Chalmers is running the offense at a shirts-vs.-skins pace.

X FACTOR: Texas' lack of a go-to guy. Ford's departure made the Longhorns a more tightly wrapped team, but they still have no one to carry them. Xavier has two such players -- Chalmers and guard Romain Sato.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Add Sato and Chambers to Wolverine and Storm as X-Men heroes, especially after Xavier continues its magical mystery tour of March Madness with another upset victory.

-- Paul Gutierrez

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