First Round game no cake walk

The Arizona Wildcats will go into the 2004 NCAA Tournament as the No. 9 seed in the Southeast Region. The Wildcats will face No. 8 Seton Hall in Raleigh, NC in a first round game. The winner will likely face Duke in the second round. Going up against the Blue Devils just a few miles from its home in Durham will be a daunting task for any team, but first the Cats must get past the Pirates.

For the first time in many years there really is a lot of parity in college basketball. I wouldn't go so far as to predict a team with a double-digit seed winning the National Championship, but it would not be too surprising to see an eight or nine seed in the Final Four.

Washington, the No 8 in the Midwest, will have an excellent opportunity to get to the Regional Finals if it can get by UAB and Kentucky in the first and second rounds, respectively. Stanford will be facing Alabama, which played the toughest schedule in college basketball, or Southern Illinois after it dismantles Texas-San Antonio in its first game. St. Joseph must face Bobby Knight's Texas Tech or UNC-Charlotte. All in all, I would bet that all four No. 1 seeds DO NOT advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

So, Wildcat fans, can Arizona be the spoiler?

The Wildcats have been placed in a brutal bracket. The Southeast Region, with No. 1 Duke playing in its backyard, should make it a cinch for the Dukies to get to Atlanta. This is like a home game for the Blue Devils. The rest of the Southeast is just imposing with No. 2 Mississippi State, No. 3 Texas and No. 4 Cincinnati making this by far the most difficult bracket.

Arizona is making its 20th consecutive appearance in tournament and the players' experience in this event could give it an edge in the first game.

The Wildcats and Pirates had only one common opponent during the season, Liberty College. Arizona defeated the Flames 107-91 in the first round of the Fiesta Classic and Seton Hall handed the Liberty a 65-47 defeat on the Flames home court.

The Pirates were 9-7 in the Big East Conference. Wins over Pitt and Syracuse helped get them into the tournament, but Seton Hall actually struggled down the stretch. After its big win over Pitt, the Pirates lost back-to-back games at Notre Dame and at home against Boston College. They won their next three but finished on a downer, getting hammered by UConn before squeaking by Rutgers and losing to Villanova in the first round of the Big East Tournament. The Pirates finished the season at 20-9.

Arizona will enter the tournament with the same 20-9 record and they are also coming into the tournament on a down note. The Wildcats are 7-6 over the last 13 games, losing to the Washington Huskies three times during that stretch.

Seton Hall's speedy 5-10 point guard Andre Barrett, who averages 17.6 points and 5.9 assists per game, leads the Pirates. Barrett also shoots almost 40 percent from behind the arc.

The Wildcats are one of the nations highest scoring teams, so putting points on the board won't be a problem. Arizona has the speed to blow by most any team in the tournament, but do they have the mental toughness to stop an opponent?

Another problem Arizona faced throughout the season is finding enough bodies to compete when its starters get into foul trouble. If Arizona is going to advance past the first round they must play better at the defensive end of the court and stay out of foul trouble.

I might be the eternal optimist but I don't think Seton Hall has the speed or the front line talent to match up with the Wildcats. In fact I have to believe the tournament committee, which has Seton Hall installed as the favorite, have the seedings reversed.

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