Maybe the best No. 8 vs No. 9 game features Stanford against Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers have a dominating big man in 6-11 center Chris Marcus, but the Cardinal can counter with 7-1 Curtis Borchardt.
"Both teams have a matchup problem," Arizona assitant coach Jay John said. "Marcus is a horse, but Borchardt is so long. Both will have their problems."
Oregon, at a No. 2 seed, drew the highest seed of any Pac-10 team. The Ducks will face Montana in the first round and, if they are successful, the Wake Forest/Pepperdine winner awaits the Ducks in round two.
The following are capsules of the Midwest Region teams.
Record: 29-3 (16-0, Big 12)
Key Players: PF-Drew Gooden, Jr., G-Kirk Hinrich, Jr., C-Nick Collison, Jr.
Outlook: The No. 1 team in the country is also the highest scoring, most
dominant and best transition team in the land. The Jayhawks have the kind of
ball movement on offense and get dozens of easy scores in the halfcourt set
because of it. The balance of the team is remarkable. Gooden, Collison and
freshman power forward Wayne Simien form the country's premier frontcourt
and dominate the glass on both ends. Kansas goes two deep at pretty much
every position without falling off when it substitutes.
Projection: There won't be a letdown for a Roy Williams' team this year.
Final Four is almost a given with this kind of talent, anything less would
be a shocker.
Holy Cross Crusaders
Record: 18-14 (9-5 Patriot)
Location: Worcester, MA
Key Players: Tim Szatko, F (6-8, Jr.); Ryan Serravalle, G (6-0, Sr.)
Outlook: Holy Cross won the Patriot League by getting hot for the
The Crusaders have NCAA Tourney experience and have played the likes of
UMass and Boston College this season. Szatko is a talented forward and
Serravalle is a steady point guard.
Projection: The Crusaders gave Kentucky fits last season in the first round
of the tournament. This year's team is not as strong as last year's edition,
so an early exit is likely.
Record: 19-9 (12-6, Pac-10)
Location: Palo Alto, CA
Key Players: Casey Jacobsen, F (6-6 Jr.); Curtis Borchardt, C (7-0 Jr.);
Julius Barnes, G (6-1 Jr.)
Outlook: Stanford is essentially a point guard away from being a legitimate
Final Four contender, but that really doesn't mean much as the remainder of
this year plays itself out. The Cardinal's lack of a star point guard has
hindered the team's development for much of the year and, at times, it has
really struggled against teams with good backcourts.
Stanford has two of the league's best players in Borchardt and Jacobsen.
They are the primary reasons that Stanford has remained competitive after
losing four starters from last year. Jacobsen can score in bunches and will
have the ball in his hands at cruch time. Borchardt is big, strong and
skilled. A lack of a quality point guard could hurt the Cardinal in the
Projection: The Cardinal probably don't have enough to get to seriously
compete for a national title but can make a deep run. Jacobsen can lead the
team for a few rounds by himself and he has some help.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Record: 29-3 (13-1 Sun Belt)
Location: Bowling Green, KY
Key Players: Chris Marcus, C (7-1 Sr.); Derek Robinson, G (6-1 Sr.); David
Boyden, F, (6-8 Jr.)
Overview: The Hilltoppers started the year with an impressive 64-52 win at
No. 3 Kentucky and finished the year on an 18-game winning streak. In
between, they lost three games by a total of 11 points and one of those
losses (to Creighton) was later avenged by 34 points. Head coach Dennis
Felton is such a hot commodity now that Western Kentucky decided to give him
a new seven-year, $2.8 million dollar contract with a stipulation that if he
decides to leave to a power school, his new team must agree to a
home-and-home series against the Hilltoppers. What that says is that WKU is
too scary of an opponent for the bigger boys of the NCAAs to face. Just ask
Projection: There are only a handful of teams capable of slowing down WKU
senior center Chris Marcus, who, after missing 17 games with an injury, is
back to 100% and averages 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocks per
game. When he's not on, the Hilltoppers can shoot the three ball too,
especially point guard Robinson (46% from deep). Western Kentucky will be a
factor in the second round this year, and maybe after that as well.
Record: 22-8 (10-6, SEC)
Key Players: PG-Brett Nelson, Jr., PF-Matt Bonner, Jr., C-Udonis Haslem, Sr.
Outlook: Guards need to hit their shots and the complimentary play from
perimeter players Justin Hamilton, Orien Greene and Ladarius Halton will be
a key to the Gators' postseason chances. Athletic freshmen James White and
David Lee are both solid finishers, but neither is a good shooter and
defense isn't a strong suit either.
Projection: If Nelson's three-point shot is falling, the Gators are a
legitimate Elite Eight team with Final Four possibilities. However, the
junior guard has been inconsistent this year and that's not likely to change
just because the calendar flipped to March. Billy Donovan's crew will ride
the coattails of Haslem until Nelson's shot comes around. Very possible
Record: 22-8 (14-4, MVC)
Location: Omaha, NE
Key Players: Kyle Korver, F (6-7, Jr.); Terrell Taylor G, (6-3, Jr.); Brody
Deren, F, (6-8, So.)
Outlook: The only way to beat Creighton is to contain Korver. The do-it-all
forward led the team in points (15.1), rebounds (5.6), assists (3.2) and
three-point shooting (42 percent) as the Bluejays won the Missouri Valley
Conference title over rival Southern Illinois. Korver had a great night
against the Salukis, and if he plays well in the tournament, Creighton has a
real chance to pull off an early-round upset.
Projection: One of the more likely upset candidates to knock off one of the
big boys from a power conference, but their time in the limelight is likely
Illinois Fightin' Illini
Record: 23-7 (11-5, Big Ten)
Key Players: Frank Williams, G (6-3, Jr.); Brian Cook, F (6-10, Jr.); Cory
Bradford, G (6-3, 200).
Outlook: Perhaps the most physically aggressive team in the nation, Illinois
came on extremely strong to end the year after falling short on preseason
expectations as one of the top three teams in the nation. Impressive
18-point win over Gonzaga helped seeding in a huge way. Bill Self's squad
has shown tendency to fade when behind, exemplified in a 31-point loss at
Projection: Illinois is one of the deepest teams in the nation. Williams is
a superstar, flanked by a deadly gunner in Bradford. Sean Harrington is also
accurate from beyond the three-point line. The Illini have to be one of the
favorites for the Final Four heading into the Field of 64.
San Diego State Aztecs
Record: 21-11 (7-7 Mountain West)
Location: San Diego State
Key Players: Randy Holcomb, F (6-9, Sr.); Al Faux, G (6-2, Sr.); Tony Bland,
G (6-5, Jr.)
Outlook: The Aztecs got hot at the right time, a staple of coach Steve
Fisher. With a win in the MWC Tournament the Aztecs turned an NIT bid into
an invitation to the Big Dance. The Aztecs can score and are led by
Holcomb's 17.2 ppg. The Aztecs played Duke tough in Cameron and picked up
wins over Hawaii and Fresno State, so they can play with quality opponents.