The Phoenix Regional - Early Preview

The Phoenix Regional of the 2004 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament features some of the premier payers and teams in college basketball. Games begin tomorrow and here's a preview of what to expect.

The Phoenix Regional of the 2004 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament features some of the premier payers and teams in college basketball. Games begin tomorrow and here's a preview of what to expect.

The Brackets: - Printable - NCAA Sports

1- Stanford (29-1) 
2- Connecticut (27-6)
3- N.C. State (20-9)
4- Maryland (19-11)
5- Syracuse (21-7)
6- Vanderbilt (21-9)
7- Depaul (21-9)
8- Alabama (17-12)
9- Southern Illinois (25-4)
10- Dayton (24-8)
11- Western Michigan (26-4)
12- BYU (21-8)
13- UTEP (24-7)
14- UL-Lafayette (20-8)
15- Vermont (22-8)
16- Texas San-Antonio (20-12)

"Pod" Location and First-Round Game Times
Key Arena - Seattle, WA -- March 18 & 20

(1) Stanford vs. (16) Texas-SA -- Thu. Mar 18, 5:00 PM ET
(8) Alabama vs. (9) S Illinois -- Thu. Mar 18, 2:40 PM ET

Pepsi Center - Denver, CO -- March 18 & 20

5) Syracuse vs. (12) BYU -- Thu. Mar 18, 3:00 PM ET
(4) Maryland vs. (13) UTEP -- Thu. Mar 18, 12:40 PM ET

TD Waterhouse Centre - Orlando,FL -– March 19 & 21

(6) Vanderbilt vs. (11) W Michigan -- Fri. Mar 19, 2:35 PM ET
(3) NC State vs. (14) La Lafayette -- Fri. Mar 19, 12:15 PM ET

HSBC Arena - Buffalo, NY -– March 18 & 20

(7) DePaul vs. (10) Dayton -- Thu. Mar 18, 9:30 PM ET
(2) UConn vs. (15) Vermont -- Thu. Mar 18, 7:10 PM ET

UConn Center Emeka Okafor is the nation's best big man.

Players to Watch: Julius Hodge, Emeka Okafor, and Josh Childress -- Every team in the tournament has at least one great player and no region likely has as much star-power as the Phoenix regional. Hodge, Okafor, and Childress each will make several All-American lists this spring and are potential NBA early-entry prospects. In tournament time when a single player can carry a squad, look for Hodge, Okafor, or Childress to step to the forefront and lead their team to the Final Four in San Antonio.

Best First Round Game: Syracuse vs. BYU -- The famous first round upset... 5 versus 12. It could happen in the Phoenix Regional as BYU and center Rafael Araujo will create major problems for Syracuse. Araujo is averaging 18.2 points and 10.0 rebounds and at 6'11 280 pounds is considered one of the top big men in college basketball. The Cougars will bring a lot of fans to Denver after playing in the conference tournament at the same arena this past weekend. If they can get Araujo his touches and stroke the three then this will be a great first round matchup.

Sleeper Pick: North Carolina State. A No. 3 seed the sleeper? Surely that can't be right? Well given the lack of respect the Wolfpack has received from the national media over the past few days, I don't consider it a stretch. No one seems to give them much of a chance to advance in the regional. Come tourney time three things are a must: strong guard play, defense, and free throw shooting. NC State has perhaps the top guard in the country in Julius Hodge, is one of the better defensive teams around, and leads the entire country in free throw shooting. If the Wolfpack can get past UL-Lafayette and the Vandy/WMU winner, NC State could be a thorn in the side of potential opponent UConn.

Small Forward Nik Caner-Medley and Maryland could be an upset special in the Phoenix Regional.

Seeded Too High: Maryland. Three weeks ago the Terps were fighting just to make the NCAA Tournament. After winning the ACC Title Maryland landed a No. 4 seed, 2 seed-lines higher then conference foe North Carolina (No. 6 in Atlanta Region) who finished ahead of Maryland in the conference standings and the RPI index. Will the Terps come back to earth after defeating the ACC's top three teams last weekend or can they maintain the intensity and desire needed to win their second NCAA title in three years? Don't be surprised if a very underrated UTEP squad gives Maryland some trouble in the first round.

Quick Ragin' Cajuns Preview: This is not your average No. 14 seed as the Ragin' Cajuns are going to Orlando, Fl expecting to defeat N.C. State. UL-Lafayette returned their top five scorers from a year ago and added SEC transfers Orien Greene (Florida) and Dwayne Mitchell (Auburn) to the mix this season.

Finishing 20-8 on the year and winning the Sun Belt Conference, La-Lafayette had five players who averaged double figures, led by 5'11 point guard Antoine Landry. Landry and 6'6 guard Brad Boyd were the focal points of an offense that centered around hitting the 3-point shot and strong, agressive rebounding.

Defensively the Cajuns love to press and use their athleticism for easy transition buckets, but also mix in a zone at times. If NC State can handle the pressure and get into their offensive sets, their unique system will be tough for UL-Lafayette to defend.

Either way you slice it, this won't be an easy game for NC State, and the Ragin' Cajuns will be gunning for the upset.

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