Monday, March 17, 2003

Midwest Region Outlook

Tide rolls in for IUPUI, Alabama

By Rick Gano
The Associated Press

Ron Hunter belly flopped to celebrate when his team qualified for the NCAA tournament, so imagine what the IUPUI coach might do if the Jaguars win in the first round.

But before Hunter has to bang up his knees or scrape his elbows with more midcourt machinations, IUPUI would have to have pull off a floor-shaking upset in the Midwest Regional.

Top-seeded Kentucky, winner of 23 straight, a team so confident it didn't cut down the nets or watch the selection show Sunday after winning the SEC tournament, presents the most imposing challenge the Jaguars of the Mid-Continent Conference could face.

"We get a chance to play a great program like Kentucky. It's just awesome," Hunter said Sunday when the 16th-seeded Jaguars found out who'd they face in their first-ever trip to the tournament.

"Wouldn't it be nice to be the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1 seed?" the exuberant coach asked. "People don't know how good these kids are."

Everyone knows how good Kentucky (29-3) is - unbeaten in regular-season conference play, no losses since Dec. 28, and on the country's most impressive roll entering Friday's opener in Nashville, Tenn.

"We only want to cut down one set of nets," Wildcats guard Keith Bogans said, meaning the ones at the Final Four in New Orleans on April 7.

"We're trying to play every game like it's the national championship," forward Erik Daniels said. "We don't want to lose and go home. We're on a roll and we don't want to stop. We want to get back here to New Orleans."

Another SEC team, Alabama, went in the opposite direction, but still got in. After a 9-0 start and a brief No. 1 ranking, the Crimson Tide faltered, losing 8 of its final 11, including the SEC tournament first-rounder to Vanderbilt.

Still, the strength of schedule got the Tide (17-11) a No. 10 seed and a first-round matchup against No. 7 Indiana (20-12), which made it to the national championship game a year ago.

"No matter who we play, they won't know us," Indiana coach Mike Davis said after a tough one-point loss to Illinois in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. "Our goal is to go out and win six games."

The Alabama-Indiana winner could run into another team playing its best ball at the right time - second-seeded Pitt, fresh off a victory in the Big East tournament and a winner of nine straight.

The Panthers, behind Brandin Knight and a tough defense, face Wagner, winner of the Northeast Conference tournament, in the opener Friday at Boston.

Kentucky's second-round opponent at Nashville could be Oregon, winner of the Pac-10 tournament, or Utah, the regular-season champion of the Big West led by the colorful coach who always fills out his sweater - Rick Majerus.

Five years ago, Kentucky beat Utah in the NCAA championship game to give Tubby Smith a title in his first year with the Wildcats.

On Thursday in Indianapolis, No. 3 Marquette plays No. 14 Holy Cross, and No. 6 Missouri faces No. 11 Southern Illinois.

Marquette, behind versatile Dwyane Wade, won the Conference USA regular season, but was stunned in the tournament opener by UAB. Holy Cross won the Patriot League tournament and is playing in its third straight NCAA tournament.

Missouri got an at-large berth after the Tigers' massive comeback fell short in a 49-47 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 tournament final Sunday, giving coach Quin Snyder a trip to the NCAAs in each of his four years. It is Missouri's fifth straight appearance.

Southern Illinois, making it second straight appearance under coach Bruce Weber, won two games in the NCAA tournament last season. The Salukis captured the Missouri Valley regular season before being routed by Creighton in the tournament finals, but were also picked as an at-large.

"I was trying to go through my mind what I was going to tell them if we did not get in," Weber said. "It was kind of a relief. We had felt confident all week that we were deserving of getting in. We hoped the last game didn't kill us."

At Spokane, Big Ten regular-season winner Wisconsin, seeded fifth, plays Big Sky winner and No. 12 Weber State; and No. 4 Dayton, which won the Atlantic 10 tournament on its home floor, faces WAC tournament winner Tulsa, the 13th seed.

The Badgers captured their first outright Big Ten title since 1947 this season after sharing it a year ago, but were ousted in their tournament opener by Ohio State.

Cincinnati.Com's bracket contest and full tournament coverage
Where Tristate teams are going
Everybody jumping in office pool
Tips for filling out your bracket
Hey fans, here's ticket info
One man's trip through the field of 65
NCAA team capsules

Bid gives UC new beginning
DAUGHERTY: Bearcats are a long shot
UC's opponent: Gonzaga
UC's road to the title

No. 3 seed pleases Xavier
XU's opponent: Troy State
XU's road to the title

Kentucky No. 1 in Midwest
UK's opponent: IUPUI
UK's road to the title
UK, Louisville can't meet until final
UK wins another SEC title
SEC Notebook: No upset this time

UC women savor selection, homecourt
UC women's opponent: Arkansas
UC women's road to the title
Waugh, Piipari know what it takes
XU women's opponent: Cal Santa-Barbara
XU women's road to the title
Texas coach brings star power here
Women's NCAA team capsules
Ohio teams headed to NCAA
Indiana teams headed to NCAA

Topsy-turvy IU, 'Bama to face off
Controversy abounds in this year's tourney
Men's NCAA Overview
East Region Outlook
Midwest Region Outlook
South Region Outlook
West Region Outlook
Women's NCAA Overview
NCAA Men | Women

NIT picks Ohio State, 6 Big East schools
NIT Men | Women

NKU seeks Elite Eight without top forward