Monday, March 24, 2003

Four No. 1s advance

Sweet 16 analysis

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

Sweet Sixteen roll call . . . The No. 1 seeds? All present and accounted for, although Arizona may still be hyperventilating.

The No. 1 team? Kentucky won by 31 and 20 points.

The winning streak is now 25. It is a full-blown rampage.

The Big East? There's a lodge member in every regional. The league's 8-0 record evokes memories of 1985, when the Final Four was 75 percent Big East. And this is the conference that had a division champion - Boston College - not even invited.

The defending national champion? Maryland lives on, by the grace of the March gods and a Drew Nicholas rainbow jumper. There is something dangerous about a team that should have been beaten, but wasn't. Many times, it grows stubborn about staying.

The gate crashers? Say hello to No. 12 seed Butler, who until the past week had won three NCAA Tournament games in recorded history.

And No. 10 Auburn, whose nine losses in its last 14 season games were cause for widespread mockery of its very appearance in the bracket.

When most people looked at the Tigers, they thought of three things.

N . . . I . . . T.

But not anymore.

Duke and Kansas? One scored 86 points in its second round game, the other 108. They meet Thursday in Anaheim, a Final Fourish-sounding game that somehow ended up in a regional.

Notre Dame? The Irish haven't been this far since 1987, when the basketball coach was Digger Phelps and the football coach Lou Holtz.

Michigan State? The mercurial Spartans went from Big Ten preseason favorite to a 70-40 loss at Illinois. But Sunday, they were back crushing Florida by 22.

The No. 4 seeds? A moment of silence, please. They were eradicated, as fast as you could say Dayton-Illinois-Stanford-Louisville.

And so the tournament rolls on, without two of the No. 2 seeds, without four of the five Pac-10 teams, without Rick Pitino.

It has already provided an unforgettable winning shot from Nicholas, an extraordinary double overtime test of wills by Arizona and Gonzaga, a 21-point overtime by Marquette, and a genuine Cinderella in Butler.

There have been four overtime games, and five one-point decisions. Though Sunday was a drab day of comfortable margins, brightened only by Butler.

It was not all pretty. Consider the Pac-10, which nearly lost everyone.

Or the SEC, which except for Kentucky's might and Auburn's pluck, can now return to spring football.

LSU was rolled over by 24 against Purdue. Mississippi State was Butler's first victim. Alabama blew an 11-point halftime lead to Indiana. Florida was trampled by Michigan State, in Tampa.

And while the turbulent pleasures of parity are seen in many close games, life is no easier for the No. 16 seeds. They lost by 31, 29, 21 and 17 points, running their first round perfect imperfection against No. 1 seeds to 0-76.

The plot now thickens. Oklahoma must deal not only with Butler's magic, but possibly Syracuse in front of an army of orange in Albany N.Y.

In the South, Texas can close on its first Final Four berth since 1947 in friendly San Antonio, with the next three highest seeds already gone.

In the West, Arizona must wipe off the dust from the Gonzaga knockdown pitch in time for the happy 3-point triggers of Notre Dame, and then either Duke or Kansas.

In the Midwest, the most serious hindrance in Kentucky's way would seem to be the Pittsburgh defense, which better be like the Steelers' when the time comes.

The first week changed nothing about the cement truck everyone is trying to stop.

The list of candidates is only shorter. Sixteen teams.

Make that 15 teams, and one Kentucky.

Sweet 16 matchups

Thursday's games

Midwest Regional, Minneapolis

Wisconsin (24-7) vs. Kentucky (31-3), 7:10 p.m.

Marquette (25-5) vs. Pittsburgh (28-4), 9:40 p.m.

West Regional, Anaheim

Notre Dame (24-9) vs. Arizona (27-3), 7:27 p.m.

Duke (26-6) vs. Kansas (27-7), 9:57 p.m.

Friday's games

East Regional, Albany, N.Y.

Oklahoma (26-6) vs. Butler (27-5), 7:10 p.m.

Syracuse (26-5) vs. Auburn (22-11), 9:40 p.m.

South Regional, San Antonio

Connecticut (23-9) vs. Texas (24-6), 7:27 p.m.

Maryland (21-9) vs. Michigan St. (21-12), 9:57 p.m.

XU: Sweet 16 bid is denied
Daugherty: Xavier realized too late it could win
Nicholas delivers in clutch
Xavier-Maryland Photo Gallery
UK: Wildcats run win streak to 25
One-on-one does not shut down center Estill
At Kentucky, the defense never rests
UK-Utah Photo Gallery
East: Butler breaks through, downs Louisville
Midwest: Pitt's defense sends Indiana home
South: MSU stomps No. 2-seed Florida
Four No. 1s advance
Big East has sweet record heading to round of 16
Family follows its sons
Men's NCAA Tournament at a glance
NIT at a glance

Gauchos too deep for Musketeers
Shoemaker Regional: Arkansas 71, UC 57
The Shoe sticks it to top Hog
Shoemaker Regional: Texas 90, Hampton 46
Longhorns show off power
Ohio State crushes Weber State
Other games: UConn roars back into winning form
Women's NCAA Tournament at a glance

Pitching staff takes shape
Larkin will get some work in the outfield
Reds players eager to see new digs
Indians 2, Reds 0
Day stakes claim to Expos starting spot

Not rain, nor mud, nor sickness could stifle Tiger
Pak soars by Sorenstam

Goalie Turco returns to align shining Stars
Cyclones clinch playoff berth

Busch rolls the dice and wins
Bumping causes grumbling
Kanaan posts 1st IRL win

New York Hero may be Derby-bound

Monday's sports on TV, radio