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Monday, March 17, 2003
Sooners see plenty of familiar spoilers in East

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

There are no pushovers for Oklahoma in the East. By the time the selection committee finished bracketing the region, here's who the top-seeded Sooners were staring at:

-- ACC champ Wake Forest
-- Syracuse, the Big East's West Division champ
-- Conference USA champ Louisville.
-- SEC West winner/SEC runner-up Mississippi State
-- Oh, and longtime nemesis Oklahoma State

The Sooners were 1-2 against the top six seeds in the Midwest, splitting with Oklahoma State and losing to Mississippi State in, oddly enough, New Orleans.

Biggest questions: Will the NCAA come back and haunt Louisville's Marvin Stone or is this issue dead? How healthy will Oklahoma's Ebi Ere (wrist) and Hollis Price (groin, stomach) be for the tournament?

Dangerous team: Mississippi State. The Bulldogs received a No. 5 seed but are clearly capable of winning this region. Remember, they beat the Sooners earlier this season. Mississippi State is back to playing the kind of ball it did back in December with its run to the SEC final.

Best first-round game: Probably Saint Joseph's vs. Auburn. Both teams were thrilled to be invited and neither one is that much better than the other, despite the seed differential. The Hawks' defense will be sorely tested trying to defend Marquis Daniels of Auburn, who has had his way scoring in the SEC.

Possible upset: If Penn can make 3s, the Quakers have a realistic shot of upsetting Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have slacked lately and aren't as tight defensively as they once were earlier in the season. Penn has its best chance for a first-round upset in years and should have the homecourt edge with the game being played in Boston.

Potential surprises: Keep an eye on Manhattan in its first-round game against Syracuse. The Jaspers have the players, like Luis Flores, to get through Syracuse's zone. They've also beaten two Big East programs this season in St. John's and Seton Hall.

Best players in the bracket: The top talent is Syracuse's Carmelo Anthony, but this bracket has a host of potential all-Americans in Anthony, Oklahoma's Price, Wake Forest's Josh Howard, Louisville's Reece Gaines and Mississippi State's Mario Austin.

Playing favorites: The committee did Mississippi State a favor by placing the Bulldogs in Birmingham after bracketing them in Dallas last season. If the Bulldogs get to the second round and play Louisville, they would have the advantage as a No. 5 over the No. 4 seed Cardinals. Oklahoma will have a mammoth partisan crowd in nearby Oklahoma City. That likely means Cal or N.C. State has no shot of advancing to the Sweet 16.

Best storyline: Price still. If he can get out of this bracket and get to New Orleans (his hometown) for the Final Four, it would be a crowning achievement in his illustrious career. Price grew up in difficult surroundings and would like nothing better than to be home for his final two games. His backcourt mate Quannas White is also a native of New Orleans, but the focus will be on the hard-working Price -- the toughest player in this field.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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