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Monday, March 17, 2003
'Cats can't be wild about bracket

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

The NCAA Tournament selection committee didn't do Arizona any favors. This is by far the toughest regional and toughest half of any bracket.

The Wildcats could have to play Illinois just for the right to play Kansas, Duke or even a hot Memphis team along the way to the Final Four. Arizona not only got the toughest No. 2 seed in its bracket, but even if it advances out of the West, the potential of facing Kentucky in New Orleans awaits before the national championship game.

Kansas had a strong argument for a No. 1 seed, which makes it even tougher to figure out the alignment against Arizona. The Wildcats were probably the top team in the field as recently as two weeks ago.

Yet, Arizona received no special treatment. This is even more surprising considering athletics director Jim Livengood is the chair of the selection committee. Maybe the committee went to an extreme to prove that it wasn't giving the Wildcats special treatment.

Regardless, the West is going to make or break Arizona. If the Wildcats can get through this bracket, they should take pride in a West Regional trophy, even though that's not the one they want in April.

Biggest questions: Is Luke Walton completely healthy? The Wildcats say yes, but they also wanted to rest him in the Pac-10 tournament. That should cause some concern for Arizona nation. What's the mental makeup of Kansas? The Jayhawks were humbled by Missouri in the Big 12 semifinals and seemed a bit flustered. Now that they think they should have been a No. 1 seed, will they let their egos handle a mild bruising?

Dangerous team: Memphis. The Tigers had to be the best No. 7 seed in recent history. Memphis beat Illinois, Syracuse and Louisville in the regular season, yet was seeded below each team. The Tigers have the talent to make a Final Four run and could be poised to cause some major headaches for Kansas in a potential second-round game. Memphis has to get past Arizona State first and the Chris Massie-Ike Diogu matchup could be one of the best in the field.

Best first-round game: No. 6 Creighton vs. No. 11 Central Michigan. The selection committee pitted two mid-majors against each other in the first round. This makes a statement that the committee does respect the play at the mid-major level. This game also involves two of the better players in the country at their respective positions in the Bluejays' Kyle Korver and the Chippewas' Chris Kaman.

Possible upset: Look out for Wisconsin-Milwaukee vs. Notre Dame. The Panthers love to run and can score as well as the Fighting Irish. They don't have as many offensive options but the Irish aren't playing well and appear ripe to be upset.

Potential surprises: Don't be shocked to see Illinois get to the Final Four. The Illini are playing great basketball right now at every position. They're confident and have one of the best tournament coaches in Bill Self. If the Illini meets up with Arizona in the Sweet 16 they won't be intimidated. Oh, yeah, Duke is in this bracket and we've barely mentioned the Blue Devils. But this Duke team is still capable of making a run to New Orleans and would love to get a crack at Arizona.

Best players in the bracket: It's not surprising that this brutal bracket boasts some of the nation's best players. Arizona's cast of thousands in Luke Walton, Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire, Andre Iguodala, Hassan Adams and Channing Frye head the list; with Illinois' Brian Cook and Dee Brown; Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf; Notre Dame's Matt Carroll and Chris Thomas; Korver and Kaman; Duke's J.J. Redick, Dahntay Jones and Shelden Williams; Massie; Diogu; and Kansas' Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison.

Playing favorites: Kansas clearly will have an advantage in Oklahoma City against Utah State and the winner of Memphis-Arizona State. Illinois could face a partisan crowd if it plays Notre Dame in Indianapolis.

Best storylines: Vermont and Arizona State. The Catamounts are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance (Vermont hasn't even been in the NIT). The Catamounts likely won't be around for long, but get to the news conference with head coach Tom Brennan. He's the Don Imus of Burlington with his own drive-time radio show. ASU is making a trip to the NCAAs for the first time since the point-shaving scandal. This shows that Rob Evans has done a remarkable job in rebuilding the once-disgraced program.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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