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Monday, March 17, 2003
One possible Pitt-fall appears in UK's way

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Kentucky was given the top seed in the NCAA Tournament. How do we know? The Wildcats were placed in the weakest (read: easiest) bracket.

The Wildcats don't necessarily have the softest No. 2 seed in Pittsburgh. The Panthers are probably the toughest defensive team the Wildcats will have to face in the field if the two reach the Elite Eight. But the rest of the top five in the Midwest are very beatable.

Marquette, Dayton and Wisconsin all have flaws that Kentucky can easily expose if it were to meet any of them. Dayton was the hottest team of this group, but the Flyers did win the conference tournament on their homecourt.

Kentucky got placed in the Midwest Region because the committee wanted to sell more tickets in Minneapolis. But technically, the Wildcats probably would have had an easier time logistically getting to Albany. Their first-round game against IUPUI might be the most lopsided matchup; IUPUI is the worst No. 16 seed in the field.

Biggest questions: How healthy will Britton Johnsen of Utah be for the tournament? He didn't play in the Mountain West tourney because of an enlarged spleen. If he can't play, the Utes are unlikely to beat Oregon in the first round. The health of Pittsburgh's Brandin Knight and Chevy Troutman, both banged up, is also of major concern for the Panthers.

Dangerous team: Missouri. The Tigers should have won the Big 12 tournament but couldn't get a last-second shot to go down against Oklahoma. Missouri is playing its best basketball of the season at the right time for the second straight season. If Missouri can get past a potential Marquette matchup in the second round, the Tigers could end up getting to the Elite Eight. Missouri has the size and strength to play with Pittsburgh.

Best first-round game: No. 10 Alabama vs. No. 7 Indiana. The Crimson Tide will be out to prove their doubters wrong and the committee correct for including them in the field. Indiana coach Mike Davis will be going against his alma mater. And the Hoosiers also have plenty to say about whether they belong in this field. Just like the Tide, Indiana struggled after Jan. 1. This is the game that looked like a pair of top-four seeds in December, not a 7-10 matchup in March.

Possible upset: Don't be shocked if Weber State takes out Wisconsin. The Wildcats have the personnel and do not fear the Big Ten Badgers. Weber State went through the Big Sky undefeated and the Badgers aren't playing well after getting tossed early by Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament a week after beating out Illinois for the regular season title.

Potential surprises: Dayton. The Flyers are the field's top Cinderella. Yes, Cinderella can be a team from a high-major conference or even a top four seed. The Flyers are still a relative unknown and if this team advances to play the likes of Kentucky or Texas (if BYU wins two games in the South, it'll switch places with the Midwest's team in this spot), then they could be trouble.

Best players in the bracket: Oregon's Luke Ridnour is probably the best of the bunch. The Pac-10 player of the year is a point guard gem who could be the top playmaker selected in the NBA draft behind T.J. Ford (if the Texas sophomore leaves early). Keep an eye on Wisconsin's Kirk Penney, Kentucky's Keith Bogans and Marquis Estill, Weber State's Jermaine Boyette, Missouri's Arthur Johnson, Marquette's Dwyane Wade, Indiana's Bracey Wright, Alabama's Mo Williams and Pittsburgh's Brandin Knight. All are capable of carrying their teams for a few rounds.

Playing favorites: The committee didn't really stack a site with a clear home team, the closest being Kentucky in Nashville. The Big Blue Nation should flock to Nashville and overrun the SEC city. Kentucky is the favorite, and the Wildcats will receive the loudest cheers for their first two rounds, too.

Best storyline: Mike Davis. You just never know what's going to happen with Mr. Davis. He could get emotional playing Alabama. If Indiana advances then Davis could become an even bigger story after reaching the title game last season. Paying attention to what Davis says and does is always worth the time.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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