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Monday, March 17, 2003
Texas beware: Defending champs lurking

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Texas will have a tough, tough time getting to the Final Four out of the South. Its road won't be as difficult as Arizona's in the West, but the Longhorns may have to get around LSU in the second round. The Tigers might just be the best No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

LSU was playing great basketball going into the final week of the season and then caused all sorts of problems in the SEC tournament. LSU is tough, senior-laden and physical and those attributes could spell trouble for the Longhorns.

If Texas ousts LSU, it might run up against Connecticut, another strong team to beat as a No. 5 seed. The bottom of the bracket is just as scary, not so much No. 2 Florida, but rather defending national champion Maryland.

The Terps have to be the best No. 6 seed in the field. They are capable of winning the national title and they're deep in Texas' bracket.

So, imagine Texas beating LSU, Connecticut and Maryland ... just to get to the Final Four.

Biggest questions: What's going to be Florida's mental makeup? This team somewhat collapsed down the stretch. The Gators lost at Georgia, to Kentucky and then to LSU in the SEC tournament. The Gators have the talent to make it to the Final Four but could struggle to get out of the second round opposite either Colorado or Michigan State.

Dangerous team: Maryland. The Terps are a bear as a six seed. Xavier didn't get any special treatment from the committee by possibly having to play the Terps in the second round. Xavier or Florida would have to scramble to figure out how to beat Maryland's Final Four experience and talent.

Best first-round game: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 10 Colorado. This should be the best game. Both teams are physical. The Buffaloes have the best frontline in the bracket and could make this game ugly. But Michigan State has better perimeter shooters. This was a well-thought-out matchup by the committee.

Possible upset: San Diego. The Toreros won't be an easy out for Stanford. San Diego has the size with Jason Keep to cause all sorts of problems for the Cardinal. San Diego is playing loose and beat a Pac-10 team already this season in UCLA. The Toreros are coming off a win over Gonzaga and won't be intimidated by the Cardinal, which didn't look good in losing to Southern California.

Potential surprises: Xavier. Well, the Musketeers shouldn't be considered a huge surprise since they're a No. 3 seed. But Xavier has neither the tournament history nor the tournament toughness that one would expect to defeat Maryland. If they can muster it up, then the Musketeers have a legitimate chance to go deep in this bracket and meet Texas in the Elite Eight.

Best players in the bracket: Check out this list, starting with Texas point guard T.J. Ford -- ESPN.com's national player of the year -- Xavier's David West, Connecticut's Emeka Okafor and the sensational freshmen at Florida in Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson.

Playing favorites: Florida was the one team in this region that received a noticeable bump. The Gators will play in Tampa, just a few hours from Gainesville. If the Gators can't win the two games in Tampa ... .

Best storyline: BYU. The Cougars' potential to ruin the brackets and advance to the Sweet 16 -- forcing the committee to move them to the Midwest and slide another team over in its place -- will wreak havoc on brackets across America. BYU's games should be some of the highest rated because it could have the most impact and affect more teams than just those in its pod.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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