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Archive for Thursday, March 18, 2004

Keep an eye on seniors … and freshmen

March 18, 2004

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Every team has been broken down and every matchup has been analyzed. Still, there might be some things about the first round of the NCAA Tournament that have been overlooked:

Seniors

This is their last chance and, yes, there still are seniors left in college basketball.

  • Duke's Chris Duhon was a freshman on the Blue Devils' last championship team, and he is the unquestioned leader of this group.
  • Memphis point guard Antonio Burks was selected player of the year in Conference USA, but struggled to a season-low six points on 2-for-11 shooting when the Tigers were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Saint Louis.
  • Gonzaga guard Blake Stepp has been one of the keys to the Bulldogs' recent success, but he has to lead them as they try to prove they deserved their No. 2 seeding.
  • Seton Hall guard Andre Barrett finally gets a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. The former New York City star will have to go against perennial powers Arizona and Duke to play another weekend.

Freshmen

  • Duke's Luol Deng couldn't have lived up to his preseason billing, but the 6-foot-8 forward had a good freshman year, averaging 14.7 points and 6.8 rebounds.
  • Wake Forest's Chris Paul beat out Deng for Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of the year, and he did it by averaging 14.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists.
  • Pittsburgh's Chris Taft stepped into a starting spot with the Panthers and was a force in the middle right away, averaging 11.2 points and 7.5 rebounds.
  • Connecticut's Josh Boone had a quiet freshman year until the Big East tournament, when he picked up the slack for the injured Emeka Okafor and grabbed 29 rebounds in two games.

Free throws

Two of the top free-throw shooters in the country are in the tournament: Duke's J.J. Redick (130-for-136, 95.6 percent) and Chris Hernandez of Stanford (96-for-105, 91.4 percent). Four teams in the field make at least 76 percent: North Carolina State (79.8), Arizona (78.6), Michigan State (76.9) and Manhattan (76.0). The five worst teams at the line: Virginia Commonwealth (60.4), Connecticut (61.6), Maryland (62.6), Illinois-Chicago (63.4) and Syracuse (63.6).

Unknown stars

  • Taylor Coppenrath of Vermont, the two-time America East player of the year, had 43 points and 13 rebounds in the conference championship game after missing a month with a broken wrist.
  • Luis Flores of Manhattan, the two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year, was third in the nation in scoring at 24.1.
  • Zakee Wadood of East Tennessee State. Besides having the best name in the tournament, he also was the Southern Conference player of the year.
  • Nevada swingman Kirk Snyder, who is projected as a first-round NBA draft pick if he leaves after his junior year, led the Western Athletic Conference in scoring and was its player of the year.

Unknown teams

  • UAB was one of the five teams to tie for the Conference USA regular-season title, and the Blazers are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in five years.
  • Richmond wasn't noticed much in the A-10 as Saint Joseph's dominated the league, but the Spiders won at Kansas University, and they have some tournament history, becoming the first No. 15 seed to win a game, beating Syracuse in 1991.
  • East Tennessee State has one of the most exciting players in 5-9 Tim Smith, and the Buccaneers, who have made all six of their NCAA appearances since 1989, beat Arizona in 1992.
  • The Mid-American Conference is always considered the best of the mid-majors, and Western Michigan won the league title this year.

Rehab ward

  • Connecticut center Emeka Okafor missed the first two games of the Big East tournament because of back spasms, but returned for the championship game. Connecticut forward Charlie Villanueva injured his leg in the semifinals of the Big East tournament and missed the championship game.
  • Duke guard Chris Duhon hurt his ribs in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, but returned. Wednesday, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Duhon's status would be decided at game time.
  • Florida swingman Matt Walsh had a huge blister on his right foot, but he will wear a sheath and is expected to play.
  • Stanford forward Justin Davis returned for the last two games of the Pac-10 tournament after missing 10 games with a knee injury.
  • North Carolina State guard Scooter Sherrill has missed four games with an ankle injury and is considered day-to-day.

Missing players

  • Kelvin Brown, Murray State's second-leading scorer, was arrested on drug charges last weekend and suspended indefinitely.
  • LeVar Seals, DePaul's sixth man, was ejected from the Conference USA championship game against Cincinnati for throwing a punch and will miss tonight's game against Dayton.

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