- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

2 DUKE

Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (28th season)

Conference: ACC

Record: 27-5/13-3

Previous NCAA appearances: 31

Overview: The Blue Devils, ousted in the first round last year by Virginia Commonwealth, started this season 22-1 and rose to No. 2 in the nation before consecutive road losses to Wake Forest and Miami. Duke is 5-4 in its last nine games. The Blue Devils’ strengths are 3-point shooting (297 made) and creating turnovers (278 steals).

Player to watch: Guard DeMarcus Nelson. The only senior on the Duke roster started every game and leads the Blue Devils in minutes (994), steals (52) and scoring (15.2 a game). Although he has led his team in individual game scoring twice in the last 12 games, Nelson had 18 rebounds and 31 points in two ACC tournament games.

15 BELMONT

Coach: Rick Byrd (22nd year)

Conference: Atlantic Sun

Record: 25-8/14-2

Previous NCAA appearances: 2

Overview: A former NAIA program, the Bruins are in the tournament for the third consecutive year. They lost to Georgetown last March. Belmont, which opened the year by beating Cincinnati, comes to the District with a 13-game winning streak and averages 80.1 points a game with 349 3-pointers. Justin Hare averages 14.9 points a game.

Player to watch: Guard/forward Shane Dansby. A transfer from Murray State, Dansby is a 6-4 junior who is second on the Bruins in scoring (13.8) and first in rebounds (6.2) and is shooting 51.6 percent from the field. Dansby reached double figures in all but four games. He scored a team-high 16 in the conference title game.

7 WEST VIRGINIA

Coach: Bob Huggins (first season)

Conference: Big East

Record: 24-10/11-7

Previous NCAA appearances: 20

Overview: Huggins returned to his alma mater last spring, and the Mountaineers were on the bubble following a loss at Connecticut on March 1. But they won their next four games before losing to Georgetown in the Big East semifinals. West Virginia is 5-9 against NCAA tournament teams. Four players average in double figures.

Player to watch: Forward Joe Alexander. One of four starters who average at least 30.6 minutes, Alexander leads West Virginia in scoring (16.8) and is tied for the lead in rebounding (6.1). Alexander hails from Mount Airy, Md., located about 45 miles from the District. He has scored 30-plus points in three of the last six games.

10 ARIZONA

Interim coach: Kevin O’Neill

Conference: Pacific 10

Record: 19-14/8-10

Previous NCAA appearances: 26

Overview: The Wildcats’ season started with longtime coach Lute Olson taking a leave of absence, replaced by assistant O’Neill. Their inclusion is one of the most controversial considering they were under .500 in the league. Since Feb. 2, the Wildcats are 4-8. But they did beat Washington State (twice) and Texas A&M.;

Player to watch: Guard Jerryd Bayless. Lost in the shadows of Pac-10 super freshmen Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, Bayless is a 6-3 newcomer who led the Wildcats in scoring (20.0) and also dished out 4.1 assists a game. He has reached 20 points in 15 games. Arizona was 1-3 when Bayless was sidelined at midseason with a sprained right knee.

3 XAVIER

Coach: Sean Miller (fourth season)

Conference: Atlantic 10

Record: 27-6/14-2

Previous NCAA appearances: 17

Overview: The Musketeers lost to eventual runner-up Ohio State in last year’s second round (in overtime), and they rolled through the Atlantic 10 this regular season. Xavier has wins over Indiana, Kansas State and Kent State. Josh Duncan (11.7 points a game) leads a balanced offense that has six players averaging between 10 and 11.7 points.

Player to watch: Guard Drew Lavender. A Columbus, Ohio, native who started his career with a two-year stint at Oklahoma, the 5-7 senior does a little bit of everything for Xavier. He averages 10.7 points in 30.2 minutes and has made 52 3-pointers and dished out a team-high 138 assists. He has started 124 of 129 career games.

14 GEORGIA

Coach: Dennis Felton (fourth season)

Conference: Southeastern

Record: 17-16/4-12

Previous NCAA appearances: 9

Overview: The Bulldogs were the final team to secure a spot in the 65-team field when they beat Arkansas yesterday to win the SEC’s automatic bid. Georgia beat Kentucky and Mississippi State in a Saturday doubleheader. The Bulldogs lost 10 of 11 games during a brutal late January/early February stretch. The current four-game winning streak is their longest of the year.

Player to watch: Guard Sundiata Gaines. The 6-1 senior kept his college career alive with a stellar SEC tournament, totaling 69 points, 14 assists and six steals in four wins. For the season, he leads Georgia with 14.8 points and 4.2 assists a game. He led Georgia in minutes, starts, rebounds, assists and steals as a junior.

6 PURDUE

Coach: Matt Painter (third season)

Conference: Big Ten

Record: 24-8/15-3

Previous NCAA appearances: 21

Overview: The Boilermakers got on the national radar by winning 11 consecutive conference games (including two over Wisconsin). Freshman guard E’Twaun Moore’s 12.7 points a game and 63 3-pointers lead a team with nine freshmen or sophomores on the roster. Since consecutive losses to Wofford and Iowa State, Purdue has won 17 of its last 21 games.

Player to watch: Guard/forward Robbie Hummel. Like Moore, he’s a freshman who arrived on campus and made an immediate impact. A 6-8 Valparaiso, Ind., native, Hummel didn’t have great high school numbers (15.3 points, 7.1 rebounds), but he was second on the Boilermakers in scoring (11.6) and led the team with 6.1 rebounds a game.

11 BAYLOR

Coach: Scott Drew (fifth season)

Conference: Big 12

Record: 21-10/9-7

Previous NCAA appearances: 4

Overview: The Bears were the last team to be revealed on the selection show, ending three days of angst. Baylor was bounced by Colorado in the Big 12 quarterfinals, leaving them on the bubble. Baylor rebounded from a 1-6 stretch to enter the tournament having won four of its last six games. Four players average at least 12.1 points.

Player to watch: Guard Curtis Jerrells. A 6-1 junior from Austin, Texas, Jerrells averages 14.9 points and 3.5 rebounds. He leads the Bears with 113 assists and 96 free throws. He has started all 79 games of his Baylor career. Jerrells scored 24 points in a 92-86 win over Kansas State on Feb. 23 to help break a four-game losing streak.

Ryan O’Halloran

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