Kentucky's three home losses had some Cats crazies longing for former coach Rick Pitino, but this year's team, a slower, half-court-oriented outfit, enters the tournament with virtually the same record as last year's 27-4 mark. The 1997-98 Wildcats have more balanced scoring (six players average 8.7 points or more a game) and are stronger under the boards (43.1 rebounds a game to 39.4 a year ago). The big reason for the latter: the play of junior center Nazr Mohammed, one of Pitino's last projects, who lost 60 pounds and has paid large dividends (11.8 points, 75 rebounds) ever since.
Svelte Mohammed will outplay Michigan's corpulent Robert Traylor before the Cats lose to Duke in the regional final.
15 South Carolina State
Coach Cy Alexander
Team scoring 74.6 (FG%: 46.5) (3-pointers: 163-411, 39.7%)
Opponents' scoring 69.6 (FG%: 43.2)
Rebound margin +1.9
Team FT% 68.7
Whom not to foul Roderick Blakney (80%), Tyler Brown (77%)
Whom to foul Coray Davis (50%), Raheem Waller (52%)
Quality wins Coppin State 78-76 and 66-61
Player to Watch
Moo Moo Blakney—so nicknamed by his grandmother because of his sad, cowlike eyes—scored more than 4,000 points in high school to win South Carolina's Mr. Basketball award. Blakney, a senior point guard, is still scoring (20.6) and is a terror on defense; his 2.9 steals a game ranks ninth in the nation.
Can the Bulldogs repeat Coppin State's Cinderella trip as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's entry last year? In their favor they have a potent backcourt (Brown, a 6'4" senior, adds 15.8 points a game), the experience of a tough schedule (their 1-5 start included a 98-40 whipping by Duke but also losses to N.C. State and South Carolina by a total of six points) and whatever luck is carried in Big Red gum, which they all chew during games. But they'll struggle if Blakney or Brown goes cold; no one else averages in double figures.
Dogs usually have their way with cats, but not when the Cats are Kentucky and the top Dog, Blakney, is only 5'10".
Coach James (Bruiser) Flint
Team scoring 70.5 (FG%: 45.2) (3-pointers: 111-316, 35.1%)
Opponents' scoring 65.5 (FG%: 40.4)
Rebound margin +57
Team FT% 69.8
Whom not to foul Charlton Clarke (79%), Tyrone Weeks (79%)
Whom to foul Mike Babul (60%), Jonathan DePina (63%)
Quality wins At Xavier 73-62, at Rhode Island 74-57