Players to Watch
With his quick hops and quicker release, Mayes, the Ohio Valley Conference player of the year with a 21.7 average, is coming down from his jumper while defenders are still rising. He's the perfect running mate for Townsend, a 25-year-old senior who spent two years in the Air Force and distributes the ball (5-2 assists) with military precision.
The well-named Racers, who come into the NCAAs riding a 12-game winning streak, must play an up-tempo game to compensate for a frontcourt that stands 6'6", 6'7" and 6'9". In its win over Arkansas, Murray State gave the Hogs a taste of their own hellish medicine, led by Mayes, who had 42 points. Inside, the Racers rely on Spencer, a sophomore forward and former Mr. Basketball in Alabama, who averages 13.7 points and 8.2 rebounds despite being only 6'6".
The Racers should beat Rhode Island—and Gottfried's mentor, Jim Harrick—before succumbing to Kansas' size.
MARCH 13, 15/OKLAHOMA CITY
Coach Rob Evans
Team scoring 80.9 (FG%: 45.4) (3-pointers: 194-523, 37.1%)
Opponents' scoring 68 6 (FG%: 40.4)
Rebound margin +6.8
Team FT% 65.0
Whom not to foul Keith Carter: (78%), Ansu Sesay (73%)
Whom to foul Anthony Boone (45%), Jason Smith (52%)
Quality wins At Kentucky 87-76, Arkansas 81-65
Player to Watch
Sesay, a lefthanded 6'9" senior forward, has an all-around, inside-outside game that stumps teammate Joezon Darby, who says, "I'd need a dictionary to describe him." In January, after Evans chided him for being too unselfish, Sesay dropped 33 points on Mississippi State. "And when teams have doubled Ansu," says Evans, "he's had six or seven assists."
It wasn't that long ago that Ole Miss announced that it was promoting its head basketball coach to assistant football coach. With defense, balance and an epochal win this season at Kentucky, Evans has created an instant hoops tradition. The Rebels have two tournament-time premiums: versatile depth—"We can go big, and we can go small," Evans says—and steady guard play from Jason Flanigan, Michael White, Carter and Darby, who's Mississippi's best buzzer-beating option.
In this plodders' regional, the Rebels stand out for their mobility. They want their Valpo—and Kansas, too. A possible Final Four team.