Wednesday, March 10, 2004

UK begins planting NCAA No. 1 seed

Three victories could secure top slot in Tourney

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEXINGTON - Tubby Smith swept every national coach of the year honor last season, but the awards buzz is less noisy here this March.

Yet, as Kentucky prepares to open Southeastern Conference Tournament play Friday, Smith has it seemingly three victories from a second consecutive No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.

That would be plenty impressive for a team picked in preseason as No. 11 nationally and third in its own division of the SEC.

"I think that (seed) would show the hard work we put in has paid off," junior Chuck Hayes said.

Of awards, Smith and the Wildcats can take them or leave them. Same with conference crowns. The key objective for this weekend in Atlanta is to position the team for the NCAAs.

"Our main thing is a national championship," senior Gerald Fitch said. "We're not concerned with the SEC regular-season title (won by Mississippi State). That's no big deal."

Standing No. 3 Tuesday in the Ratings Percentage Index, UK (23-4) is almost certain to be no lower than a No. 2 NCAA seed, according to bracketology guru Jerry Palm of Win the SEC tourney, and it's just as certain to be a top seed.

Palm has St. Joseph's, Duke, Stanford and Mississippi State as his current No. 1s. Should UK win the SEC but St. Joe's, Duke and Stanford also win out, Palm said only Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State would have an argument to get the last No. 1 seed instead of the Wildcats.

"It does (matter)," UK sophomore Kelenna Azubuike said of the potential seed difference. "If you're a No  1, you're going to be in a better situation. It's something to strive for."

Since the NCAA Tournament instituted seeding in 1979, No. 1 seeds are a cumulative 306-88 (.777) with 13 champions, while No. 2 seeds are 220-95 (.698) with five champions.

A 16th seed has never beaten a No. 1, but four times a 15th seed has upset a No. 2. Smith, who in 1997 had a third-seeded Georgia team upset by 14th-seeded Chattanooga, knows not to assume seedings will hold.

"That (seed) is just a statement of how people perceive you, how you're projected to be," he said. "At that stage, you'd better be ready for anyone."

FOUR ALL-SEC: Four Wildcats were named to the Associated Press all-SEC teams - Fitch and Erik Daniels to the second team, Hayes and Cliff Hawkins to the third team. No other school has as many honorees, and it's the most all-SEC players UK has had since also totaling four in 1978.

Mississippi State junior center Lawrence Roberts, a transfer from Baylor, was named both Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, and MSU's Rick Stansbury is Coach of the Year. The coaches' all-SEC teams are to be announced today.

MORE HONORS: Daniels and Fitch were named all-District 4 by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. The team includes 10 players from the six-state district. Roberts and Stansbury also earned top player and coach honors, respectively, in the district.

FITCH A FINALIST: Fitch is one of 10 finalists for the Bayer Advantage Senior CLASS Award, presented to the nation's outstanding senior. Fitch also last week was named one of 20 finalists for the Wooden Award All-American team.

Associated Press All-SEC teams

First team: Lawrence Roberts, Timmy Bowers (Mississippi State); Matt Freije (Vanderbilt); Justin Reed (Mississippi); Jaime Lloreda (LSU); Anthony Roberson (Florida).

Second team: Gerald Fitch, Erik Daniels (UK); Scooter McFadgon (Tennessee); Matt Walsh (Florida); Rashad Wright (Georgia); Kennedy Winston (Alabama).

Third team: Chuck Hayes, Cliff Hawkins (UK); Marco Killingsworth (Auburn); David Lee (Florida); Carlos Powell (South Carolina).

Player of the Year: Lawrence Roberts (MSU).

Coach of the Year: Rick Stansbury (MSU).

Newcomer of the Year: Roberts.

All-District 4 team

(voted on by U.S. Basketball Writers Association)

B.J. Elder, Georgia Tech

Gerald Fitch, UK

Matt Freije, Vanderbilt

Francisco Garcia, Louisville

Tim Pickett, Florida State

Lawrence Roberts, Miss. State

Anthony Roberson, Florida

Rashad Wright, Georgia

Timmy Bowers, Miss. State

Erik Daniels, UK

Player of the Year: Roberts

Coach of the Year: Rick Stansbury, Miss. State



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C-USA Tournament trivia

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Fan's guide to the A-10 Tournament
A-10 Tournament tidbits
A-10 Tournament trivia

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