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Indiana tourney teams in for rough road

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Fans of mens' basketball in Indiana will have to wait until Friday for all but one of the Hoosier state's teams to begin their walk towards Atlanta and the Final Four.

Only Notre Dame will play on Thursday with a late, 9:40 p.m. start meaning that Fighting Irish hoops fans nationwide will be a bit bleary eyed on the way to work Friday morning. However, at least they will have the comfort of knowing their squad's fate after facing No. 12 seed Wisconsin-Milwaukee at the RCA Dome.

IU, Purdue, IUPUI and Butler fans will have to await their tournament fate until Friday when, as any true fan of their team will tell you, a loss will ruin your entire weekend.

IUPUI, that is Indiana University/Purdue University of Indianapolis for those out of the loop, will get their date with a meatgrinder named Kentucky the earliest. Any fans of the Jaguars out there should likely eat lunch early because a 12:30 p.m. tipoff might leave you a bit nauseous later in the afternoon.

Purdue will be up shortly afterwards when they play LSU at 3 p.m. in Birmingham, AL. The prospects of playing a very athletic Tigers squad that close to their backyard should certainly be as frightening as feeding LSU's Bengal tiger mascot with a spoon.

IU and Butler fans will have to make the decision on which game they will watch since the Hoosiers take court at approximately 9:40 p.m. and Butler faces some Bulldogs of their own at 9:50 p.m. when they tipoff versus Mississippi State.

The Fighting Irish (22-10) could very likely have their hands full when they face the Panthers (24-7) on Thursday.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee comes in fresh off a 69-52 pasting of Butler in the Horizon League conference tourney final and boast an experienced and deep squad.

The Panthers have four players in double-figure scoring this season. Senior Clay Tucker tops the team at 18.3 ppg. and averages 5.0 rebounds per game (rpg.) as well. In the paint, Dylan Page pours in 17.7 ppg. while hauling in 6.5 rpg. Ronnie Jones and Jason Frederick also score over 10 per game.

Though they lack much size, Page (6'8) is the only regular over 6'6, the Panthers outrebound their opponents on average 31.2-30.9. Tucker, Jones and Frederick all have hit more than 50 3-pointers this year which makes them tough to defend.

The Irish rely a lot on Matt Carroll (20.6 ppg.) and Chris Thomas (18.5 ppg.) for their scoring but then again they rarely disappoint. Dan Miller and Torin Francis each average double figures for one of the higher scoring teams in the country (80.1 ppg.).

This game could be decided in the paint considering that Francis (6'10), Miller (6'8), Tom Timmerman (6'11) and Jordan Cornette (6'9) give the Irish a wave of size to throw at the Panthers. The Irish don't often rely on their inside game with shooters in Carroll and Thomas, but could switch plans on the Panthers.

The Kentucky Wildcats come in with a No. 1 seed and a 23-game winning streak which one could argue makes them a little too cocky or really, really intimidating for a team in IUPUI who has never been to the Big Dance.

The Jaguars have won 12-of-their last-14 games and are lead by junior forward Odell Bradley who averages 14.7 ppg. and 4.8 rpg. Josh Murray, a 6'7 senior transfer from Ball State, scores 12.7 ppg. and pulls down 7.9 rpg. and get double figures from 6'5 forwards Chris Sanders and Josh Mullins.

Mullins tops the team with 75 3-pointers and Sanders adds another 51 from beyond the arc.

However, the Wildcats are just plain big, athletic and have a bad temperament. Just ask Vanderbilt who lost by 62 (106-44) on March 5. They are also just one of three teams this year to go unbeaten in conference play. When you consider they play in a league that features tournament teams Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn and Georgia who should have been in if their players went to class and did their own work.

The Wildcats strength is in their depth. Anyone of their starting rotation can beat you along with several players on their bench. Keith Bogans leads the team in scoring at 16 ppg. while Gerald Fitch (12.2 ppg.) and Marquis Estill (10.9 ppg.) do their share of damage. They have size inside and they all are built like walls.

Purdue faces the LSU Tigers who have won eight-of-nine games and have done so with defensive presence. Over the last 10 games LSU has held all of their opponents under 50 percent shooting. For Purdue's leading scorer, Willie Deane, this could be a nightmare game since the Tigers have held opposing team's leading scorers to just 38.2 percent shooting in those games.

The Tigers are extremely athletic and experienced with 6'7 senior Ronald Dupree topping the scoring list at 16 ppg. and 7.8 rpg. Jaime Lloreda, a 6'9 junior, gets 12 ppg. and 8.8 rpg. while Torris Bright (senior) and Collis Temple III (6'7, Sr.) also average double figures.

Though LSU has had streaks of cold shooting in the past, it'll be tough for the Boilers to match up with the Tiger's size and athleticism. If LSU shuts down Deane it'll be lights out in Lafayette.

Much the same fate could await a Hoosier team that depends a lot on the perimeter.

However, Alabama has had a lot of ups and downs of late as well. The Crimson Tide has split their last 10 games while the Hoosiers have gone 6-4.

Sophomore Maurice Williams leads the team at 16 ppg. while 6'8 Erwin Dudley averages 14.7 ppg. and 9.5 rpg. Freshman Kennedy Winston (6'7) averages 11.3 ppg.

The Hoosiers will have the experience advantage inside with Newton and Leach but they'll need both to show up on the same night to be able to bang inside with Alabama. IU also needs Tom Coverdale and Bracey Wright to step up and provide double figure scoring to take some pressure off the front line.

Butler has the impressive record (25-5) but has to regain their confidence after getting thumped in their conference final. The Bulldogs hope to continue a streak that has seen a No. 12 seed advance in 18 of the last 20 tournaments. Last year Missouri reached the final eight.

But they will face Mississippi State who has Mario Austin, a 15.4 ppg. scorer and Timmy Bowers (14.8 ppg.). At 6'9, Austin averages 7.6 rpg. and 6'9 Michael Ignerski adds 9.3 ppg. Butler could have the size (Lewis Curry 6'7, Joel Cornette 6'10 and Mike Monserez 6'6) to match up with Mississippi State. However, they'll have to hit consistently from the outside to spread the floor.

All five Indiana teams will have their hands full as the weekend approaches. Whether any of them make it past the opening round remains to be seen, but their fans will get to enjoy the dance.

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