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Monday, March 24, 2003
Updated: March 28, 12:44 AM ET

East Region breakdown

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

Vote: Best of the East?

EAST REGION: Albany, N.Y. (Friday-Sunday)
Sweet 16 Matchup:
Oklahoma vs. Butler, 7:10 p.m.

1Oklahoma Sooners (25-6)
Round 1: Oklahoma 71, South Carolina State 54
Round 2: Oklahoma 74, California 65

Why Oklahoma Can Lose: If Hollis Price is injured too badly and is ineffective, Oklahoma is in trouble. The Sooners can struggle to score at times and Price always seems to be the guy who gets them out of trouble. If Oklahoma is in a jam and the Sooners can't turn to Price, they could lose to Butler (or Syracuse or Auburn, for that matter). Oklahoma has depth and scoring options, but the reliance on Price cannot be understated. He doesn't have to be 100-percent healthy, but a strained groin could affect his shots. This is by far the biggest concern for Oklahoma this week. Trainer Alex Brown could turn out to be the team's MVP.
Why Oklahoma Will Win: The Sooners have more experience than any other team in the East bracket. And they're starting to get the necessary role play from guards DeAngelo Alexander (16 against South Carolina State and 15 against) and Kevin Bookout (22 and seven rebounds against Cal). Oklahoma plays tough defense and isn't about to let Butler get the same kind of open looks the Bulldogs got against Louisville. Butler is already concerned that the views they got earlier in the tournament won't be the same. Oklahoma is also driven to get back to the Final Four for Price and Quannas White. Both players grew up in New Orleans.
Elite Chances: Very good. The Sooners are the clear favorite in the game against Butler. They won't have the crowd in their favor in Albany, because the Cinderella Bulldogs will likely be the choice. But Oklahoma won't get rattled if the game is tight. The Sooners found ways to win in the Big 12. Surely they can do the same against Butler.
Player To Watch: Ebi Ere. If his fractured left wrist is feeling better, the Sooners' chances will improve. If he can make 3s or pull-up mid-range jumpers, the Sooners have a great shot to advance. He takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the perimeter when he's on and opens up shots for Bookout, Johnnie Gilbert and Jabahri Brown inside.
X Factor: Alexander. If Price and/or Quannas White aren't making shots but Alexander is on from the perimeter then Oklahoma becomes even more dangerous.

1Butler Bulldogs (27-5)
Round 1: Butler 47, Mississippi State 46
Round 2: Butler 79, Louisville 71

Why Butler Can Lose: If the shots don't fall for Darnell Archey or Brandon Miller or Mike Monserez or Duane Lightfoot Jr. or Joel Cornette, then the Bulldogs are in trouble. The Bulldogs seem to be a team on a mission, but everyone has to play well for this team to advance. So far they have. The Bulldogs could find trouble if they can't get the right openings in the Oklahoma defense. They're not great at creating on their own, but they can run the break and shoot quickly. Butler played two different paces in each win to get this far -- they went slowly against Mississippi State but then didn't mind playing at Louisville's speed.
Why Butler Will Win: Why not? Butler could end up shooting as well against Oklahoma as it did last weekend. And if they do, the Bulldogs could pull off upset a No. 3 seed. Butler will have the crowd on its side in Albany -- they're everyone's Cinderella. Even though Auburn is in the same regional, the Tigers are still an SEC team and won't get the same support. Look for Syracuse fans to jump on the bandwagon as well. Oklahoma has more experience, but there always the chance the Sooners could get tight late in the game.
Elite Chances: Why not? The Bulldogs aren't the favorite to get there but it's hard to go against them at this point. Butler would be the surprise of the Elite Eight but who thought Kent State would get there last season? We'll reserve a prediction based on our misses on this team the past two rounds.
Player To Watch: Darnell Archey. Archey is the best free-throw shooter in the tournament, not to mention a 3-point specialist. He made eight 3s and if he's making shots, the Bulldogs have a shot. He knows he's going to have trouble finding the open spots in the offense against Oklahoma. But if he can? Look out.
X Factor: Joel Cornette. The Bulldogs need an inside force in this game. Oklahoma will be aggressive and try to muscle the Bulldogs. If Cornette can hold his own then the Bulldogs have a shot. If he gets into foul problems then the Bulldogs' lack of interior depth will become a factor.


Sweet 16 Matchup:
Maryland vs. Michigan State, 9:57 p.m.

1Syracuse (26-5)
Round 1: Syracuse 76, Manhattan 65
Round 2: Syracuse 68, Oklahoma State 56

Why Syracuse Can Lose: Syracuse relies heavily on Carmelo Anthony to score. The Orangemen have other options, but they need Anthony's presence. If someone, possibly the Tigers' Marco Killingsworth, can slow him down, Syracuse could be vulnerable. The Orange does have other options like Gerry McNamara and Billy Edelin as well as Hakim Warrick on put-backs. They haven't needed Anthony in the first two games, and that may be a reason why Syracuse got down by 17 to Oklahoma State. The Orangemen defense might have to mix it up if Marquis Daniels is nailing perimeter shots on them. They'll also need to put a body on Kyle Davis in the post. Auburn isn't intimidated by anyone -- and the vaunted Syracuse zone won't scare the Tigers, either.
Why Syracuse Will Win: The Orangemen have options. And they're playing loose. They will have the homecourt advantage in Albany and will likely feed off the crowd. Syracuse rarely loses in the state (outside of Manhattan, of course). The Orangemen have the kind of balance needed to make a run to the Sweet 16. And Jim Boeheim continues to do one of his best coaching jobs ever. He's blended a team of a few vets, inexperienced freshmen and incorporated a player who joined midstream in Edelin. This team seems to be on a mission and getting a chance facing top-seed Oklahoma seems very real.
Elite Chances: Very high. It's hard to take Auburn too lightly after the Tigers bounced out Wake Forest but Syracuse is the clear favorite in Albany. Getting beat here would end up being one of the shockers of the Sweet 16.
Player To Watch: Anthony. He still hasn't hit his stride in this tournament. He's due for a 25 to 30-point game. If he goes off and matches Marquis Daniels in a scoring contest, the Orangemen likely win the game.
X Factor: Gerry McNamara. When he nails shots from the deep perimeter, he creates scoring chances for everyone else. McNamara is one of those players like Butler has -- short, but deceptively quick, tough and easily one of the best shooters on his team. If he gets hot, the Orangemen will be too.

1Auburn Tigers (22-11)
Round 1: Auburn 65, Saint Joseph's 63 (OT)
Round 2: Auburn 68, Wake Forest 62

Why Auburn Can Lose: The Tigers go through stretches where they struggle to score. Syracuse's zone could be a problem if they're not hitting perimeter shots. The Tigers can't rely solely on Marquis Daniels to bail them out of a drought. They have to get their post players involved and get better offensive balance. The crowd could rattle Auburn. But the Tigers have to get through the early minutes of the first and second half without incident. Auburn has been the fan favorite for two games but that could change fast and how the Tigers react to that could be the difference with a win or a loss.
Why Auburn Will Win: Remember, this is Syracuse. The Orangemen are good -- but they're not unbeatable. Auburn played in the tough SEC West. The Tigers aren't intimidated, and they play tougher defense then anyone thought. Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli marveled at how stingy they were in the first round. Wake Forest certainly got frustrated in the second round. And Auburn's late-game management has been near perfection. If the Tigers keep their composure and find the right players like Daniels -- late in the game -- they've got a great shot to win.
Elite Chances: Not good. Auburn already feels slighted by ESPN for picking against the Tigers. But, come on, this game is in Albany. If Auburn beats Syracuse in its own backyard then Cliff Ellis has definitely found something special in Alabama this season.
Player To Watch: Daniels. He was understated in the SEC, even though he was the reason the Tigers were a factor in the SEC West race. He was in foul trouble but still led the Tigers with 18 points against Wake Forest. He's their best shooter, and go-to player. He was sensational in the win over Saint Joseph's with a no-fear 3-pointer and then a three-point play in regulation and overtime.
X Factor: Derrick Bird. He shut down Josh Howard in the win over Wake Forest. If he can be a defensive stopper on someone like Carmelo Anthony, and if he gets the ball, then the Tigers have a chance. Bird's defense will be a difference if this team advances.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.



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