Florida, Kansas, Memphis play first-round games Friday

Mar 16, 2007 - 3:32 PM By PA SportsTicker

Coach Billy Donovan hopes to guide Florida to a second straight title. Bill Self would like to prevent Kansas from more first-round embarrassment.

Florida (29-5) has all five starters back from a team which captured the first national championship in school history. The Gators won six NCAA Tournament games by an average margin of 16 points, capping it with a 73-57 victory over UCLA in the championship game last April.

Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer likely would have been first-round picks if they entered the NBA draft as sophomores last June. Instead, they decided to return and appear determined to make Florida the first back-to-back champion since Duke in 1991 and 1992.

"Our focus has always been that this is a different season and that no one was going to give anything to us," Donovan said. "We earned a top seed, but that doesn't guarantee anything in this tournament."

After winning both the Southeastern Conference regular season title and league tournament, Florida is the top seed in the Midwest Region and heavily favored to beat 16th-seeded Jackson State (21-13) Friday night at New Orleans.

The champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Jackson State has never won an NCAA Tournament game. The Tigers rely heavily on Trey Johnson, the nation's second-leading scorer (27.1 ppg).

If the Gators win as expected, they will face the winner of the game between eighth-seeded Arizona (20-10) and ninth-seeded Purdue (21-11).

Self guided Kansas (30-4) to a regional final in 2004. But the Jayhawks have been upset in the first round of the last two NCAA Tournaments by Bucknell and Bradley.

"It crushed all of us," Self said of the first-round defeats.

Kansas is the top seed in the West after winning the Big 12 Conference tournament. Losing to a 16th seed would be the ultimate embarrassment, especially since it has never happened in the NCAA Tournament - No. 1 seeds are 90-0 against 16th seeds.

The Jayhawks would like to keep that perfect record intact when they face Niagara (23-11) Friday night in Chicago. Niagara beat Florida A&M in an opening-round game at Dayton, Ohio on Tuesday night.

If Kansas wins as expected, it will face the winner of the game between eighth-seeded Kentucky (21-11) and ninth-seeded Villanova (22-10).

Memphis (30-3) enters the NCAA Tournament with a nation-best 22-game winning streak. The second-seeded Tigers play their first-round South Region game against North Texas (23-10) Friday afternoon at New Orleans.

The second game at New Orleans features seventh-seeded Nevada (28-4) against 10th-seeded Creighton (22-10).

Wisconsin (29-5) slipped from a potential No. 1 seed to a second seed after losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game last Sunday. The Badgers play their first-round Midwest Region game against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (26-6) Friday afternoon at Chicago after seventh-seeded Nevada-Las Vegas (28-6) meets 10th-seeded Georgia Tech (20-11).

Freshman sensation Kevin Durant plays his first NCAA Tournament game on Friday night when fourth-seeded Texas (24-9) plays New Mexico State (25-8) in an East Region game at Spokane, Washington. Durant has averaged 25.1 points and 11.4 rebounds for the Longhorns.

The second East region game at Spokane features fifth-seeded Southern California (23-11) and 12th-seeded Arkansas (21-13).

Two Midwest Region games will be held at Spokane in the afternoon - third-seeded Oregon (26-7), the Pac-10 tournament champion - faces 14th-seeded Miami Ohio (18-14) after sixth-seeded Notre Dame (24-7) meets 11th-seeded Winthrop (28-4).

Columbus, Ohio will host two South Region games in the afternoon and two West Region games at night.

Fourth-seeded Virginia (20-10) meets 13th-seeded Albany (23-9) and fifth-seeded Tennessee (22-10) plays 12th-seeded Long Beach State (24-7) in the South Region.

Fourth-seeded Southern Illinois (27-6) faces 13th-seeded Holy Cross (25-8) in the second West Region night game after fifth-seeded Virginia Tech (21-11) meets 12th-seeded Illinois (23-11).

Second-round play begins on Saturday after the field is reduced to 32 teams.

The status quo pretty much ruled the day on the opening day of the NCAA Tournament with one notable exception: Coach K suffered his quickest KO in 11 years.

Eric Maynor hit an 18-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left to lead 11th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth to a 79-77 victory over sixth-seeded Duke in the West Region on Thursday, sending the Blue Devils to their earliest exit under coach Mike Krzyzewski since 1996.

The loss snapped a streak of nine straight seasons in which Duke has made it at least to the regional semifinals.

The Rams (28-6) rallied from a 61-50 deficit in the last 10 1/2 minutes but watched Duke tie it on a layup by DeMarcus Nelson with 10 seconds left.

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