Monday , Mar , 12 , 2007 C.Y. Ellis

Kansas, UCLA lead West; Cat fight; Duke done?

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Making their 18th straight appearance in
the NCAA Tournament and 36th overall, the Kansas Jayhawks have made headlines
with their play all season, led by the guard play of Brandon Rush and Mario
Chalmers. Now they have been rewarded with the No. 1 seed in the West, but
could have the most difficult road to the Final Four of any bracket.

UCLA is the second seed, followed by Pittsburgh and Southern Illinois.

The Jayhawks (30-4) needed overtime to beat Texas in the Big 12 Tournament
final Sunday. They will face the winner of Tuesday’s opening-round contest
between Mid-Eastern champion Florida A&M and Niagara, winner of the Metro
Atlantic Conference Tournament title. Kansas’ first-round game will be on
Friday in Chicago.

Kansas will try to avoid being upset in the first round of the NCAA’s for the
third straight year. In 2005, as a No. 3 seed, Kansas lost to Bucknell; then
last year the Jayhawks, as a No. 4 seed, were bounced by Bradley.

A second-round matchup may be Kansas’ biggest hurdle, as Kentucky and
Villanova have a Wildcat fight in the 8-9 matchup at the United Center.
Kentucky earned its 16th consecutive bid to the Big Dance.

“You have to get past the nine seed first,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.
“I don’t really focus on who is next; I just try to think about who we are
playing now. This is a great bracket with Kansas in there and everyone else
who is a part of this bracket. We have played UCLA and Indiana, both teams in
this bracket, and I know they are very good teams.”

UCLA (26-5) lost its final two games prior to the tournament, including an
overtime defeat to California in the Pac-10 tourney quarterfinals. The Bruins
had a magical run last year before running into a tough Gator squad, losing
the national championship game.

UCLA’s first-round opponent will be Big Sky winner Weber State in Sacramento
on Thursday.

Indiana, the seventh seed, plays Gonzaga, also at ARCO Arena.

Pittsburgh, coming off an appearance in the Big East Tournament final against
Georgetown, a school-record sixth consecutive invitation to the Big Dance. The
Panthers will play Wright State on Thursday in Buffalo.

There are two games in Columbus on Friday from the West region, as the fourth-
seeded Salukis of Southern Illinois tangle with Patriot League winner Holy
Cross, while fifth seed Virginia Tech meets Illinois.

And then there’s Duke.

While this has been considered a down year for the Blue Devils, they are in
the tournament for the 12th consecutive year, this time as a No. 6 seed. Mike
Krzyzewski’s team will face Colonial Athletic Association winner Virginia
Commonwealth in a first-round game Thursday in Buffalo.

This marks the Blue Devils’ 31st NCAA Tournament appearance, and while
Krzyzewski is the tournament’s winningest coach with a 68-19 record including
National Championships in 1991, ’92 and 2001, many pundits aren’t expecting
much from the usual ACC powerhouse.

The six seed is the lowest since 1996 when the Blue Devils were a No. 8. Duke
has also advanced to nine straight Sweet 16s, the longest run in the NCAA by
seven years and second-longest run in NCAA Tournament history. In fact, Duke
hasn’t lost a first-round game since 1996 when the Blue Devils were beaten by
Eastern Michigan.

The West regional semifinals and final will be held at HP Pavilion in San