CBS Sports' coverage of the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament drew an average Nielsen rating of 5.6 in 36 metered markets, a three-year high, the network said Monday.
The preliminary rating compares with a 5.3 last year and 5.1 in '95 through two rounds.
The best big man in the country is out of the tournament. Wake Forest's Tim Duncan got sidetracked by Stanford's Brevin Knight, perhaps the nation's best little man.
That leaves Utah's Keith Van Horn as the premier inside player in the semifinals in San Jose, Calif.
Utes coach Rick Majerus predicts Duncan will be chosen first on draft day no matter how well Van Horn plays the rest of the way.
"I don't think there's a team out there that wouldn't take Duncan," Majerus said. "I would take Duncan because it's so difficult to find centers."
The longest shots left in the tournament meet in Birmingham, Ala., Friday night _ the first time 10th- and 14th-seeded teams advanced to a regional semifinal _ for the chance to play Sunday against the winner of the other semifinal game between top-seeded Kansas and No.
"We're going to bring a ton of fans," said Tennessee-Chattanooga coach Mack McCarthy, knowing his Mocs (24-10) will be the closest thing to a hometown favorite.
They'll need all the help they can get against Providence (23-11), which in a first-round rout of Marquette shot 76 percent in the opening half against a team that had the best shooting defense in the country, then shot 56 percent and dominated the boards against Duke.
"We caught a team that was at its best," Duke guard Steve Wojciechowski said. "They were hitting the big shots. It had nothing to do with our defense."
Chattanooga, too, seems to be peaking, winning seven in a row and 19 of 22 since a 5-7 start.
Minnesota coach Clem Haskins must have brought a groan from every English professor his school employs.
"There is no "I' in Minnesota," Haskins said.
He's talking, of course, about the selfless play of the Gophers (29-3), who meet Clemson (23-9), which lost to Minnesota 75-65 in a tournament in Puerto Rico Dec.
Louisville beat Texas once this season, 85-78 in overtime Jan.
19 in Austin. The Longhorns disputed the loss, arguing Eric Johnson's tying three-pointer at the end of regulation shouldn't have counted.
Now, a rematch Friday night at Syracuse, N.Y. Then, maybe top seed North Carolina, heavy favorites over California.
"Hey, we're playing well right now and they're playing well," Louisville guard B.J. Flynn said. "It should be a good game."
MERCER: Mark Slonaker was named coach, taking over a program rated lowest among 318 Division I schools this season. He replaces Bill Hodges, who retired last month with a 62-104 record in his six seasons. Slonaker, 40, coached at Pensacola Junior College the past two years and won 20 or more games each season.
_ TIMES WIRES