Since the NCAA started seeding teams for its tournament in 1979, the top four teams have never made it as a group to the Final Four. Expect that to continue for at least one more year.

Despite the fact North Carolina, Duke, Kansas and Arizona have been considered the four best teams in the country since the end of January, March has always been cruel to at least one No. 1 seed. The hard part is trying to figure out which one - or ones - will go down before the Final Four in San Antonio.

Will Arizona's chance at becoming the first repeat champion since Duke in 1992 end out West? Will Kansas' bid to get Raef LaFrentz to the Final Four fail in the Midwest? Will Bill Guthridge's remarkable rookie run at North Carolina fall short in the East? Will Duke's drive to get back to the event it dominated for a nine-year stretch die in the South?

Those questions will be answered on the floor, but the guesses will be made right here:

EAST

While most eyes in the East will be on North Carolina as it plays in the NCAA tournament under a coach other than Dean Smith for the first time since 1959, the first-round pressure will be on Indiana. It tries to break a three-year streak of losing its first game.

North Carolina will sink Navy and North Carolina Charlotte will ruin Illinois-Chicago's debut to set up a second-round meeting between the in-state schools.

Princeton and its Ivy League image will get by UNLV, which had to travel from The Strip, and Michigan State will prevail over its neighbor Eastern Michigan and lightning-quick guard Earl Boykins.

Xavier should continue its run after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament, even though it might have problems with Washington's size. South Carolina won't fall into the trap of taking Richmond lightly.

Oklahoma will keep Indiana's streak intact by picking up the game's tempo and Connecticut shouldn't have a problem with Fairleigh Dickinson.

In the regional semifinals, North Carolina will beat Princeton for the second time this season, while Connecticut's defense gets the team a big win over Xavier.

That leaves North Carolina against Connecticut and the Huskies' wearing pressure defense finally takes its toll on the Tar Heels and eliminates a No. 1 seed.

WEST

Arizona comes in on a six-game NCAA tournament winning streak, as do all defending champions. There won't be much of a problem making it seven over Nicholls State and then eight over Illinois State, which advanced with a win over Tennessee in a matchup of former Roy Williams assistant coaches.

Illinois and Maryland are two solid clubs that should advance to the second round easily.

Nebraska and point guard Tyronn Lue will keep Arkansas' recent slump going. Utah shouldn't have much of a problem with San Francisco and neither should Cincinnati with Northern Arizona.

Temple and its tough matchup zone will prevail over West Virginia in a matchup of former conference foes.

Arizona should handle Maryland in the regional semifinals, while Cincinnati wears down Utah.

Cincinnati, despite not having a true point guard, will find a way to beat Arizona and eliminate another No. 1 seed.

MIDWEST

Kansas gets the easiest of the first-round matchups with the tournament's only sub-.500 team, Prairie View. Murray State will upset Rhode Island as Mark Gottfried gets the better of his former boss at UCLA, Jim Har-rick.

Texas Christian will keep the points coming as it beats Florida State, and Mississippi could even put up a higher number against Valparaiso. Clemson has righted things of late and should send Western Michigan packing, while Stanford won't become another first-round victim of College of Charleston.

Detroit comes up big in Chicago against St. John's and Purdue should roll against Delaware.

In the regional semifinals, Kansas beats Mississippi, while Stanford knocks off Purdue.

Stanford's size becomes a problem for Kansas as another No. 1 seed is eliminated.

SOUTH

Duke will end Radford's first appearance in its first game and George Washington will beat Oklahoma State, only to lose to the Blue Devils in its next game.

Syracuse and its 2-3 zone will prevail over fellow New York state school Iona and New Mexico will beat Butler. UCLA will get to meet Michigan after both win their openers and Massachusetts and Kentucky will set up a rematch of their 1996 Final Four meeting.

Duke will beat Syracuse in the regional semifinals and Kentucky will knock out Michigan. That sets up a rematch of Duke and Kentucky, who last met in 1992 when the Blue Devils won one of the best tournament games ever, 104-103 in overtime on Christian Laettner's turnaround shot at the buzzer. This time Kentucky gets revenge and eliminates another No. 1 seed.

That's four No. 1s out before the Final Four.

Connecticut will beat Cincinnati in one semifinal and Kentucky beats Stanford in the other.

Just like last season, there will be a new champion when it's done, as Connecticut cuts down the nets in San Antonio.