The West Regional: San Jose, Calif.:
My West Region is still in tact, having picked Oklahoma, Arizona, UCLA and Missouri to advance to San Jose for the West Regional Finals.
UCLA shocked the basketball selection committee by sending No.1 seed Cincinnati packing after a 100-95 double-overtime win in round two. When UCLA trailed the Bearcats by 11 points midway through the second half, I was losing faith. But you just can't count out the Bruins. Missouri routed Ohio State behind the spectacular play of Ricky Paulding, who was clearly the best player in Albuquerque. Arizona and Oklahoma got a little scare out of Wyoming and Xavier respectively before advancing.
Could there be an Arizona vs. UCLA Regional Final on tap for next Saturday?
No. 8 UCLA vs No. 12 Missouri – UCLA will have its hands full with the Tiger's perimeter players. Ricky Paulding has been nothing short of spectacular and I have a feeling Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert might just be saving their best for San Jose. Dan Gadzuric had a big game (26 points, 13 rebounds) against Cincinnati. He'll need to duplicate that effort, and Jason Kapono and Billy Knight must hit the three, to give UCLA a chance. Question: Which Bruin team will show up in San Jose.
Just a guess, Bruins by two.
No. 2 Oklahoma vs No. 3 Arizona – The Wildcats will have to do something they haven't been doing very well, rebound, if they expect to beat the Sooners. Aaron Mcghee and Daryan Selvy are two of the best at getting to the glass. If Arizona allows Oklahoma to win the battle of the boards and give the Sooners too many second-chance opportunities, it will be long night for the Wildcats. The Sooners are also a very good defensive team. It won't be easy for Jason Gardner, Salim Stoudamire and Rick Anderson to find open looks from beyond the arc, but if the Wildcats play with patience they can find the shots. Luke Walton might once again be the difference. Rebounding, shot selection and patience – if the Cats can master those three virtues, they can win.
Arizona by one.
The South Regional: Lexington, Ky.:
It appears the East Region had greased an easy road for Duke to Lexington, Kentucky. However, after getting a wakeup call from Notre Dame, the Dukies have been put on notice; no one, not even the Blue Devils, are guaranteed a trip to Atlanta. Alabama, the No. 2 seed in this region, can testify to that. Kent State, the Cinderella of this year's tournament, shocked the Crimson Tide. Ditto USC. The Trojans went home after an opening round lose to UNC-Wilmington. Pitt took care of the Cal Bears (63-50) in impressive fashion, albeit within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Now, I understand the importance of keeping teams close to home for the first two rounds of this tournament, but that was just a little too much of a homecourt advantage for Cal to overcome.
Now, without a No. 2 or No. 4 seed, four teams head to the Bluegrass State. Only one team will be given a ticket to Atlanta.
No. 1 Duke vs No. 5 Indiana – The Hoosiers have already done more than anyone would expect. For the first time since 1994, the Hoosiers are among the Sweet Sixteen. Under Bobby Knight, Indiana had failed to make it past the second round since winning its last National Championship. So, win or lose, this has been a successful season for the Hoosier.
Duke by 20.
No. 3 Pitt vs No. 12 Kent State –Pitt will not have the same kind of home crowd behind them at Lexington. In face, it's my guess the fans will be heavily in favor of the nearby Golden Flashes. Demetrius Shaw and Trevor Huffman can play, and Kent State is the best No. 12 seed I've ever seen as long as I've been watching this event.
Kent State by nine.
The East Regional: Syracuse, NY
No. 1 seed Maryland has yet to be tested, but that might change when the Terps travel to Syracuse. Maryland will face a Kentucky team that seems to have found its stride at just the right time. Teyshaun Prince, who had 41 points for the Wildcats in a win over Tulsa, and Keith Bogans are playing like All-Americans and Cliff Hawkins has become the capable leader coach Tubby Smith has been hoping for.
No. 2 UConn barely got by NC State and a surprisingly good Southern Illinois team bounced No. 3 Georgia. If the Huskies didn't learn from the Wolfpack, they won't be playing after round three, because the Salukis are good, really good!!!
No. 1 Maryland vs No. 4 Kentucky – The Terrapins have very good balance, inside and on the perimeter. They also have Juan Dixon, capable of taking over a game. The bulk of Lonnie Baxter in the paint and the playmaking of Steve Blake make the Terps a very difficult match for Kentucky.
Maryland by eight.
No. 2 UConn vs No. 11 Southern Illinois – Kent Williams and Jermaine Dearman have been a lethal one-two punch for the Salukis in its impressive wins in rounds one and two. But the Huskies have Caron Butler, maybe the toughest perimeter player in the country to defend one-on-one, and Emika Okafor, an athletic shot blocker , on the inside. The two will be just too much for the Salukis.
UConn by ten.
The Midwest Regional: Madison, Wis.
After suffering through a lethargic first round effort, and an injury to Kirk Hinrich, Kansas came back and hammered a pretty good Stanford Cardinal team in the second game. Oregon, playing at Sacrament, and Illinois, playing in Chicago, had the advantage of a "home" crowd and both teams needed the help before getting a ticket to Madison.
Three of the top four seeds are advancing to Madison and No. 6 Texas is not coming along simply for the ride.
No. 1 Kansas vs No. 4 Illinois – The Jayhawks will be coming to Madison with a great deal of confidence after blowing out Stanford in round two. Illinois, after downing Creighton 72-60 in the second round, is playing better than they've played all season. However, The Illini will have to play even better to beat KU.
Illinois can play with KU if Brian Cook and Robert Archibald can match Andrew Gooden and Nick Collison point for point and rebound for rebound. If not, KU wins.
Kansas by seven.
No. 2 Oregon vs No. 6 Texas – Ernie Kent's Ducks were tested by Wake Forest more than he would have liked. Oregon was given a perk and allowed to play its first two games just down the road at Sacramento. Wake was forced to travel coast to coast and still made it a game. The Ducks have not been a great road team and playing the next game in Madison, Wis. is just that.
Texas is without the services of Chris Owens, yet the Longhorns have looked impressive. Oregon loves to run and shoot the transition three-pointer, while Texas is best in the half court with T. J. Ford creating the offense. The team that can force its style of play will win, but this game will be very close.
Oregon by two.
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