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West regional -- the bottom line

Chris Dufresne's choices on the march to the Final Four

March 17, 2009|Chris Dufresne

Jim Calhoun, the Connecticut coach who told a reporter recently he would give back "not one dime" of his salary, continues to seemingly earn every penny.

Calhoun's teams have won two national titles, in 1999 and 2004, out of the West regional in Phoenix. This year's regional is technically in Glendale, Ariz., but that's close enough to think it sets up basketball beautifully for the Huskies, even without injured guard Jerome Dyson.

Are we showing our UConn cards?

Upper bracket: Connecticut blows the choo-choo doors off Chattanooga, and Brigham Young turns the tables on Texas A&M. In last year's first round, Texas A&M defeated BYU.

We see No. 5 Purdue and No. 4 Washington advancing past Thursday. Most years you'd say Washington, as the Pacific 10 regular-season champ, didn't get much of a break having to face the Southeastern Conference tournament champion (in this case Mississippi State), but have you seen the SEC this year?

Lower bracket: No. 6 Marquette has struggled without injured guard Dominic James but will survive WAC champ Utah State, which won only 30 games this year. Then we have an upset special, No. 14 Cornell of the Ivy League to shock No. 3 Missouri. The Big Red plays great defense and alum Keith Olbermann is already counting down the seconds until tipoff. No. 7 California over No. 10 Maryland is, how to put this . . . a guess. No. 2 Memphis beats No. 15 Cal State Northridge unless Memphis players eat bad barbecue in Kansas City.

Moving forward, Washington dispatches Purdue to set up Huskies vs. Huskies in a regional semifinal against Connecticut, while Cornell, despite taking copious notes, can't get past Marquette. In Kansas City, Cal falls to Cal (John Calipari), and then Memphis, led by freshman guard Tyreke Evans, mows down Marquette.

Leaving . . . No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 2 Memphis. This is close, almost a flip of all of Calhoun's coin. But, given Connecticut has a 7-foot-3 center named Hasheem Thabeet and Memphis doesn't, we can't see the Tigers surviving.

Remember, there's cactus flower history here. In 1999, Connecticut defeated Gonzaga to win the West and then the national title, against Duke. In 2004, Connecticut ousted Alabama in Phoenix on its way to a title-game win over Georgia Tech in San Antonio.

So then it's on to Detroit, where Connecticut defeats Wake Forest in one national semifinal to set up a title game against . . .

Find out tomorrow, when we break down the East and South regionals.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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