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Chris Dufresne on College Basketball

The nitpickers guide to the NCAA tournament

A watch list of story lines for this year's tournament.


Not too shabby: Two former national champions, Kentucky and Nevada Las Vegas, squaring off in the first round.

And Stephen Curry, the nation's leading scorer, leading Davidson into the bracket.

Georgetown, another former national champion, owned the nation's toughest schedule, while many experts predicted a Final Four run for Notre Dame this year.

George Mason is back, looking to make another miracle advance. And Florida, winners of consecutive titles this decade, is itching to hang another banner.

But enough about the National Invitation Tournament . . .

Those schools are NIT because the NCAA said nyet.

Now it's time for the main madness attraction.

A watch list of story lines:

Will the Big East live up to the hype? The conference is the first to have three teams with No. 1 seedings -- Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Louisville. In 1985, of course, the Big East advanced three teams to the Final Four, with Villanova winning.

Connecticut and Pittsburgh this year received No. 1 billings despite losing their first games in the Big East tournament.

Meanwhile, Memphis won the Conference USA title with its 61st straight league win, yet was delegated to a No. 2.

"If you're a non-BCS team you're going to have to win every game," Memphis Coach John Calipari said this week. "You can not lose in the first round of your tournament and get a one seed, it's not happening. There are some walls that are being put up there that are going to make it even tougher for non-BCS teams.

"I'm saying, we're fine, I'm happy, we've being treated fair, but as a whole it's much tougher for the non-BCS teams now."

Can Louisville win the national title? Yes . . . but the Cardinals may have been cursed Monday when they rose to No. 1 in the final Associated Press poll.

Since 1977 only five teams entering the NCAA tournament ranked No. 1 in the AP poll ended up winning the championship: Kentucky (1978), North Carolina (1982), Duke (1992), UCLA (1995) and Duke (2001).

Which teams will pull off upsets this year?

That's why a nation turns its lonely eyes to Thursday and Friday.

Forget about No. 16 beating No. 1. That hasn't happened in 96 tries. Four 15th-seeded schools have defeated a No. 2. The last time it happened was 2001, in Boise, when Hampton up-ended Iowa State.

No. 12, though, is 31-65 against No. 5. Possible seeding upsets on this line might be Arizona over Utah in the Midwest and, in the South, Western Kentucky over Illinois.

How might a coaching decision affect the tournament?

Last year, Memphis blew a late lead against Kansas in the national title game that had some questioning whether Calipari should have used a timeout.

This year, Calipari didn't waste time making a key decision. After a loss in December, Calipari moved freshman Tyreke Evans to point guard. Memphis has not lost since.

Explanation from Calipari: "His dumb coach didn't even have him at point guard to start the year. So they fired that guy and I came in after nine games, and immediately I stuck him at point guard."

The Arizona question: A lot of people are still complaining about the Wildcats getting an at-large bid at 19-13, with a 2-9 road record, having lost five of their last six games, at the expense of worthy mid-majors such as St. Mary's and San Diego State. The Wildcats can justify their selection by beating Utah in Miami on Friday.

"I really couldn't sleep last night because of the thrill of this opportunity," first-year Arizona Coach Russ Pennell said this week.

The Arizona story is tournament worthy, what with the job Pennell did in taking over for Lute Olson right before the start of the season.

"We appreciate being in the tournament because of everything we've been through the last couple of years," junior guard Nic Wise said. "There's not another team out there that has been through what we've been through."

Except maybe Cal State Northridge, the Big West conference's automatic qualifier, which heads to Kansas City to play Memphis under a cloud of robbery charges implicating its star player and the coach's son.

The Heels and a Toe. North Carolina held star point guard Ty Lawson (sore big right toe) out of last weekend's Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament. The Tar Heels still received a top seeding but the question now is whether Lawson will be ready for North Carolina's South Region opener against Radford in Greensboro, N.C.

UCLA or USC, which school makes a deeper run?

Based on the Pacific 10 Conference tournament: USC. The Trojans have momentum, enthusiasm, athleticism and an emerging DeMar DeRozan working in their favor. Getting out of Minneapolis with victories over Boston College and Michigan State doesn't seem that far fetched.

UCLA has a tough opening-round game against Virginia Commonwealth in Philadelphia. Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and CBS has already predicted an opening-round UCLA loss, but the Bruins took a vote and decided to go anyway.



UCLA vs. Virginia Commonwealth

East Regional,



about 7 p.m. PDT


USC vs. Boston College

Midwest Regional,



4:15 p.m. PDT


Cal State Northridge vs. Memphis

West Regional,

Kansas City, Mo.,


9:25 a.m. PDT

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