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CHRIS DUFRESNE

NCAA East Regional -- the bottom line

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

March 18, 2009|Chris Dufresne

After 11 national titles and three straight Final Fours and all the program has done for the sport and humanity and world peace, this is where the selection committee kicked No. 6 UCLA. And this is . . . where UCLA belongs.

The Bruins did not win the Pacific 10 regular-season or tournament title and its best nonconference win came against Notre Dame -- which didn't make the tournament.

Let's see Ben Howland wriggle out of this one. Last year, out West, the Bruins got to the Final Four with wins over No. 16 (Mississippi Valley State), No. 9 (Texas A&M), No. 12 (Western Kentucky) and No. 3 (Xavier).

That's a seeding total of 40.

This year's Bruins would have to take down No. 11 (Virginia Commonwealth) and probably No. 3 (Villanova) and then probably No. 2 (Duke) and then probably No. 1 (Pittsburgh).

Seeding total: 17.

We see this as Pitt's breakthrough past the round of 16, although a pesky second-round game looms against dangerous No. 5 Florida State, which knocked North Carolina out of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Duke continually signs five-star recruiting classes and gets more favorable press than U2, but bowed out in the second round last year, and in the first round the year before, and hasn't been to a Final Four since 2004. Yet, we like the Blue Devils to take out Binghamton, a fine school and a character on "McHale's Navy," then a Minnesota team coached by Tubby Smith, who some will still blame for Kentucky's not making it to this year's tournament.

Duke moves on to Boston, and beats the Villanova team that beat UCLA, which will survive a first-round scare from Virginia Commonwealth before losing in Philadelphia to a 'Nova team that gets to drive home and sleep in its own beds.

Pitt, though, is too physical and Duke has no answer short of hoping that DeJuan Blair, the Panthers' 6-7 forklift center, fouls out in the first half.

That's always possible, of course, with officials giving Duke all the close calls -- if you believe Maryland fans and conspiracy theorists.

Blair, in February, took on Connecticut's 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet and did more than OK in victory, scoring 22 points and taking a career-high 23 rebounds.

Duke is doughnut-like again, sweet on the perimeter but lacking in the middle.

Blair, by the looks of him, might like doughnuts.

Pitt wins the East.

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chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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