A look at tonight's NCAA regional semifinals. All times Pacific:
No. 4 Xavier (27-7) vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh (30-4), 4:15 p.m. -- Xavier has defeated Portland State, 77-59, and Wisconsin, 60-49. The Musketeers also own wins over Missouri and Memphis, so they know they can hang with the nation's best teams. Xavier is one win away from its second consecutive Elite Eight despite coming into the tournament 5-5 in their previous 10 games. Leading scorer B.J. Raymond averages only 14.1 points, and no player averages more than 30 minutes. The Musketeers limit foes to 38% shooting and rebound well despite not possessing great size. Dealing with Pittsburgh forward DeJuan Blair will be a challenge, however. Blair shoots 60% and creates opportunities for Levance Fields and three-point threat Sam Young. Pittsburgh defeated East Tennessee State, 72-62, and Oklahoma State, 84-76. The Panthers have never reached the final eight.
No. 3 Villanova (28-7) vs. No. 2 Duke (30-6), 6:45 p.m. -- Both teams rely on perimeter players and don't have the bulk to bang, but they scrap for rebounds just the same. Villanova enjoyed home-court advantage in the first two rounds, beating American, 80-67, and UCLA, 89-69, in Philadelphia. Wildcats guards Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Scottie Reynolds beat people off the dribble for leaners or to kick back to teammates for open three-point shots. They also get to the free-throw line. Duke's strategy is almost identical with guards Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer and Greg Paulus. The Blue Devils made 47% of their three-point shots in tournament wins over Binghamton and Texas. A key matchup is at forward, where Villanova's Dante Cunningham and Duke's Kyle Singler have almost identical statistics.
No. 5 Purdue (27-9) vs. No. 1 Connecticut (29-4), 4 p.m. -- Connecticut hasn't missed guard Jerome Dyson, lost for the season because of a knee injury. The Huskies have been the most dominant No. 1 seeded team, beating Chattanooga, 103-47, and Texas A&M, 92-66, with a smothering defense anchored by 7-foot-3 shot-blocker Hasheem Thabeet. Connecticut isn't going to light it up from the outside, though, which means Purdue could make this a competitive game. The Boilermakers ranked 10th in the country in field-goal percentage defense. Purdue will need JaJuan Johnson to hold his own against Thabeet and will need to keep the pace slow and the score low. The Boilermakers were strong down the stretch in wins over Northern Iowa, 61-56, and Washington, 76-74. Connecticut must avoid letting Wednesday's reports alleging NCAA rules violations become a distraction.
No. 3 Missouri (30-6) vs. No. 2 Memphis (33-3), 6:30 p.m. -- These are teams with similar styles, guided by coaches who know each other well. Missouri's Mike Anderson, while at Alabama Birmingham in 2006, was the last coach to hand John Calipari's Memphis team a loss in Conference USA. Anderson brought the same pressing style to Missouri and the result is a school record for wins. But Memphis has four consecutive 30-win seasons. Missouri's press creates easy baskets for the likes of versatile forward DeMarre Carroll. Memphis counters with the nation's best defense and the size (no starter shorter than 6-5) to create mismatches. Memphis is 27-0 since freshman point guard Tyreke Evans became a starter.
-- Tim Stephens, Orlando Sun-Sentinel