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NCAA basketball tournament: West Region preview

No. 1 Duke is the reigning champion, and No. 2 San Diego State has never won an NCAA tournament game. In looking for a Cinderella, consider Bucknell.

March 13, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Duke's Nolan Smith cuts down the net after the Blue Devils' 75-58 victory over North Carolina in the ACC championship game on Sunday in Greensboro, N.C.
Duke's Nolan Smith cuts down the net after the Blue Devils' 75-58… (Robert Willett / McClatchy-Tribune )

Top-seeded teams

No. 1 Duke: The Blue Devils are the defending national champions and are coming off the high of winning the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

No. 2 San Diego State: The Aztecs have never won an NCAA tournament game, so this is heady territory, being seeded second to Duke. This is the first 30-win season in history for the team as well.

No. 3 Connecticut: The Huskies won five straight games to become Big East tournament champions Saturday night. Will Jim Calhoun's group have its legs back?

No. 4 Texas: The Longhorns lost three of their last six games and count a 73-56 loss to USC on its record. Texas is led by Jordan Hamilton, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Compton.

Cinderella search

Bucknell. The Bison went to the second round in 2005 and 2006 and beat No. 3-seeded Kansas as the No. 14-seeded team in 2005 and upset Arkansas a year later. Bucknell just behaves as if it belongs.

Top players

Kyle Singler, forward, Duke: The 6-foot-8 senior who was the other star in Oregon when Kevin Love picked UCLA, averages 17.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. He was the Final Four most valuable player last year.

Kemba Walker, guard, Connecticut: The 6-foot-1 junior made six game-winning shots this season. He averages 23.5 points a game, shoots 80% from the foul line and led the Huskies with 68 steals.

Kawhi Leonard, forward, San Diego State: The 6-foot-7 sophomore from Riverside averages a double-double for the Aztecs — 15.4 points and 10.7 rebounds.

Rim shots

Hampton is not without NCAA tradition. In 2001, the Pirates became only the fourth 15th-seeded team to win a tournament game. Hampton upset Iowa State, 58-57.

Fifth-seeded Arizona drew 12th-seeded Memphis in the first round in one of those "The NCAA did this on purpose" moments. Memphis is coached by Josh Pastner, who was an assistant under Lute Olson at Arizona from 2002-08.

Temple and Penn State are about 200 miles apart in Pennsylvania. So they get to travel about 2,000 miles to meet each other in the first round in Tucson.

Northern Colorado has never played in the tournament before. Four years ago, the Bears were 4-24. This year they won the Big Sky Conference tournament. Much of the rebuilding was done by former coach Tad Boyle, who got the Colorado job last year. Colorado was snubbed by the selection committee.

West matchups

At CHARLOTTE, N.C., FRIDAY

No. 1 Duke (30-4, Atlantic Coast Conference champion) vs. No. 16 Hampton (24-8, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion). The Blue Devils are coming in on the high of beating archrival North Carolina in the ACC tournament championship game. Harvey Grant, a star with his twin brother, Horace, is an assistant coach for Hampton.

No. 8 Michigan (20-13, at-large from Big Ten) vs. No. 9 Tennessee (19-14, at-large from SEC). Wolverines Coach John Beilein is one of only seven coaches to have taken four schools to the NCAA tournament. Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl had to sit out eight games for violating NCAA rules.

At TULSA, OKLA., FRIDAY

No. 5 Arizona (27-7, at-large and regular-season Pac-10 champion) vs. No. 12 Memphis (25-9, Conference USA champions). Arizona had its 25-year streak of consecutive NCAA appearances broken last year. Sophomore Derrick Williams of Arizona led the Pac-10 in shooting percentage (61%). Will Barton leads Memphis in scoring and is second in rebounding.

No. 4 Texas (27-7, at-large bid from Big 12) vs. No. 13 Oakland (25-9, won Summit League automatic bid). Oakland averages more than 85 points a game. The Longhorns have stumbled lately, losing four of their last 10 games.

At WASHINGTON, THURSDAY

No. 6 Cincinnati (25-8, at-large bid from Big East) vs. No. 11 Missouri (23-10, at-large from Big 12). The Bearcats are coming in off an 89-51 loss to Notre Dame in the Big East tournament. Missouri has five players who average in double figures scoring.

No. 3 Connecticut (26-9, Big East tournament champion) vs. No. 14 Bucknell (25-8, winner of Patriot League). The Huskies played 205 minutes and had to win five straight games last week to win the Big East tournament. Bucknell is led in scoring and rebounding by 6-11 sophomore center Mike Muscala.

At TUCSON, THURSDAY

No. 7 Temple (25-7, at-large bid from Atlantic 10) vs. No. 10 Penn State (19-14, at-large from Big 10). Penn State scored 36 points in a conference tournament game last week and won, 36-33 over Wisconsin. Lavoy Allen, a 6-foot-9 senior, became Temple's all-time leading rebounder this season.

No. 2 San Diego State (32-2, winner of Mountain West championship) vs. No. 15 Northern Colorado (21-10, winner of Big Sky championship). The Aztecs are 0-6 in the NCAA tournament. Northern Colorado is 0-0. So someone is going to get a historic victory. Devon Beitzel, a fifth-year senior, averages 21.4 points a game for Northern Colorado.

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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