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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

NCAA tournament predictions: How the four regionals will play out

At the risk of giving too much away, The Times' college basketball columnist does NOT have top-seeded Ohio State in the Final Four. He foresees a few other surprises too.

March 14, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • San Diego State forward Billy White tries to cut off a drive by Brigham Young guard Jimmer Fredette in the Mountain West Conference tournament final on Saturday. San Diego State won, 72-54.
San Diego State forward Billy White tries to cut off a drive by Brigham Young… (Ethan Miller / Getty Images )

WEST REGION

Duke is headed back to Anaheim for the West semifinals and finals. Things will go better than they did in 2003, when Duke lost to Kansas off Katella (Avenue) and had to watch Kansas beat Arizona in a thriller to earn a Final Four spot. Best early-round game in the AL West has to be Texas over Oakland.

The first-round "upset" here will be No. 11 Missouri over No. 6 Cincinnati. Mick Cronin, the Bearcats' coach, has been an advocate of losing since he said last week losing early in the Big East tournament was far more important than winning.

We have No. 4 Texas defeating No. 13 Oakland with a walk-off homer and then beating Arizona to earn a regional semifinal showdown with Duke.

NCAA interactive bracket

Sometimes you have a gut feeling about a team, and we have one about No. 2 San Diego State. The Aztecs (32-2) have defeated every team on their schedule at least once. And did you see the defense they played en route to the Mountain West Conference tournament title? Steve Fisher, in his 12th season after a checkered career at Michigan that can be rehashed in the "Fab Five" documentary, has a new team on the precipice of its first NCAA win.

Fisher is 20-9 in the tournament, having led Michigan to the 1989 title. The Aztecs hold opponents to 40% shooting. Kawhi Leonard is an NBA player, and point guard D.J. Gay has cat-like quickness and cat-burglar guts. If they shoot a lick from outside, the Aztecs are going places. Connecticut, an over-bloated No. 3, finished tied for ninth in the Big East before winning five straight to claim the tournament crown.

Regional final: We're taking San Diego State over Duke, stretching credulity to its limit, although the Aztecs will have the home-state advantage.

SOUTHWEST REGION

If you like classic football matchups — Notre Dame vs. Florida State and Notre Dame vs. USC — this is your bracket.

USC will have to get past the Commonwealth of Virginia (VCU) in Dayton first, but we think the Trojans are a dangerous and motivated team after an emotional weekend at the Pac-10 tournament. Things went from the bleakness of Coach Kevin O'Neilll's suspension to the joy of his reinstatement just hours before the team received a somewhat surprising NCAA entry gift. USC is not deep, but strong guard play and the post presence of Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson make the Trojans formidable. This bracket should hold to form. Kansas sweeps past Boston University and then Nevada Las Vegas.

Our sleeper in the region is Richmond. We have the No. 12 Spiders upsetting Vanderbilt and then, gulp, Louisville, before losing to Kansas. Richmond makes 40% of its three-point shots and has a terrific point guard/frontcourt combination of Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper.

Notre Dame lost last year to Old Dominion, but this is a new Notre Dame. Ben Hansbrough, the Big East player of the year, will be looking to shake off his shaky performance in the conference tournament. The Irish beat Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Connecticut this season. We're building here to a regional semifinal showdown against USC, which we have beating VCU, Georgetown and Purdue. Save your pithy retorts unless you were the genius who had Butler in last year's title game. Unfortunately, just like in November, USC drops a late pass that could have led to the winning score against Notre Dame and the Irish push on.

Regional final: Kansas over Notre Dame.

SOUTHEAST REGION

This bracket has everything: great programs, coaches, the nation's leading scorer and upsets waiting to happen.

Let's go with UNC Asheville over Arkansas Little Rock in the Dayton game. The Bulldogs haven't lost since Feb. 22, but they'll lose again when they meet Pittsburgh on Thursday in Washington.

We are really wavering on top-seeded Pitt. The Panthers have a clear path to the Final Four. Is this finally the breakthrough year? We think so . . . yes . . . maybe. The Big East received 11 bids this year, but since 1999, only two Big East teams have advanced to the title game (Syracuse and Connecticut).

Let's get radical right away and pick No. 12 Utah State over No. 5 Kansas State and No. 13 Belmont over No. 4 Wisconsin. We think Belmont (30-4) can win two and then really scare Pitt. The Bruins have won 12 straight and play up-tempo with hockey-like line changes.

We think Gonzaga has found its groove and will upset St. John's. Brigham Young received a No. 3 seeding despite losing two games after starting forward Brandon Davies was dismissed. Jimmer Fredette, the nation's leader scorer, had a 52-point game in the Mountain West tournament.

But only one team has won the national title with the nation's leading scorer: Kansas, in 1952, with Clyde Lovellette. BYU is good enough to knock out Gonzaga in Round 3 and then avenge an early-season loss to UCLA.

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