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NCAA tournament: Chris Dufresne handicaps the field

The Times' college basketball writer picks some old favorites to advance (hello, Kentucky and North Carolina) but also has a few surprises, which we won't spoil for you here.

March 12, 2012|Chris Dufresne

South Regional

I picked Kentucky to win the South shortly after picking up a bucket with biscuits from KFC. This choice has mostly to do with freshman center Anthony Davis' enormous wing span and a feeling this might finally be Coach John Calipari's year.

Kentucky's path is paved with bluegrass as the Wildcats need only two wins to get from Louisville to Atlanta.

Wichita State is coached by Gregg "two Gs" Marshall, which is good this year for two tournament wins before a bow-out against Kentucky.

Look for No. 11 Colorado to upset No. 6 Nevada Las Vegas because the Pac-12 is miffed about getting only 11/2 teams into the tournament — California has to win a "first four" game just to make the field of 64.

Everyone including Christian Laettner is looking forward to Kentucky- Duke in a regional final, a rematch of the 1992 overtime classic, but the hiccup here is that Baylor beats Duke in a regional semifinal.

West Regional

Every tournament needs a roll-the-dice pick, and this year's choice was between No. 6 Murray State and No. 12 Long Beach State. We're guaranteeing with Monopoly money at least a combined four wins for those two programs, with Murray State making a run to the Final Four based on our "Moon Shines on Kentucky" theme. Daniel Boone's state has produced three stand-up teams this year in Kentucky, Louisville and Murray State.

The shocker in this bracket will be Dan Monson's Long Beach State beating No. 5 New Mexico in Portland on Thursday and then stunning Big East tournament champion Louisville on Saturday. Long Beach lost at Louisville by 13 this season, but the 49ers will be much more comfortable playing at a neutral-site sub-regional near water.

Long Beach State finally runs out of steam against Michigan State, but Murray State defeats Missouri to set up an MSU vs. MSU final.

East Regional

Harvard, in its first NCAA appearance since 1946, when it lost a first-round game to Ohio State, knocks one out of its yard and makes it to a regional with wins over No. 5 Vanderbilt (overconfident after beating Kentucky) and Wisconsin (still mourning Rose Bowl loss to Oregon).

Harvard is stopped on home turf in Boston by Syracuse. Sentimentalists note that Syracuse won the national title the last time it was decided in New Orleans, back in 2003. But that flashback magic didn't work this year in football for Louisiana State. The Tigers lost the national title in New Orleans to Alabama after winning Bowl Championship Series crowns there in 2003 and '07.

Syracuse advances to the regional final but loses to Florida State, which has somehow gone from a football powerhouse under Bobby Bowden to ACC tournament basketball champion over traditionalists Duke and North Carolina.

Midwest Regional

What a season it will continue to be for St. Mary's of Moraga, which captured the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the first time. People will really be impressed after the Gaels knock out No. 10 Purdue and No. 2 Kansas on the first weekend and then ask everyone to meet them in St. Louis for the regional semifinals. There, St. Mary's makes one more valiant stand with a win over Georgetown, but then is put back in its beautiful East Bay hilltop place by the powder-blue giants from North Carolina.

The bells and whistles of St. Mary's will nearly drown out neighbor California's regional underdog noise. If the Pac-12 has an iota of pride left, Mike Montgomery's team will win the "first four" game against South Florida and then, as the No. 12-seeded team, take down No. 5 Temple on Friday in Nashville.

If that doesn't happen, please use this article to line your bird cage.

When you pull out the rake and clear out all the leaves, though, North Carolina has the most potent combination of talent and experience in the field.

Final Four

North Carolina avenges its ACC tournament defeat to Florida State with a payback victory against the Seminoles.

In a bluegrass battle, Kentucky lets kid brother Murray (State) hang around for a half before getting on with the business of advancing to Monday night.

Championship game

Kentucky moves a step closer to its goal of eclipsing UCLA's record of 11 national titles by winning its eighth with a victory over North Carolina.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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