No. 1 Duke vs. No. 5 Arizona; Thursday at 9:45 p.m. on CBS
Unlike the rest of the tournament, the West region has played almost according to seed but for a last second Texas-sized meltdown by the Longhorns, with an assist from that quick counting specialist in stripes, Jim Burr. Left standing at the top of the bracket are the ACC champion Duke Blue Devils, who have answered every bell of late, and the PAC 10 champion Arizona Wildcats who can't seem to garner much respect. Duke is led by a legion of McDonald's all-Americans while the Wildcats have only one true superstar in Derrick Williams. The Blue Devils are coached by hall of famer Coach K and the Wildcats have Sean Miller, whose claim to fame is a dribbling exhibition on the Tonight Show when he was four years old. Slight mismatch there, although Miller can work the refs with the best of them.
No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 UConn; Thursday at 7:15 on CBS
On the bottom half of the West Region bracket, everyone is waiting for the UConn Huskies to, uh, get tired. Instead they've won seven quality games in less than two weeks and they don't seem to show signs of stopping. Kemba Walker is, well, Kemba Walker while talented freshmen like Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb can almost be considered grizzled veterans by now. They'll be challenged by a deep, athletic San Diego State squad. The Aztecs might lack Tournament history success as a program, but their coach, Steve Fisher has had the ultimate success in the Big Dance before. Can he recapture that old magic?
Players to Watch
Kemba Walker is the headliner in this bracket and for good reason. The star Husky guard has vanquished all comers while elevating his team with unselfish play from the lead guard spot. The other intriguing guard story is Kyrie Irving's affect on a Duke Squad that was rolling in Irving's absence. In the last five minutes of Duke's white-knuckler of a win vs. Michigan, Irving seemed to be out of sorts handling the ball for the Blue Devils, nearly allowing the Wolverines to pull off the upset. Will Coach K put Nolan Smith back on the ball if the Devils' offense stagnates again under Irving's watch? We shall see.
The Aztecs will look to find some stellar guard play of their own after DJ Gay struggled yet again with a 3-13 effort against Temple. If he continues to struggle against the strong guards of UConn, this may be the end of the road for SDSU and their talented front court.
Then there's Derrick Williams of the Arizona Wildcats. He may be the most talented player left in this talent laden region and certainly projects as the highest NBA draft pick. Williams should have his way with a less athletic Duke front court after he struggled somewhat against the athleticism of Memphis and especially Texas in the last two games. The only question is which other Wildcats will step up to take some pressure off of Williams. If guards "Momo" Jones or Kyle Fogg don't come to play against the Blue Devils, this is likely the end of the line for Arizona.
San Diego State's athletes against UConn's big, athletic front court. The Leonard vs. Lamb matchup may determine the winner of this ball game. Also, the Aztecs have struggled against all-world lead guards like Kemba Walker this season. Don't believe me? Go look at Jimmer Fredette's stats against SDSU this season in the three games they squared off.
You won't have one in the Duke game unless the Wildcats can somehow stay in front of Smith, Irving, and Dawkins. Arizona gave up 21 second half points to Texas' enigmatic J'Covan Brown and he's not quite the same caliber as Smith and Irving.