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The picks: Southwest regional

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Notre Dame owns a superb offense.

It finished second in the Big East.

It has seven victories against the top 25 of the RPI.

It also hasn’t reached the Elite Eight since 1979.

Maybe that changes in the next two weeks in the Southwest regional. Or not …

PLAY-IN WINNER

(11) Southern California

The good thing about the Trojans is they have a season-long history of beating good teams. The bad thing about them is they have quite a few losses against bad teams.

Now for the best part of all for USC: There aren’t a ton of bad teams in the NCAA tournament.

The Trojans have won six of eight coming in, and if they figure out how to slow down Jamie Skeen in the post, they can probably oust Virginia Commonwealth and earn a spot in Chicago against Georgetown.

ROUND OF 64 WINNERS

(1) Kansas
(8) UNLV

(12) Richmond
(4) Louisville

(3) Purdue
(6) Georgetown

(7) Texas A&M
(2) Notre Dame

Kansas isn’t losing its opener. Illinois was 5-11 away from Champaign, which makes the Illini a great candidate for an early exit given the whole neutral court thing in the NCAA tournament.

Richmond is playing well and is a bit underseeded. Vanderbilt lost to No. 13 seeds Siena (2008) and Murray State (2010) in its last two tournament trips. This bodes well for the A-10 champs. Louisville, which its penchant for going small at times, has an intriguing matchup against double-double machine Kenneth Faried and Morehead State. That will be closer than expected.

Purdue-St. Peter’s might not turn out to be close, but it will be a great showcase for two tough, smart, rugged teams. The Peacocks will acquit themselves well early on before falling. Georgetown is vulnerable to an upset, but a moderately healthy Chris Wright should help get the the Hoyas past Southern California or VCU.

Texas A&M coach Mark Turgeon is 4-0 in NCAA round of 64 games. Take him and the Aggies. Notre Dame should be fine against Akron in the Gerry Faust Bowl.

ROUND OF 32 WINNERS

(1) Kansas
(12) Richmond

(3) Purdue
(2) Notre Dame

The Jayhawks aren’t losing as a No. 1 seed in the second round for the second straight year. Seriously.

What is there to really like about Richmond? Well, 23 of its 27 victories have come by double figures. In general, the Spiders don’t mess around. Louisville overachieved this year, and credit for that goes to Rick Pitino. But do the Cardinals have a tourney run in them? Tough to tell.

Purdue has played to or exceeded its seed in seven straight NCAA appearances, including all four under Matt Painter. He’ll be 5-for-5 by the end of the weekend.

Turgeon is 1-4 in NCAA round of 32 games. Bank against him and take Notre Dame as a regional semifinalist.

ROUND OF 16 WINNERS

(1) Kansas
(3) Purdue

The Jayhawks won’t get a pass into the regional final, but they would probably not have serious issues if the Spiders moved along to the round of 16.

Purdue-Notre Dame … in San Antonio. This would be such a better regional semifinal if it was played in Indianapolis. In any case, the Boilermakers do limp into the NCAA tournament, but are still balanced and talented. Notre Dame’s tournament history plays a role in this pick, too, regardless of how much fun Ben Hansbrough and the Irish are to watch.

REGIONAL CHAMPION

(1) Kansas

The Jayhawks looked like the nation’s best team at this time last year. Now, they’re merely the second-best team. Maybe a slight reduction in target size will help, but a favorable draw doesn’t hurt any, either. It would be a disappointment if Kansas doesn’t make it to the regional final, and at that point they’d likely have to beat a capable but not impossible opponent.

The Jayhawks have a ton of talent. Perhaps this year, it will function better in the postseason.

Patrick Stevens

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