The picks: West regional

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Duke, Texas, San Diego State or Connecticut? Or could it be a surprise team from the West?

Probably not.

ROUND OF 64 WINNERS

(1) Duke
(9) Tennessee

(12) Memphis
(4) Texas

(3) Connecticut
(11) Missouri

(7) Temple
(2) San Diego State

Duke advances easily in a pick-your-score game. The biggest question in that one is whether Kyrie Irving plays for the Blue Devils. Michigan is overseeded and Tennessee is probably a line or two low. Definitely like the Volunteers there.

Take a look at Arizona and figure out what there is to like, besides the gaudy victory total and the star player in Derrick Williams. The Wildcats’ best victory outside of Tucson was against Southern California in the Pac-10 tournament when the Trojans didn’t have their coach. Memphis wasn’t as good as expected, but it remains talented and capable of a surprise.

Oakland wouldn’t be a bad bet to beat anyone on the 4 or 5 line not named Kentucky or Texas. Sadly for Keith Benson and the Golden Grizzlies, they drew Texas.

Connecticut might not last long, but it should maneuver past Bucknell. That has the look of a game that could be a one-possession game at the under-8 timeout and wind up a 14-point margin. The Cincinnati-Missouri game has an interesting dynamic beyond the preferred tempos. The Bearcats overachieved and the Tigers were decidedly ho-hum when they shouldn’t have been. Doesn’t mean Missouri can’t advance.

Penn State has a chance against Temple, and it all hinges on Talor Battle. After seeing the Nits get run out of their own building by Maryland early in the season, it’s hard to believe they turned out this good. San Diego State should roll past Northern Colorado.

ROUND OF 32 WINNERS

(1) Duke
(4) Texas

(3) Connecticut
(2) San Diego State

No surprises here. Duke should be able to suffocate Tennessee. Same goes for Texas against Memphis.

Connecticut will be vulnerable to whoever comes out of the Cincinnati-Missouri game. It’s safe to wonder how much the Huskies have in them after winning five times in five days, including the last three by a combined 10 points. UConn is now 9-3 in games decided by five points or less (9-1 against everyone other than Notre Dame). That luck will run out eventually.

Steve Fisher’s first Sweet 16 appearance since his star player was Juwan Howard is very much within reach. San Diego State has a more balanced team than Penn State and a more talented one than both Temple and the Nittany Lions. The Aztecs should move along.

ROUND OF 16 WINNERS

(4) Texas
(2) San Diego State

Granted, Kyrie Irving could be a game-changer if he (a) plays and (b) plays well. But when have we seen Duke bring two senior stars who were among the nation’s top 10 players into the tournament as a No. 1 seed, only to be done in by a rangy opponent capable of destroying opponents when they committed to defense? Oh, right, 2006. This version of Texas is better than 2006 Louisiana State (while this Duke team has a championship pedigree). If Duke loses before the Final Four, this is where it happens.

Is UConn the team that won five straight in the Big East tournament or lost seven of 11 heading into that event? Eventually, the more mortal form of the Huskies will show up. It might even happen sooner.

REGIONAL CHAMP

(4) Texas

If it is Texas-San Diego State (or Duke-San Diego State) in the regional final, it will be a treat to see such superb defense played. Yes, it could be a first-to-60-wins scenario, but it will still be a well-contested game.

So why Texas? One, the Longhorns defend like crazy (except when they get stuck playing a sizzling Kansas team and that one random game at Colorado). Two, the Aztecs have all of seven games against the NCAA field this year, going 5-2. Only one of the victories (against Brigham Young sans Jimmer Fredette came by more than six points), so this isn’t an unstoppable juggernaut. San Diego State is good – really, really good. Could it make the Final Four? Sure. But that regional final is going to be a tough task.

Patrick Stevens

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