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The Duke picks: March Madness

Published: Thursday, March 15, 2012

Updated: Thursday, March 15, 2012 00:03

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Midwest by Chad Houck

This seems to be one of the weaker regions in the tournament, with a fair number of mid-major representatives and many of the weaker teams from the BCS conferences (Purdue, Alabama, Cal/USF). The regulars in the tournament, UNC and Kansas, shouldn’t have much of a struggle breaking through, and I won’t be surprised if they meet up in the Elite 8.

Player to Watch: Thomas Robinson

The 6-foot-10 junior from Kansas is averaging just a tick under 18 points per game for the Jayhawks and averages 11.8 rebounds per game, good for a double-double in almost every start. He hits 53 percent of his field goals and is a front-runner for the Naismith Player of the Year Award. Kansas has had a mixed bag of success in the tourney the last few years. They’ll go as Robinson goes.

Upset Watch: Belmont over Georgetown

This one is stepping out on the ledge a little bit, but that’s what you’ve got to do sometimes come March Madness. I predict 14-seed Belmont will knock off 3-seed Georgetown Friday afternoon. Belmont’s a team that you can count on seeing in the tournament nearly every year, and most of the time they make little impact, but this year’s high scoring squad (81.5 points per game) is averaging 8.8 3-pointers per contest. Georgetown has a huge front court, but it won’t matter if shots beyond the arc are swishing through for the Bruins.

Dark Horse: Belmont

Following that trend, the Bruins have a fair shot to give San Diego State or NC State a battle in round of 32. It’s putting a lot on a team that only played two top 25 teams and lost to both, but a 77-76 lost to Duke earlier this season has me believing they can score with the best of them. It’s just a matter of whether they can shut down the opponents top scorers.

Prediction: UNC advances

Assuming John Henson’s wrist can stay healthy enough to continue playing, I have to go chalk in this region and say UNC knocks off Kansas to represent the Midwest in the Final Four. The Tarheels are just too deep with top-tier talent and are 11-1 in their past 12 games. No reason to pick against a 29-5 squad with this type of talent and Roy Williams at the helm.

South by Addie Smith

The region with the number one overall seed Kentucky is going to be an interesting one to watch this season, with teams like last year’s champion UConn and last year’s Cinderella story VCU. Also in this region are Duke, Indiana, Baylor, Notre Dame and Wichita State.

Player to watch: Anthony Davis

Kentucky’s breakout freshman has had four straight games with a double-double in rebounds and points and can manipulate the court to his advantage. Look for Davis to not only score for the Wildcats, but pull down boards to give Kentucky an advantage on the court. The front-runner for the Naismith Player of the Year award is a big reason coach John Calipari’s team is the top seed.

Upset watch: UConn over Iowa State

The defending champions can never be underestimated, so on Saturday March 17, the Huskies may have a chance to take down Kentucky, just as they did on the way to the title in 2011. UConn must first get by 8-seed Iowa State in the round of 64, but if Kentucky and UConn both win on Thursday, be sure to tune into their showdown Saturday.

Dark horse: Indiana

The Hoosiers showed this season that they’re a force to be reckoned with, upending conference foes Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State this season and handing Kentucky their first loss Dec. 10 with a buzzer-beating 3 from Christian Watford. After the wins against Ohio State and Michigan came early in the season, their rankings shot up but quickly fell as they endured a three-game losing streak. They have the potential to play UConn or Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen but first must get by New Mexico State and the winner of the VCU-Wichita State game. 

Prediction: Kentucky advances

After losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship, Kentucky is going to be playing with a chip on their shoulders. Second-seeded Duke is always a threat, but could ultimately be upended by Baylor, and I just don’t see the stable of first round draft picks at Kentucky losing after falling in the SEC Championship. The advantage and the region will go to Kentucky. 

East by Wes Crosby

College basketball’s best will come to Pittsburgh and Albuquerque Thursday and Saturday as some of college basketball’s national powers will invade the two cities as part of the NCAA Tournament’s East bracket. The most stacked bracket in this year’s tournament contains four of the power conferences’ regular season or conference tournament champions. The Big East regular season champs, the Big Ten regular season co-champs, the ACC Tournament champs and the SEC Tournament champs will have to battle with each other on their way to the Final Four in New Orleans.

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