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College Basketball: Duke’s Tough Road Through West Region

The path back to the Final Four will be tough for the Blue Devils. They may have a #1 seed but Coach K’s charges also have a mountain to climb if they are to win the NCAA Tournament yet again.

Not an easy regional
Duke received plenty of criticism over their soft path to the Final Four in 2010 but the Blue Devils face a tough road to Houston in 2011. With or without Kyrie Irving, it’s going to take a lot to get out of the West.The benefit of being a #1 seed means the ACC Tournament champions have a straightforward task in their opening match-up against Hampton. The Pirates claimed the MEAC’s automatic bid but #16 seeds are 0-104 in the Big Dance.

The next round could prove particularly tricky as the Blue Devils face a physically imposing Tennessee team. The Vols didn’t set the world alight in SEC play but did enough to show they are capable of raising their game for the big occasion. I don’t like the #9 seed to go all the way but if they beat Michigan then Tennessee could prove a real test for the Blue Devils.

Match-up issues
The Sweet Sixteen is the most dangerous stage in March Madness for Coach K’s team. Mike Krzyzewski will recognize the potential match-up difficulties presented by #4 seed Longhorns will be an imposing presence on the boards should they face Duke. Arizona, a #5 seed, is one of three Pac-10 teams that looks to be under-valued by the committee. The Wildcats can score fast and have excellent accuracy, always good traits for a tournament team. #12 seed Memphis has a roster with no shortage of talent, albeit unfulfilled, although Duke would be confident of having the experience to overwhelm the Tigers should they meet.

Aztecs can offer big match-up challenge
Whenever #2 seed San Diego State have stuck to their game plan, they have won this year. The only defeats on the Aztecs record came in risky efforts to shut down Jimmer Fredette. San Diego State didn’t over-commit when they got a third shot at the BYU star and that experience will stand to them in the tournament. Despite having never won a game in the Big Dance, San Diego State look poised for a deep run.

I like the Aztecs to breeze through the regional. This would leave a likely match-up with #6 seed Cincinnati or #3 seed UConn. The Huskies will have major fatigue issues by this stage due to their lengthy Big East tournament run. The Bearcats meanwhile simply don’t stack up well against Kawhi Leonard and company. This should set up a #1 vs #2 match-up in Anaheim. Should it work out that way, I like the Aztecs to push Duke close but not to get the win. It will be tough but I like Duke to return the Final Four.

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