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Purdue (5) vs. Connecticut (1): The first regional semifinal tonight takes place in Glendale, Arizona with Purdue and UCONN a long way from home. Purdue has two gritty wins to get here. A 61-56 win over Northern Iowa and a 76-74 win over Washington. JuJuan Johnson has been the Boilers go to guy. He’s averaging 18 points in the two games on 16-27 shooting. Connecticut has two of the easiest wins in this tournament so far. A 103-47 in over UT Chattanooga and 92-66 win over Texas A&M. The Huskies have owned the boards. They’ve out-rebounded their opponents 92-55. Shot blocking extraordinaire Hasheem Thabeet was saddled with foul trouble against A&M, but had 20 points and 13 rebounds against Chattanooga. Purdue lacks a true big man to compete with Thabeet, but they make up for with their solid shooting and physical play. Getting Thabeet in foul trouble will help. I think Robbie Hummel and Keaton Grant will hit enough three’s in the second half to keep it close.
Pick: Purdue +6.5
Xavier (4) vs. Pittsburgh (1): An overlooked Xavier team looks to put away a pretty dominant Pittsburgh squad. With relatively easy wins over Portland State and Wisconsin, Xavier has their work cut out for them now. The Musketeers are a very good shooting team led by senior B.J. Raymond. He and Derrek Brown both shoot over 40% from three-point land. Like Purdue, Xavier lacks a big rebounder to go up against Pitt’s DeJuan Blair. Though only 6’7”, Blair averages over 12 boards a game and shoots almost 60% from the field. Senior LeVance Fields is the floor leader averaging 7.7 assists per game. Don’t forget Sam Young who averages 18.8 points a game including 32 in an 84-76 win over Oklahoma State on Sunday. Pitt is a loaded team that should find their way to the Final 4, but Xavier is experienced and they play well as underdogs.
Pick: Xavier +7
Missouri (3) vs. Memphis (2): Two pressure defenses square off in the second game from Glendale tonight. Not only do Missouri and Memphis play furious defense, they both can score some points. Creating turnovers leads to that. Missouri knocked off Cornell and Marquette to get here while Memphis edged CS Northridge then woke up to easily handle Maryland. Though 4.5 point favorites, Memphis always seems to be the underdog. Maybe it’s because they play in the weak Conference USA. Whatever it is, they should never be over-looked. You don’t win 27 games in a row by luck. Missouri is a very solid team, but Memphis is only two wins away from getting back to the Final 4. I think they come up big again.
Pick: Memphis -4.5
Villanova (3) vs. Duke (2): The last game of the night just might be the best one. After surviving disaster in the first round against American, Villanova cruised past UCLA in the second. Duke has wins over Binghamton and Texas. The win over Texas was in doubt until the final seconds, but Mike Krzyzewski gets Duke closer to another Final 4. Philadelphia native Gerald Henderson came through for Duke with 24 points against the Longhorns. Dante Cunningham has led Villanova with 21.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in their two games. I think ‘Nova’s guards will keep Duke’s three-point shooting in check and will deny the Blue Devils an Elite Eight trip.
Pick: Villanova +2
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