West Region, Honda Center, Anaheim, California
(2) San Diego St. Aztecs vs. (3) Connecticut Huskies (7:15 p.m. on CBS): By now everybody knows about the failures of the Big East Conference, which earned a NCAA record 11 invites to the Big Dance but has just two teams still alive. Now, the only thing the conference has going for it is the play of the UConn basketball program's Kemba Walker, who is averaging 25.9 points per game during the Huskies' current seven-game winning streak.
However, it seems as if Walker, who was named a Naismith Award finalist, is playing out of his mind because he was snubbed of the Big East Player Of The Year and wasn't a unanimous selection for All-Big East First Team. Since then, his mission is to embarrass everyone of those so-called experts or coaches who left him off their ballot.
Job well done, Kemba. We all got the message. As for the No. 3-seeded Huskies (28-9), they have peaked at the perfect time.
"They're young. They make mistakes, but their resiliency and enthusiasm for the game and their ability to listen to things, it invigorates anybody," said head coach Jim Calhoun after last Saturday's victory. "...When you have a receptive group and great leader like Kemba, I mean, that's a nice package for any coach to certainly have."
If sophomore forward Alex Oriahki, who has snagged 12 and 11 rebounds, respectively, and freshman guard Jeremy Lamb, 15.0 ppg during the NCAA Tournament, can provide some just some help for Walker then I think UConn has a great shot at an Elite 8 appearance.
The No. 2 Aztecs (34-2) are led by sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, who is averaging 15.6 ppg and 10.6 rebound per game. San Diego's gritty, double-overtime victory over No. 7-seeded Temple, 71-64, was a blast to watch, but that's all I know about the squad from the Mountain West Conference. Luckily, SB Nation's Andy Hutchins knows a bit about the West Coast team.
"The Owls forced San Diego State's offense to shoot rather than drive," wrote Hutchins in his game preview of UConn-San Diego St. "And that cadre of merely good shooters only barely prevailed. If Leonard, Billy White, and D.J. Gay are similarly limited against Connecticut, the Huskies have a chance to roll up big leads with offensive talent in place that Temple didn't have. And if San Diego State goes down big early, they're uniquely ill-equipped for a comeback rife with threes: the Aztecs shoot just 34.2% from long distance as a team."
What the San Diego St basketball program has going for it is home-court advantage (San Diego is about 100 miles from the regional site of Anaheim). San Diego St. head coach Steve Fisher thinks that could work to the Aztecs favor.
"We're a bus ride up the road," said Fisher in a news conference on Monday. "It should be a great atmosphere, should be a pro-San Diego State crowd and we are anxious to see how we stack up against the premier players and teams in the country."
"Hopefully we will play well, I know we will play very hard and try to get another victory on Thursday."
Prediction: My bracket-picking strategy of going with all Big East teams really backfired for me, and I think the fact that UConn needs to travel across the country, while San Diego is staying pretty close to home will be a big factor in the final score. Aztecs win, 70-66, in overtime.
-- Need more incite on the Huskies visit SB Nation's The UConn Blog.