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The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

A closer look at the West region’s remaining field

Ryan Greene
The Dagger

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With the NCAA tournament's second weekend set to begin on Thursday, The Dagger takes a look at the remaining fields in each of the four regions.

Oh, the storylines. You've got the defending national champs, this year's upstart du jour, a former powerhouse program again on the rise, and one of two survivors still carrying the torch for the Big East. Duke is still the odds-on favorite to emerge out of this bracket, especially with the addition of freshman star Kyrie Irving back into the lineup. The Blue Devils will have to get by Arizona, which rode the shoulders of Pac-10 Player of the Year Derrick Williams through a tough first weekend in Tulsa. On the other side, San Diego State, essentially playing at home, is in its first ever Sweet 16. The Aztecs are attempting to notch their first-ever victory over a Big East foe against UConn and red-hot star Kemba Walker.

How they got here

No. 1 Duke: Def. No. 16 Hampton and No. 8 Michigan
No. 2 San Diego State: Def. No. 15 Northern Colorado and No. 7 Temple
No. 3 UConn: Def. No. 14 Bucknell and No. 6 Cincinnati
No. 5 Arizona: Def. No. 12 Memphis and No. 4 Texas

What you should like about the favorite
: Duke simply has the best postseason pedigree of any of the four teams remaining out West. The Blue Devils also have arguably the best all-around player left in the tournament in Nolan Smith. Allowing Michigan to come back from a 15-point deficit in the final 11 minutes in Charlotte on Sunday was a bit alarming, but experience on the big stage will again give Duke an advantage at the end of close games this weekend.

Underdog to watch
— SDSU: If you can consider a No. 2 seed an underdog, you've got to like San Diego State's chances to at least get to the Final Four's doorstep. Whatever portion of America still hadn't seen what might be college basketball's best frontcourt entering the NCAA tournament has to be aware by now of the Aztecs' trio. Senior power forward Billy White combined to register 28 points and 26 rebounds in two games last weekend, while fellow senior Malcolm Thomas was SDSU's savior against Temple. He had four blocked shots, including one that helped clinch the double-overtime win with less than a minute remaining in the second overtime session. The key to it all is NBA-bound sophomore Kawhi Leonard. He was just 5 of 14 from the floor against the Owls, but still pieced together a 16-point, 9-rebound performance. At 6-foot-6, he's one of the nation's most skilled rebounders and can play all five positions. {YSP:MORE}

Best gameSDSU vs. UConn: It's the matchup within the matchup that's most intriguing here. In his seven games since the end of the regular season, Kemba Walker averaged 26.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists. That's flat-out dominant. On the other side, SDSU faced a similar individual talent in Jimmer Fredette three times this season. It took a couple of times to figure out just how, but in the third meeting, the Aztecs forced Fredette to score 30 points in the ugliest of ways possible. Leading the defensive effort on him that night was 6-foot-8 Billy White. He got help from others, but the Aztecs have the ability to hound Walker with long, athletic defender after long, athletic defender. Whoever wins this battle likely wins the war.

Best lesser-known player to watch — Jordin Mayes, Arizona: The 6-foot-2 freshman was an up-and-down reserve all season for the Wildcats, but last weekend emerged as a dangerous perimeter threat. He's only averaging 5.1 points per game this season, but in a 70-68 upset of Texas on Sunday, he scored a career-high 16, including a 4-of-4 performance from 3-point range. In fact, in Arizona's last four games, he's 9 of 10 from deep. In trying to combat and ease Duke's outstanding ball pressure on the perimeter, Mayes could be vital for the Wildcats.

Ryan Greene also covers UNLV and the Mountain West Conference for the Las Vegas Sun. Read his Rebels coverage and follow him on Twitter.

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